We each oppress, and each of us is oppressed. That is the nature of our Matryoshka-doll hierarchy. I buy clothes cheaply because they were made under conditions approximating slavery. But I do not have much of a choice to do otherwise. I could spend extra time and money to shop for clothes made fairly, though that is asking a lot since I am required to spend most of my time working and most of my money sustaining my ability to keep working. And then I would still oppress in myriad other ways. Clothes made under fair labor conditions would also have to be sustainably sourced and manufactured, and everything else I purchased would need to meet the same standards — all food, all technology, all transportation, all health care, and so on. And one must consider not only how one’s money is spent, but also how it is earned. To live in our world is to exploit.
Perhaps I could live in a different world, not participating in our economic system. I could join or create some alternative economy, disconnected from the world I know — a price so high that most people will not do it, in which case what is the point of doing it myself, so that my conscience may be clean while the rest of the world consumes itself? And even then, could I avoid exploitation? Or is it too late, because my having the ability to opt out of the system is itself a luxury afforded to me as a beneficiary of historical exploitation? That is the nature of our Etch-A-Sketch path dependency. The conditions permitting me this fantasy of a world in which I do no harm — my health, education, freedom, my very existence — are the spoils of privilege, the end goal of all oppression.
Is the best I can do to live in this world consciously, to identify its system of oppressions, perhaps to find cracks in the structure and glimpse some possibility of another way? Is even that an expression of privilege, a way of exempting myself from guilt, a pretense of superiority?