Why we collaborate with our own oppression

Transactional analysis offers an interesting insight into the reasons why we, as citizens, collaborate with our own oppression and the salami-slicing of our liberties.

Stephen Karpman identified three roles that people take in relation to each other when they are not acting autonomously as being three points on a triangle. These roles, of Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim had previously been identified by Eric Berne and described in his book Games People Play.

The significance of these roles is that they are positions we learn to take in relation to one another that are not based on reality or each others’ abilities to think, feel or solve problems for themselves.

We learn to get pay-offs from switching from one role to another as we grow up and settle into our own particular patterns of behaviour. These roles switches are also known as games in Transactional Analysis. A classic example is where we offer unwanted help to someone who hasn’t asked for it – we are attempting to Rescue by placing them in the role of Victim – and suddenly find that we’ve had our head bitten off for our trouble – the Victim has switched role to Persecutor and we’ve found ourself the Victim!

The Drama Triangle can be visualised as follows and the switches between positions imagined: R, P and V represent Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim roles.

Karpman's Drama Triangle

Karpman's Drama Triangle

Claude Steiner, in the classic book on why people live the lives they do, Scripts People Live, makes an interesting point about the Rescue role as follows:

The Rescue role is especially mystified in our society. Selflessness, doing for others, generosity are encouraged. Even cooperation is encouraged as part of this mystification. What is not pointed out is that we are encouraged to be selfless, generous and cooperative with people even if they are deceitful, selfish, stingy and uncooperative with us. As an example, the exploitation of workers and little people by politicians and the super-rich who rule [the United States] is made easy by the Rescue tendencies in people which encourage them to be “cooperative”, helpful, hardworking and are therefore easily exploitable.

The same mystification can be seen in the idea of citizenship and respect for authority (irrespective of the realities of the acts of authority) that we all learn as subjects of Her Majesty.