Posts Tagged ‘privilege’


Liberal Privilege

   Posted by: Robert    in Uncategorized

From the way the term gets promoted and used, and even from the recent description I gave, one might be inclined to think that the idea of privilege extends only to groups who we traditionally consider to have been disadvantaged.  White privilege is easily the most well known flavor of identity privilege, with male privilege not too far behind.  In reality, the concept of privilege can be applied to any group which holds the dominant social/cultural position.  As a white male, it isn’t often that I find myself outside of America’s social/cultural orthodoxy; I’m not usually a minority.  One area where I likely am a victim of privilege, however, is in politics.  What follows are some initial thoughts about political identity and liberal privilege.

The realization of liberal privilege began last weekend during a crew dinner at my volunteer job.  One of my colleagues, entirely unprompted, decided to start talking to me in some extreme generalities about politics.  His essential statement on the subject was that he looked at the difference between Republicans and Democrats by saying that Republicans are about making money, and Democrats are about peace.  He went on to explain that he is a Libertarian, and that Libertarians are about freedom.  “Money, peace, and freedom,” he would echo a couple more times before the conversation drew to its uninspiring close.  “Money, peace, and Freedom.”

Despite the, uh, hard hitting nature of his comments, it struck me that my internal response was somewhat interesting.

Before I found out that my colleague is Libertarian, the first thing that caught my attention was his description of Republicans as being really good at making money.  In particular, I was completely unsure how to take that remark.  On its face it sounded like praise, but under our current political speech codes, being someone “good at making money” isn’t necessarily something to be proud of.  My defenses went up, thinking, “is this guy about to start smearing conservatives?”  I never did find out the answer to that question.

What ultimately kept me in the dark about his opinion of conservatism was my own concern about looking for an answer.  To seek an answer would likely have kept me tied up in the conversation much longer, and may well have led to me expressing some conservative thoughts.  After all, whether he was smearing Republicans or not, that they make a lot of money is hardly the first association I want someone to have with them.  But to replace money with something more widely regarded as positive would give away my own conservatism.  Knowing the crew consists mostly of liberals, that was something I didn’t want to do.

As I thought about that aversion further, I realized that somewhere along the line I internalized the message that there is something improper about expressing conservative beliefs.  That somehow saying conservative things was impolite, in a way that goes beyond “religion and politics” as conversation topics to avoid.  Were I to become identified as conservative, that might cause people to view me in a negative light.  For the same reason, when I do talk politics in mixed company, I’ll tend to deflect toward my more liberal sounding positions, in hope of at least coming across as a moderate.  Despite being a conservative, raised in a conservative family, and living in a Republican leaning city, I’ve still been conditioned to feel like my beliefs are best left hidden from public view.

Concern over speech codes and feelings of “wrongness” are exactly the types of feelings I see in discussions regarding identity privileges of more traditional sorts, like race, gender, and sexual orientation.  To the extent that political affiliation is an identity, I’m fairly certain I experienced a moment of liberal privilege.  What that may mean for conservatism should be an interesting topic to explore.

Tags: , ,


CCLT: Six Degrees of Majority Privilege

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Identity-based privilege is a concept which is deeply entangled with structural identityism.  Indeed, although the focus is different, the two concepts are essentially the same thing.  The main difference between them is their focus and the contours of what each one seeks to describe.  The concept of privilege is relatively unknown in conservative circles other than to the extent it gets used by the left to shut out people and opinions from debate.  But, like the identityisms, when the term isn’t being used as a weapon, it provides a helpful and widely applicable framework for understanding the world.

The easiest way to illustrate privilege is with the story of two children, Alice and Bob.  Alice lives on a family farm in Iowa with her parents and siblings, while Bob lives with his father in an affluent neighborhood in California.  Alice and Bob have little in common other than that they’re five years old, and both think that it would be the greatest thing in the world to have lunch with Kevin Bacon.

Bob’s father is a wealthy man with an important job in the entertainment industry that keeps him out of the house much of the time.  He frequents a country club not too far from his home that, coincidentally, often has on its lawn none other than Kevin Bacon.  Bob’s father and Kevin have spoken many times and even shared the odd round of golf.  Bob isn’t in school yet, but will start at a private academy next fall.  Kevin has seen pictures of Bob and Bob knows that his dad knows Kevin.

Alice’s family has owned their farm for generations and they still tell stories about the blood and sweat her grandfather put into their land.  As independent farmers, times have been tough with the rise of corporate farms, but a can-do attitude and quality livestock have allowed them to keep their farm.  Her father works from dawn until dusk tending the field and repairing as much of his equipment as he can.  Her mother tends to the animals.  Alice is just now old enough to join her siblings at school in a town about 15 miles away.  Alice’s father thinks “Kevin’s Bacon” is a breakfast food.

To have lunch with Kevin Bacon, Alice and Bob face wildly different challenges.  For Bob, all he needs to do is ask his dad.  For Alice… well… yeah.  She could send him a letter which one of his assistants would read and probably discard.  She could take up acting — no need to imagine your audience wearing chicken suits if your audience is nothing but actual chickens — but most people aren’t good enough to act for Hollywood.  Even if she were that good, she would still need to be discovered in the middle of nowhere, Iowa.  Even if she got discovered, she would still need to track down Kevin Bacon and offer up some reason why he and she should share lunch.  After years of personal effort, sacrifice, and luck, it’s possible that Alice could win what Bob was able to get in the course of a ten second conversation.

That, in a nutshell, is privilege.

Three things about this illustration are critical to note.  The first is that Alice and Bob were differently situated through no fault of their own.  Bob never did anything to injure Alice, and Alice was never injured by Bob.  Neither one chose the lives that were given to them.  The second is that with hard work and determination, it’s possible for Alice to, one day, have lunch with Kevin.  The third is that it could take Alice years and, despite her best effort, it might not happen at all.

Of course, lunch with Kevin Bacon is a metaphor for any of a number of different good things a person may want.  It could be wealth, power, or fame.  It could be a good education, a good job, or a good family.  It could be feeling accepted by society, by your peers, or by your friends.  It could even be the absence of being surrounded by negative messages or not being a victim of structural identityism.

Because it is such a wide-ranging concept, the idea of privilege manifests in a number of important ways.  It certainly shapes our domestic politics, as it forms the foundation of what we call “class warfare.”  It also likely affects our foreign policy in ways which go well beyond President Obama’s frequent apologies to the world.  But even beyond that, privilege (or the lack thereof) affects individuals in the way they live their lives and understand themselves.

Privilege is not a concept about which conservatives need to be afraid.  Indeed, conservatism holds many keys to fight the problems of privilege.  But as with identityism, we’ve committed so strongly to the world as it ought to be that we’ve lost sight of the world as it actually exists.  This is an area where we need to improve.

Tags: , ,