Friday, July 13, 2012

Privilege and Responsiblity

Today I was reading this article about why some of today’s meritocratically selected elite don’t seem to feel the responsibility of their position like some elites used to. This brought to mind something that has been simmering in my head since I discovered RaceFail ‘09, which is like a reality TV show but 100 times better. It helped me understand the far left, even though I still don’t agree with them on many things; I can see that they have attractive premisses and that their ideas were rational extensions from those premisses. One of the central things I learned is the special definition of privilege and the central concept tied to it, which you can read about here. For the super short version there is this
Privilege is ... about advantages you have that you think are normal. It's about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It's about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf. ...  If you get a job, to what extent was that based on the way you look, your gender, your accent, your connections? How can you tell?   -from  A primer on privilege: what it is and what it isn't.
While I could see some of the arguments against this concept of privilege, and the attitudes that went with it, were self-serving; I also felt that the way privilege was being talked about was pointing to misleading conclusions. The results I think are true, for everyone regardless of any privileged difference you can point to, are that we should be aware that there are going to be times when our accustomed authority or status doesn’t apply, and that we should be willing to let our power decrease so that others might increase, where that is appropriate. But because of the indefinite but all encompassing way “privilege” is talked about, it leads to the implication that everyone should always be rejecting the idea they are supposed to be in charge and always acting like they don’t have any status. But this can lead to nobody taking charge of overall results and feeling they are responsible.
There is a contradiction in saying the special position you hold in the world in wrong and needs to be discarded at the same time as saying the special responsibility of your position is something that you need to live up to.  The implication of the way ‘privilege’ is used is that because whatever power you have may have been, in some unknown percentage, possible for you to gain because you were favored but factors outside your control, then that power is in some percentage illegitimate. But if your authority is illegitimate then your responsibility is too. If you can’t divest yourself of a power then must claim the power in order to claim the associated responsibility. In order to have a functioning society there has to be a way for some to have legitimate authority and those with legitimate power can legitimately be privileged.

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