19 June 2017

The notion of privilege

Ok, first off -- the people complaining about privilege are (generally) complaining about a real thing.

They're not complaining about it effectively, in part because they're (generally) utter strangers to the exercise of actual power and in part because they're (at risk of being) violently suppressed if they speak frankly.  The whole notion of "privilege" is passive-voice and lacking actors.

(Rather like "Black Lives Matter"; absolutely about just complaints, but if you have to call it that it's not going to work.)

I'm going to ignore how the power structures got there.  I'm just going to talk about what they do.

There's two kinds of things that the power structures do.  One is not interfere; basic levels of participating in the power structure mean your daily business doesn't get interfered with.[1]

Two is suppress opposition to your preferences; on a big scale, this is something like who the Dakota Access Pipeline gets routed over (or how Roundup somehow doesn't have safety data filed with the government of Canada), and on a moderate scale this is how highways get more money than transit.

You need a lot of social standing to exercise Type Two power.  You don't need much at all to exercise Type One power.  (This is what members of the valorized category get for showing up.)

Thing is, this stuff isn't passive; this works by hurting people if they complain until they either die or stop complaining.

So the question is NOT "do I have privilege?" (a question that descends into moral taxonomy very rapidly, becoming entirely useless in the process), but "did I (or am I) trying to compel this person to change their behaviour?"


[1] the point of "driving while black" stops is to insist that nobody, no matter how nice their car or how stable their income, can participate in the power structure while black.  You will get your daily business interfered with.  There are a whole lot of other examples.  None of them are fixable without replacing the mechanism of categories.

5 comments:

Unknown said...

Doesn't this:

So the question is NOT "do I have privilege?" (a question that descends into moral taxonomy very rapidly, becoming entirely useless in the process), but "did I (or am I) trying to compel this person to change their behaviour?"

Refer only to the second exercise of power? What about the implicit acceptance of the first?

Graydon said...

The first type is not implicit when you use it. It's generally smaller and less consequential in the specific instance -- the mechanism of compulsion might be social rudeness instead of firearms -- but it's the same act-to-compel type of thing at the scale of individual actions.

Noticing that this is what's going on can be hard. (Consider "You can wear jeans at work on Friday if you donate to the management's prefered charity" sorts of things.) But I think my point is that it's never actually implicit; there's a distinction between threatened compulsion and material compulsion ("I will hurt you" as distinct from demonstrating "I can hurt you") but both of those do come down to "am I trying to compel?" as a question about one's own personal behaviour.

TUG Daniel O'Neil said...

Okay. Chewing on this. I think the act of compulsion in the first case occurs either when the assumed right is restricted (see: demonstrations on I-95 in Minneapolis to show white drivers what it's like to be impeded in their travels) or when someone you think doesn't deserve that privilege receives it.

There are pretty dramatic examples of each, such as instapundit's exhortation to "run them down" in 2016, and the general resentment of white Americans to African American's receiving low income support (such as it is down here).

Anyway, nice talking with you. Love your work. I think the Commonweal books are among most important fantasy novels ever written. Can't wait for the next one.

Graydon said...

+TUG Daniel O'Neil

Thank you! (I will just flap over here for a bit.)

(The copy-editor for _The March North_ asserted that I would be famous after I was dead. I don't think I can describe how amusing I find this as a prospect.)

There is a next one. The one after the next one's maybe at a third and proceeding. So I have some hopes there will be a fourth in the spring of 2018.

Finding the act of compulsion is a difficult skill to develop and apply reliably.

TUG Daniel O'Neil said...

I hope you remain compelled, sir.