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  1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Privilege and Social Discourse

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Steerpike, Jan 19, 2015.

    An interesting phenomenon in a discussion I was lurking in elsewhere (and which I've seen more than once). People are debating a social issue. One side claims the other arguments stems from a place of privilege (which it may or may not, depending on the case), and then the argument devolves in two ways:

    1) The individuals opposing the privilege argument claim that there's either no such thing or it is a non-issue; and
    2) The individuals making the privilege argument assume that pointing out the privilege proves their point and no further debate is necessary.

    It seems to me both sides fall short here.

    On point 1, privilege exists in various forms across society. Arguing that it doesn't seems nonsensical to me.

    On point 2, pointing out privilege as a substantive argument (i.e. just asserting the other party is privileged instead of arguing the merits of their point) is essentially an ad hominem argument, and thus a logical fallacy.

    The fact that an argument is made by someone who has privilege doesn't make their argument inherently right or wrong, any more than an argument is made inherently right or wrong when someone who is not privileged makes it. At the same time, the lack of self-reflection by the privileged party, to realize that privilege may be influencing their viewpoint, is a failure to consider all of the data available.

    Ultimately, I think it is worthwhile to examine how privilege or lack of it influences our viewpoints, while at the same time realizing that the arguments have to stand or fall on their own merits, and the privilege or lack or privilege of the person making the argument doesn't, in and of itself, lend support to or detract from the merits.

    Make sense?
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it makes sense in broad strokes, but in details I'm not so sure. I mean, if someone is arguing from a position of privilege, and that privilege becomes apparent in the debate, then I don't think it's an ad hominem to point it out.

    Like, if we're discussing pottery from ancient Zimbabwe and we disagree about the provenance of a certain piece, I don't think it's a valid argument to say: "Yeah, you think that's from 800BC? Typical white guy, you can't date your pottery properly."

    But if we're discussing Zimbabwean pottery and we disagree about where surviving pieces should be stored, it might be valid for me to say: "You think it's okay to ship all this pottery to the West because the people in Zimbabwe don't appreciate it the way you would? Typical white guy, knowing better than everyone how to enjoy everyone else's culture."

    Or whatever. I got a bit caught up in the pottery, up there, trying to find something non-controversial.

    In general, I 100% agree with point 1 - it's a total derail to argue against the existence of privilege, and just frustrating and stupid to see how often it's done. On point 2 - I think sometimes privilege IS part of the argument. (The obvious, non-pottery example is when men try to legislate women's reproductive rights and women have to try to explain why it's wrong for them to do so. It's pretty hard to make that argument without pointing out the privilege of the men's position...)
     
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  3. superllama
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    superllama Member

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    i think the problem resides in the use of the word privilege itself. in every country on earth, someone is going to have more than someone else, be it money, land, or personal attributes. some people will feel this is right and just (usually those with more); others will feel that it is injustice (usually those with less) and fight against it. but this begs the question, what is true justice and equality? are we as humans to evolve into clones of each other to forestall such feelings of jealousy? or shall we retain individual traits that define us each as "me"?

    is it then, that privilege is based on force, taking from others that which you want, or engendering a social strata that ensures this will happen? this however changes things, because are we to assume that the down-trodden would automatically do a better job and treat people more fairly? how could we possibly make sure that everyone is equal, without the use of force to counter-act their use of force to keep what they have? isn't the force we use to do so, violent in itself?
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You need to be more specific @Steerpike. As a general discussion it's impossible to comment except to agree privilege exists.
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think that's right, @BayView, if I'm taking your meaning properly. When privilege impacts the argument, I think it makes sense to point it out, and I think it has to be pointed out as relevant to the discussion. What I meant under #2 is you can't just say "oh you're privileged" as the sole argument. Something has to come behind it to get to the merits of the disagreement.

    Using your pottery example, even in the second case, I don't think "typical white guy" works as a final argument. I think what works is to point out factors A, B, and C that are all important to why the pottery shouldn't be taken, in conjunction with pointing out the privilege (historical and contemporary) that is influencing the other person's viewpoint. In other words, you're not saying because you are privileged your argument is invalid, you're saying your argument is invalid for reasons A, B, and C, and because your privilege is affecting your view of those factors.

    If that distinction makes sense.

    On reproductive issues...well, only one person can make the decision, and it seems to me that the only sensible solution is to have the woman who is directly involved be that one person. Pointing out male privilege when they want to legislate it is something that those men should consider when formulating their opinions, but again I don't think it works as the sole argument (particularly if there are women, for example, that hold the same positions).
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    With respect to the existence of privilege and whether or not it can even be eliminated, I think that's a separate matter. Given that it exists, I think anyone in a privileged position who is making an argument impacted by their position of privilege should consider that this is happening, and to what extent, so they can root out biases that may be affecting their viewpoint.
     
  7. superllama
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    superllama Member

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    so what you mean is, that everyone should be "fair", right? in what respects do you feel this is ok, if you don't mind me asking? by that, i mean, in society in general, or did you have a specific case in mind?
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I do think people should be fair, but that's not what I was getting at. I'm more interested in looking at how people attempt to persuade one another in these sorts of discussions, and why the discussions break down in terms of communication. From watching a number of such exchanges it seems to me you have people who fail to recognize privilege and therefore can't consider it when reflecting on their own positions, and you also have people who mistake pointing out privilege for a substantive argument. Either or both of these can contribute to failed dialogue
     
  9. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Generally "privilege" comes from being a member of the default class. The most typical 'privileged' group in the U.S. is White Christian Heterosexual Males, which form the basis for almost every policy that is made. Privilege comes into play when you're talking about being able to accurately perceive all of the effects of some particular action.

    So, while it's correct it's not really a substantive argument, it's absolutely relevant when you're in a debate of some issue such as "Racism no longer exists," or something along those lines.
     
  10. superllama
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    superllama Member

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    i think that "privilege" depends on the context in which you refer to it in. i also think that many people see it where it doesn't exist.
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    And right here we have an example of an opportunity to use a privilege argument!

    I'm really tempted to ask if superllama is a white Christian heterosexual male, and if I did, I don't think it would be an ad hominem argument!
     
  12. superllama
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    superllama Member

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    actually i am, but your question in itself belies the authenticity of your question. by asking, you are showing your bias as to my ability to answer in a way that would satisfy you. i'm also pretty conservative...should i start gathering logs for the fire, or do you have plenty ready to go?
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think that the discussion is about eliminating privilege (edited to add: Not that it wouldn't be nice to eliminate it, but that's not what the discussion is about), but about the recognition of privilege in discussions, arguments, policies, etc., and when that recognition is appropriately used and when it's not.

    Example: I remember reading an anecdote, somewhere, about a low-income woman from a low-income background who was applying for a job for which she was, in terms of skills, entirely qualified. But her interview clothes weren't quite right--she had failed to understand one nuance of office wear. And that failure eliminated her from consideration for the job.

    So I think a reasonable use of the "privilege" concept would be:

    "Did you see those shoes? She's just not right for our office."
    "Jane, that view is coming from privilege. You know the expected kinds of shoes, and you can afford them. Odds are that she doesn't, or can't. She clearly made an effort to dress as appropriately as possible."

    An unreasonable use might be:

    "Did you see those shoes? She's just not right for our office."
    "Jane, that view is coming from privilege..."
    "No. Stop. She's been given the dress code. She's been here for six months, so there's been plenty of time for her to get more appropriate clothes. The office manager explained to her that running shoes are not appropriate for this building, and she lost her temper and said that she was going to wear whatever she pleased."
    "Jane, you're just blinded by your privilege."
     
  14. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, but I think it's relevant to the conversation that someone who's IN the position of privilege has trouble SEEING the privilege - because that almost reinforces the idea of privilege!

    I know it must seem like a frustratingly circular argument, from your side of things, but from the other side of things, it seems silly not to mention the fact that your opinion on privilege is probably affected by your privilege. You know?

    And, as always, being in a position of privilege doesn't mean you're a bad person. It just means you've had a lot of advantages in your life that others haven't had.

    ETA: And I guess this is a useful connection to the OP...

    Pointing out privilege can be a valid counterargument, I would say, when the original argument was based solely on opinion or perception. Does this make sense?

    Like, if someone says they perceive things a certain way, and that's their entire argument, then surely it's a valid counter-argument to point out things that might affect their perception.

    If a colour-blind person says my living room decorations seem bland, it's a fairly effective counter argument, surely, to say that there are quite a few colours that the person just can't see?

    Alternatively, if a regularly-sighted person says the stoplight pattern is fine and doesn't need changing because she can see it just fine, then the colour-blind person isn't making an ad hominem attack by pointing out that the regularly-sighted person has certain advantages that others don't have.

    (And, again, regularly-sighted people aren't bad people. But if they ignore the needs of the colour-blind because THEY can't see the need... well, they're not assholes just because they can see colours. But they might be assholes b/c they can't listen to other people.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2015
  15. superllama
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    superllama Member

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    i have to respectfully disagree with you there bayview. by your mode of thought, any "oppressed" folks anywhere in the world are automatically "right" and people such as i are automatically "wrong". i just can't accept that. you have no idea of who i am, how i was brought up, what i lived through, or what "privileges" i had while doing so.

    isn't this assumption, that just because i am a self described white heterosexual male, that i am the beneficiary of some blurry and undisclosed "white privilege", racist in itself? talk about conspiracy theories!
     
  16. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    No... I don't think I said that. Possibly you're bringing in ideas from somewhere else?

    I'm not saying you, or other privileged people, are automatically wrong. For what it's worth, I'm privileged in almost every way, so if you're 'automatically wrong', so am I. Which, of course, I'm not! ; )

    And, no, I don't think recognizing the effect that racism has had on society is a form of racism. It's just... reality. Or are we pretending that racism doesn't exist? That sexism doesn't exist?

    Saying that we've benefited from white privilege doesn't mean we're racist; it means we live in a racist society and happen to be part of the culture that's given more power in that society. What we do with that power determines whether we're racist or not.
     
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  17. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Privilege" (in this context) is just one of many vague, politically charged words used by different groups to further their own agendas.

    If Jon says something like "most inner city children are at a disadvantage because their public education system is the poorest in America and because the crime rate is so high," he is giving a fact based conclusion.

    But if Aaron says, "well, people who are not inner city children need to check their privilege," he is taking a specific fact based statement, and converting it to something that is vague and general purpose.

    Then Linda, an uptown girl, says to Mike, who works at a gas station "you need to check your privilege." She has not really said anything on an intelligent, fact based level. She has made an emotionally charged statement to make Mike feel bad.

    Use "privilege" as it was originally intended, to describe upper class and upper middle class children, who got to go to private school and college, and who have an inheritance waiting for them.

    If you want to point to inequality, use numbers, not bull ****.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2015
  18. superllama
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    superllama Member

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    i have to disagree with you again. calling something "racism" or "sexism" when it might not exist (in that particular action) defines it as a product of society, and therefore as a product of said society, i am a racist by default. if i deny someone employment because i just don't think they'd be good at the job, is that then "racist" or 'sexist" if they are not my color or gender? am i allowed to base my judgements on my gut feelings, based on how said person acts during the interview, or how they dress, or their mode of speech?

    am i "privileged" because i speak well, and am i being a racist because i don't offer a job to someone who cusses every three words or can't speak decent english? i have done both of those things, to applicants of many races and colors. to me, "could they do the job and not piss off my customers" was always my guide-point.

    i find the comment "we live in a racist society" very telling, to be honest. people see what they want to see, and all too often don't simply take people as they are.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not seeing even one word in BayView's posts that communicates that message.
     
  20. superllama
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    superllama Member

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    i think it does, by her way of phrasing her arguments. i could be wrong, i have been before and will be again. but to me, it seems as though she is arguing that racism/sexism exists (and so it does) and that somehow folks like me are to blame for it all, with no mention that the very same things exist in every society in every nation on earth.
     
  21. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    This misses the point. Pointing out "privilege" is not quite the same as saying you are wrong. Generally, privilege will refer to a problem that is entrenched with systemic racism or sexism -- that is racism that is not necessarily due to a particular person doing something because they, for example, consciously do not like black people. It's about recognizing that our institutions have been set up by those who possess certain privileges and that institutional biases exist that harm certain groups of people. The people who benefit from them are often blind to the advantages they confer. Sometimes willingly, sometimes innocently. But blind to them nonetheless. Acknowledging one's privilege and benefit from certain societal structures doesn't mean that in every instance one needs to agree with a particular remedy for the unfair results.
     
  22. superllama
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    superllama Member

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    i mean really....asking if i am a white christian heterosexual male and then saying it wouldn't be ad hominem to ask, pretty much says it all, doesn't it? right there in her assumptions about me, she casts herself into the cauldron of racism/sexism/etc.
     
  23. superllama
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    i don't agree. to agree with such an argument would imply that i am, by default, racist through the structure in which i was raised and taught. i do not believe this is true. while i do agree that racism exists, i don't think that it exists in purely one form, nor is it exclusive to one race or gender. nor do i believe that privilege goes only one way, or is taken advantage of by only one section of society. it is everywhere, as is privilege. it is part of the human condition, something our brains thought up to make us feel better about ourselves.
     
  24. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know if this will be helpful enough, but maybe a recent example I experienced might shed some light. (Or it might be totally useless.)
    In another online outlet, I was involved in a discussion wherein a Chinese American person posted that she felt uncomfortable with a facebook post made by someone she knew. It involved the recall of pet food made in China and had all kinds of sentiment about how Chinese products were bad and you should never buy anything from China.

    Now, my first reaction was that it was kind of silly. I have a dog and I saw information about these recalls, and I myself thought that I would never buy pet food from China and that no one should. It was a totally legitimate post and it had nothing to do with Chinese people and there was no reason for her to feel badly for any reason.

    I am not Chinese. I am not even Asian. I am white.

    Some other Asian people (including some Chinese people) talked about how they had some discomfort too, and how they have experienced some blow back from all these recalls of Chinese products and that people have in fact, displaced some of these bad feelings about Chinese products to Chinese people, or to all Asian people. Some Asian people expressed how they were exasperated by constantly having people turn to them for advice or thoughts on anything having anything at all to do with any Asian country.

    Now, even though I saw nothing to feel bad about with respect to the dog food recall, and would say that the same standards really should apply to all countries, it's just that China happens to be the biggest violator of some of these rules, I had to recognize and acknowledge that I myself am not Asian. I have never had to deal with any sort of anti-Asian bias. I have never had to feel the least bit responsible or accountable for anything that has been done in any Asian country. So, I have to accept that it is legitimate that at least some Asian Americans feel this way, and that it is understandable that they do. I've enjoyed a certain privilege in that I've never been automatically linked to any particular ethnic group or country, and have never been the go-to source of information or blame whenever some group of people did something that was totally beyond my control and disconnected from me. I have to accept that if I had experienced this, I might have a different point of view.

    That doesn't mean that I hate Asian people or that I love Asian people or anything like that. But it does inform another person's interpretation of whether I can say that an Asian person should or should not take offense for the post, or should take any particular action.
     
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  25. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, it's not exclusive to one race or one gender. But particularly in the U.S., there is one race and one gender that benefits from it.
     
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