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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"Critical theory" and "privilege"

I just sent the following as an open letter, about the notion of "privilege" (e.g. "white privilege", "male privilege", etc.) in "critical theory". To quote my own summary from the conclusion:
So far, then, we have seen several problems with "privilege" rhetoric:
(1) It is tactically ill-conceived, in that it diverts attention away from blacks and women, and towards whites and men, thus helping to perpetuate abuse by concealing it.
(2) The very word "privilege" implies placement of blame.
(3) It illegitimately aggregates and relies on Marxism, thus ignoring that all value is subjective, all profit is psychic, and all individuals are unique. Furthermore, it thereby places blame even on those who were not party to the affair; for example, by speaking of "male privilege", a man in Mexico is somehow made responsible for what happens to women in Saudi Arabia, merely because he is a man.
(4) It treats rights as government-granted rather than government-protected, thus giving rise to the fallacy that human welfare is zero-sum, that all benefits must come at someone else's loss, and that disadvantaged parties cannot simply be elevated to the rank of the advantaged, but that the disadvantaged must *take* rights *away* from the advantaged, so that the advantaged loss as much as the disadvantaged gain. Instead of increasing the total sum of welfare, positive-sum, human welfare is treated as zero-sum.


Hello.

I wish, please, if it is possible, to engage you in a short discussion of the "critical theory" subject of "privilege". I only just came across this subject in a conversation yesterday with some friends, but they were unable to competently answer some of the objections and misgivings I had with the subject. Meanwhile, the subject is foreign to me as well, so I do not know where - if anywhere - my objections and misgivings have been dealt with. Perhaps you can help. What I would like to see, please, is either an answer to my objections, or to be pointed to appropriate literature which has already dealt with the issues I shall raise in a moment.

You may consider this an open letter, and distribute it as you see fit, as long as it is not edited in any way whatsoever.

There are a few issues, it seems to me, with the rhetoric of "privilege". Firstly, as a purely tactical move, it seems ill-conceived. If, for example, blacks or women are disadvantaged, what is the purpose of focusing on whites or males? This will only deflect attention away from where it is needed; instead of blacks and women receiving the attention they deserve, instead, whites and males will be accorded that attention. So the rhetoric of "privilege", by deflecting attention away from those who are disadvantaged, probably actually makes their situation worse.

Secondly, the focus on those who are not disadvantaged, seems peculiarly calculated to place blame upon them. After all, if women or blacks are being disadvantaged, why focus attention on a man or on a white, who wasn't even involved, who didn't even do anything, if not to place blame on him? The natural human reaction of someone, upon being told he has "privilege", is to reply with indignation. Furthermore, why speak of his "privilege" instead of her oppression and abuse and disadvantage, if not to place blame upon him? The goal seems not to help her, but to hurt him. Let me illustrate with a hypothetical situation:

I am sitting on my porch, in my rocking chair, suckling honeysuckle. Suddenly, some people come up over the hill, and start hooting and hollering at me, "Don't you know you have male privilege! Women are raped all the time, and you, as a male, benefit from this! You have privilege because women are raped, and you are a man!" How do I respond to this? Naturally, I retort, "How dare you! How dare you suggest that I personally benefit from women being raped! I would never wish such an unspeakable evil upon anyone! How dare you suggest something so vile about me, that I benefit from rape!" But if, instead, those same people had come to me, and said, "Hey, over that hill, some women are being raped. You must help us!", how would I have responded? With, "Oh, that's horrible! Let me get my shotgun!" In the first scenario, by speaking of my "privilege" of being a male who is not raped, you seem to suggest that I am blameworthy, that it is my fault, and that I have done something wrong. But if instead you speak of the women who are being abused, then not only is the focus being put where it is required to be (see my first objection, about tactics), but no blame is being implied, either.

So I am not at all clear why we need this rhetoric of "privilege". At best, it unintentionally but ruinously deflects attention from where it ought to be; at worst, it is conspiratorial. Why do we need this terminology? We can already speak of how women are abused; why do we need to talk about how men are "privileged"? What does this add? A man can already recognize that women are abused, and he can already work to combat this. All that is lacking is a confession of guilt on his part, and therefore, it stands to reason that "privilege" *is* guilt. That is, he has already given everything he can, short of a confession. He is then asked to "check his privilege". Therefore, to "check his privilege" *is* to admit guilt. Or, to quote my friend Kyle B., in response to someone's assertion that an admission of inequality is tantamount to a "check of privilege": "No, it [viz. admitting that inequality exists]'[i]s admitting that inequality exists. You don't need another word for it, like 'privilege', unless you intend it to mean something beyond the mere existence of inequality, something about *me*. That you leave that part out on one hand, then attempt to smuggle it in later is flat out dishonest. My only real question now, is: do you know this and are lying to us, or are you lying to yourself?" When I said that we already have the categories of "oppression", "abuse", etc., and do not need the additional one of "privilege", Kyle responded, "Michael, all those categories are about the victims and the oppressors, not about you. They need that extra cetagory to make it about you, because they cannot drag you down into the collective identity without a way to get their hooks in you." In other words, "privilege" is needed in order to drag uninvolved third parties into the conflict, in addition to the victims and oppressors who are already there, so that blame can be placed on the uninvolved parties as well.

After all, "privileges" are typically used to denote advantages which have been obtained by political lobbying. (This is contrary to Peggy McIntosh's claim that the word "privilege" has a positive connotation. On the contrary, the connotation of the word is decidedly negative.) For example, if I am a drug company and I succeed in getting Obama to ban cheaper, foreign drugs in return for my funding his reelection campaign (just to take one example from recent news), then I have obtained a "privilege". Thus, privileges typically indicate advantages secured via government-cartelization and cronyism; e.g., monopoly privileges, such as those granted to the East India Company, giving it a monopoly on tea. So to say that men have "male privilege" implies that they personally lobbied the government to secure their advantages. It implies that the men are part of a cartel that has deliberately fostered and secured their own privileges. In short, the word "privilege" has a connotation of ill-gotten spoils, of unjustly gotten gains at someone else's expense, implying guilt. Furthermore, as I said, why else would one speak of the men at all, except to place blame? If women are being raped, then why would one speak of the men who are privileged in not being raped, unless one meant to say that these men have deliberately contrived a culture of rape for their own benefit? If one does not seek to blame the men, then one should not speak of them at all, but one should speak only of the women. After all, if the men are not to blame, then they are not even part of the entire affair, and they do not merit any discussion. The only people who merit discussion are those who are parties to the transaction: the raped women and the men who rape them. The men who do not rape anyone, they are not parties to anything, and they do not deserve any mention. If they are, however, mentioned, then this implies the placement of blame, because there is no other possible reason to mention them other than to blame them. "Privilege" *must* be blame, because there is nothing else it could possibly be, because everything else already has a term for it.

For example, one of my friends told me that I have "male privilege" because women cannot drive a car in Saudi Arabia. I responded that I have never been to Saudi Arabia, and that I do not personally benefit from women's inability to drive there, and that I never did anything to foster their disadvantage. Therefore, I said, I am not a party to the entire affair. If one wishes to speak of the evil of Saudi women being denied the ability to drive, fantastic, this is a worthy discussion, but do not dare speak of my "privilege". I do not benefit at all from their inability; their loss is *not* my gain, and to speak of my "privilege" implies that I have gained at their expense, and that I somehow approve of or even actively support their disadvantage for the sake of my own advantage. To quote Kyle, "[H]ow does 'A mistreats B' have any relevance to saying anything about C? I don't get a job because women are oppressed, I get a job because I'm qualified. Some women *don't* get jobs they are qualified for because they are oppressed, or at least *dis*privileged. Life is not a zero sum game. Other's losses are not my gains." And when Kyle was asked to "check his privilege", he responded, "I don't. I acknowledge that there are things women can't do that human beings should be able to do, because they are women. It says *nothing* about me." He added, about Saudi women, "[I]f I disappeared, or disguised myself as a woman, she would still not be driving the car. My maleness has *nothing* to do with her oppression." When Kyle was told that he is in the "right side" of privilege, he responded, "I'm not on either 'end' of it, *I'm not part of it*."

Therefore, we see two further fallacies that are committed in this "privilege" rhetoric: firstly, we have illegitimate aggregation. I am coming from the perspective of economics, which is the the study of every individual, unique, autonomous human being acting according to his own personal, individual, subjective value scales. According to economics, then, aggregation is illegitimate whenever disparate human beings are grouped together when their characteristics do not warrant this. (To quote a certain rapper, "That simple equation: too much aggregation / Ignores human action / And motivation.") Secondly, according to economics, all value is purely subjective and all profit is purely psychic. Therefore, if you have two men, one a rapist and the other not, you cannot - according to economics - group them together, because their value scales are entirely unalike. One man psychically profits from rape, while the other man is either indifferent or even suffers a psychic loss (pain) every time he hears of a case of rape in the news. To group these two men together as members of the same group is, from an economic perspective, illogical and irrational. These two men are not only engaged in different concrete behaviors, but their subjective value scales are entirely unalike, as well. It is impossible to speak of the man who abhors rape and is disgusted by it, as benefiting from rape and as securing some "privilege", when, according to his own value scale, rape incurs for him a psychic loss, not a psychic profit.

A friend of a friend of mine's, Brett M., gave a trenchant criticism of this aggregation: "You know, I grew up at the end of dirt roads at the end of dirt roads in Appalachia -- using an outhouse, only one (cold) running water tap in the house and infested with worms. I have a really hard time accepting the notion that by virtue of my sex or race I somehow was born more privileged than President Barack Obama's daughters who have never known a hungry day in their lives."

Thus, "privilege" rhetoric actually seems based upon fallacious Marxist class-interest and polylogism, i.e. the belief that all humans are inexorably and fatalistically shaped by their (alleged) interests. Since someone is a male, it is assumed that he must benefit from rape. Obviously, of course, this is tantamount to blaming him for rape. Whereas an economist would look at every individual human being as a universe unto himself, and ask whether this particular person takes actions to support rape or not, and whether he psychically profits from rape or not, by contrast, the rhetoric of "privileges" seems to illegitimately aggregate disparate individuals into arbitrary groups (e.g. "males") and then assume, as per Marxism, that they *must* support or oppose this or that by virtue of their inborn natures.

It is actually quite similar to Christian Original Sin. Men are told that by virtue of an accident of their birth, they are irredeemably tainted. No matter how much a man opposes rape and even fights to wipe it off the face of the earth, he is told that he supports rape, that he benefits from rape, and that he is "privileged" by rape. No matter what he does, he is guilty of abetting rapists and he is an accomplice in their crime, being that he benefits therefrom. He may as well be told that he is literally a member of a cartel that deliberately secured explicit privileges from the government. When I made this Original Sin argument, my friend Jacques V. added that at least Christian Original Sin was democratic, in that everyone was equally a sinner. With "privilege" rhetoric, white males alone are part of the pariah class that is tainted irredeemably with sin. The only solution is to confess one's sins, to admit that one is "privileged", that he personally enjoys it and benefits from it when women are raped, and that he is personally to blame whenever women are raped. Then, and only then, by confession of his sins, is his soul cleansed. Heads, women win; tails, men lose.

Kyle also noted that the whole "privilege" terminology actually elevates the advantaged and give them inordinately undeserved attention. He said, about a hypothetical woman being stabbed, "And is she any worse off if I didn't walk by her that day, and didn't know about it? Am I just as guilty if I feel good about my life that day? Sorry, the world doesn't revolve around me." In other words, a woman suffers somewhere, whether or not a man elsewhere in the world knows about her, or feels bad about her. The world does not revolve around this man. To speak of his "privilege", implies that somehow, he is always relevant to her, that everything that ever happens to her, somehow involves him too. It grants far too much to the man. The world does not revolve around him. This is not quantum mechanics; if a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, it *does* make a sound, and to suggest otherwise demeans the woman. The woman's suffering does not depend for its existence on the man's cognizance. The woman has a dignity of her own, and she does not require the man, and it is horribly misogynist to suggest otherwise, akin to saying that black slaves needed their white slavemasters and could not have subsisted without them.

Furthermore, the entire enterprise is afflicted with a fallacious notion that government grants rights, and because of this, a universe where "privileges" rhetoric succeeded would resemble the world of Harrison Bergeron. (I am indebted to Kyle for this comparison.) Let me explain: the truth is that all humans inalienable possess certain rights. Government cannot grant rights, but at most, it can only protect preexisting rights. For example, women have the inalienable, immemorial right to drive a car. In Saudi Arabia, this right of women is frustrated, while this same right of men is protected. Therefore, women lose, but men do not gain. Men remain at the point of origin, (0,0), while women lose, being pushed back to (-1,-1). The solution is obvious: not to blame men for "privilege", but only to eliminate the abuses of women, and return them to the point of origin. But according to "privileges" rhetoric, rights are something granted, ex nihilo, by government, from itself, from its own. Therefore, there is only a finite number of rights to give, and everyone's gain is someone else's loss. If men can drive, they must have taken this from women. There is only a finite amount of "right to drive", and if men have this right, they stole it from women. Therefore, we must take this right away from men, and give it to women, until such time as compensation shall be made. At that point, the right to drive will be split in half, with men given half and women given half. For example, suppose that it has been 50 years that women have been unable to drive. To solve this problem, men must be denied the right to drive for 50 years, with women granted that right, so that at the end of another 50 years, the two will be equal. At that point, the right to drive can be split in half and apportioned equally among men and women. Therefore, the whole notion of "privilege", relying as it does on the fallacious notion that government grants rights, creates the myth that males must have taken their advantages from women, and that these advantages must be taken from men and given to women. If women have been raped, then the solution is for men to be raped too. Thus, because of a mistaken notion of the source of rights, we end in the universe of Harrison Bergeron. (On the other hand, compensation may not be the goal; to quote Kyle, in response to my argument about compensation, "Michael, you're missing a vitally important point here. It's not compensating the loss that counts, its that you sacrifice your gain as an expression of your guilt. The material value is irrelevant.") Notice that this also incites conflict between men and women, because the men are told they must lose their right to drive so that women can gain it. The result, of course, is that the men and women fight with each other, while meanwhile, the government, the source of the abuses and oppressions, looks down happily, beholding that both of its serfs are fighting against each other, rather than against it. I shall return to this theme later, and discuss whether "privilege" rhetoricians are deliberately conspiratorial, in cahoots with the powers-that-be, or whether they are only useful idiots.

Under this system of government-granted rights in lieu of government protected-rights, instead of men being viewed at (0,0) and women at (-1,-1), men are viewed at (+1,+1) and women at (0,0). That is, rather than say that men, with their ability to drive, are at the point of origin, and women, with that right denied, have moved negatively, instead, women, without the ability, are at the point of origin, and men, with the right, have moved positively. That is, instead of viewing rights as natural and immemorial, and protesting denials of those rights as unnatural, instead, lack of rights is viewed as natural and immemorial, and rights are seen as something given, not as something taken away. The result is that when a man is simply living his ordinary life, operating at the point of origin, (0,0), he is fallaciously treated as if he were at (+1,+1). The result is a basic mathematical fallacy, and I quote Kyle: ‎"'Privilege' is like trying to multiply or divide by zero. You're taking an absence - of oppression, or of being downtrodden, or not being treated unfairly - and turning it into a something, then plugging it into formulas and expecting a meaningful result." Because the mere absence of oppression of men - i.e. zero - being treated as something - i..e as a positive number - one attempts to perform mathematical operations which can be performed on positive and negative numbers but not on zero. Kyle referred to the "reification of zero" of Ayn Rand, which I had never heard of.

But the truth is, as I said, a (hypothetical, individual) man in Saudi Arabia did nothing at all to deny women the ability to drive; that was the act of the government, not of himself. He never wanted women to be abused, and in fact, he fights every day against this abuse. But what he refuses to do is to admit guilt, to admit that he played any role in abusing women. And the loss of women was definitely not his gain; in fact, according to his own subjective value scale, it causes pain to him whenever women cannot drive, and so their loss is his loss as well, from an economic perspective. According to any typical notion of morality, this man is upstanding: he rejects injustice against women, and he actively opposes it. But from the perspective of "privileges rhetoric", he is a sinner solely by virtue of being a man, and he is a partner in crime to the whole abuse of women, and no matter how much he protests that he is not one of the men who originally established the sexist abuse, he is told that merely because he is a male, he is part of the same group he abhors and detests, namely the men who established the system against his own personal wishes. Because of Marxist notions of fatalistic interest, the man is told that no matter what he believes, no matter how much he protests that he abhors sexism, that he is actually as sexist as the men who actually established the system. The only solution is for him to confess his guilt, his sin.

Then, he can pay compensation to women, by losing as many rights as they lost, until everyone is equally impoverished, and we are all equals in suffering. It treats human welfare as a zero-sum game; instead of elevating women until women are equal to men, it seeks to degrade men until they are as degraded as women. Instead of increasing the total sum of human welfare for all, as a positive-sum game, it treats welfare as a zero-sum game, in which anyone's gain is another's loss. If men are at (0,0) and women are at (-1,-1,), the solution is obviously to just stop taking from women, so that they naturally rise back to (0,0). But if men are wrongly perceived as being at (+1,+1), and women at (0,0), then the apparent solution will be to take (+0.5,+0.5) from men and give to women, so that both are at (+0.5,+0.5), but this actually ends them up at (-0.5,-0.5): you took (+0.5,+0.5) from the (0,0) men and gave it to the (-1,-1) women, thinking you were taking (+0.5,+0.5) from the (+1,+1) men and giving it to the (0,0) women. Because of a mistaken notion of what the point of origin is and who has moved positively or negatively therefrom, the proper solution of ceasing to take from women and leaving men alone is eschewed, and instead, men are robbed to reward women, with the result that everyone occupies a negative position with respect to the point of origin, while the "privilege" rhetoricians will wrongly believe that everyone occupies a positive position. Everyone will be slaves, but they will be equal in their slavery, and the "privilege" rhetoricians celebrate this as a victory. Thus, the mistaken notion of government-granted rights perpetuates and legitimizes class-warfare, by discouraging cooperation and instead encouraging competition and envy. Instead of having men and women work together for mutual benefit, it tells them that men and women are engaged in eternal class-warfare, and that no one can win unless the other loses. The men and women fight each other, and the oppressive power looks down happily, beholding its victims warring amongst themselves.

Let me refer to Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" and her "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women's Studies", simply because I happened to have read those essays. McIntosh's words seem to reinforce my interpretation; to wit:

"My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor" --- McIntosh takes it for granted that she *is* blameworthy. She herself is an oppressor, even though she has never personally done anything to harm anyone. Just by virtue of being white, she is guilty. Her skin color itself makes her a sinner. But myself, I would rather side with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., that we be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. She says, "I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will." Oh, what a tragedy! Well, then, upon whom does one's own moral state depend? The moral wills of other people whom I have never even met? That is absurd. Somehow, because some man in Saudi Arabia oppresses women, *I* am guilty by association. Somehow, my genitalia are conduits of spiritual impurity, or perhaps my genitalia are in quantum entanglement with the genitalia of all other men on earth and with my own soul?

"I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged." --- It is not enough for men to recognize that women are disadvantaged. Men must admit that they took something from women, that they are the guilty possessors of ill-gotten spoils. A man can work all his life to combat injustice against women, but until he confesses his own personal guilt, he is a sinner. It does not matter what you do (Judaism), but only what you are (Christianity). But at least Christianity was democratic in placing blame.

"They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s." --- Indeed, these men are willing to work to improve the total sum of human welfare for all, but they refuse to treat it as a zero-sum game, or to reduce us all to the lowest-common denominator, as in Harrison Bergeron. Therefore, they are guilty. No wonder, then, that "even the most thoughtful and fair-minded of the men I know well tend to reflect, or fall back on, conservative assumptions about the inevitability of present gender relations and distributions of power, calling on precedent or sociobiology and psychobiology to demonstrate that male domination is natural and follows inevitably from evolutionary pressures. Others resort to arguments from "experience" or religion or social responsibility or wishing and dreaming." After all, if you treat welfare as zero-sum, and demand that men lose in order that women gain, instead of letting both gain, then of course men will object!

"which men gain from women’s disadvantages." --- Again, the subjectivity of all individual value scales, as per economics, is replaced with Marxist class-interest. Men are told what their interests are, and they are forbidden to protest that no, their value scales are different. If a man claims he abhors rape and is pained in his heart whenever a woman is raped, he is told that no, he personally derives benefit from women being raped. Rather than being asked what his value scale is, he is dictated to and told what his value scale is. And the man who sits in Australia or Canada or Brazil, he is told that he personally benefits from the fact that women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive, just because he is a man. It does not matter that he has never been to Saudi Arabia, nor does it matter that the loss of a woman's is *not* his gain, that he gains nothing from their inability to drive. In fact, it might be that his heart is pained by the fact that Saudi women cannot drive. No, he is told that just because is a man, he personally benefits from every injustice every committed to any woman on earth, even if he was not a party to the affair, even if he was personally pained by the affair. No, as a male, he is irredeemably guilty.

"As we in Women's Studies work reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power" --- So if Saudi women cannot drive, the solution is for us not to extend the protection of that immemorial right to women, but rather, for men to give up their ability to drive, so that men and women are equally impoverished. Rather than empower women and allow them to drive, we must deprive men of that ability, as per Harrison Bergeron.

McIntosh is also guilty of gross aggregation and Marxist class-interest theory, ignoring personal, individual, subjective utility and value scales: "I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented." So what? Why does this matter? Why does she assume that a white person benefits from seeing white people in the media? I myself am Jewish, for example, but I do not benefit when Jews are prominent. Some obnoxious people claim, for example, that I personally somehow benefit from the presence of Jewish justices in the Supreme Court. No, a thousand times, no! Just because they are Jewish does not mean they represent me, not at all! In fact, if anyone represents me on the Supreme Court, it is probably Clarence Thomas - I do not agree with everything he says, not by a long shot, but of all the people on that court, he is the closest to me, despite the fact that I am not black and he is not Jewish. My interests are not determined solely by the fact that I am of the Jewish people (race and religion combined). I find it offensive and repugnant and racist when people claim that somehow, a Jewish justice necessarily represents me in any way, and yet McIntosh seems guilty of this sort of bigotry. We see more aggregation from McIntosh when she says, "I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion." In what way are "colored" people the world's majority? I do not believe that half the world's population lives in Africa. Apparently, she includes anyone who is merely not white, and thereby, she can say that colored people are the world's majority. But that means she is lumping together Africans, Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, you name it, all into one group called "colored" or "not white", and treating this group opposite the group of whites. How dare she?! How dare she treat Japanese people and Egyptian people as identical, just because they are both non-white?!

McIntosh reveals more aggregation when she says, "In my class and place, I did not see myself as racist because I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth." But the fact is, only individual humans act. It may be convenient at times to deal with the abstraction of "society", the same way that biologists deal in shorthand with molecules rather than calculating everything in terms of subatomic particles. But the same way that in truth, the reaction of caffeine on the brain is really just the reaction of some subatomic particles with other subatomic particles, so too, everything that ever happens in society is really just the interaction of individual human beings. There is no such actually existing thing as a "system"; in society, on people exist. Therefore, to say that she saw racism only in the acts of individuals and not in systems, betrays the fallacy of methodological holism. To deal in "systems" may be at times convenient, but one must remember this is an unrealistic abstraction useful only for convenient approximations, akin to treating 51/100 and 49/99 as equal to 1/2 when doing mathematics in one's head without a calculator. She says, "Individual acts can palliate, but cannot end, these problems." But if so, then ending these problems is impossible, because ultimately, the only real thing in society is actual, living, breathing human beings, every single one of them unique, each of them performing individual, independent actions. This is why a Jew, upon seeing a crowd of people, says the blessing, "Barukh atah hashem, elokeinu melekh ha-olam, hakham ha-razim", "Blessed are you Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Knower of secrets." Because every single human being in a crowd has totally unique thoughts, unlike those of anyone else. In Sanhedrin 4:5, the Mishnah observes that when a human king mints a coin from a single mold, every coin comes out the same, but when G-d mints a human being from the single mold of Adam and Eve, every person comes out completely different.

So far, then, we have seen several problems with "privilege" rhetoric:
(1) It is tactically ill-conceived, in that it diverts attention away from blacks and women, and towards whites and men, thus helping to perpetuate abuse by concealing it.
(2) The very word "privilege" implies placement of blame.
(3) It illegitimately aggregates and relies on Marxism, thus ignoring that all value is subjective, all profit is psychic, and all individuals are unique. Furthermore, it thereby places blame even on those who were not party to the affair; for example, by speaking of "male privilege", a man in Mexico is somehow made responsible for what happens to women in Saudi Arabia, merely because he is a man.
(4) It treats rights as government-granted rather than government-protected, thus giving rise to the fallacy that human welfare is zero-sum, that all benefits must come at someone else's loss, and that disadvantaged parties cannot simply be elevated to the rank of the advantaged, but that the disadvantaged must *take* rights *away* from the advantaged, so that the advantaged loss as much as the disadvantaged gain. Instead of increasing the total sum of welfare, positive-sum, human welfare is treated as zero-sum.

So far, then, what we have seen is that "privilege" rhetoric is counter-productive and full of fallacies. But this does not necessarily imply that "privilege" rhetoricists actually intend all this. It may simply be that there are unintentional consequences and implications of their thought which they never foresaw. They may be the regime's useful idiots.

On the other hand, I can imagine that there is actually a deliberate conspiracy at work here. I gave my friend - the one who was relying on "critical theory" in an argument with me and introduced me to this theory in the first place - the following example: suppose we have two slaves, a man and a woman, both working beneath one slavemaster. The male slave begins working to overthrow their master and to free them both, but the female slave protests, "No, you have male privilege! The slavemaster prefers you, a male slave, to me, a female slave. You must admit your privilege!" This move by her is obviously counterproductive, because she would be better off joining with him and working with him to overthrow their master, rather than inciting against him, he who is after all working for her freedom from slavery too. It is so obvious that her act is counterproductive, that I would suspect her of conspiracy: in fact, she and the slavemaster are in cahoots, and she is inciting against the male slave with rhetoric of "male privilege" precisely because she wishes to remain in slavery and support the slavemaster, and therefore, she makes a false and spurious claim "male privilege" against the male slave fighting for her freedom, in order to weaken him and strengthen the slavemaster. Therefore, I am suspicious that rhetoric of "male privilege" or "white privilege" is actually a conspiracy, meant to strengthen the hegemonic powers by deflecting attention away from the hegemonic power (the slavemaster) and towards the one attempting to overthrow that power (the male slave fighting against the slavemaster). If so, then rhetoric of "privilege" is actually a "superstructure", meant to conceal abuse and thereby legitimize and perpetuate it. Those who speak of "privilege" may be, I suspect, be in conspiracy with the powers-that-be. When I told Kyle this, he responded, "That's no accident. Maybe among your friends, it's innocent, but the people that push this idea from above know exactly what they are doing (and your friends here got the idea from somewhere). Solving problems undermines the leverage of those who benefit from the existence of them." In other words, according to Kyle, the authors of the "privilege" doctrine do not want social problems to be solved; they want the problems to be perpetuated, because they profit off them (for example, bureaucratic administrators of welfare programs benefit from poverty, because once poverty is solved, they lose their cushy jobs). Therefore, claims Kyle, the "privilege" doctrine is meant to perpetuate conflict and oppression, in order to ensure the reliability of the future income-stream of the authors of that doctrine. I earlier quoted the rapper, that "That simple equation: too much aggregation / Ignores human action / And motivation." But he crucially continues, "And yet it [viz. aggregation] continues as a justification / For bailouts and payoffs / By pols with machinations / To provide them with cover to sell us a free lunch." The female slave is the slavemaster's whore, and she does not want slavery to end, and so she invokes "male privilege" against the male slave fighting for her freedom. She is erecting a superstructure to justify and/or conceal oppression, and using "male privilege" to deflect attention away from slavery.

On the other hand, as I said, the "privilege" rhetoricists may be honest and ingenuous, and not in conspiracy. They may simply be using ill-conceived rhetoric that undermines their own effort. To quote my friend Kyle B., when I suggested that "privilege" rhetoricists may be honest: "They might, but they've swallowed a pitcher-full of koolaid premises that will be used to support something far beyond that, and when they protest about it later it will be too late."

Ultimately, then, my question is: do you have any responses to my objections, or can you recommend any good literature which deals with the issues I have raised? In other words, what I am ultimately hoping to see is a "critical theorist" either responding to my objections, or pointing me to some literature which does.

Thank you, and sincerely,
Michael Makovi
I am a BA student in political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but I am transferring to the BA program in economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.

P. S. I will say, however, that I found a one of McIntosh's statements to be insightful. She says, "Most talk by whites about equal opportunity seems to me
now to be about equal opportunity to try to get into a position of dominance while denying that systems of dominance exist." Indeed, to quote Hans-Hermann Hoppe (http://www.lewrockwell.com/hoppe/hoppe4.html), "Nor is it an advantage of democracy that free entry into every state position exists (whereas under monarchy entry is restricted by the king's discretion). To the contrary, only competition in the production of goods is a good thing. Competition in the production of bads is not good; in fact, it is sheer evil." Hoppe continues (http://mises.org/daily/2265 & http://mises.org/daily/5270), "The liberal answer was by opening participation and entry into government on equal terms to everyone via democracy. Anyone — not just a hereditary class of nobles — was permitted to become a government official and exercise every government function. However, this democratic equality before the law is something entirely different from and incompatible with the idea of one universal law, equally applicable to everyone, everywhere, and at all times. In fact, the former objectionable schism and inequality of the higher law of kings versus the subordinate law of ordinary subjects is fully preserved under democracy in the separation of public versus private law and the supremacy of the former over the latter. Under democracy, everyone is equal insofar as entry into government is open to all on equal terms. In a democracy no personal privileges or privileged persons exist. However, functional privileges and privileged functions exist. As long as they act in an official capacity, public officials are governed and protected by public law and thereby occupy a privileged position vis-à-vis persons acting under the mere authority of private law, most fundamentally in being permitted to support their own activities by taxes imposed on private law subjects. Privilege and legal discrimination will not disappear. To the contrary. Rather than being restricted to princes and nobles, privilege, protectionism, and legal discrimination will be available to all and can be exercised by everyone." McIntosh continues, "It seems to me that obliviousness about white advantage, like obliviousness about male advantage, is kept strongly inculturate in the United States so as to maintain the myth of meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all. Keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power, and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already." Hoppe adds (in "Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis", in Requiem for a Marx, ed. Yuri N. Maltsev, p. 65), "As an exploitative firm, the state must at all times be interested in a low degree of class consciousnessness among the ruled. ... Furthermore, the redistribution of state power itself through democratizing the state constitution and opening up every ruling position to everyone and granting everyone the right to participate in the determination of stae personnel and policy is a means for reducing the resistance against exploitation as such. ... [T]he state is indeed, as Marxists see it, the great center of ideological propaganda and mystification. ... All of this is part of the ideological superstructure of designed to legitimize an underlying basis of economic exploitation."

2 comments:

i am comment man said...

deer sir. i make trying to read you essay but you word is many and i am not good of reading. but i shall try make response.
you have jew privilege and male privilege and white privilege. maybe if you palestine privilege you not have so many circumcised penis.
do you know nibiru? this is true and important. you privilege is no good for jesus is lord. are you sure jewish cracker is good? it is dry. this is my thinking.

Anonymous said...

Ever since Makovi went off to college, he's been neglecting his blog. Shame on you, Mr. Makovi.

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