In light of the deconstruction of the statist sophism, “rights vs. privileges,” floated in my previous essay, it is worth thinking about one of the odder uses of the word “privilege” in our time, the use of the word amongst modern feminists and the protestors of the Social Justice Warrior crowd — all those now under the thrall of the bizarre meme complex they call “intersectionality.”
For several years now I have struggled to make sense of the common charge, “white male privilege.”
I am told that it is something I possess. But I have to say, it sure is hard to pinpoint what advantages I get from this alleged “privilege.” With my name, on the Internet, many people are not even sure what race I can be said to fall into. Virkkala? What is that? So my Internet life — which makes up a considerable part of my life and livelihood — seems hardly to benefit from some sort of unearned racial advantage.
For the longest time I looked askance at the charge because I attributed to it a misidentification of my being treated, where I live, mostly justly, contrasted with folks in other areas of America and the world in which what was obviously lacking was not privilege, but justice.
To call a person privileged because they are treated justly seems to run afoul of the basic duality of rights vs. privileges. The chief problem with those whom we used to call, regularly, the “under-privileged,” is not that they lack privilege, but that they lack justice. One of the chief reasons they do not thrive, say in Africa or elsewhere, is that their surrounding social institutions are grossly unjust.
And those who are treated justly, but still remain impoverished — is it because they lack “privilege”? Really? Is not what really separates their lives from mine to be found in the unfortunate fact that while I have (at present) sources of income based on trade, they do not?
Remember, when we dissolved the duality rights vs. privileges? Rights are instruments of justice. Privilege differs, is characterized by allowed benefit from generosity or forbearance. But when we finally move beyond the duality to trade, we are talking about neither the strictly just nor the strictly privileged. We are talking about serving others through a particular form of voluntary cooperation.
And these trades — exchanges —occur only when you possess something that someone else wants, and that person has something that you want. Both of you are willing to give up what you have for something deemed better that the other has.
This area of trade is where earning happens. Where productivity receives reward. Where we service one another in distinct transactions.
I trade some of my labor and attention and skill for someone else’s money, which they got from trading their labor and attention and skill.
Trade and its benefits depend, of course, on you possessing some labor and skill, and a willingness to attend to others. And, it is a truism: one’s initial skill set is not determined by one’s own self. Nature, circumstance, chance, Providence, and the like, determine our basic make-ups, and these influences produce vastly different beings in vastly different circumstances. Inequality. At start and on an ontological level. Obviously. But, no matter what your initial outlay of talents and prospects, over the course of your life you have a number of decisions to make, and the most pertinent ones facing you are not: how do I get more privilege? or how do I get more basic rights?
The hardest thing in the world to change are other people, especially when what you want from them comes at their cost. Granting privileges to you obviously comes at cost to them. And granting basic rights to you does also come at even greater cost.
How so? Well, privileges one person bestows on another come from generosity or charity, mainly, and diminish the grantor’s resources. (Ask yourself, why would they do that?) And, similarly, the justice that one person can “give” to another depends on that very difficult thing, coordination with many other people. While one person can be just towards another, the actual granting of a condition as a right to one or more people requires, for accomplishment, a general consensus or preponderance of social actors engaged in community mores. And the hardest social thing to do is coordinate the actions of many, many people.
What is easiest to do, as we go about living our lives, is to engage in specific transactions with others. We can give, or we can take. And between these two actions, we can engage in give-and-take, in mutually advantaged trade. That is, giving dependent upon taking; taking dependent on reciprocal gift. (See Condillac, Destutt de Tracy, Frédéric Bastiat, and the later writers in the Third School of Political Economy for more details on this.)
This is the source of most advancement. This is what successful “white men” do to get their alleged “privilege.”
But to ascribe privilege to what they are doing falsifies their actual behavior. What successful white men do is trade. They exert themselves. They figure out what talent or property they possess (or can legally acquire) that they can give to others — dependent upon a return, for remuneration.
So, the vast cadre of intersectional feminists who talk incessantly of The Patriarchy and of “privilege,” and scream and demand their “rights” to not be “oppressed” by a system of white male dominance, uh, this crowd of folks misses the main transactions that make up successful life.
And thus they miss on the pleasures of voluntary society while condemning themselves to fruitless lives of coercive protesting and exclusionary tactics to promote “inclusion.”
By focusing on privilege, and insisting on rights to be given stuff, to demand reparations, to be equalized at the base, natural stages of their lives — to be made equal, or to compensate for some perceived inequality — they debilitate their lives and the lives of the people they aim to help. For, really, no matter where you are in life, if you cry about the injustices of inequality or the perfidy of Fate, and do not engage in strategies of advancement through voluntary cooperation, via trade, you are worse than under-privileged. You are self-condemned to frustration and failure, and will, therefore, miss out on the blessings of civilization — which has, it should be obvious to us all, lifted man out of rough natural life, and into something comparatively easier.
Civilized life is not about privilege, folks. Civility is about what you do in relationship to others. If you want to know what oppression is, do not look to our initial unequal conditions, but to the discrete transactions among people that are based on initiated coercion.
And, if you want to see people thrive? Then treat people justly, as having the basic minimal rights, and follow up with a myriad of transactions . . . yes, undertake the many, many next steps, to cooperate with others in a friendly (or at least not unfriendly) manner.
Without whining and hectoring.