Bad abstractions, continued. Privilege

Now let’s consider “privilege”, in any of its avatars — white privilege or male privilege, for example. This may be the most obfuscatory concept, or pseudo-concept, of all we have considered. First of all, of course, in the case of “white privilege”, it is the reification of a negative: the fact that “white” people aren’t treated, on the average, quite so badly as black people is, as it were, multiplied by -1, and turned into some sort of fictitious accounting asset supposedly possessed by the former. (Actually it’s the doubled reification of a negative, since it builds on the reified negative of “white people” in the first place.)

Consider a thought experiment: A society in which some arbitrarily chosen group – tall people, let’s say – are able to become doctors and lawyers and short people are not.

Now it seems obvious that in any rational egalitarian society, anybody who wants to be a doctor or a lawyer and is willing to put in the time ought to be able to do so (assuming that you need lawyers, but that too is another essay). So what the Talls have is the capacities that everybody ought to have; and the Shorts are unjustly deprived of them.

In a case like this, to speak of “tall privilege” seems to turn the thing upside-down; what the Talls have is not something unearned and special; what they have is in fact the common birthright of mankind, a right and not a privilege at all. Rather, the problem is that the Shorts are unjustly deprived of this right – not this “privilege”; this right. In other words, the problem is a problem of deprivation, not a problem of privilege. And of course the solution is not to deprive the Talls of their “privilege”; the solution is to stop depriving the Shorts. Right?

Even on the purely lexical plane, it’s preposterous to speak of unemployed former miners, say, dwelling in the postindustrial hellscapes of North America, without means or hope or medical care or useful public services, as the possessors of “privilege”, however rarefied and abstract and relative. It makes nonsense of the word.

But as we know, every theory implies a praxis, and it’s the praxis implied by this very bad theory that constitutes its really disastrous aspect – going far beyond its intellectual incoherence. It subverts solidarity. So-called “white people”, however downtrodden, are in effect told that they have too much – that they possess an unearned privilege, which by implication ought to be stripped away. In other words, the clear entailment of “white privilege” is, quite simply, levelling down. White people may be downtrodden, but they are not as downtrodden as black people, so they need taking down a peg or two more. Especially the deplaaarable lower orders. It would be difficult to devise a more suicidal turn for any kind of Left politics worthy of the name.

Which is probably why it’s a notion greatly beloved by affluent liberals, who loathe the deplaaarables, and lose no sleep over their dismal situation. It also provides endless opportunities for virtue-signalling by means of privilege-checking, and, at the same time, slyly, complacently registering one’s possession of privilege in the first place. The human fact is that nobody minds having privilege, and nobody minds other people knowing that one has it. Checking one’s privilege doesn’t mean it goes away; at the end of the evening, one retrieves it from the checkroom, perhaps with a nice tip for the attendant.

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