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A Note On “Privilege”

So this “privilege” thing is in the air and of course everyone has to comment on it, I guess me too. In case you haven’t run into it yet, it’s the annoyingly, increasingly common debate-ending tactic where the person losing the argument notes the relative success and/or race of the person winning the argument, and thus claims victory.

Of course, that’s not what it’s supposed to be. Originally intended as a polite request to reexamine the effects of your position and upbringing on your opinions and outlook, I have never seen it used that way. Instead, the “privilege check” is exclusively employed as a childish PLEASE STOP, a racist trump card to be thrown when facts and logic are inadequate to support a position. As an enshrinement of the Professional Victimhood movement, it’s a bullshit Kafkatrap where the accusation and attempts to deny “privilege” is part of the punishment, and the only way to win is to refuse to play.


I don’t, however, wish the idea would go away. Much like someone who defaces the flag, it’s a useful marker. Once I read someone unironically citing “privilege” in an argument, it’s a sure flag to stop taking that person seriously on that subject, because they’re no longer trying to argue a position, they’re demanding to be allowed to shout down their opposition.

Which is about as honest an admission of intellectual laziness as you could hope for.

{ 6 } Comments

  1. Bruce | May 13, 2014 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    My response to “check your privilege” would be “check your entitlement.”

  2. Jaws | May 13, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I don’t see that tacit admission of intellectual laziness as being anything resembling a victory.

    Given that we’re living in a real-life Idiocracy, most of the audience can only process “Aw snap! You got served!” and go back to watching Ow My Balls ovn their 72″ flat screen.

  3. Don Gwinn | May 14, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Bruce, a strong sense of entitlement is an integral part of privilege the way the term is generally used. That’s kind of the point. If I have unexamined privilege, I feel entitled to act in ways that I wouldn’t otherwise, and I can dismiss any need to change that.

    PDB: you linked to an example of someone doing what you said you’d never seen done. ;)

  4. pdb | May 14, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    PDB: you linked to an example of someone doing what you said you’d never seen done.

    Right, that’s the point. Yours was the first piece I’d ever seen that brought the idea up without using it as a rhetorical club. In “the wild”, I’ve never seen it used otherwise.

    It’s still a bullshit concept, because facts are facts and don’t care about the childhood of the person citing them.

  5. Tam | May 15, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    On more than one occasion, when carrying a firearm in a gun show, a passerby has stopped my male companion to ask him how much he wanted for the firearm I was carrying.

    I have seen some elaborate rationalizations for why that wasn’t really a dumbshit sexist thing to do, too.

  6. Don Gwinn | May 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    pdb, where do you think *I* learned that definition, or how to do it? I didn’t invent it. What I’m pointing out here is that the whole point of “privilege” is that one person’s experience of life is not descriptive of all of life, and the fact that I haven’t experienced something can blind me to the fact that others experience it constantly.

    Tam, I didn’t know that, but I’m not surprised. Dumbshit, sexist, and done with the best of intentions and genuine puzzlement if anybody pointed it out. If you wanted to call “privilege” a simple lack of awareness, thoughtlessness, or whatever, it would still make sense. We’re almost all predisposed to it. (Probably close enough to “all” not to matter, but I’ll be cautious.)