You know, I really thought privilege was a great idea until it started affecting me personally. I really enjoyed this comparison between privilege and the difficulty setting on a video game. I’ve read all the articles on privilege, and dissected my own, and helped others find theirs, and on the whole I was doing fine with the whole privilege thing.
But then it got personal. I read this, which introduced me to something called literacy privilege. She points out the myriad situations which might account for poor written English: dyslexia, a broken home during childhood, malnutrition, English as a second language, etc. Finally, most terrifyingly, she points out that “nearly half of all North American adults cannot cope with complex written material of the sort that the other half of us take completely for granted.” The author says the consequences of illiteracy are so direct, shameful and long-lasting that nobody would choose, out of mere laziness, to be functionally illiterate.
But then she says that, in recognition of literacy privilege, we shouldn’t call out others for their poor grammar—or at least we shouldn’t enjoy doing so. Instead, we should make an honest effort to understand and appreciate each other’s message regardless of non-standard language usage. This means no feeling of glee, no flash of superiority, no flush of vindication when someone uses a modifier incorrectly or switches out homonyms.
But I worked hard for my language skills! I was in the spelling bee, and I took AP English, and I always went to the free writing tutor that was provided by my expensive liberal arts college. I read and I write and submit my work to editors all so that I can be a better writer! Why can’t someone else do that?
Really, the advent of the Internet was a godsend for someone like me. Anytime I’m feeling low, or doubtful, I can jump on there and swim through some message boards, and feel smarter and more competent than so many. It hurts to have someone threaten that feeling of smug superiority, which is really all I have standing between me and the void of utter meaninglessness.
That’s why I’ve decided to push back. Discussions of privilege are fine, yes, I get it, but privilege is about the abstract, the aggregate. You know, gender, race, sexual orientation. Things like that. Asking me to change my personal habits and way of life is practically an assault upon my freedom.
We need to consider my needs, which I believe are the same as the society as a whole.
Discussions of privilege are bad because they throw into doubt all ranks, hierarchies and other comparisons between individuals. If someone is living with inherited challenges like institutional racism, or gender dysphoria, or something else that I know nothing about, then I can’t fit that person into a category. And a well-ordered society requires categories like “dumb,” “sketchy,” “thuggish,” etc. And as someone who has found myself at the top of the heap due to accidents of birth and pleasant coincidences, I am very invested in the idea that society has an order.
Talking about privilege is also dangerous because it totally destroys the idea that we are completely self-creating, autonomous beings. This idea has been the basis of rational thought for centuries, and has yet to be disproven, at least to my knowledge. Look, I know I’m autonomous because. …. I mean, it’s obvious, right? If a woman can’t even be queen of her own castle, what can she be? But privilege, and it’s associated analysis, implies that people might be subject to forces outside their control that shape them and their lives to alarming degrees. This is disturbing, and I do not want to believe it.
Let’s just agree that privilege might be a good conversation, but it has no place in actual life. You have a part in this, too. You can start by refusing to talk about privilege of any kind, refusing to analyze inherited biases or long-standing institutions that might influence privilege.
Society needs us to put aside this bickering and get down to work. Let’s focus on our jobs. Let’s build each other up, not down. Privilege was an interesting thought experiment but it’s gone too far.
In conclusion, even if privilege is a good idea, it’s dangerous and unpleasant, so we should ignore it. If we as a society can’t have a few noble lies, what can we have?