Often we speak of how some form of oppression ‘serves’ or ‘supports’ some greater form of oppression. How does the state support capitalism? How does capitalism serve patriarchy? How does patriarchy strengthen racism? These should not be taken too literally.
This mutual support may be why these forms of oppression have emerged and persisted, but just like the ‘adaptive fitness’ of an evolving organism, they are not in any way their “purpose”.
From George Orwell’s 1984, though abridged. O’brien, a representative of the state, is torturing and re-educating Winston, who attempted dissent.
“You could grasp the mechanics of the Society you lived in, but not its underlying motives. Do you remember writing in your diary, ‘I understand how: I do not understand why’?
You understand well enough how the Party maintains itself in power. Now tell me why we cling to power. What is our motive? Why should we want power? Go on, speak.”
“You are ruling over us for our own good. You believe that human beings are not fit to govern themselves, and therefore –”
He started and almost cried out. A pang of pain had shot through his body.
“That was stupid, Winston, stupid!” O’brien said. “You should know better than to say a thing like that.”
“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power.
We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal.
We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.
The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.
Now do you begin to understand me?”