Thursday, October 20, 2011

Separate and unequal

I am in favor of white privilege. And male privilege. And heterosexual privilege.

Those who care about these things are almost always against them. The very language is a negative judgment, like xenophobia or Islamophobia or homophobia.  Privilege, in this context, is by definition unjust: it is a social benefit earned not by an individual's merits, but by mere belonging to a group. This is supposed to be bad. And it is usually cartooned into seeing them as but one step away from black slavery, female debasement and gay-bashing. But it is inevitable and necessary.

It is especially ironic that the folks who banter about privilege are almost always the same ones who see people primarily as groups. Another irony is that the theory, groundwork and the actualization of the anti-privilege movement, whose primary target is white heterosexual males, comes entirely from cultures created by white heterosexual males.

The assumption is that privilege is bad and that it should be dismantled so that everyone can be equal.

Which never happens, has happened or will happen.  What the dismantling of these privileges means is their replacement by another group's privilege. People of color privilege. Female privilege. LGBT privilege.

Has there ever been a society past the stage of the small hunter-gatherer groups where it was not composed of a complex of group identities in more or less hierarchical relation to one another? Has there ever been a society without a center, or centers, and a margin, or margins? Without definition and assumption you cannot have a viable culture.

If you want to expand this notion of unearned and oppressive privilege past the standard one of race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, you can travel quite far afield: there is privilege connected with being an adult, speaking the national language, being able to walk, see and hear, being naturally either male or female*, knowing how to read and write, being healthy and goodlooking, being tall, etc. And horrifyingly, being a natural born citizen of a country gives you an unearned privilege over immigrants...And if you talk to an animal rights activist, there is the speciesist privilege of being human. It goes on and on. A revolt against reality.

The classless society was a catastrophic illusion which produced the deaths and the soul murder of many many millions in a mere seventy years...and never produced a classless society. The Marxist engineers of the movement became the new privileged and ruling class. I am much disinclined to believe that a society can become truly egalitarian about sex or race, either. The effort will produce a lot of dislocation and damage (Harrison Bergeron) and in the end, social hierarchies will reproduce themselves.

Our recent societal obsession with and fetishization of equality as the primary and perhaps only value, the heart of contemporary Western liberalism, is a symptom of something wrong. 

The anti-privilege industry is a prime example of liberalism: the use of social control and state power to raise the status, wealth and power of traditionally less successful groups (victims) at the expense of the status, wealth and power of traditionally more successful groups (oppressors). Anyone who thinks that equality is the goal, that the effort will cease when balance is struck, is deluding himself.

So if you are going to have a society with a set of centers, of groups who will be dominant or assumed to be the norm, I would much prefer one where white heterosexual males were that group.

*Transexual activists have created a Newspeak: if they are trans-gendered, then people whose gendered bodies and psyches match are called cis-gendered, from the Latin, on this side. And so there is cisgender privilege...a result of the oppressive binary gender regime.


Anonymous said...

»What we are asking is that the holders of the hegemonic discourse should de-hegemonize their position and themselves learn how to occupy the subject position of the other«
— Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
(tenured/downtrodden feminist professor at Columbia University coal mine; born in India a culture richly free of oppressive hegemonies except as crafted imposed by the British; PhD under egalitarian activist and migrant farm labourer Paul de Man).

Anonymous said...

Actually, shouldn't we maintain our hegemony from the position of downtrodden incoming other, laden with Nietzschean genealogy of the genealogists. ... Used to be said in the 1980s that the privileged position is that of the other. Machiavelli: not the peak but the base provides the accurate perspective for viewing the mountain hierarchy.

»And he came to Capernaum [goat, caper + oracle js5002]: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?

»But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should have hegemony.

»And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to have hegemony, the same shall begin as last of all, and servant of all.

»And he took a child [Mark, Christianity's growing King of the Jews], and set him in the midst of them [as Glaukon was held ashamed in the midst of viewers; Xenophon, ?Memorabilia]: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.« (Gospel according to Mark ix 33-37)

Anonymous said...

What does surprise me is that when subalterns such as migrant farm labourers, the homeless mentally ill, sex slavery personnel, et al decided finally to assert the right to speak they would choose postmodernist jargon!

I find such language and conceptualities extremely difficult to understand, let alone use such such language and conceptualities to articulate my own personal experiences. But now there's undocumented Latino slaughter house workers such as Professor Spivak using post-colonial discourse to demand a change of positions with whites who vacation on Martha's Vineyard!

Lazarus could have prised a change of positions out of Dives (Luke 16:26) had he had such a vocabulary at his disposal.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Spivak on her experience of an injustice in America every bit as gruesomely nightmarish as untouchability:

A young female teacher »cannot drink water touched by the Aboriginals, her students. As I kept berating her, one of these very students spoke up! (She loves the students, her not drinking water from their hands is internalized by them as normal, must less absurd than my drinking hot boiled water [sc vs bacteria contamination]. On her part, going back to the village very afternoon, keeping the water-rule, which she knows I abhor, compares to my standing in the snow for six hours to replace my stolen green card, I later thought.)« Righting Wrongs, pp. 47f.

We aren't to expect that postcolonial power will improve the lives of the downtrodden and mistreated (the "wronged": who are exploited by anti-colonialists in order to gain rhetorical guilt power vs confused middle-class whites in the West): »it is more important to develop a critical intelligence than to assure immediate material comfort« ibid. p. 48.

The anti-Western righters of wrongs have no concern to ameliorate the destitution, oppression, etc that they jump up and down about. Their analysis of power relations is for their new regime of power.

But this is unfair of me. Critique must never be apply'd to the critiquers! That would be a transcendence of "anti-imperialism" and decolonizing the decolonizers' neo-colonialist apparatus of guilt. After a meal of earthly bread, Marx wants to enjoy his entertainment of critiquing power without any counter-questions from the "powerful."

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