April 22, 2015 Leave a comment
I’ve had several doses of talk about “privilege” thrown at me recently. I’ve spent a little time thinking about this, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the folks who toss this stuff about and treat it with great importance are as clever, and as wrong, as the phlogiston chemists. Now, what do I mean by that?
“Privilege” as described in the relevant circles, is effectively an unearned advantage due to one’s nature – there can be white privilege, Jewish privilege, etc etc etc, and that intersectionality (sic) is effectively the idea that various portions of one’s identity as they interact with other portions create something wholly different which is qualitatively greater than the sum of the parts.
A lot of words are spent slicing and dicing groups using particular jargon, to no practical effect whatsoever. Why is this? Because at the root of the issue is the fact that we are not members of a group first and individuals second – rather, we are individuals first, who have some characteristics we share in groups. The whole privilege conversation completely falls apart when considering that the variation between individuals who share certain characteristics will necessarily be greater than the differences between the average of the characteristics.
That is, all cats are NOT gray after midnight. So in our real world, the one with the messiness in it, what does it mean to say “you have privilege” about someone’s membership in a particular group?
In the original sense of pragmatism, there is no information which is gained as a result of these descriptions, and actions don’t change as a result, and therefore these are at best distinctions without a difference. Yep, that’s the real problem here – the actual predictive power of this language is right up there with blaming weather on water sprites, and all the jargon serves to do is alienate the person being “othered” in that context. That is, it changes the person being described from “thou” to “it”. It serves as a way to immediately discredit the opinion of the person described as “privileged,” and find a discrete place for them in a postmodern hierarchy of victims, where to be oppressed is necessarily equivalent to being virtuous.
I’ve had this sort of language tossed at me by several people, who range from the saintly to the less-so. I’ll speak to the saint: this language has the opposite effect of your intention, and the line of reasoning is sterile, not fertile.
How about this for a suggestion: treat people as individuals, as all being made in the image of God, and approach groupings as a way to search for what we have in common rather than what divides us.