Yesterday’s post dealing with privilege generated a number of responses, both here on the blog and on Facebook. One of those was from Doug Masson, who is always thoughtful and balanced: his (fairly lengthy) comment seemed to me to boil down to one very fair question: what does discussion of privilege accomplish? What purpose is served?
My post on the subject was motivated by several articles I’ve recently seen dismissing the notion that “privilege” exists. In each case, the concept itself was mischaracterized–the classic “straw man” technique–in order to justify criticizing or ridiculing it.
But an explanation of what prompted my post doesn’t answer the question about why the discussion matters.
It matters, I think, because reasonable debates over policy, reasonable discussions about our different policy preferences, need to originate from a shared reality.
I’d analogize to the periodic accusations that extending civil rights to GLBT people would be granting them “special” rights. If someone’s reality doesn’t include an understanding of the ways in which gay people are marginalized, calls for equal treatment may seem like special pleading. (Granted, most of the folks making these accusations probably know better, but some do not.)
Or take global climate change. The people who don’t believe it exists are much more likely to accept the arguments against moving to Green energy sources being made by those with a vested interest in the status quo.
If it has never occurred to a white guy living his life in accordance with the social conventions of his time and place that those conventions confer benefits not available to women and minorities, he’s likely to reject efforts to level the playing field. Once he understands the ways in which social attitudes advantage people who look like him, he may be more open to change.
Or he may not.
It may well be that humans will never really occupy the same reality–it may be that we all have worldviews based upon religion or philosophy or personality that require us to see realities consistent with those worldviews, and to ignore facts that are inconvenient or disturbing. If that’s the case, however, there’s no point to blogs or other efforts to communicate with each other.
At the end of the day, I use this blog to describe the reality I inhabit, and to generate discussion of appropriate policy responses. When my reality isn’t familiar to those of you reading my posts, I hope you will tell me why. I learn a lot from those who comment here.