For some time now I’ve been standing back and keeping bemused score on the latest salvos in the Great Cancel War, a war that’s been going on since even before we emerged from the cave. Sometimes it’s been about sedition, other times about blasphemy. But this time it seems to be about privilege. And as best as I can tell, the battle lines are these:
If you’re privileged you’re not allowed to speak, unless you acknowledge your privilege and want to apologize for it. If you acknowledge your privilege and want to apologize for it you’re woke. If you don’t you’re not. If you’re not woke you have to either deny that you’re privileged, or else decline to apologize for it. Since you’re not allowed to speak where you used to be able to, e.g.. on campus, you’ve taken to screaming from across the street. Hence the town/gown split many of us are so familiar with. The woke control the gown, the unwoke control the town.
As with any occupation, resistance was inevitable. Otherwise it wouldn’t be called a war, now would it? But not unlike Americans at Pearl Harbor, the unwoke got blindsided, and so they’ve been slow to muster their own forces. But now they seem to have come out of their harbours with all barrels primed to fire.
For those of us who are enamoured by war, it’s the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan, with CNN and MSNBC inching up the beaches, and Fox firing from the cliffs above. It’s been fun to watch. And the war will go on, even if reduced to less dramatic skirmishes. But I suspect the woke’s upcoming victory on November 3 is going to dampen some of the bloodlust on both sides. So if I’m going to be topical in these blog entries, the time to comment is now. So here goes.
The problem with privilege is that there’s more than one measure of it. For example, in terms of wealth, there’s no one more privileged than the richest man in the world. But when it comes to what matters to him, he might not feel very privileged at all. While you and I are coveting his wealth, he’s coveting the bodies of the fitness instructors he sees on TV. Some people are better looking than others, or more intelligent, or healthier, or have better bowel movements.
So when we talk about privilege, we have to specify with respect to what. We have to specify the comparison class. And then we have to privilege both that measure and that class. White men are privileged over black men in America with respect to security of the person, but not, according to Philippe Rushton at least, the length of their schlongs. But with respect to security of the person and the length of their schlongs, black men in America are privileged over Uigher men in China. And so on.
Some people think that privilege – in the sense being deployed by the woke against the unwoke – entails a causal connection between the privilege of the one class and the unprivilege of the other. So, for example, to speak of white privilege in America there has to be something white people are doing – or at least that their ancestors have done – in virtue of which whites are privileged relative to blacks. Well, two and a half centuries of slavery, followed by another of the Jim Crow laws, would seem to fit the bill, would it not?
But suppose there was a genetically transmissible plague that crippled all and only blacks. Would we call the detritus of this tragedy white privilege? We might. But whether the term would bear the opprobrium the SJW wants to impose on it would depend, I think, on how the ‘superior’ race regarded and treated the ‘inferior’ one. If the sense of superiority became, say, theologized – e.g. God wanted it this way – then yes. But if the disparity was simply accepted as an unfortunate but accidental fact, I think it would be a bit of a stretch to call those of us who are less than appropriately sensitive to the happenstantially disabled as demonstrating our ‘ablist privilege’.
So yes, I think privilege is being deployed as a term of opprobrium, and entails, at the very least, that the bearer of privilege should try to divest himself of that privilege. Why? Because inequality is wrong. Why is it wrong? Because …
This is where the woke go back to sleep. Since they can’t tell it would be churlish to ask. And so that’s where any drilling down on this woke-ness hits bedrock. Inequality is wrong because, well, that’s what we’ve decided. The inequality between blacks in America and blacks in Mozambique isn’t wrong because we’ve yet to decide that it is. It’s just, well, bedrock.
More often than not the SJW privileges wealth. But when pressed she’ll acknowledge that wealth is a metonym for power. And, she’ll concede, there are forms of power other than money. There are riggers up in the oil patch making twice what I do. But because I’m a tenured university professor, I have almost unlimited power over my own work life, whereas they have virtually none over theirs. So to be woke I’d have to acknowledge and apologize for my power over my untenured colleagues. For them to be woke they’d have to acknowledge and apologize for their power over their students, their students over their younger siblings, and so on. So regardless of the measure – and except for one person at each end of each spectrum – there’s always someone more privileged than me, and someone less privileged than me. And I use the word ‘privileged’ in this canonically self-flagellating sense because we don’t have to exercise our power over our underlings, now do we?
So the problem with privilege is that there’s not a whole lot that isn’t. We all exercise our privilege and are, in turn, exercised upon. So for woke-ness to be anything more than just banal, it’s going to have to pick out a particular measure of privilege – or more likely a particular set of measures – and it’s going to have to restrict itself to a particular spatio-temporal domain of comparatives. So, for example, I’m woke just in case I acknowledge and apologize for my privilege as a white person relative to black people in contemporary North America, as measured by the relative bell curves of whites and blacks in terms of … followed by some list of desiderata thought to be common to people regardless of their race.
But – and this is important – what makes me privileged is not that I eat better than my black neighbour. What makes me privileged is that the typical constituent of the white curve eats better than the typical constituent of the black curve. So, for example, a white waitress bending over backwards – no double entendre intended – to get a good tip from the wealthy black diner she’s just served, remains unwoke unless she acknowledges and apologizes to him for her white privilege. And this strikes some people as, well let’s just say, a tad baffling. And that bafflement can give, and has given, rise to a whole lot of unwoke-ness.
And for me this raises an interesting question. Why can’t one acknowledge her privilege as a sociological fact without having to apologize for it? Why can’t I acknowledge that I am myself among the beneficiaries of that privilege – assuming I am – without having to self-flagellate for my good fortune? I ask this not as a rhetorical question. I’m sure there’s an answer to it. I just want to hear it articulated.
I want to hear the woke SJW say something about our obligation to fight injustice wherever we find it, to look for it, so as not to be accused of wilful blindness, and then I want to hear what she has to say about all the injustices as or more egregious than the one she’s railing against but about which she assiduously declines to give even the most minuscule of shits.
To be fair, we all have our Precious. And to have too many is to have none. But among all the possible Preciouses in the world, what drives her selection? Why is fist-pumping little Rachel so woke to Black Lives Matter, but so utterly unwoke to the elderly Palestinian charwoman who cleans the toilets in her five star hotel room in Jerusalem where Mommy and Daddy have sent her, with a gaggle of like-endowed chaperones, “to see the world”?
Every organism does the best it can given that there are other organisms each of whom is doing the best it can. Privileged is just a word we use to express our resentment that we have to compete. Woke is a word some people use to earn some street creds by acknowledging and apologizing for incurring that resentment. And then, once that cred is secured, to just carry on as before.
If you want to cleanse yourself of your privilege by giving it up, you can only do so by sullying whomever you’ve given it up to. Why? Because after you and I are living in identical houses, I’m still going to be better looking, and you’re still going to have better bowel movements.
Back in the day – by which is meant whenever the speaker was eighteen – we too took our turn at this kind of virtue-signalling. But to the accompaniment of much better music. And we had bell bottoms, granny gowns, and mescaline. Come to think of it, in comparison to the current generation of SJWs, we were embarrassingly privileged, were we not?
This has been an enthymeme. The missing conclusion is not all’s well and God is in His heaven. Without the social justice warrior our lives would indeed be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. It’s that in this campaign privilege is just the wrong concept. It’s that she needs to pick out the right concepts. I’ve offered my help, but she doesn’t think she needs any. Alas, a prophet is never honoured in his own country.