Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Starhawking the Privilege Game

The last two posts here on The Archdruid Report, with their focus on America’s class system and the dysfunctional narratives that support it, fielded an intriguing response from readers. I expected a fair number to be uncomfortable with the subject I was discussing; I didn’t expect them to post comments and emails asking me, in so many words, to please talk about something else instead.

Straight talk about uncomfortable subjects has been this blog’s bread and butter since I first started posting just shy of ten years ago, so I’ve had some experience with the way that blog readers squirm. Normally, when I touch on a hot-button issue, readers who find that subject too uncomfortable go out of their way to act as though I haven’t mentioned it at all. I’m thinking here especially, but not only, of the times I’ve noted that the future of the internet depends on whether it can pay for itself, not on whether it’s technically feasible.  Whenever I’ve done this, I’ve gotten comments that rabbited on endlessly about technical feasibility as a way to avoid talking about the economic reasons why the internet won’t be able to cover its own operating costs in the future of resource depletion and environmental blowback we’re busy making for ourselves.

It’s not just hard questions about the future of the internet that attracts that strategy of avoidance, mind you. I’ve learned to expect it whenever some post of mine touches on any topic that contradicts the conventional wisdom of our time. That’s why the different response I got to the last two posts was so fascinating. The fact that people who were made uncomfortable by a frank discussion of class privilege actually admitted that, rather than trying to pretend that no subject so shocking had been mentioned at all, says to me that we may be approaching a historical inflection point of some importance.

Mind you, frank discussion of class privilege still gets plenty of avoidance maneuvers outside the fringe territory where archdruids lurk. I’m thinking here, of course, of the way that affluent liberals right now are responding to Donald Trump’s straightforward talk about class issues by yelling that he and his followers must be motivated by racism and nothing else. That’s partly a standard bit of liberal rhetoric—I’ve discussed the way that the word “racist,” when uttered by the privileged, normally functions as a dog whistle for “wage class”—but it’s also an attempt to drag the conversation away from what policies that benefit the affluent have done to everyone else in this country.

In some parts of the current Neopagan community, that evasive maneuver has acquired a helpful moniker: “Starhawking.”  With apologies to those of my readers who may find the behavior of one of America’s smaller minority religious communities uninteresting, I’d like to recount the story behind the label.  Here as so often, a small example helps clarify things; the reduced scale of a social microcosm makes it easier to observe patterns that can be harder to see at a glance on the macrocosmic scale.

Those who haven’t had any contact with the Neopagan scene may not know that it isn’t one religion, or even a group of closely related religions; rather, it’s a grab-bag of profoundly diverse faiths, some of which have less in common with one another than Christianity has with Shinto.  Their association in a common subculture comes not from shared beliefs or practices, but solely from a shared history of exclusion from the religious and cultural mainstream of American society.  These days, something like half of American Neopagans participate in some flavor of eclectic Paganism, which emerged out of the older British traditional witchcraft in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of the rest fall into two broad categories: one consists of older initiatiory traditions such as the British traditional witchcraft just named, while the other consists of recently revived polytheist faiths worshipping the gods and goddesses of various historic pantheons—Norse, Greek, Egyptian, and so on.

There’s a great deal of talk about inclusiveness in the Neopagan scene, but those of my readers who know their way around small American subcultures will have no trouble figuring out that what this means is that eclectic Paganism is the default option almost everywhere, and people from other traditions are welcome to show up and participate, on terms defined by eclectic Paganism, so long as they don’t offend the sensibilities of the eclectic Pagan majority. For a variety of reasons, most of which are more relevant to my other blog than this one, those sensibilities seem to be getting more easily offended of late, and people from the minority traditions have responded in a variety of ways.  Some have simply walked away from the Neopagan scene, while others have tried, in an assortment of forums, to start a conversation about what has been awkwardly termed “Wiccanate privilege.”

One such discussion was under way at a large San Francisco-area Neopagan event in 2014 when Starhawk put in a belated appearance. For those who aren’t familiar with her, she’s one of the few genuine celebrities to come out of the US Neopagan scene, the author of The Spiral Dance, one of the two books that basically launched eclectic Paganism—the other is Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon—and a notable political figure over on the leftward end of the spectrum. According to people I know who were there, she proceeded to insist that the conversation should not even be happening, because all Pagans need to unite to save the Earth.

Mind you, there were plenty of other conversations going on at that event that had nothing to do with saving the Earth, and neither she nor anyone else seemed to feel any need to try to silence those conversations—just the conversation about privilege.  That’s Starhawking: the rhetorical tactic of insisting that some other issue is so important that the privilege of the speaker must not be discussed. To be fair to Starhawk, she didn’t invent it; it’s all over contemporary discourse in America, quite often in contexts where the stakes are considerably higher than they will ever be in the Neopagan scene. 

Madeleine Albright’s recent insistence that every woman in America should vote for Hillary Clinton or fry in hell comes out of exactly the same logic. Issue A in this case is the so-called “glass ceiling,” the habit of excluding women of the privileged classes from the upper reaches of power and wealth. Issue B in this case is the fact that putting Hillary Clinton into the White House will only benefit those women who belong to the top end of America’s class structure, since the policies Clinton has supported throughout her political life have brought impoverishment and immiseration to the vast majority of American women, i.e., those who belong to the wage class and the lower half or so of the salary class.

When Starhawking comes from the leftward end of the affluent class, it’s almost always framed in terms of another kind of bias—racism, sexism, or what have you—which can be used, along the lines detailed last week, to blame the sufferings of one underprivileged group on another underprivileged group. When it takes place on the other end of the political spectrum, as of course it does all the time, other issues are used to drown out any discussion of privilege; among the favorites are crime, Christian moral theology, and the alleged laziness and greed of people on public assistance. The excuse differs but the rhetorical gimmick is the same.

One of the things that makes that gimmick viable is the ambiguous nature of the language that’s used to talk about the various candidates for Issue A. “Crime,” for example, is a nice vague abstraction that everyone can agree to oppose. Once that agreement has been obtained, on the other hand, it descends from the airy realm of abstraction into some very questionable specifics—to note a relevant example, none of the politicians who boast about being “tough on crime” have shown any interest in locking up the kleptomaniacs of Wall Street, whose billion-dollar swindles have done far more damage to the nation than any number of muggings on the mean streets of our inner cities.

In the same way, words like “racism” and “sexism” are abstractions with a great deal of ambiguity built into them. There are at least three things conflated in labels of this kind. I’d like to unpack those for a moment, in the hope of getting a clearer view of the convoluted landscape of American inequality.

The things I want to pull out of these portmanteau words, and others like them, are privilege, prejudice, and acts of injustice. Let’s start with the last. Police officers in America, for example, routinely gun down black teenagers in response to actions that do not get white teenagers shot; a woman who gets hired for a job in the US today can expect to get, on average, roughly three-quarters the pay that a man can expect to get for doing exactly the same job; two people who love each other and want to get married have to run a gauntlet of difficulties if they happen to be the same gender that they would not face if they were different genders. Those are acts of injustice.

Prejudice is a matter of attitudes rather than actions. The word literally means pre-judgments, the judgments we all make about people and situations before we encounter them. Everybody has them, every culture teaches them, but some people are more prejudiced—more committed to their pre-judgments, and less willing to reassess them in the face of disconfirming evidence—and some are less so.  Acts of injustice are usually motivated by prejudice, and prejudice very often results in acts of injustice, but neither of these equations are exact. I’ve known people who were profoundly prejudiced but refused to act on their prejudices because some other belief or commitment forbade that; I’ve also known people who participated repeatedly in acts of injustice, who were just following orders or going along with friends, and didn’t care in the least one way or the other.

Then there’s privilege. Where prejudice and acts of injustice are individual, privilege is collective; you have privilege, or don’t have it, because of the categories you belong to, not because of what you do or don’t do. I’ll use myself as a source of examples here. I can walk through the well-to-do neighborhoods of the town where I live, for instance, without being hassled by the police; black people don’t have that privilege. I can publish controversial essays like this one without being bombarded with rape and death threats by trolls; women don’t have that privilege. I can kiss my spouse in public without having some moron yell insults at me out of the window of a passing car; gay people don’t have that privilege.

I could fill the next ten posts on this blog with a listing of similar privileges I have, and not even come close to running out of examples. It’s important, though, to recognize that my condition of privilege isn’t assigned to me for any one reason. It’s not just that I’m white, or male, or heterosexual, or grew up in a family on the lower end of the salary class, or was born able-bodied, or what have you; it’s all of these things and a great many more, taken together, that assign me my place in the hierarchy of privilege. This is equally true of you, dear reader, and of everyone else. What differentiates my position from yours, and yours from everyone else’s, is that every station on the ladder has a different proportion between the number of people above it and the number of people below.  There are, for example, plenty of people in today’s America who have more privilege than I do, but there are vastly more people who have much, much less.

Note also that I don’t have to do anything to get the privileges I have, nor can I get rid of them.  As a white heterosexual man from a salary class background, and the rest of it, I got assigned nearly all of my privileges the moment I was born, and no matter what I do or don’t do, I’ll keep the vast majority of them until I die. Ths is also true of you, dear reader, and of everyone else: the vast majority of what places you on whatever rung you occupy in the long ladder of privilege is yours simply for being born. Thus you’re not responsible for the fact that you have whatever level of privilege you do—though you are responsible, of course, for what you choose to do with it.

You can, after all, convince yourself that you deserve your privilege, and the people who don’t share your privilege deserve their inferior status—that is to say, you can choose to be prejudiced.  You can exploit your privilege to benefit yourself at the expense of the less privileged—that is to say, you can engage in acts of injustice. The more privilege you have, the more your prejudices affect other people’s lives and the more powerful your acts of injustice become. Thus advocates for the less privileged are quite correct to point out that the prejudices and injustices of the privileged matter more than those of the unprivileged.

On the other hand, privilege does not automatically equate to prejudice, or to acts of injustice. It’s entirely possible for the privileged—who, as already noted, did not choose their privilege and can’t get rid of it—to refuse to exploit their privilege in this way. It’s even possible, crashingly unfashionable as the concept is these days, for them to take up the old principle of noblesse oblige: the concept, widely accepted (though not always acted on) in eras where privilege was more openly recognized, that those who are born to privilege also inherit definite responsibilities toward the less privileged. I suppose it’s even possible that they might do this and not expect lavish praise for it, though that’s kind of a stretch, American culture today being what it is.

These days, though, most white heterosexual men from salary class backgrounds don’t think of themselves as privileged, and don’t see the things I enumerated earlier as privileges. This is one of the most crucial points about privilege in today’s America: to the privileged, privilege is invisible. That’s not just a matter of personal cluelessness, or of personal isolation from the less privileged, though these can of course be involved. It’s a matter of enculturation. The mass media and every other aspect of mainstream American culture constantly present the experience of privileged people as normal, and just as constantly feed any departure from that experience through an utterly predictable set of filters.

First, of course, the experience of the unprivileged is erased—“That sort of thing doesn’t actually happen.” When that fails, it’s dismissed as unimportant—”Well, maybe it does happen, but it’s no big deal.” When it becomes clear that it is a big deal to those who have to cope with it, it’s treated as an occasional anomaly—“You can’t generalize from one or two bad examples.” When that breaks down, finally, the experience of the unprivileged is blamed on the unprivileged—“It’s their own fault that they get treated like that.”  If you know your way around America’s collective nonconversation about privilege, in the mass media or in everyday conversation, you’ve seen each one of these filters deployed a thousand times or more.

What makes this interesting is that the invisibility of privilege in modern America isn’t shared by that many other human societies. There are plenty of cultures, past and present, in which privilege is right out there in the open, written into laws, and openly discussed by the privileged as well as the unprivileged. The United States used to be like that as recently as the 1950s. It wasn’t just that there were Jim Crow laws in those days formally assigning black Americans the status of second-class citizens, and laws in many states that gave women second-class status when it came to a galaxy of legal and financial rights; it was all over the media and popular culture, too. Open any daily newspaper, and the society pages splashed around the difference in privilege between those people who belonged to the elite and those who didn’t.

For a complex series of reasons rooted in the cultural convulsions of the Sixties, though, frank talk about privilege stopped being socially acceptable in America over the course of the second half of the twentieth century. That didn’t make privilege go away, of course. It did mean that certain formal expressions of privilege, such as the Jim Crow laws just mentioned, had to be scrapped, and in that process, some real injustices did get fixed. The downside was the rise of a culture of doubletalk in which the very real disparities in privilege in American society got fed repeatedly through the filters described above, and one of the most important sources of those disparities—class differences—were shoved completely out of the collective conversation of our time.

The habit of Starhawking is one of the major rhetorical tools by which open discussion of privilege, and above all of class privilege, got thrust out of sight. It’s been used with equal verve at all points along the political spectrum from the far left straight across to the far right. Whether it’s affluent liberals insisting that everyone else has to ignore their privilege in order to get on with the task of saving the Earth, affluent conservatives insisting that everyone else has to ignore their privilege in order to get on with the task of returning America to its Christian roots, or—and this is increasingly the standard line—affluent people on both sides insisting that everyone else has to ignore their privilege because fighting those horrible people on the other side of the political spectrum is the only thing that matters, what all these utterances mean in practice is “don’t talk about my privilege.”

That sort of evasion is what I expected to field from readers when I started talking about issues surrounding class privilege earlier this year. I got a certain amount of it, to be sure, but as already mentioned, I also got comments by people who acknowledged that they were uncomfortable with the discussion and wanted me to stop. What this says to me is that the wall of denial and doubletalk that has closed down open discussion of privilege in today’s America—and especially of class privilege—may be cracking at last. Granted, The Archdruid Report is well out there on the cultural fringes of American society, but it’s very often the fringes that show signs of major social changes well before the mainstream ever hears about them.

If it’s true that the suppression of talk about privilege in general, and class privilege in particular, is in the process of breaking down, it’s not a minute too soon. The United States just now stands in the path of a tidal wave of drastic change, and current patterns of privilege are among the many things that bid fair to be upended once it hits. We’ll talk about that next week.


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Zachary Braverman said...

You might also have mentioned another example similar to Starhawking, although not in reference to privilege: That statement by Naomi Klein you mentioned a while back asserting that anybody who called renewables into question was virtually in the pocket of the oil companies. Only, here the valence is, "Global warming is so important we don't dare mention the fact that modern industrial society can't run on renewables."

Justin said...

As a person born slightly higher up the privilege scale than JMG, I find the notion that privilege is mostly immutable and that how you use it is what matters refreshing. I am not sure what social justice types imagine they are going to accomplish, especially in places like where I live, where homosexuals are likely more common than nonwhites, without a healthy conception of what privilege is. Too often discussions where privilege comes up, it becomes a silencing tool, just as in situations where privilege is unexamined the same thing occurs to opposite parties.

I don't like the "white men are the least privileged of all" tools, but at the same time I refuse to respect those who insist I (white, heterosexual, upper salary class parents, male) simply remain silent while they deliver their 'remedies' for fixing the issue of privilege. I don't really think any progress will occur until all sides are willing to sit down and talk and the privileged willingly surrender some of what they have.

I find the current atmosphere here in Canada to be fairly toxic, where openly racist, violent members of minority communities are given a voice to spew what would be called hate speech if I said it. It cannot possibly lead to any sort of reconciliation or progress when a despicable minority of the oppressed manages to sour things for everyone, usually for personal gain.

Ultimately, I think the ball is in the court of the privileged, but it is critical that a middle path between bigotry or acquiescence is found. It's somewhat telling that the only voices that get much media time are those of bigots or sycophants - the majority of us, I hope are willing to make some fairly modest sacrifices to live in a better country but refuse to accept culpability for injustices that in many cases, happened before our ancestors even lived in the country.

pygmycory said...

I must admit, the idea of current patterns of privilege being overturned fills me with glee. Don't know if it would harm or benefit me personally, though.

A lot depends on how events falls out, and that will be different in different countries. I'd imagine it is stochastic too - if one could run events a second time like in computer modelling, you might get a different result.

It's going to be an interesting next few years, I think.

pygmycory said...

With reference to much of privilege being set at birth, how does that fit with all the young people from relatively privileged backgrounds who fall out of it as soon as they have to try and support themselves?

They still have the accent, the education and the social background, but everything else has drifted out of reach. It's quite a strange situation, really. They don't fit fully anywhere, and it is kind of as if they aren't fully real somehow.

Marcu said...

A friendly reminder that the next meeting of the Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne will be held in the last week of April. All interested parties are invited to attend. For people who are unsure about the nature of our meetings imagine a long decent support group with some intentional living discussion mixed in. If you are interested meet us on the 30th of April 2016 at 13:00. In honour of the Archdruid's return we are trying a new venue, the Druids Cafe Bar, at 409 Swanston St Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

Please RSVP, or send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]

Just look for the green wizard's hat.

look sie said...

Hmmmm. My initial response is "Yes ...but". Where do those groups such as Black Lives Matter or the Social Justice Warriors fit into your schema? These groups use their claimed lack of privilege to, in fact, extract more privileges than are ever afforded to other (in particular, white) communities. They claim only white people can be racist (conveniently overlooking the racism and homophobia openly displayed amongst blacks and, not infrequently, Hispanics) and make other equally outrageous remarks with impunity. If a white person were to make similar remarks they could end up in legal hot water or worse. Witness the hoo-haw in Britain recently over a Twitter post made during an online debate. Likewise, women can knowingly make false claims (most damagingly, claims of rape) and they're simply slapped on the wrist while the wronged male is left to try to overcome this slander - which will follow him the rest of this life. Ditto for false claims of sexual abuse of a minor - especially of a boy. I absolutely agree we need to talk about class and privilege issues (the need is just as acute here in Canada) but I think we need to come clean and admit that there's lots of facets and nuances to these issues.

Leif Christensen said...

Unfortunately, the suppression of public acknowledgement of privilege has simultaneously suppressed the public acknowledgement of privilege's brother, Duty. When privileged positions are divorced from duty in the eye of the public, several things happen:

1. People with positions of power no longer see any need to maintain that power by being just, or at least seen as just. Those elites who would otherwise be just for justice's' sake are seen as competent handlers of power by the other elites.

2. The lower classes will shift from attacking abuses of powerful social positions to attacking the existence of the powerful social positions themselves, and by necessity the occupants of powerful positions. Abuses will be seen not as failures of duty but as signs that privileged positions are inherently unjust.

3. If the old privileged positions are stripped of their power, the new occupants of privileged positions will be turned upon as the new target. Their rhetoric of overthrowing or eliminating privileged positions because of the inherent injustice of inequality will paint the former liberators as the new oppressors. The cycle continues.

The solution to the cycle, it would seem, would be the public promotion of duty according to one's state in life, not the revilement of inequality. Don't ignore privilege, but make those with it understand their duty to use it prudently.

Keep up the good work, no matter what the naysayers grumble about.

David said...


I'd like to start by thanking you for this line of discussion. I will admit, quite openly, to my discomfort as I become aware of my level of privilege, particularly that due to class. As an analytical, data-focused type, I have run my numbers and have a good sense of where I lie in the economic distribution. (In regard to some of the other dimensions, I am fortunate to have a very mature teenage daughter who has been able to walk me through the spectrum of gender identities and sexualities, otherwise I'd be rather lost. We do not have conversations that mainstream society would deem "normal," I'd expect.)

I am encouraged by your interpretation of the data you're getting in the feedback. We, as a society, desperately need to begin making very different choices from those we've made this far. I have seen little evidence elsewhere, but you have a good track record in my experience, so I am hoping that proves true here as well.

Side note: I finally located the bubble quiz and took it. In my case, I think it was fairly accurate. I scored a 38, which was interpreted as a first generation upper middle class person of middle parents. My mom was a public schoolteacher and my dad was career Navy (entered enlisted, retired commissioned), and I am a technical professional in the utility industry.

Side side note: I don't have the link, but apparently Piers Morgan wrote a piece in the Daily Mail that essentially agreed with your assessment of a Clinton-Trump general. You are more powerful than you know!

Dudley Dawson said...

Great Article! Any chance on seeing more Retrotopia soon? I'm really enjoying your fiction...

Keep it up!

aiastelamonides said...


I don't think anyone could accuse the Neopagan scene's behavior of being uninteresting....

The main thing I'd add to your article (besides at least one more division of racism – "scientific" racism or sexism I mentioned last week, and the institutional systems that perpetuate racism and sexism also seem distinct from your three as you describe them) is that injustice often exists without prejudice because the privileged are simply unconscious of the needs of the unprivileged. For example, at one time in my area people in wheelchairs and mothers pushing strollers couldn't use public transportation because none of the able-bodied men who ran the service thought to put ramps on trains and busses. They weren't callous and uncaring so much as unaware.

Also, I think the image of clearly ordered ladder, with privilege being abstracted to a quantity, is flawed. In some cases people in opposite categories have significant privileges over one another, and so the balance is best described not by asking how much privilege, but rather what kind. The young and the old come to mind, and much more controversially, men and women. (There are a few consolation prize privileges for black people, poor people, gay people, and disabled people, but the difference of degree between the case of race and that of age is so great as to effectively be a difference in kind – which of these the case of gender is more similar to probably varies from place to place within the USA.)

Cherokee Organics said...


It occurs to me that privileges are effectively a form of unearned wealth. Blind Freddy tells me that unearned wealth is granted because it is useful for the system to do so. And that privilege is only granted in order to maintain the system as it stands.

Please do continue with this topic! Festering boils often need a good lancing before they can begin to heal.

This is kind of weird, but I more or less wrote about this very topic this week. You see, I get people visiting here (and I'm at about the point of stopping farm visits) and nearly all - with a few notable exceptions - say to me dolefully: "It's a lot of hard work". The subtext behind that comment is that hard work is for people of low social status and it is intended as a flat out insult because basically they are displaying their higher social status by saying that they reject my view on the world and future and don't see the need to do physical labour themselves. Blind Freddy reckons that they're in for a shock one day! ;-)!

The thing is that as a "service economy" with "knowledge workers" where we have deliberately pursued policies that have walked away from actually producing products that are useful - merely to keep prices low for the salaried class - we become very vulnerable and this is a total disaster for strategic reasons - if for no other reason. I thought that we were better than that, but we're clearly not.

Grumble, grumble, and further grumble! I'm ranting again. Hehe!

A fine essay today too, the concepts were very clear (well at least to me).



Wizard of Tas said...

As an Aspie, I prefer to stick to routes I know well when driving. I really dislike detours. I notice that detours (for example, around road works) aren't usually designed to give a destination. Your ultimate goal is up to you, but you can't come here. So a detour is a deflexion.

Of course, those detours are legitimate.

Then I think about detours in movies, and they are rarely legitimate. In movies, detours are usually used by criminals to secure an area for themselves and deflect the general public and hopefully law enforcement.

That's what comes to mind when I read this article about Starhawking. Affluent, privileged, politicians, etc, putting up detour signs, either to deflect people from focussing on their own privilege, or to deflect voters from thinking favorably about the opposition. 'racist' and the traffic goes around.

Sign, signs, everywhere a sign. Blocking out the scenery...

Repent said...

Excellent essay as always !

Do you think you could visit other taboo topics that people won't talk about? The process of money creation for instance is one such taboo topic that can't be publicly discussed EVER. That money is loaned into existence, and then has to be paid back with interest is in my opinion the greatest single problem of the human economic experience right now. This social arrangement requires the economy to grow every year just to keep up with the interest on the old money that was created in the past which needs to be paid back in the now with interest.

This issue is often regarded as one of the primary causes of the Lincoln and JFK assassinations; both of them tried to introduce interest free money. The 'deep state', the 'establishment', the 'fill in the blank', has made this issue so socially taboo that even as our society worships money, the creation of new money is not ever allowed to be discussed. What's at work here?

Amy Olles said...

Most weeks I read the comments along with your articles, though perhaps I slipped last week, because I never see the commenters as disagreeing with your premises as much as you do. But perhaps I'm not as perceptive as you.
I would say thank you for the frank talk. I feel I am a privileged person and in more ways than birthright. I think. Here's why: I was born into a white, protestant, middle class family. Even though my family has it's societal quirks (homeschooling, pretty strict religious upbringing, etc) I never knew what 'poor' or 'underprivileged' was even after an event occurred that left my family most lower middle class with significant medical debt. I thought we were poor at that time, but in comparison to truly poverty line
When I went to college I was suddenly a minority, even though my skin isn't. I was a female attempting to get an engineering degree in a time when female participation in said degree was less than 10% at my chosen school. They couldn't welcome me and my tuition money in eagerly enough. In my case my status played to my favor I think. Strictly from an educational point of view, anyone who was MORE of a minority than me (males and females of minority race) benefited when trying to pursue an engineering degree via scholarships and a school that was highly motivated to raise its diversity percentages for the glossy pamphlet. But of course first any minority applicant to the school have to overcome whatever obstacles they were born into that prevented them from being the typical candidate that applied to that school in the first place. I noticed that some of that welcome changed after school. For example, I was hired into a company along with some of my classmates. Their race suddenly affected them negatively and in some cases prevented them from getting special clearances for things they actually desired to do career wise. To this day they think they walk around with a target on their back because of their background, whereas I don't. And I think it's kind of true - even if we are on the same economic scale wage wise, they aren't exactly on the same social scale...that's a rudimentary way of describing differences and it might not be exactly what you're talking about, but it is what i have observed.
Thank you for mentioning this "affluent conservatives insisting that everyone else has to ignore their privilege in order to get on with the task of returning America to its Christian roots". That is something I've been talking about with my still conservative family values voting republican friends AND my more leftist friends. I will let you guess which group I get more traction with. I say it troubles me greatly that 'Christians/Conservatives' are trying to enforce laws that (ex:defund planned parenthood) that make THEM more comfortable and establish rules about how others have to live their life without any thought to how much harm it might be doing the people they are putting these rules on. Denying all the people in any lower socio-economic scale than you access to affordable, preventative health care is insane. These people don't inherently have the same way of living that you do NOR THE OPTIONS that you do. So cutting away at the few options they do have, in the name of your beliefs is destroying the societal fabric that you rest your privileges on,and frankly, just asking for those people to rise up against you.
All that to say, I am quite thankful that you're bringing up the topics of class, privilege and what's going on political wise across America right now. I find it fascinating, albeit sometimes a little hard to swallow, but ultimately I think I appreciate your insight. Please keep up the good work!

Kutamun said...

Dear JMG , would "Starhawking" be an updated term for the good old "red herring " logical fallacy , or am i mixing up my Howlers ? Ha ha
Been doing an arts degree of late and found myself thinking " thank goodness i have had five years of reading the archdruid report" under my belt as they repeatedly and persistently attempt to shove leftist meme after meme down my gaping and gagging gullett ! So thanks for the education and the tools to help deal with it.

Alex said...

Great article on privilage, a thing so strange to me I can't even spell it right.

I think the average white American would have to live for some years in an area where being white is a disadvantage to understand it at the gut level. I grew up in Hawaii and frankly, living on the Mainland as I do now, still blows my mind. I can walk into a bank, walk into a store, walk into the DMV, etc without having to think about my race and how the service I get will be worse. I can hang out at the beach. I can walk down the street just about anywhere - and do, as I find the Hispanic neighborhoods my fellow whites think are so scary, are really not bad at all. In fact, I'd be in more danger in a neighborhood populated by whites of similar socioeconomic status - they tend to be very angry people. I can register my car and not have the process take 2 months because of the WASPy last name Dad passed down to me. I can get a PO box and not be told there are none available. I can actually shop as opposed to dash in and out, at a store and not get followed around.

For those not in the ruling group, it's just constant hassles, not a few isolated cases. It's as bad or worse than I'd experience if I moved back to Hawaii. All the things I cite are things that happened to me, and that's just the shallow end of the pool.

Being in the privilaged group means not having to think about one's privilage any more than a fish thinks about the water it swims in.

BTW I prefer to think of what you describe as "Albrighting", the center-left version of "Trumping" which in both cases mean, "Vote my way because I look like you and make noises that give the illusion I have your needs in mind - ignore the fact that I'm filthy rich".

JimK said...

I was in a mind-numbing bureaucratic situation last week, filling out a form where one entry asked for my race. I got the clerk to laugh by suggesting that maybe "bicycle" would be an appropriate answer. Or e.g. "400 meter medley swimming".

Racism is really tricky. Is it an accurate picture of reality to see people as divided crisply into genetic buckets like "white", "black", etc.? We are all kin, of course, and a lot more connected ancestrally than we often acknowledge.

Is it an accurate picture of reality to see that a large fraction of Americans see the people they encounter through an interpretive lens that assigns those people to one or another of some number of genetic-ish buckets like "white", "black", etc. I know that most anyone will quickly label me "white"... maybe I am 10% Native American ancestrally, but the cultural links are mighty tenuous... so I know that I am "white", even if I think the whole concept of "white" is an illusion. It's a bit like knowing that unicorns have one horn, even though there is no such thing as a unicorn.

Candace said...

I think the main language I have seen that shuts down conversations about class privelege would accusations that someone is trying to start a "class war " or that the criticism is seen as code for communism. It seems like any attempt to bring up class and income inequality immediately gets a push back with the label that someone is pushing socialism or communism.

I feel like the labels and rhetoric from the cold war are deeply ingrained and that makes it even more difficult to talk about these issues.

peakfuture said...

You wrote, "I also got comments by people who acknowledged that they were uncomfortable with the discussion and wanted me to stop."

That, for me, is the thing that gets me the most. Discussing a topic that is uncomfortable isn't fun, but sometimes those are the things that absolutely need discussing! A while ago, you wrote this:

"By some blend of dumb luck and happenstance, though, I missed out on the sense of entitlement so pervasive among those born when the United States was at the zenith of its prosperity and power."

(My followup on that was here;

This seems to be in the same vein; you missed out on entitlement, and certainly are not uncomfortable with the discussion of such topics. Is this behavior/attitude just another bit of cognitive dissonance kicking in?

Again, understanding the "why" is relatively easy, but how is it that some people fight that urge, and are willing to face these issues, and some are not?

rcg1950 said...

I think it is worth noting that the privileges associated with class as opposed to those deriving from race, ethnicity and gender is that they most assuredly may be acquired ... albeit by a given individual. [For the class itself the privilege is inherent in the same way as race/gender etc.] In America meritocratic arguments, often bogus, are used to justify these newly acquired privileges. I think it may also be a factor in the suspicion in which social climbers are generally held as they haven't had a chance to learn to soften and polish the use of their new found privileges as have people coming from 'old money.' This was even noted on the degrees of Oxford students of old who came from the then new bourgeois classes and had their degrees marked S.nob (Sans nobilitas). Perhaps this explains some of the hostility toward the Clintons (much of it deserved in my opinion) who seem to be especially egregious in their abuse of their recently acquired privilege.

Ray Wharton said...

It is especially useful to have those three parts detangled. I know I have balked at accusations of privilege, especially when the context of the accusation was that it made me guilty of the other two.

Maybe I am, I know I have prejudice, even a few racial ones, I won't be over specific, but there are at least two ethnicity which I have an emotional reaction to. I don't get hung up on these reactions, and as they are prejudices in my self which I am aware of I am glad on each occasions which they can be over come in person. Though I seek the exceptions to them, I don't deny the feeling that exists before the choice to overcome the feeling. I also have big class prejudices which can be nasty toward each of the four main classes which exist in your schema. The most dominant prejudices I have, the ones I choose to put the most stock in, are about a person's tastes and values; there are certain dispositions which I am much more predisposed to than others. Though I resist thinking 'better' or 'worse' and 'higher' or 'lower', trying to limit my prejudice to compatibility with myself. For example I have little use spending time with people who speak in sit com quotes, though once I was one of those dweebs.

Still, back to my first line of thought, in the contexts where I have been accused of privilege and an accompanying prejudice yet my prejudices scarcely lined up with the accusations. Not knowing how to identify the tangle of the three made such situations very very upsetting. Because I knew I had privilege, but I knew I didn't have the prejudices I was being accused of having, but I didn't know how to sort them from each other.

Though in the context of privilege I think of Blake "One law for the lion and ox is oppression." And from that I think that a privilege for an lion could be an injustice for a ox. The privileges we have then have a further layer of how each individual values or resents them. I mean just that a hierarchy of more and less privileged can conflate as much as it clarifies. Take my white privilege, for instance. Many of the doors my whiteness opens to me are repugnant, though they still may be counted a privilege in so far as I remain free to not walk through the doors that are open to me. I haven't found a door locked by my whiteness, though in aiming to be downward mobile, I have found some doors jammed, but not so much a bit of stubbornness wouldn't open it. Being male is certainly more complicated, it gives me several advantages, but also comes with many expectations which are objectionable: truly I think gender is in an era of crisis and that for all it is used to define which groups we can belong to. There are many kinds of masculinity, and the mask must be updated to fit the expectations of the circle is among, the other genders face this as well, in different ways.

I think the point I am making is more of a web of privilege than a chain, to evoke images from ecology. That every group we each take part in come with many privileges and injustices, but their importance is then dependent on our intents and what circles we are it. For the lower class whites they enjoy privilege with many institutions, but harsh judgement from others. For the most privileged they are dog meat in some of the circles I know.

I am especially fortunate, I don't know if this counts as a privilege or something else, in my chameleon voice, I can blend in many many circles, often with folks who could not follow me as I go from one group to another. So of that is from my race and gender, must of it is from how I talk, how my accents flow with those around me, and how I can speak with people from many circles. In short from my education, which I was privileged to have access to, but unlike most other privileges it can be thrown away, I have seen it happen.

Cherokee Organics said...


Oh, I thought that it might be worth mentioning that if one gives up some privileges then that allows breathing space for others - and not just humans. We do live on a finite planet after all and our constant exercising of those privileges is leading to some very nasty consequences for the biosphere - which kind of does keep us all alive. Just sayin...



Mister Roboto said...

So I guess that the only privilege combined with prejudice and injustice about which I am in any position to speak from experience is heterosexist privilege. I remember the eighties and the nineties as a young homosexual man, and that had at least something to do with why I was (very misguidedly, I will admit) so bitter for such a long time. But even though heterosexist privilege is still there, it is, at least for the time being, on its way out. That's why the defenders of heterosexist privilege are starting to sound so cornered and vicious, my personal favorite example being "kill the gays" fundamentalist Christian dominionists. My big personal concern about collapse is if it will perhaps make marching LGBT people into the closet fashionable again. That may seem like a petty concern to some people, but to people such as myself who know what the outmoded social institution of the closet can do to the human heart, we can't help but think about it when times get rough.

I have to admit that I am now waiting for next week's post with baited breath!

Stacy said...

@pygmycory, re: youth who have fallen out of their social classes--I believe the traditional historical role for them is to become revolutionaries. See the Occupy movement for a recent and not very successful example.

John Michael Greer said...

Zachary, that's actually a slightly broader fallacy not necessarily linked to privilege -- "the situation is so dire, we can't waste time understanding it!" You're right, though, that this fallacy also deserves attention.

Justin, that's what I was trying to address in talking last week about the Rescue Game. A great deal of what's made the whole subject of privilege so toxic is the way that every attempt to talk about it becomes an excuse for Pin the Tail on the Persecutor.

Pygmycory, a very interesting few years. The huge and unmentioned reality of downward mobility is one of the signs that crisis is very, very close; more about this as we proceed.

Look Sie, I didn't claim that there aren't plenty of facets and nuances about the issue of privilege. That said, if you really think that white guys like you and me have less privilege than the various other groups you've mentioned, you need to get out more. As I noted, privilege is invisible to the privileged, and I promise you that women, people of color, etc. are far more often disadvantaged by our privilege than we are by theirs.

Leif, excellent! Exactly -- that's another way of talking about noblesse oblige, the recognition that every privilege imposes a corresponding duty to use that privilege for the common good. You're right that that awareness has been almost entirely erased from contemporary discourse, with disastrous consequences.

David, glad to hear it -- and you're fortunate to have such a daughter. Thanks for the heads up about the Daily Mail article!

Dudley, I plan on getting back to it in due time, but I have a couple of other things to write about first.

Aias, oh, granted, there's actually a lot more that can be extracted from the portmanteau in question, and the ladder image is a very rough simplification of a complex reality. It's helpful, though, because there really are sharp quantitative differences between, say, the number of people over whom a middle-aged white guy from a salary class background like me can expect to exert privilege, and the corresponding number for, say, an African-American or Latina woman from a poor family, and that's a point that to my mind very much needs making.

Cherokee, I'll definitely have to schedule time for a talk with Blind Freddy if I ever have the chance to visit Australia. He's obviously very much on top of things. ;-) The idea of privilege as unearned wealth...that's good. That could be a very useful analytical tool. Hmm...

Wizard, a nice crisp metaphor. Many thanks!

Repent, I see discussions of money creation all over the place on the internet, so I have a hard time thinking of it as anything like the kind of taboo you've suggested. As for interest free money, have you noticed that the world's central banks seem to be heading that way right now, with zero or negative interest rates rapidly spreading through the world economies? A post on money, perhaps as a followup to my discussion of the topic in The Wealth of Nature, might be a useful post here, but I'm not sure you'll be pleased with the angle I take.

Autumn Crow said...

Speaking as someone who was at Pantheacon 2014 (where the short-lived discussion of 'Wiccanate privilege' began), and who did attend one of Starhawk's workshops, I didn't get the sense that there was any sort of mission by Starhawk or others to shut down a conversation about privilege. In fact, I would offer that the Wiccanate privilege concept was a dog whistle of its own, it was seen as such, and is now in the bucket of crazy stories people tell about past conferences.

Privilege is about unearned power. As you rightly point out, all of us are born into a particular set of privileges and they aren't something we can alter through our actions. 'Wiccanate privilege' in this case was actually earned power -- Wiccans put in the time at interfaith events and showed up to co-create inclusive Pagan events. They earned that power earned through participation in the larger religious discussions taking place in and outside Paganism. A lot of sweat equity goes into creating a conference or getting wider recognition of a religious group.

What makes "Wiccanate privilege" a dog whistle is that the individuals bringing this 'privilege' up were identified as trying to push aside those who had created something interesting and take it over in the name of inclusivity. That's the downfall of many activist and anarchist groups, of course, because the desire and mission around inclusivity makes this a particularly exploitable avenue. I can only speculate as to Starhawk's motives for saying what she said, but my guess would be as an experienced activist, she can tell when people are going down that road and has no problem with speaking out to stop that in its tracks.

James M. Jensen II said...

Hmm... I'm not sure it makes sense to see privilege as a hierarchy in American society. It seems to me that, precisely because it became impossible to talk openly about privilege, the forms that privilege takes multiplied in the shadows.

So while it's easy to assign the relative places of a disabled transgender woman of color who practices Santeria and lives on welfare and an able-bodied white male cisgender heterosexual Christian who is an executive in a successful corporation, it can become quite murky in other cases.

One aspect of this is that privilege can manifest differently in different situations to the same person. A man who is doing well in life can generally expect to do better than a woman in the same position.

But let both of them be the victim or sexual violence or domestic abuse, and the situation changes drastically: the woman will face some horrendous treatment by people accusing her of lying or asking her what she did to cause it, but she has a much better chance than the man of finding support from friends, family, or at least public shelters.

The man will likely be simply ignored, or even assumed to be the perpetrator, because in our society the mentality is that it just can't happen to men, and almost no resources are allocated to help men who experience those sorts of crime.

There seems to be a larger pattern of "women aren't allowed to reach as high, but men fall harder," which itself seems to unfold from the old patriarchal scheme of female hypoagency and male hyperagency: men are the doers, women are the done-to. A man who falls is suffering the consequences of his own actions, but women need to be protected from those consequences (since either (a) a man must have done something to hurt her or (b) anyway, she's only a woman and can't be expected to have done any better).

I'm lead to conclude that the issue of privilege is much more convoluted than we're normally allowed to talk about.

John Michael Greer said...

Amy, you're welcome and thank you. To my mind, that kind of reflection is one of the things that will further the conversation our society so desperately needs to have.

Kutamun, yes, it's a specialized form of the red herring fallacy.

Alex, that's a useful perspective, precisely because most white Americans have never lived in any place where their skin color wasn't a source of privilege, and I suspect very few can imagine how that would work.

JimK, oh, granted, race is a social construct. It's a social construct with immense impact, but its connection with biology is complex and somewhat distant. One of the reasons most Americans learn precisely nothing about the 200 years or so of North American history between Columbus and the late Colonial period is that that's when the modern American concept of race was constructed, largely as a way to drive a wedge between indentured servants of European origin and slaves from Africa. A lot happened here between Columbus and Ben Franklin that nobody wants to talk about -- I've been researching some of the details for the third Weird of Hali novel, and it's been really eye-opening.

Candace, oh, granted. The funny thing is that there really is a class war going on, but it's the upper half or so of the salary class that's declared war on the wage class, and so far, they've been winning.

Peakfuture, heck of a good question, to which I have no ready answers.

rcg1950, acquiring class privilege is a complicated thing, because those who are already members of a given class will routinely use any available tool to exclude those of lower classes -- think of the way that nouveau-riche social climbers have always been treated by old-money families! I tend to think of social climbing as the equivalent of "passing" -- the way that light-skinned African-Americans in the Jim Crow era used to pass for white when they could, as in the jazz standard "Sunny Side of the Street."

Ray, I've had the same experience. It was as a result of such things that I launched into the reading, research, and conversations that led to the unpacking in question.

Cherokee, a very good point! It's not just other humans that are unprivileged...

Mister R., for what it's worth, my guess is that the shift now under way is a lasting one. A great deal of the old system of privilege was founded squarely on certain very popular modes of Christian morality -- not, I should stress, the morality that Jesus himself taught, but a set of opinions he had foisted off on him by later theologians (and which, to judge by his reactions to corresponding notions in his own time, he would have rejected with quite some force.) Christianity is rapidly becoming a minority religion in North America, and the moral consensus that once derived from Christianity's majority status is crumbling even faster than that majority status. I probably need to do a post on this sometime soon.

siliconguy said...

"As I noted, privilege is invisible to the privileged, and I promise you that women, people of color, etc. are far more often disadvantaged by our privilege than we are by theirs."

One case where the situation is reversed for men with respect to women is in family court. Washington State's ratio is that women get custody five times in six. Some social stereotypes are still firmly in place.

Alex said...

The race/class matrix I grew up in in Hawaii is interesting. The best thing to be is of pure Japanese descent, with ancestors who came over in the late 1800s to work on the plantations and then started a store, and now your family owns a bank. There are also whites who came over in the 1800s and sucked up to the Hawaiian nobility, who generally didn't care about their commoners any more than our nobility cares about us. The Hawaiians had come up with a society that shared a lot of characteristics with feudalism, so the Brits found them very easy to understand as a society - and how to fleece them too. The Americans joined right in, and eventually annexed the place. So there ended up being huge amounts of land acquired by these whites; they talk about "the big 7" which are 7 families that were able to gobble up land. Meanwhile the Hawaiians were being devastated by disease, despair, petty warfare, and emigration. As per usual, only about 10% survived and this seems to be the typical figure for stone age societies we gobble up. Intermarriage has also done its part toward the near-extinction of the Hawaiian people.

But back to those land-owning, early-in whites. The ones who still have money, land, and power are those who have kept their lineage pure, and if you ever got to meet them (I knew an old Wilder spinster as a kid, very nice lady, imagine "Lacy Davenport" out of Doonesbury) you'd never suspect they were of stock that had been in the islands for many generations. They are also members of the elite, and to find them you have to go to Punahou, a whites-only school for most of its existence, or the Pacific Club, Rotary, etc.

Being Hawaiian isn't a very good thing in Hawaii unless you're a member of the ali'i, the nobility, and you'd go to Punahou, or Kamehameha School, which is Hawaiians-only and by that is meant the right kind of Hawaiians. Your pidgin-speaking Hawaiian kid who grew up in Kalihi is going to be lucky to get a job at the docks. But if you're the right kind of Hawaiian, with the right kind of educated English you learned at Punahou or at a Mainland prep school, the world is your oyster.

The third power group is the Chinese but again, the right kind of Chinese. The ones who own buildings and land and so on. Ideally they will have none of the local tinge to their English, and they try to stay out of the spotlight but they are movers and shakers.

Everyone else just kinds of scrabbles along. Different categories tend to be done by different races, with a lot of the better-paying work out of limits for whites. Of course you can be white or anything and just start a business, although how difficult and time-consuming and expensive the paperwork is may differ, along with how often you get inspected and fined. A little old Japanese guy who sets up a car-repair shop, even if he's working-class as hell, is going to have no problems. A white SAE engineer who wants to start up a car repair is gonna have problems, maybe a fire because "he left oily rags around".

Alex said...

Had to cut it short - The Internet hates writing.

People just seem to be tribal as hell. On the Mainland it seems to come down to sheer skin color, and accent. While I had a black friend who was the "right" kind of black with perfect English and from a solid upper middle-class family, and who got handed money in buckets for doing the same as I did in college, same classes and everything, got handed great jobs while I had to work hosing down dog kennels and mopping floors - all this while carrying a class load - statistically almost all blacks in the US are really getting the short end. Indians are tolerated, the darker kind of Middle Easterner really gets the stink-eye and worse, and Asians are liked/disliked depending on their paleness. The US has a major case of Japanophilia because they're nice and pale, and we think Koreans are pretty great too. As you go darker on the scale, Viets and Cambodians, the hassles go up. Accent and properness of English matters a lot too. Essentially if you are light-skinned and your English is good, you're gonna be OK.

And the vast majority pretend this isn't going on.

Because my dad was an English major at an Ivy and I grew up reading a ton of books, it seems it's impossible for me to fall to the utter bottom. Goodness knows, I've tried, and there's always been some middle-class or upper-middle-class friend who's scooped me up. If I talked like an Okie, I'm sure I'd be sleeping under a bridge now. As Orwell observed, accent really matters. I'm fairly light-skinned, and that plus my accent seem to be a sort of safety net a lot of perfectly smart and capable people don't have. And it's *not* something I can just step away from - the other evening, my boss's wife, who's from a working-class background, said something in a way I could not conceive of. I really wish I'd written it down. I would have to study working-class English to be able to speak it.

onething said...

It seems to me that as a somewhat gross generalization with many, many exceptions, a main difference between the wage and salary class is IQ.

Alex said...

Part 3:

An interesting case study of how these things work is the trajectory of Jewish people in the US. When they first came, they were very low on the class ladder, would take just about any work, like meatpacking, street cleaning, you name it. Like I experienced growing up and living in Hawaii, lots of places would not rent to them, lots of places would not hire them, they were "fair game" for abuse, etc. But over time, they rose up by working hard and getting educated. It helped that most Jews in the US came over from Europe so they were light-skinned, and a few generations took care of the English. But up until very recently, the post-WWII era, Jews almost never intermarried, and up until I was born, I think even later than that, it was perfectly acceptable and legal to exclude Jews from housing, house purchase, jobs, etc. It was not cool to be Jewish.

So when Mom and Dad married, Mom, who was quite tan, passed herself off at Navajo Indian! And we were raised believing we were olive-skinned because we're part Navajo Indian. Mom tried her best, trying recipes out of Sunset Magazine... She even did fry bread once and it wasn't the most horrible thing she made.

I have since looked into my ancestry which until very recently was only cool if you were Scottish (or wanted to be) in the US, and it seems I am in all probability Jewish. The "protective lie" Mom taught us made me a damn liar. That's how weird and hypocritical and passive-aggressive the race/class system is in the US.

I am in the process of tracking down verifiable information on this because if it's true I'm seriously considering moving to Israel where at least they're honest about these things.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160421T035939Z

Thanks, Leif Christensen (posting timestamped, with reference to USA Pacific coast, by software as "4/20/16, 5:10 PM") and JMG (posting timestamped, in that same Pacific-USA formalism, as"4/20/16, 7:13 PM"). Both of you draw attention to the connection between privilege and duty. One is reminded here of the arresting title of a work, which admittedly I have not read, by Victorian British philosopher F.H. Bradley - "My Station and Its Duties".

Toomas (Tom) Karmo

member of Estonian diaspora, currently in Richmond Hill (Ontario), in Canada,
currently residing in my poverty on a street called "Gentry Crescent"
(no, I am not making that street name up, LOL :-) )

PS: I might as well also quickly remark (1) that I have launched a blog at (with a couple of substantive postings so far, on the emerging "green Catholic hermit" movement, inter alia highlighting the work of the Firenze-based Catholic hermit Julia Bolton Holloway), and (2) that last week's discussion here on ADR, by JMG, of the Rescue Game was thought-provoking.

Even the green Catholic hermit movement risks falling into the Rescue Game, with the hermit of course starring in the pleasant role of "Rescuer".

A salient feature of "Dame Julia", as I like informally to think of her, is that she does not come across in her tone and manner as a Rescuer, even though she spends much time working with the underprivileged of Firenze, and additionally comes from a British family some branch of which has in past decades known some level of (duly self-conscious, duly self-aware?) social privilege.

PPS: Robert Mathiesen: Thanks for your remark here on JMG's ADR, around 2016-02-03, that you have known Dame Julia. I should here say, for the possible benefit of you or others, that Dame Julia has a Facebook page Google-retrievable via the string julia holloway italy facebook (or point your browser directly to; ‎that her current e-mail address, publicly disseminated by her, is; and that she is the subject of a pleasant video clip retrievable via YouTube search string catholic hermits (or point your browser directly to

Roger Leybourne said...

This is an interesting discussion. I think I probably come at this from a very different angle to most people though. It's interesting to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The irony of a lot of these discussions is that they resemble a lot of the Christian self-flagellation and pearl clutching derived from original sin and universalist ways of thinking. Other groups of people simply don't think in these terms. Yet a lot of white liberals have a real blind spot in this regard.

I live and work in Asia and I'm married to a local. I'm often privy to some interesting conversations from Asians (both here and with Asians I know in the West). On the whole, people in the country in which I live generally don't have any problem at all with being very clannish or having a circle of trust, quite often based upon what would horrify people in the West as being based upon all sorts of privileges. They're very hierarchical. Privilege is not a bad word for them.

Where I find this very interesting is in the transformations currently taking place in my home town. Essentially, a new cognitive and financial elite is being imported, and they have no qualms about using talk of privilege against those already there without accepting any criticism of themselves. For instance, an enormous property bubble, in large part propped up by the intersection of policies that privilege Baby Boomer investors and a massive amount of money flowing out of Asia (China in particular) is creating real social tension. Recently, there were complaints about locals not being able to afford houses. Suggestions that the second half of the equation mentioned above (Chinese money) be addressed were immediately shut down as racist. The Chinese have figured out how to play that game perfectly, despite having no qualms about being very insular and engaging in their own privilege. White liberals have absolutely no response to this so far.

It's going to be interesting to see a couple of developments from here. The first is how downwardly mobile white people born into the (upper) middle class (many of whom are extremely liberal) are going to react when they are continually displaced in their own positions of privilege by Asians who don't regard privilege as bad. People on the left are going to end up hoist by their own petard in a very big way in coming decades. This is fundamentally because of the irony that although the thing they fear most in the world is being labelled a racist, they can't imagine that anyone else in the world isn't secretly a white liberal; at some level, that is a fundamentally racist belief, yet they are completely unaware of it, which suggests that it's a very privileged belief. The cognitive dissonance when this is pointed out to them is quite interesting to observe.

The other issue is that because white liberals so often frame everything in terms of race, Aborigines are likely to end up getting a pretty raw deal. Asians will (and do, though not openly so much yet) shrug their shoulders and say that it was white people who wronged Aborigines, not them.

John Michael Greer said...

Crow, from my perspective, it wasn't that the eclectic Pagans "put in the time" and "showed up," it's that they monopolized a great many conversations and positions of authority, and the only roles they offered to people from the minority traditions within Neopaganism were those of sitting quietly at the back of the bus and backing whatever projects those further forward happened to decide on, such as the interfaith boondoggle. (I spent five years doing a great deal of interfaith work when I lived in Oregon, and at this point agree with those who see it as a mug's game.) Similarly, when you that people in the minority traditions in Neopaganism were "identified" as trying to take things over, who was responsible for this "identifying" -- and what benefit accrued to them from doing so? I suspect we can both answer that question -- but then, as I pointed out in my post, privilege in today's America (including its religious subcultures) is invisible to the privileged...

James, the texture of privilege in any complex society is extraordinarily complex; an entire book, a thick one, could be written just giving a basic overview. This one post can only present the most basic elements.

Siliconguy, yes, it's always possible to find one or another place where, yes, some privileges have been given to the otherwise unprivileged. So?

Alex, my stepmother was born in Japan to a mother who was sent back from Oahu for an arranged marriage, and I have step-relatives all over Oahu to this day, so yes, I know a little bit about that situation! I'm intrigued to hear about your Jewish faux-Navajo mother, not least because my wife's family has an oddly similar situation. One of her great-grandmothers is the subject of competing stories in the family; one set of relatives was convinced that she was Jewish, the other claims with equal certainty that she was Native American. Race in this country really is much more complex thing than it's been made out to be.

Onething, and what exactly is IQ? Your score on a multiple choice test which has been written and devised by members of the salary class...

Alex said...

Pygmycory - You describe my situation in a way; in that we started out middle class or even arguably upper middle class, so it was the big house and all the neighbors had pools and all that, 1000s of books in the house, and I remember when I was little we'd picked up ways of saying things from some kids who said "laigs" for legs and so on, and we were coached and literally drilled on the right way to say words. We were taught to have very clear English. Of course the family plummeted like Skylab starting in the mid-70s and I got the poverty experience too. But the good accent stayed, my reading books that are assigned in colleges, for fun when I was 11, hell a few years ago I was astonished that a friend of mine didn't know who Sergei Rachmaninoff was. It's a weird place to be.

JimK - You and I both know that almost every conceivable piece of paper in the US will have the "race box". Renting, car insurance, surveys, it's not on the front of my driver's license but I'm certain it's encoded in the barcode-y thing on the back. For those folks overseas, everyone wants to know your race here, but noooo, we're not racist.

Mr. Roboto - Please, please, learn the difference between baited and bated, just as a favor to me? There are actually a lot of things in English that are like that, and I'm considering doing a book about it.

Onething - Saying IQ is what matters is the "party line". IQ is a rounding error compared to how much class matters.

Alex said...

JMG - Wow, interesting to hear your Oahu connection. Indeed, lots of mail-order marriages back in the day.

I just sent off my 23andme test a couple of days ago, and I'm going to go with what that determines first. Fortunately, for the purpose of testing, if I'm Jewish I'm Ashkenazi and they were genetically isolated for a long time so there's a very distinctive genetic "signal" so I'm gonna know if it's yay or nay. Likewise, I believe the Navajo are of a distinct type that's probably pretty easy to determine.

In the 1920s and 1930s, when my mother was growing up, it was really cool to be Navajo - they were hugely romanticized. My mother was more olive-skinned than I am and she had to say she's *something* and Navajo may have been easiest to pull off - say she's Armenian and someone's gonna say "Oh, what town, I've got relatives there all over" etc. Lots of books and magazine articles romanticizing the noble Navajo would have given her plenty of material, and there were not a lot of Navajos around Los Angeles.

However, her maiden name, and tracing back, are all probable Jewish names, she used Jewish expressions a lot, there were a lot of Jewish ways of thinking - again unquestioned by me until I started researching, like an utter reverence for books, you feed your animals before you feed yourself, bunch of stuff like that. And there was halvah. I was recently astounded to learn the folks I work for have never had it. In fact it seems almost no one's had it, and to me that's like never having tasted chocolate. I grew up with it as a treat. Of course I hunted down the one health food store within 30 miles where I could get it, and got some and brought it over. They found it quite interesting. (Joyvah marble w/o the dumb chocolate coating or go home.)

Alex said...

Ooh! Ooh! (I always loved Horshak from Mr. Kotter) this is interesting ...

You see, 23andme is all about paying through the nose to hand over all the information you literally physically can, but they also have nice nosy surveys!

So needless to say I did those, and the long one had many versions of the same question, whether I am using 23andme to find out "if my children will have curly hair".

There was not a single question about finding out if I'm part black, because that would be very un-PC and probably get them in a lot of trouble. At least a big flap in the news.

So instead, "curly hair" appears to be the magic code-word.

James M. Jensen II said...


"Siliconguy, yes, it's always possible to find one or another place where, yes, some privileges have been given to the otherwise unprivileged. So?"

If I may, I think part of siliconguy is alluding to is something that's become very common online of late: the insistence that since women are on the whole underprivileged compared to men, they must have no privileges at all.

The most blatant and offensive example of this is probably the occasional photo of a white probably-salary-class woman holding up a sign saying "Woman is the n***** of the world" - without the asterisks, of course.

I've seen many people online insist that women literally cannot be sexist toward men, since sexism is "prejudice plus power," and women have no power. That this is not what the vast majority of people mean by the word "sexist" just flies past them when pointed out.

I think all of this is ultimately part of a Rescue Game, trying to bait wage-class men into accepting the role of Persecutor with the promise of a chance to convince the jury that they're actually Victims. Overall, that strategy seems to be working spectacularly right now.

Candace said...

The book "Outliers" by Malcom Gladwell might give you a different perspective. The short version, success in a given field requires a base of sufficient intellegence, hand/eye coordination etc, depending on the field you are talking about. after that it requires opportunity, and opportunity is positively correlated with privilege. Many other details, time and place you are born also fall into the opportunity bucket. IQi is just one aspect and not really the most important one.

Nancy Sutton said...

Oddly enough, I was just trying to tell a friend that the 'rich' really don't know how the other 99% live (the 1% salaries start at $440,000 per household). They think/say they do, but they really do not, even can not. That true inability, even in the case of good intentions, is very important, and invisible. I remember a friend's daughter, attending an expensive, private Catholic school (Gonzaga Univ) on scholarship, came home to tell her mother that she was amazed to learn, on her first real experience of them, that the rich really are very different.

Born in 1946 and raised by a single mother, without a high school diploma, who's health issues limited her employment, (and who never went on welfare, to the detriment of her two kids), I can attest to the fact that the privileged are blowing smoke when they 'understand'. They can't, nor can the colorblind 'see' certain colors .. not possible. But perfectly clear to me, when looking 'upward' most of my life ;)

But, boy is it hard to get anyone to understand this... thanks for this essay, John.

jbucks said...

It's amazing that people, unable to recognize that their privilege comes from the blind luck of being born here rather than there, use it to cause so many problems.

On the right: It's like winning the lottery and then blaming others for being poor.

On the left: It's like winning the lottery and then telling others how to spend their money without giving away any of your own.

Maybe if people decided to clearly see their own privilege and soberly think about its implications, it would actually help to shrink the distance between the left and the right to a great degree.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thank you, and Blind Freddy would enjoy sharing a quiet ale and chat with you too! :-)!

Feel free to use that concept. It is good isn't it? You started me thinking about the subject from that perspective when I heard you speaking in a podcast (I forget with whom) about the misuse of the concept of social station as a social control mechanism. And I reckon that you are correct in that assertion, however my gut feel - after much consideration - was that the concept of station originated as a meme to assist with the control of individuals consumption and that would have arisen in a society with very limited resources (i.e. Earlier times). It would have been of some benefit as someone’s gain is someone else’s loss in that sort of society.

However, by the time that the meme of station was being used to control classes of people (by then individual local relationships have been replaced with geographically wide and impersonal abstractions – like today) the level of wealth inequality was obscene and no one thought to question who defined what constituted the perquisites of a station and was that a reasonable expectation.

Dunno. Anyway - You started it!!! Hehe! ;-)! Oh, I do so amuse myself!

Oh yeah, whilst we are conversing about ideas from the very fringe (an nice place to be): I rarely watch television (less than half an hour a week - if even that) but the other day I did watch a program which is way out there on the zeitgeist (it is nice to know what is going on). The show was based in New York, and I've noted that many shows originating from that city have characters and storylines that exhibit mental health issues (just as an interesting observation) and particularly so for comedies. Anyway, a few of the characters were displaying signs of obsessive compulsive behaviour and it got me wondering about that behaviour and the relationship to ritual.

You see, I was sort of left with the impression (and I'm not 100% sure of my thoughts in relation to the insight) that the sort of obsession being displayed by the characters in the story was a form of learned ritual that had either gone wrong or was rendered inappropriate due to a change in circumstances but was unable to be stopped or altered to reflect the new circumstances. Dunno, but there felt like something deeper in that. What do you reckon?

The Aboriginals believe that if the correct rituals are not performed (and most of their activities are steeped in ritual) then their very souls and the landscape were at peril. It seems like a rather astute thing to realise, because as a species we really do love our patterns and if they go wrong... Again dunno.



John Michael Greer said...

Toomas, glad to hear you found the concept useful. In a society pervaded by the Rescue Game, it takes clear thinking and wariness to stay out of it.

Roger, the global decline of white privilege is one of the things we're going to be talking about next week. You're right that a lot of people on the leftward end of things are going to be left flailing at empty air as that happens. Their unwillingness to deal with issues of privilege is based on an extreme case of the invisibility of their own privilege, and it has quite literally never occurred to them -- and can't be gotten into their heads with dynamite; I know, I've tried -- that they really are hugely privileged, and the end of the system they claim to hate will be the end of their privilege and the cozy lifestyles and abundant options that come with that. That's one of the reasons that some clarity on the subject of privilege is so useful just now.

Alex, that's fascinating. There seems to have been a lot of open space between "white" and "black" at various points in American history, and those people who could fit into that wiggle room via olive or light brown skin, etc., tended to shift identities remarkably often and remarkably well. Are you at all familiar with the history of the Melungeons and other so-called "triracial isolates"? (The term's of dubious value, because race is a social construct and they weren't particularly isolated, but a lot of them have some mix of European, African, and Native American ancestry.) There was a lot going on between the lines and outside the mainstream categories in American history.

James, yes, that's a good example of Starhawking in action. Privileged white women like to insist that sexism is the only form of oppression that matters, because that allows them to divert attention from their own privilege. What does the sign you mention say, after all, if not "The oppression I suffer is much more real and importantthan the oppression African-Americans suffer"? The logic of the Rescue Game is all over that sort of thing. At the same time, as I noted, the fact that the narratives are dysfunctional and toxic doesn't mean that the phenomenon the narrative (mis)describes is unreal.

Nancy, most feudal societies have a custom of fostering the children of the aristocracy out to other families, where they function as unpaid servants -- think of the pages and handmaidens of the Middle Ages, who did a lot of day in, day out scut-work, from tending horses and cleaning armor to the endless round of spinning and sewing that kept a household in those days supplied with clothing, linen et al. It was a good custom, as it kept the offspring of the privileged classes from developing the sense of entitlement, the lack of meaningful skills, and the general fecklessness that so many of their equivalents have today.

Jbucks, maybe so. The problem is that so many people will have to give up on the fantasy that they are entirely responsible for their own good fortune!

Alex said...

jbucks - I don't see how people can understand it unless they've experienced the loss of it.

As an example, you can teach a classroom class on sailing, but until you get people out on a boat and they have to do it (with all the delights of capsizing, being "in irons" and the ever popular "ready about - hard a'lee!") almost no one is going to get it.

I get treated weirdly in this area because it seems there's a sort of low-level stereotype that because I'm ostensibly white, and not a bum, I must know lots about computers. So far I have never failed to disappoint.

Alex said...

JMG - Yes I know about the Melungeons, one was one of our greatest Presidents.

Sub-Saharan Africans apparently are what could be called pure Homo sapiens sapiens. Those of European descent are part Neanderthal, and Asians are part Denisovan. Europe and the Middle East are an amazing patchwork of different appearances.

This is probably very politically incorrect but the way I look at it is, we're a worldwide species. Of course there are going to be local variants. It's like cat breeds, you've got your mellow but a bit dour old Persians, your easygoing domestic shorthairs, your borderline psycho tortoiseshells, your wiseguy Siamese etc. But they're all cats.

patriciaormsby said...

Another fascinating thought-provoking essay! I like hearing your overall impression of the comments and e-mails. Moderating to maintain a civil dialogue involves inevitable bias, so we see lots of people eagerly engaging in the discussion, which is nice!

I'm not certain when Japan's explicit hierarchy came to an end, but I think it was the beginning of the Meiji Era, when Japan abandoned feudalism and took up industrial capitalism. There was some recognition then that people in rural areas would end up at the bottom of the totem pole if they didn't get with it and urbanize themselves quickly. At that point in time, by law all the former privileged samurai lost their status and the protections it afforded them, and my impression is that it was extremely common for each former samurai family to have one drunken Uncle Joe who piddled away the entire family fortune, because one of the perqs of that class had been pride in ignorance of basic accounting. There was a strong sense that everyone was equal now--well, except for the Koreans and burakumin, and that it would be individual strengths that would make the difference between success and failure. But it was the end of World War II when the American ideal of complete equality was adopted (while ignoring the usual outcast groups), and the myth is much much stronger here now than in America. And I think they really tried to make "equality" happen here. Recently there has been an effort to include women too in the hopes that it would stimulate the moribund economy.

Thank you for bringing up "noblesse oblige." In the contexts where I've heard the term, its meaning was unclear to me, seeming simply to be "privilege." I didn't realize we actually had a term for what is one of the central concepts of Confucianism, which embraces hierarchical society as a necessity for stability, but demands magnaminity from the privileged, inviting condemnation where that does not occur. This was so strongly ingrained that it survives so-called "equality." Roles in society are currently interchangeable to a large degree, with anyone qualified being given a leadership role on occasion for practice, and then assigned that with increasing frequency as they move up the age/experience hierarchy (which is still observed and acknowledged, but I've seen it under assault too). When I led ecotours to Siberia, the Japanese made it clear to me that as leader, I was to accept no privileges at all beyond the prestige of the position. It wasn't that I was a "worker" for them (though some may have seen it that way--a few were quite abusive), because I was volunteering. It was explained to me that as "leader" I had to put my followers' needs and sentiments ahead of my own.

The abolition of inequality has been a noble undertaking despite the impossibility of the goal. I think there are a number of factors involved in the total denial of the new reality of destitution amid affluence, though. Shame at not making it is the biggest, and sheer terror among the better off at their own helpless vulnerability must come second.

And now, completely off-topic:

patriciaormsby said...

All the really important seeds have sprouted--the blue and black corn, anchos, jalapenos, habaneros, tomatillos, white-dragon pumpkins, sesame, etc. etc., and let's not forget the cumin, first out of the gate. I was eyeing the peanuts carefully a few days ago when I noticed an ant--regular, medium sized, black. I don't try to kill them unless there's an army of them intent on setting up camp in a planter, so I observed her--or in this case, probably him, because the next thing I noticed was that the ant was a cleverly disguised spider.

I've seen ant mimics before, but they are usually obvious from the way they move. They are adapted jumping spiders, but this one moved like an ant. It tapped along with its two front feet looking like antennae and wandered about aimlessly. The only time it gave itself away was when it encountered a dead aphid and went circling around it sideways as if to calculate how to attack until it decided it wasn't worth it. Also, every few seconds it would drop its pedipalps to the ground. These were quite large, so I speculate it was a male, and when they were held close to the head, they strongly resembled an ant's jaws. It was the most brilliant mimic I've ever seen.

At harrowing times like these, the garden is just such an immense source of joy.

Purple Tortoise said...

I generally find most discussions of privilege to be obnoxious (present company excepted) because they are usually nothing more than a source of cheap moral posturing. The most privileged members of a privileged class exhibit concern about the injustice of privilege and then impose the costs of ameliorating it not on themselves but instead on the least privileged members of the class.

Swift developer said...

Interesting, I think you may have changed my views on privileges.
However I am somewhat confused: how do you see the difference between privileges and culture? Or is one the result of the other? Is there perhaps no difference?
And how does "multiculturalism" relate to the topic of privileges?

Κασσάνδρα said...

Excellent article, thanks for enlightening us every week. As a citizen of a western industrial country (even as hit by crisis as Greece is) I feel I have more privileges than, say, a citizen in a third world country. On another subject (I am not starhawking, I am just pointing attention to an illusion that we can all keep our privileges), I remember your prediction that the next energy bubble will be the photovoltaics and your post about it. Last week, I read two articles on from its editor James Stafford and I believe that the next energy bubble will be a close relative of PV: the Lithium (Li) battery. The articles:
These articles have all the hype (Li as the new gasoline and “White Petroleum”), cheerleading and money pouring that similar fracking articles had when the fracking bubble started inflating. Just search the web for “TESLA” and you will see the same tone. I said that Li battery is a close relative of PV because it covers the serious disadvantages of PV, their intermittency (via battery storage) and their inability to provide liquid fuels for transportation (via batteries for electric cars). So, it may be a combination of a PV and Li batteries bubble but I am pretty sure that it will have Li as a basic bubble raising agent.

The main reason I believe that Li will be another energy bubble is the same as for oil: depletion.

Physics Professor Tom Murphy calculated the needs for a USA battery at 335 billion KWh (2 TW total US electr. consumption to replace fossil fuels and go all electric, 7 days backup power) in one of his excellent Do-the-Math articles:
He concluded that the total known Lead resources are not enough for a USA Lead battery alone (and he didn’t calculate the Battery Depth Of Discharge factor which doubles or triples the needs).

What about Li? I searched a little (the engineer in me couldn’t resist) and found a similar answer:
Theoretical weight of Li per KWh = 0.1 kg / KWh which derives from 10 kilowatt-hours per kilogram of Li ( For 336 billion kWh we need 33.6 billion kg = 33.6 Mt (million metric tons) of Li. Practical weight of Li per KWh ( = 0.376 to 0.564 kg/kWh calculated using the 5.323 weight relation of LCE (Lithium Carbonate Equivalent) to Li (from page 9 of So, we need 126.4 to 189.5 Mt of Li.

From USGS ( world total estimated reserves: 13.5 Mt. Identified Li resources in the United States total 5.5 Mt and approximately 34 Mt in other countries.

Therefore, all the world Li reserves (economically extractable resources at present prices) are not enough to build a US Li battery. Not even all the world resources cover the needs of USA alone. I am sure new Li resources will be discovered as the price of Li is quickly rising because of new demand. But the new resources will need more energy to be extracted like… Déjà vu! Fracking!

We are trying to solve a material depletion problem by substituting the material to be depleted with another that we know is not enough and will soon have the same depletion problem. And don’t forget that Li extraction is done by machines that use oil, which is depleting. I know that in cornucopian theories when we convert all our transportation infrastructure to electric we can bypass this little problem but as a landing-to-real-earth exercise try to convert this 360 metric ton 4000 hp haul truck ( to electric.

For PV and battery storage you can find more information in the excellent articles-papers of Kris De Decker’s Low-Tech-Magazine:
Quick lessons from them: The location of PV construction and installation is very important, Lead batteries is a no-go and Li batteries have the potential (but we don’t have enough Li as we saw, at least for an industrial civilization as we know it).


Maxime Richard said...

A phenomenon somehow similar to that Occupy Wall Street is shaping up here in France. Forums and action plannings are taking place at night downtown of many cities.

The trigger is a law bill targeting both salary-class and wage-class (the latter more than the former of course). Flexibility of the workforce and no-accountability of the company is a very short summary of the spirit of that bill.

So what we see at night in those forums :
- students, low salary class people. Unemployed. Overall People with a fairly high cultural capital or/and a political sensitivity. Most don't vote anymore.
- little working class people.
- mostly white. Very litte people coming from a immigrated background.

One of the focus of the movement is to converge and fuse with demographics outside of that core. Difficult task.
@JMG The privilege talk you present in your post, is part of the self-conscious talks within the movement. I mean, Attendees knowing they're more privileged than others.

A political dead-end ?? maybe.
A resfreshing event in era void of political and social future ? I feel so

YCS said...

From an easterner's perspective, the western view on status in society is truly bizarre. In India the very first conversation any two people have is used to determine what societal position both people inhabit and what behaviour is required by either party. The manifestation of this 'caste' and more and more 'class' privilege is crude, but at least nobody is lying to themselves.

The other thing is that all leftists totally reject the simple reality that cooperation of the privileged is essential to reforming structures of privilege. Most of them insist on demolishing all structures of human relationships in some radical frenzy, to be replaced with what, exactly? The pigs taking over from the previous human owner (in Animal Farm), of course.

There are many examples of noblesse-oblige or a moral exhortation to mitigate injustices on the part of the privileged. The decades preceding independence, where Gandhi used his privilege to reinstate the concept of upper-caste duty was far more successful in removing caste prejudice than the period after. Now, the traditionally privileged are resentful of the barriers placed on them because of reservation, are not willing to engage with their prejudices or the manifestation of priviledge, are cast as 'persecutor' by the leftist ends of the media, and subsequently used by the other side for votes. Has caste prejudice improved since the 50s? Very little, because killing the concept of moral duty through reservation set up the conditions for extreme cultural resentment that we have now.


Mat F said...

Somehow I think the unawareness of privilege is also a generational issue, that is, as you say, in the midst of a makeover. Though I lived a few years in the US, the following observations are from here in NW Europe. Talking with the salaried class of my parent's generation (50-60) presents an utterly different picture than talking with my generation (30-40) or even more so the following generation(20-30). Listening to my parents they seem to perceive the world solely as a victim. E.g. "Life is sooo hard I only get xyz pension." (20-40: "I probably won't get a pension anyway", 80+: "We lost everything in the 2+ wars but I am better of than I was as a kid."). I can't think of a single time and place in history where & when on average people were better of than in NW Europe in the 2nd half of the 20th century. I think this also explains the vitriolic discourse surrounding THE REFUGEE CRISIS. It is simply a rationalization for a distribution fight. How else can you justify screwing everyone else over who is not as privileged, whether it be in your own country and more so in regards to the vastly larger unprivileged classes in the "global south" (who now starts now already as far north as Greece). BTW, I am a member of the salaried class.

Greg Belvedere said...

This certainly sheds even more light on conversations I have had this election.

I think another reason many can't see their privilege is that while the word has a connotation that suggests some extra benefit, it usually means the lack of having to experience some injustice. It is not the presence of a positive, but the lack of having to experience certain negatives. I think the media and culture amplify this. For instance, as a white man I have a lot less to fear to fear from law enforcement than people of color. But I don't think anybody should have to experience that level of fear around the police, so my experience seems like the one everyone should have. I just realize that is not the case.

MigrantWorker said...

Good morning mr Greer,

The invisibility of privilege also has another effect on the privileged: it turns it into something akin to addiction. Much like an alcoholic is an alcoholic even when he does not acknowledge it, and even when his habit does not interfere much with other aspects of his life. And as with any addiction, it comes with its own set of powerful mechanisms which steer the addicted to continue engaging in it.

One major difference is that privilege happens to be an addiction which is beneficial to the addicted, but I suspect that the material rewards are not the primary reinforcer. It is more a question of identity, which provides social rewards - such as rank, prestige, respect - which in turn tend to result in material gains by giving one a shot at tweaking the rules of the game in his own favor.


Yeast in a Bottle said...

Privilege exists between nations.

Some nation act with almost complete impunity, as some individuals act with almost complete impunity.

The United States (cough, cough, not) as got to be one of the only examples in history of an empire that insists publicly to the world, for sheer propaganda reasons, that it is Not an empire.

The Romans would have been amazed at our reticence in boldly shouting this fact to all with ears to hear.

Granted, an 'Empire' only 75 years old like the U.S. would be laughable to them, theirs having spanned centuries, but to have such hypocrisy as the U.S. does with it's blatant blanket domestic denial that it is in fact an Imperial Hegemon is historically breath taking. Pretty much all previous Empires in human history have trumpeted their Imperial status as an obvious 'in your face' fact to the rest of the world.

This core hypocrisy lies at the center of the privilege discussion.

The U.S. and all it's grab bag of privilege levels is in fact one big privileged player on the world stage.

It can't honestly discuss this within it's own borders, how pray tell can a discussion of 'privilege' ever be revalent between salary/wage factions, or between races or between sexes, etc…?

And while we're at it, what of species privilege humans are more important than any other living beings on the planet.

If you simply weighed all humans and there domestic livestock and then weighed all remaining creatures in the biomass of the planet, humans now make up 98+ percent of all planetery biomass. Twenty thousand years ago it was reversed.

That is privilege on a Star Trek scale.

Cathy from Winston Salem said...

from Chris: The Aboriginals believe that if the correct rituals are not performed (and most of their activities are steeped in ritual) then their very souls and the landscape were at peril. It seems like a rather astute thing to realise, because as a species we really do love our patterns and if they go wrong... Again dunno.

I have been thinking a lot about how habit and ritual could help protect us from actions whose results come home to roost far in the future. If only we could choose the right ones! For this, in theory, our culture could help, but it seems any appropriate habits and rituals in the United States have gone through some sort of cheap energy shredder, and we are left defenseless against the results of our (possibly inappropriate) actions. We could bond together with some group (some nice neopagans, for example), but it seems that could just lead us to some other bad result, just faster. How, then, to proceed? Perhaps, Mr. Greer, you could give us a hand in another post.

Thank you for your work, a fan. -Cathy

Dagnarus said...

"a woman who gets hired for a job in the US today can expect to get, on average, roughly three-quarters the pay that a man can expect to get for doing exactly the same job;"

Ah, .... No. If you take the average earnings of all women in the US, and compare it to the average earnings of all men in the US, you find that women earn 77 percent of men. This does not take into account hours worked, it does not taken into account field, it does not taken into account education, and it certainly doesn't taken into account job safety (93% of workplace fatalities are men), nor anything else. I think that the studies which look at equal pay for equal work find that women earn between 93.4% to 100% of there male colleagues, I think this probably depends on the person doing the studies ideological bent.

davidchuter said...

Coming a little late to this discussion (time zones) it seems worth emphasizing how useful is the instrumentalisation of the self-lacerating "privilege" discourse, to conceal real differences of wealth and power which are, in the end, what really matters. You can use identity politics for aggressive purposes to seek support from different groups, but you can also use it to spread a sense of collective guilt, as a way of disciplining that group you claim to represent and want to dominate. Concretely, wealthy white liberals can tell the white working class to stop complaining about lack of jobs, economic security, the export of jobs etc. because they are in some sense "privileged" just because of their skin color. No matter how ludicrous this may seem logically, it has functioned as a device for maintaining power and domination within the white community. It's the increasing reluctance of the poorer parts of that community to accept being disciplined in this way that is behind the rise of politicians like Trump and Le Pen, and which is causing panic among those for whom the privilege argument isn't working as well as it used to.

Robert Carran said...

I was struck by the similarity in dynamic of Autumn Crow's description of his experience to the experience I had in Occupy Asheville. (I can't comment on the accuracy of his account because I have zero first hand info)

I played a major leadership role OA - facilitating, strategic planning, and introducing dynamic governance, which is a form of consensus we adopted. I was elected (to my surprise, as I wasn't even seeking the position) as the delegate from the general assembly to the council. I was honored, but what I didn't realize is that I was becoming a target as a person of authority and privilege. Of course the image stuck quite well for a few people because I am a white male from upper middle class.
A certain activist in the movement started disrupting Councils and belligerently speaking out of turn and ignoring/defying our consensed upon process, and vehemently accused us of hierarchy and oppression. I spoke for having him removed from Councils or at least holding to our agreement that he be a silent observer as he was not a delegate. I was attacked by a few members as being a privileged dominating white male. The whole experience became so disruptive that I soon left the movement as I recognized that we were going nowhere.

What is interesting about this to me is that the Occupy movement was based on fighting the privileged dominating white male influence. But I think what happened is that so many people feel ultimately powerless over the true dominators that they end up picking a target who is closer and more vulnerable. It just seems that people want to keep playing out the roles of oppressor/oppressed in what ever situation there is.
I think another important aspect of this is the concrete action vs. protest debate. For example, there was a group organizing a protest to the Duke nuclear power plant construction. My take was that we would be better off spending our time and energy organizing a solar panel collective to stop paying electric bills to Duke, than to carry signs and shout at buildings. To me, this sidesteps the oppressor/oppressed dynamic and focuses on working together for something positive. That way you're less likely to get caught up in roles and the kind of games you describe in your previous post.

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just came upon this not sure it is okay to post link here .....regards to all!

Jay Moses said...

jmg- with respect to race you have summarized the arguments that noel ignatiev and others have been making for decades. ignatiev, following on the analysis of winthrop jordan in "white over black", assesses whiteness as a systemic social construct, unrelated to biology, specifically designed to create and preserve privilege. ignatiev however, also identifies steps that white people can take to oppose the privileges of whiteness. he has called those who take such actions "race traitors"--individuals who consciously and intentionally take action to disaffirm their privileges and their whiteness. thus it is not necessarily true that there is nothing you and i (also a white male of the salary class) can do about our privileges. you might, for example, pull out your camera/phone when you see police acting unjustly towards people of color. you'll be stunned to see how quickly your white skin privilege evaporates.

with respect to class, elites have long been the masters of divide and control. they are brilliant at identifying the fault lines in any society and exploiting those divisions to preserve their status. the problem in the u.s. today i think is that the promise of social mobility, ever a longshot at best, has become chimerical. i do believe that elites, not only in the u.s. but all over the world, recognize that their privileges will be difficult to sustain as people recognize that neither they, nor their children, nor their grandchildren for that matter will ever have the opportunity to share the bounty.

RPC said...

"affluent conservatives insisting that everyone else has to ignore their privilege in order to get on with the task of returning America to its Christian roots"...since you seem more than passably familiar with the actual teachings of the founder of Christianity, I'm sure the irony of this is not lost on you!

Avery said...

If you didn't hit a raw nerve with your last post, you must have gone straight to the heart with this one. Indeed, I think there's a lot of scars on the American psyche being reopened these days. We thought we killed the idea of privilege with heavy doses of peace and free love at the end of the 60s. It's not coincidental that the ideology of libertarianism arose at that time. Using the language of freedoms and rights rather than responsibilities, we set up a Douglas Adams-style "Somebody Else's Problem" field around the "bad parts" of our culture, one that remained extremely stable up until 2010 or so. And those who shattered that field, often using the Internet, did not envision a society of peace and love, but one powered by guilt and original sin, those horrible Catholic demons we thought we had gotten rid of decades ago. Once again, we must take responsibility for our decisions and question our own inclinations -- but not for the greater glory of God, only for "optics". One can see how this might make bitter hypocrites and ironists of us all... but maybe we can build on that theme next week.

Soccer13 said...

Dear Archdruid,
I’ve been a regular lurker on your blog for about 3 years and although I don’t always agree with you I appreciate your perspectives. I have a friend who talks about the need to “complexify the seemingly simple” and I want to try to do so in this conversation. I’ve tried to have some of these discussions with BLM students at the University I work at with limited success so far. They mostly just avoid me these days because I make them “uncomfortable.”
So here are a few ideas that I want to throw out in the discussion for consideration:
1. I think some types of privilege can be earned. I’d say class privilege for sure can change as a person’s financial means change over time. My grandparents were barely educated. My folks were 1st generation college students from seriously poor rural backgrounds. They grew up hungry. They moved into white collar careers, successfully invested and now have very privileged upper middle class lives. When I was young we were still poor renters and homeowners in very poor urban neighborhoods. By the time I was in high school we were pretty affluent and were able to move to an affluent urban oasis. Now I am a college professor. As our class position changed over time so did our privilege. Things are very different for me socially now than when I was poor white trash. However, there still are some things from my background that still stick to me. Maybe it’s the way I move or the way I talk but I’m often mistaken as someone from a different social group. I remember in grad school walking into a conference with about 100 other people and being asked by the speaker if I was there to work the projector. LOL!
2. I was a systems ecologist for a time and I’d like to make a second point based of ecological principles. Just like adaptations are specific for certain environments I think certain kinds of privilege don’t translate well to other environments. For example, I was a white kid who went to predominantly black schools where being white was a big disadvantage. White kids were verbally harassed on a daily basis. Physical abuse was really common and generally a white kid could expect to get slapped around, punched, or beat up on a weekly basis. You couldn’t tell anyone because stabbings occurred even at the middle school level. You also needed to run to and from sporting events to keep from being mugged if you were white. In addition, white kids were often excluded from certain programs in the name of diversity. It didn’t matter that the president of the US was white to my daily life just like it doesn’t matter that the president of the US today is black to many minority students today.

Well, these ideas didn’t go over well with folks on my campus. I’d be interested in feedback here. Comments?

. said...

Where do nascent warbands like Boko Haram and IS and, crucially, their native European members, fit into the picture? Warbands are supposed to be made up of the internal and external proletariat right? And those would be groups low on the privilege ladder.

The claim in Europe is that all Muslims are low on the privilege scale because they’re a minority religion, often non-white and experience prejudice. Since jihadists come from that religious group, their privilege status, prejudices and injustices are relevant. But that doesn’t quite fit the situation of Muslims (as a cultural/ religious identity) globally in areas where they form a majority – as in, for example, Egypt, where as a majority religious group they’re the beneficiaries of privilege above, say, Coptic Christians.

Since many European-born Muslims identify themselves with a global religious community rather than, or more than, a European nation or culture, the question of what scale at which to look at privilege is tricky when it comes to religious privilege or lack thereof.

In the process of decline warbands can and do overthrow the older order of privilege. So their particular prejudices and injustices do matter a lot to those of us who’d end up at pretty low down their alternative order of privilege (as women, non-muslims etc.). That seems sensible to me but it conflicts with what you said. It’s not only a current but a future threat that is likely to seriously affect our lives – yet it comes from an apparently less privileged group and at present its scale is far less than, say, those killed by western bombs in Muslim countries. That’s making it almost impossible to talk about since people will say, as you have, that the prejudices and injustices of more privileged groups matter more because they affect more lives.

But I know you’ve said elsewhere that an alternative to collapse due to warband incursions is a declining civilization being subsumed by another. A revived Islamic caliphate seems the most likely contender over here by far. And I think the jihadists aren’t ‘barbarians’ in the sense you discussed in the posts about civilization and barbarism. They just represent a different culture. So are they really warbands or are they part of the process of one civilization subsuming another? Or somehow both?

And if Muslims are a less privileged religious group in Europe, how do we deal justly with the fact that some of them would like to replace our current order of privilege with another – one which most of us would object to for reasons that have nothing to do with wealth? It seems to me that even if they are less privileged at present, their prejudices and injustices, as with those of warbands, does matter more to some Europeans than many of the prejudices and injustices carried out by apparently more privileged groups. Nothing to do with the relative ethics of one killing innocent people here and the other killing them ‘over there’ - purely from the point of view of self-preservation – literally and culturally.

The peasants of the Roman countryside probably suffered more from warbands after Adrianople than many of the wealthy living in cities did. And most of the refugee Goths probably never attacked anyone - they were genuinely fleeing the Huns and included whole populations– yet the warbands came from their group.

Your future utopia fiction was very helpful in that respect, but for Europeans the whole question of religious privilege takes on a broader significance as part of the mechanism of our decline. My thoughts are a bit muddled on this sorry!


GHung said...

Yet another bit of serendipity this week involving an opinion I read yesterday in our local weekly and, later, this week's ADR. The opinion was yet another complaint about so-called solar farms being built in our area and their effects on property values. Quite many of our 'privileged class' citizens have expressed their dismay over how their neighbors, generally local farmers, have used tax incentives to install solar arrays on their marginal or useless plots of property with no regard for the resale values of wealthy, usually retired, transplants' ostentatious homes. The first thing that comes to my mind when I read these opinions is "rich people's problems".

It's clear that the entitled class in our area has no concept of how they've driven up property values and land taxes for all of us, or that the mostly working class land-owners in our county may merely be trying to hang onto land that has been in their family for generations. These thoughts simply have no place in their narrative. One "opinion" actually called out these land owners for not selling out to developers before land values crashed, @2008, never considering that it was over-development that helped crash over-inflated property values in the first place.

I won't get into the benefits, or liabilities, of connecting these solar arrays to our local grid; it's a different discussion, but it's clear to me that whatever inevitable clash of classes was previously masked by better economic times is surfacing in our area. This should be interesting to watch going forward, this dance of musical chairs, as a full spectrum of citizens try to hold onto what they perceive as their wealth and privilege while their comfortable narratives become challenged in many ways.

Anyway, many thanks for the weekly doses of clarity. At least some of us get it.

August Johnson said...

JMG - Good writing the last couple weeks. Takes time to get my mind around what you're saying, but it makes sense. I can understand people wanting more on just the subject of how to collapse, but there's plenty of info out there already.

I advance ordered THE WEIRD OF HALI: INNSMOUTH and am looking forward to the shipping. I've already done a pre-order on DARK AGE AMERICA. Guess it's time to get After Oil 4 also.

Unknown said...

Housekeeping note: google wants to bill me in this post as "unknown," but I'm happy to go by my own name, Clarke J. Fountain.

Great post, JMG. I'm 67 years old, and I've said since I was 5 or so that a discussion and recognition of class issues was sorely needed. I'm from an OLD southern white family (1624 Jamestown, moved south to coastal NC) and my stepfather was a Burr (as in related to Aaron). We had all the right class markers for an older version of class, along with an earlier noblesse oblige sense of duty.

However, my of my brothers, two of us were on the Autism Spectrum (not identified) and were unwilling and in some sense unable to play the social games needed to remain "in class." None of us cared to deal with the whole debutante thing, for instance. All of us were to varying degrees downwardly mobile, as the new salaried classes took pre-eminence.

Not fitting one's familial class can be deeply disturbing both for one's family but for one's course in life. Privilege for me manifested in my only being homeless twice! (true, but intended as a joke as well since I have lived undeservedly well otherwise) I've lived among various "underclass" whites and native americans and I can tell you that prejudice certainly can be found anywhere.

One thing you don't seem to mention (I may have missed it) is the priority certain kinds of social skills take even over "born" class issues. Example: I went on a job interview where I was grilled about my social connections. When it was determined that while I had the right name and background otherwise, I wasn't able to identify now was I willing to exploit my supposed class connections, I was dropped even before the interview ended. Remarkable feeling. So, yes, it's a very complex and painful conversation.

I seem to recall that Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted to have a conversation about class (however defined), back in the '60s, to move beyond the use of race and address deeper (!) issues. Shortly after that became common knowledge (or so it seemed to me at the time) he was assassinated. Maybe the ice is breaking.

Peter VE said...

Onething: "It seems to me that as a somewhat gross generalization with many, many exceptions, a main difference between the wage and salary class is IQ."
On second reading, I realized that you really meant to point out the stupidity of the salary class. Only those in privilege would infer that "higher" IQ referred to them.

Eric S. said...

(long post, with two separate trains of thought, had to divide into two parts)
Part 1

Wow, you touched the Wiccanate Privilege debate on the Archdruid Report! What's next? The soft/hard debate? The F/U debate? Whether or not working with spirit guides is cultural misappropriation? Be careful, you might just turn into a Pagan blogger ;-).

More seriously though, one of the more interesting things relating to the concept of privilege, that may very well relate to the push-back you've been getting, is the fact that over the last 3-5 years, privilege has become an extremely popular part of the collective conversation. Nearly everyone discusses it, training courses for volunteer nonprofits, teaching certification, or for work in social services usually start out by having students read the original Peggy McIntosh essay from the '90s that started bringing the concept back into public discourse in academia and sociology, and then using that essay to examine privilege in their lives and how they can use that knowledge in their work. And then, within the last 3-5 years, as social media and the thoughtless sharing of memes and online op-ed pieces began taking over as the primary way Americans talk about the issues, the entire concept of privilege began to descend into a way of playing the game you addressed last week, and possibly of playing a few other games as well, one of which, is of course starhawking. Someone talks about a systemic social disadvantage they face, and the usual response is a mass wave of "but check your privilege!" and the whole conversation shuts down.

Privilege is beginning to be extremely awkwardly discussed, and widely, for the first time in a very long time right now, but what's emerging out of the debate, is a situation in which privilege is an accusation to toss around in order to say "hey, get in line and behave!" ( ), or, when the conversation has actually managed to get pushed in a useful direction, not daring to step beyond "awareness" as the sole acceptable solution: ( )

I think that's part of the source of the pushback you're getting here, usually you say the things everyone things or fears, but nobody actually talks about in public... and people are caught like deer in the headlights, ready to either nod and say "yeah, I always suspected as much," or panic and stick their heads in the sand. With Privilege, it’s a topic that has spent a few years now being discussed to death, turned into various political battering rams, or into circular loops with no real ending. So people are thinking “oh no, someone’s talking about privilege again?” And they’re already clenching down for fear that you’ll either be shouting “check your privilege” to people as code for “get in line and stop thinking about your own problems,” go into a “privilege exists” PSA that offers “acknowledging privilege exists” as the end solution, or will go with the right-wing version and start shouting about how privilege doesn’t exist at all and is just an excuse used by moochers who can’t get by in life. You’re taking the most uncomfortable road, and saying “yes, if you’re literate enough to read and understand this essay and have access to a computer screen and internet connection to read it from, you’ve got privileges, and that’s not something to apologize for, but with privilege comes responsibility.”

Eric S. said...

Part 2

With the pushback on class, I think part of the reason class is so taboo in America relates to the core narrative of American Capitalism, as addressed in Wright’s “Short History of Progress,” the whole “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” perspective on how the wage class self-identifies. Part of the narrative in America seems to be that class inequality exists, class identity doesn’t, and therefore class falls in a different category from the social identities acceptable within the spheres of American identity politics where privilege is an accepted conversation. On the affluent right, wage class jobs are treated as first steps to gain a footing in the process of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps (“I worked in a factory all through my 20s, it gave me character, and I invested my money, now I’m a CEO!”), anyone over 30 in a wage class job is viewed as failures or underachievers (“see the garbage man son? Study hard, or you’ll turn out just like him!” “that slacker can’t get anything better than burger flipper? He doesn’t deserve higher pay, I bet the joke will be on him when they replace him with an electronic kiosk and force him to get a real job.”). On the left the bootstraps narrative still prevails, but it’s society’s duty to do the bootstrap pulling: “we need better funding for education and more affordable college education to give young people opportunities to advance in cutting edge 21st century careers (i.e. desk jobs)” “we need a higher minimum wage so that low wage employees can support themselves and lift themselves up into ‘better’ jobs.” And by and large, for much of America’s recent history, the two narratives seem to have run in tandem with each other, the wage class consuming media that normalizes the middle class lifestyle and working to either attain it themselves, or ensure that their children achieve it (even back in 1960, when there was a huge working class movement, Steinbeck made the observation that America didn’t really have a self-identified proletariat, and that most of the self-identified working class revolutionaries were actually of the salary class intelligentsia). What you’re saying that’s so challenging is that the American Working Class has stopped seeing itself as elites facing momentary setbacks, but has in fact developed a class identity all its own, and begun advocating for itself for the first time in nearly a century. The narrative of the working class has changed, abandoning the usual bootstraps narratives of the mainstream but simultaneously running right on past all the various forms working class revolutions are –supposed- to take towards policies completely counterintuitive to those expectations and carrying various values self-proclaimed class advocates out there will inevitably find quite unsavory. I’m reminded in a way, of the discomfort among some of the people I knew in the activist community who were doing work with the African American community here in Baltimore around the time of the protests last year and the year before, as they were forced to learn that many of the people in the communities they were working alongside were in fact, extremely religiously conservative, and that their usual “religion is the root of all evil” mindset was not a way to win allies, and that just because these communities were working towards a common goal on this issue, they didn’t necessarily share the same values regarding the various other goals of the activists (LGBT rights, feminism, environmental justice, etcetera). It was an interesting culture clash to watch.

tokyo damage said...

The best, clearest article on this subject. You articulate things I've spent 2,000 words trying to articulate. I think the concept you introduced - the one I've been missing in my own thinking on 'privilege' - is how SLIPPERY the various 'ism's are - the confusion of injustice, privilege, and so on.

To which I'll add one more item which clouds our thinking on privilege and inequality: there's actually TWO ways to fix any given social inequality: 'leveling up' (taking the marginalized groups UP to the level of the privileged classes) vs. 'leveling down' (making the privileged do LESS of the thing in question, so everyone does that thing at the low rate of the marginalized groups).

The right tends to love hierarchy for its own sake, so they don't get caught up on this, but in my experience, lefties will spend hours arguing about an inequality-type issue, without even giving a cursory thought to "do I want to fix the inequality by leveling up or down?"

If you want to see this confusion in action, ask your friends, "In a sexually equal society, would women burp and fart publicly as much as men, or would men suppress their various gasses as much as women do today?"

David said...

It is interesting to observe the diversion tactics operate in real-time, after reading your analyses (particularly of these last two posts). I recently commented in a discussion (as I haven't learned yet to stop) that Sanders and folks like him want, among other things, an honest discussion of class to coccur within the Democratic party. I got one response of "an honest discussion of class by a campaign of privileged white males? Ok."


I did respond (as again, I haven't learned) with two main points. One re HRC's 45-minute income exceeding Sander's 2014 annual income (doesn't that make her privileged?) and another pointing out that a certain Eugene Debs was a white male who rather forcefully discussed class.

I really need to learn to not engage in the first place. Still trying to save the system from itself, I suppose.

redscott said...

The last two posts about privilege and the rescue game are pretty much like manna in the desert to me, and I wanted to thank you. It seems to me, too, that we're entering a time when the only solution we have to possibly catastrophic problems is to recognize who benefits from the existing order and not to engage in self-deception about it. Posts like yours are rare and valuable in that they outline a structural problem in the way we talk to each other and are helpful because they help you identify when you're falling into one of these traps that are about helping the participants feel good about themselves rather than facing and solving problems. If we're going to disenthrall ourselves from The Way We Live Now, the first step is learning that how we talk now obscures rather than clarifies the problems we have.

234567 said...

Ahhhh...I like your response to Nancy, JMG. There are few who understand the true purpose of fostering as it was in 'ye olde dayes', and it merits bringing up. My feeling is that this is a good thing, and sorely missing from modern society, especially in America and China. In both American and Chinese cultures, insulation has become the norm, rather than instruction and understanding. The same thing has happened to apprenticeships - because knowing a thing is not the same as understanding it and how it fits alongside the myriad other things that make up life.

Both China and America are insular, rather than expositive (coining word to mean 'exposed to a thing'). There exists books of rhetoric and even laws passed, but the cultures remain insular. I saw this traveling, where Americans and Chinese that travel are shown and allowed access to only certain aspects of any given culture.

Example: In Malaysia, most people eat with their fingers, and that is the way it is. Yet on my first few trips there, I was never once put in a position to be exposed to this. Likewise for my Chinese traveling partners. We were simply not allowed to know this, being only met at restaurants where utensils were the norm or else at hotels where they were the norm. It was only when we went on a plant tour (larger concern trying to buy a small company) and there was no other place to eat that we found out how the Malay do it. None of the 4 of us balked - we just washed our hands, went through the serving line and sat down and ate with out hands.

There were Malays staring at us the entire time, and being nudged not to stare frequently. Our thoughts were, "their culture, their country, their ways" and we forged on. Of interest to us all was the effect this had on our return to the plant, where the locals suddenly wanted to talk to us and show us why they did things in a certain way, and asked if we knew a better way or wanted to know how we did it in America and China. The locals were suddenly less conscious of the whole class thing, simply because we bowed to local custom. It made the entire trip amazingly enjoyable and enlightening.

One example of many, but I still insist that the lack of going 'walkabout' in other cultures and classes is a big problem in solving this dilemma, and the reason for this is, IMHO, the pace of life required to be 'efficient' and 'profitable'. And the culture of instant gratification promoted by consumption economics.

In our modern world, only us old guys finally understand that the notions of efficiency and profit are hobbled by the privilege and class issues - breaking them down and exposing people to these is the only way to get the point home. Exchange of trust and ideas is what makes for a better world and better working relationships. Privilege is not going away, but noblesse oblige needs to make a comeback. Noblesse oblige imparts a respect that has gone missing in the world for a few centuries, IMO.

That was the purpose of fosterings and apprenticeships - and we have done away with both in the modern world. The only way to resolve this is to acknowledge it and accept that there will always be privilege, but it does no need to mean disrespect or lessening of what others do or bring to the table. Maybe it is time to hold on to parts of what we have made and reach back to revive some things we tossed into the dustbin of history?

The other Tom said...

A fascinating discussion, because there are so many aspects to how we are all perceived, in addition to the obvious limitations of categorizing by race, gender, or socioeconomic class. I always thought that body size is a categorizing device for many, that it is an advantage to be of medium height and size because you can be under the radar, neither a threat nor be seen as a pushover, that if one is to have full freedom to circulate then you want to defy easy categorization. It also helps to be unremarkable in hair length, clothing, and vocabulary, in effect forcing people to read you other ways.
I think it is possible to fall out of one's class even if it is working class. By wandering along the periphery of other classes and cultures you can become adept at tweaking your speech, body language, and which parts of your composite whole you share to get along with most people, but not enough to ever fit in. You can reach a point where you don't belong to any class because your perceptions are such a unique jumble of experience that trying to explain one's culture would be futile.
If people are honest with themselves, we are all to some degree in this condition, so that the only way to get to something truly interesting in people is to keep listening and withold judgement as long as possible.
In the nineties I was a truck driver for awhile and my helper was a guy who had a background and temperament and interests remarkably similar to mine, except that he was a black guy and I am white. We both came from working class towns and we were both avid readers, so we had great conversations. It was almost like a controlled experiment to see how a black guy and a white guy, with everything else the same, would have to navigate the world. He had to be hyperaware of the impression he made, to avoid being seen as a thug. He was more neatly dressed than the job required, and the tone of his voice and his vocabulary shifted much more than mine, in response to new people.
I think it's interesting that although in public we are class oriented, in the privacy of our own skulls we may be in another class altogether.
This all seems very relevant to the theme of this blog because as resources tighten up the social mores may tighten up as well, so that resisting stereotypes will be even more of a survival skill than it is now.

Matt said...

siliconguy said "One case where the situation is reversed for men with respect to women is in family court. Washington State's ratio is that women get custody five times in six. Some social stereotypes are still firmly in place."

I suspect that this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Certainly in the UK, it's not many decades since fathers were almost invariably given custody. As to whether this is a source of privilege for women, you would have to unpick whether or not this was just a matter of judging the most suitable arrangement in each case.

Mark Mitchell said...

I'd like to tackle the assumption inherent in discussions of privilege that represents as inauthentic "inherited" statuses, implying they are "undeserved". Certainly, they were not worked for by their owners. They are the accumulated benefits handed down to the current generation by their ancestors, who didn't work out of an ethic of vocation, but through the need to accumulate a bulwark against fate. The rise of the Prussian model of the welfare state has temporarily (it's a Ponzi scheme) obviated the need for this to be a central drive for every adult. An awareness of privilege does not imply a willingness to concede it, and outside the modern West an explicit caste or color system perpetuates it. Only the nation state has leveraged tribal (kin) loyalty to the extended tribe, and only by imbuing the nation state with a national "character".

The "privilege" debate only works to transfer status within groups who agree they share a national character. Once you disavow a shared identity and go to a civic nationalism, the discussion makes no sense, because you are discussing redistribution between groups who have different inheritances.

In fact, those of us who keep an eye on Gramsci's children wonder if that is the whole point of replacing a "rights" model with a "privilege" model.

HalFiore said...

Hello, JMG, thanks for another very thought-provoking post.

Off-topic, but I wanted to draw your attention, if you hadn't seen it, to this well-written article touching on the myth of progress:

Nothing new to readers of The Archdruid Report, but good to see.

HalFiore said...

Alex, first, thanks for correcting the good soul that I will not further embarrass by naming on baited/bated. That sort of think drives me crazy, also. I'm afraid, then, that it falls to me to point out that there is a difference between "yea" and "yay."

Clay Dennis said...


My son is an interesting laboratory of how race and class privilege intersect and diverge. He was raised in the salary class but is of mixed race as my wife is from Alex's Sugercane Plantation Japanese ancestory. He grew up and went to highschool in Oregon as one of a handfull of Asians ( he seemed to self identify with his asian heritage at the time) . Then he went to college in New York City and ended up as only one of a handfull of non African Americans at BET (black entertainment television) as his skills at shooting and editing video got him past the gates. He lives in a majority Dominican neighborhood and between that and his job, all of his friends are either Dominican or African American. As part of his job he has been dispatched to cover the events in Ferguson, Baltimore and Staton Island and has more and more self identified with African Americans and taken on some of the clothing and mannerisms of the Hip Hop Culture.

But recently, a couple of incidents made him realize that he was still had an inner sense of salary class privlege. He was working a second job editing video at a large web site that caters to 18-30 year old white women with a content of fashion etc. He had several instances of middle aged white women at this new work site disrespecting him ,as he would say. In reality he found himself pushed aside in a hall or to board an elevator without the slightest recognition or applogy. He finds the insulting both because of his inner sense of class privilege ,even though he has taken on the trappings of another class and race, and because in the world he mostly inhabits bumping in to someone without an apology may get you a knife in the back.We have had good discussions on how both race and class privlege work in the world and I thank you for your frank discussion of the matter

pygmycory said...

With reference to Rojer Leybourne's comment, we're getting the same dynamic happening in BC. The BC government and Vancouver city doesn't want to talk about foreign money and foreign ownership as a factor in housing prices, so they've been refusing to collect data and then using the lack of data to insist it isn't an issue!

This is starting to break down due to public outcry and prices that continue rising.

Oh, and the premier's take on things is that if you don't like the cost of housing in Vancouver, you should move. Never mind the question of who's going to work in the shops, the restaurants, the docks, or do the cleaning or all the other poorly-paid work if all the people who can't no longer afford to live in Vancouver leave.

Sven Eriksen said...

Quote JMG: "[...] what exactly is IQ? Your score on a multiple choice test which has been written and devised by members of the salary class..."

Oh man... I've been waiting to hear you nail that one... ;-)

pygmycory said...

Onething - IQ testing is not culture neutral. Who's going to test better on it: someone with the sort of education and background it is testing for, or someone who hasn't got that?

IQ tests are not a useful measure of one class being on average smarter than another or not.

aiastelamonides said...


Certainly agreed. I think the ladder image encourages harmful and divisive squabbling about who is more oppressed than whom, but it's better than nothing or a vague sense that everyone's sort of oppressed so it's all the same really. I don't have a good image for the real system of privilege besides its own microcosms, such as schools. Oh well.

Speaking of Latina women from poor families, I have a novel about one to recommend to you. Aside from our unprivileged heroine trying to make it in a middle class white town, it is about incomprehensible but lovable Lovecraftian horrors, the charm and folly of the American lifestyle, and the importance of family. It's titled American Elsewhere and I think it's up your alley.

pygmycory said...

Alex, I think started out a little lower down, and then started dropping once my parents split up when I was eight. Both my parents were immigrants from England with university degrees.

One step-parent finished highschool late, and the other not at all. One of the two was proudly working-class Canadian, the other was another English immigrant with a banker father. Things varied quite a bit between my two families over time, depending on how people's health was doing, who was working and so on. One half was a gay couple, one of whom was trans. The other half was conservative Anglican. This was in the 1990s. It was confusing, and as I was an only child, I got a lot of attention from my four parents, all of whom seemed to want different things from and for me.

I went to university and came out with a degree. I was lucky enough not to have debt, due more to parental help than to anything else. But my health was falling apart and I developed a work injury that worker's comp refused to admit was work-related. I quickly ended up unable to work a significant amount, with no/ludicrously low and patchy income and the great recession incoming. I moved back home to save money/try to recover, then away again to try to find adequate work, since there wasn't much in the small town my mom lived in. That didn't work out. Over all, it was a nightmare 5 years before I ended up on disability. Things are much more stable now I have a reliable income source.

As for accent, I'm canadian-born with an english accent. I tend to get reactions along the lines of 'when did you come over','wow you sound smart','I don't understand your accent', or 'I love your accent','where in England are you from', or 'your accent is so cute'. Overall, it is probably a source of privilege as an adult where it was a minor source of harassment as a kid.

I'm very obviously white, and am physically small.

Shane W said...

JMG, I agree with your statement about blindness to privilege--you literally can't buy the liberal salary class a clue and hand it to them on a plate. I see this in stark terms--I view these people as the true zombies our popular culture is enamored with, the "living undead", or rather, the "living soon to be dead". Personally, I'm trying to steel and callous myself towards these people for the day when the rightly deserved consequences with the pitchfork and the guillotine arrives. I know there will be a lot of wailing, gnashing of teeth, but I personally view it as a matter of survival of not getting bogged down in people suffering the consequences of their own action, but it is terrifyingly frightening how lethal these people's cluelessness will be.
Regarding class, the South had a wonderfully explicit feudal class system that was slowly and systematically destroyed from Reconstruction through the Civil Rights movement, that contrasted well with Yankee America's class and race hypocrisy. As an internal colony, that class system has been replaced over the last 40 years with mainstream Yankee class and race hypocrisy. When I see Southern politicians "dog whistling", unlike others, I see that as adopting Yankee norms--the North perfected the art of racial "dog whistling" while the South was much more explicit. It would have been nice had race been settled in the South via an explosive, settling conflict like it did in other feudal, slave-based plantation societies in the new world, rather then the slow-burn, nothing fixed, internal colony, cultural destruction, reality of the post Civil War South, but that goes in the bin of "might have beens"...

LewisLucanBooks said...

Salutations, Archdruid (ret.). Several commenters have mentioned the DNA tests that are available, now. I've been thinking of springing for one of those. Just to satisfy my curiosity as to a few family "legends." There's the semi-mythical Italian branch of an otherwise Finn/Norwegian part of the family. Of course, the Laplander (Sami) branch is documented, but ought to provide some interesting twists. I have a suspicion that the claimed "pure German" branch who lived around Odessa has a lot of interesting add mixtures.

I've watched a few of those shows, that I got from the library, that explores the backgrounds of B and C list celebrities (with a few A's thrown in, to draw a crowd.) Always interesting to hear the family legends, that don't pan out. Claiming Native American roots seems the most popular. Cherokee seems to be the default "tribe of choice." I suppose there's some kind of romanticized cachet, to that. Though, i doubt any of them would care to march off to the Pine Ridge Reservation. (Which is not a Cherokee reservation, before someone calls me out, on that.) Those never seem to pan out, but usually, something equally interesting pops up. Of course, the holy grail for genealogists is a connection to royalty. Or, at least a rock star or super model. :-). Which, I suppose, is all about status and class.

I'm pretty sure I come from a long line (and, long lived) collection of farmers, carpenters and miners. Given the way the world is going, I find that very comforting. Lew

onething said...


"The book "Outliers" by Malcom Gladwell might give you a different perspective. The short version, success in a given field requires a base of sufficient intellegence, hand/eye coordination etc, depending on the field you are talking about. after that it requires opportunity, and opportunity is positively correlated with privilege. Many other details, time and place you are born also fall into the opportunity bucket. IQ is just one aspect and not really the most important one."

I think I have read another of his books...I looked up Outliers and got a feel for what it's saying. I wouldn't disagree with anything in your above paragraph, though, and it is interesting that he says hand/eye coordination. This is an indication of a healthy neurological system. But I'm not just talking about success. What struck me about the bubble test we did last week was how many questions dealt with things like attitudes and tastes and preferences in entertainment. I guess if you're born into privilege and a salary class family then you're expected to do likewise. Yet many people for various reasons do not. Sometimes they are emotionally impaired. Sometimes they just march to a different drummer. Probably the smartest person I know, with a perfect 1600 on his SATs, dropped out of UCLA and became a plumber, because he's just not interested in the white collar game. And of course if you are a member of an underprivileged minority that is a strike against you unconnected to intelligence.

Tag Murphy said...

This discussion of class and privilege ranks with that in Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier. If you have read it, I'd be VERY interested in your thoughts. If you haven't read it, you're an even more original thinker than I had realized (as in it is very difficult to see the things you discuss -- e.g., how difficult it is to give up or acquire privilege -- without the benefit of guidance from a mind like Orwell's pointing them out first).


Tag Murphy

Chris Smith said...

JMG: Keep up the good work - the discomfort lets us know that we are actually thinking! And I can across an interesting article on Vox about how liberals are being too smug, particularly about Trump:

And here I thought Vox was the paragon of liberal smugness (was that smug of me?)! Good to see some self awareness on Vox's part.

asr said...

This article echoes the theme of this week's post.

Bruce E said...

Thanks for a very challenging (at least to me) series of posts since you've gotten back from break. I completely understand the discomfort people feel with what you've said in them, and not because I disagree with your characterization of people like me, but rather because what you say is so friggin' uncomfortably spot-on to the mostly-below-the-surface narrative that goes on in my head, and not-at-all-below-the-surface narrative that spews without apology from the mouths of people to whom I am very close.

This in particular from your first of these three posts hit home: "fat, pink-faced, gap-toothed Southern good ol’ boy in jeans and a greasy T-shirt, watching a NASCAR race on television from a broken-down sofa, with one hand stuffed elbow deep into a bag of Cheez Doodles, the other fondling a shotgun, a Confederate flag patch on his baseball cap and a Klan outfit in the bedroom closet." To anybody who may not be as close to this as I am, this would probably seem to be exaggerated for rhetorical flourish, but let me say it's not at all exaggerated. Had you thrown in something disparaging of how we (atheists, of course) view their approach to Christianity, you could have been quoting almost verbatim more than a few Facebook posts I've seen...

I'm not pointing fingers at anybody but myself and people I know, so hopefully nobody else takes this as an indication of how I think of them. I think, however, what separates me from most of the people I know like this is that I was raised the son of a lower middle-class wage earner and spent a solid chunk of a decade 16-25 years old working for (near minimum) hourly wages before the next 20 years brought me to my status today as part of that upper half of salaried people you speak of. While my memories fade, I haven't lost enough of that to time in order to disassociate myself from the hourly workers entirely, and somehow I maintain enough self-awareness to catch myself in the middle of the narratives you have so deftly described here.

By all means, JMG, please keep 'em coming. Please keep 'em uncomfortably spot-on. I'm looking forward to seeing where you go with this from here.

Something occurred to me as I read this today, regarding your contention that we can't get rid of our privilege. While I agree we can't get rid of it, we can perhaps reject it. I was comparing your "Collapse now and avoid the rush!" as a rejection of the way things are to The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. In a way I see this passion for Trump and Sanders not as an embrace of any specific set of policies either endorses, but two sides of the same coin of a collective rejection of, a collective walking-away from, the status quo. I wonder how that thought might strike you.

Matt said...

On a more positive note, I'm finding the breaking down of -isms into prejudice, injustice and privilege really thought provoking, and it seems a better way of grappling with the complexities of the real world.

One question worth exploring is whether there are instances where we can benefit from losing our privileges.

For instance, men have long had the privilege of choosing how much to be involved in child care. Social pressures and womens' assertiveness in recent decades have induced many men to be more actively involved, although of course this isn't complete or universal. I can't help thinking that the men who have done this have benefitted from the change, through more rewarding relationships with their families.

The examples uppermost in my mind, though, are cases of divide-and-rule, where the marginal privileges of one group over another cement an overall structure that exploits and oppresses both groups. I'm thinking poor whites and blacks in Jim Crow-era US, or working-class Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland - "tuppence-ha'penny looking down on tuppence". There's a lot of power to the old lefty idea that unity across these divisions could bring benefits overall. How generalisable this is in an unsustainable world, though? I'm pondering that one.

Renaissance Man said...

I'm puzzled.
And confused.
As usual.
I haven't read anything here, in the past while, that wasn't painfully self-evident, at least to me, except the future-fantasy writing, which is highly entertaining, but obviously not factual. So self-evident, in fact, that I thought it would be much of a waste of time discussing it, since the solution to various social and economic aliments is also glaringly obvious -- at least to me.
Apparently I'm wrong: it desperately needs discussing.

Everything you've written recently about the economic landscape are points I used to make (albeit not as clearly as you put it) during political discussions 10 to 15 years ago. Hell, I made exactly these predictions while discussing NAFTA and the opening of Chinese markets back in the 1980s when it was first being implemented. I was 6 when I figured out that countries that make things are wealthy while countries that only provide raw materials are poor (it took a lot of learning to discover why, of course), but I never read anything to alter my original conclusion that it was dumb to send our manufacturing overseas. It still is.

So I'm puzzled and confused as to why so many cannot grasp obvious economic reality, and why so many are so adamant about voting for the same Parties and people that created their problems in the first place and why so many choose the most inapt locus for their discomfiture about their sinking standard of living?
I don't get it.

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...

JMG: while reading your post this week, I recalled a key point from a book that I haven't yet finished. It's David Graeber's "Debt". Not sure if you are familiar with Graeber and/or his work, but he explains from an anthropological perspective how each and every one of us are born into a social debt--monetized over the course of human history going back at least 5000 years. Allow me to quote:

We are all born with an infinite debt to the society that raised, nurtured, fed and clothed us, to those long dead who invented our language and traditions, to all those who made it possible for us to exist. In ancient times we thought we owed this to the gods (it was repaid in sacrifice — or, sacrifice was really just the payment of interest — ultimately, it was repaid by death). Later the debt was adopted by the state — itself a divine institution — with taxes substituted for sacrifice, and military service for one’s debt of life. Money is simply the concrete form of this social debt, the way that it is managed. Keynesians like this sort of logic. So do various strains of socialist, social democrats, even crypto-fascists like Auguste Comte (the first, as far as I am aware, to actually coin the phrase ‘social debt’). But the logic also runs through much of our common sense: consider for instance, the phrase, ‘to pay one’s debt to society’, or, ‘I felt I owed something to my country’, or, ‘I wanted to give something back.’ Always, in such cases, mutual rights and obligations, mutual commitments — the kind of relations that genuinely free people could make with one another — tend to be subsumed into a conception of ‘society’ where we are all equal only as absolute debtors before the (now invisible) figure of the King, who stands in for your mother, and by extension, humanity.

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...

LewisLucanBooks : if we trace our DNA back far enough, aren't we all a product of the same source?

Unknown said...

This will post as Unknown Deborah, but is from Rita Rippetoe

My ex had a friend raised in a upper class family--they owned a local newspaper in a large California city. This friend had become a lawyer and was once complaining to my ex that he was broke. Ex said, "Richard, when you say you are broke you mean you need to call your broker to sell some bonds. When I say I'm broke I mean the electric and the gas bills are both due and I have to decide which to pay and which to try to put off." This friend had learned a little about the differences between himself and the truly poor during a short stint as a social worker. He noticed a tendency on the part of his clients to avoid opening mail--they did not expect an envelope to contain good news--just a bill or a denial of benefits, or a summons or other bad news.

My ex himself is an interesting example of intersection of classes. His father had been the illegitimate son of a female concert pianist. He was adopted by his stepfather and educated as an engineer. At one point he was in charge of the WPA in a rural part of Arizona. (My ex is proud of the fact that his dad refused to segregate his work crews by race as demanded by some of the participants. If they were all out of work he figured no one could claim to be better than the man next to him based on color.) My ex's mother was the daughter of a German merchant family who fled Russia after the Revolution. She was a school teacher and later administrator. However my ex didn't go to college because his father was disabled by a heart attack back before health insurance, etc. Instead he trained as a surveyor and was a construction company supervisor when we met. Good pay, but not the same class as teacher and engineer. At one point he was a partner in a small construction company which played "the skin game" for government contracts. He had a contractor's license and his partner was African American, so the company qualified for contracts set aside for minority owned firms. Later he managed to drop into the underclass by developing drug problems and doing prison time. Roller coaster.

James M. Jensen II said...


"I suspect that this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Certainly in the UK, it's not many decades since fathers were almost invariably given custody. As to whether this is a source of privilege for women, you would have to unpick whether or not this was just a matter of judging the most suitable arrangement in each case."

It is pretty recent, and you're right, the old standard was to give the child to the father. After a successful campaign by Caroline Norton in the UK, the Custody of Infants Act of 1839 allowed the mother to petition for custody of young children and access to older children.

Somewhere along the way, that mutated into the "tender years doctrine" which basically assumed that young children need their mothers more than their fathers.

Officially, the tender years doctrine has been banned in most of Europe and the US in favor of the "best interest of the child doctrine," but many fathers have claimed that the assumption that the mother is the real parent and more important to the child's well-being is still influential.

One of the reasons I think they probably have a point is that when anyone tries to talk about this assumption, they're invariably Starhawked: the prejudice is obviously a result of patriarchal expectations of women to be mothers, so it's no fair for men to complain since it's their own fault. I've seen this happen many times online.

A friend of mine went through a long custody battle with his ex recently and won mainly because of an obscure Alabama law that gave preference to the parent living in Alabama and because everything suddenly went wrong for her all at once. He said he found in his research that while fathers win custody at least half the time when they contest, lawyers typically advise them not to bother unless the case is especially strong.

It's a mess.

Matt said...

Shane W,

when will you just STOP?

Now you are suggesting that drawing a salary is the grounds for " rightly deserved consequences with the pitchfork and the guillotine." Give it a rest won't you?

Atilio Baroni Filho said...

Hello JMG!

I see a lot of correlation between the history of privilege there as well as here in Brazil. People here go to a lot of effort to naturalize, make invisible or justify privilege in a number of creative ways without naming it. This links well with the history of race and privilege that was constructed in a similar fashion in both the US and Brazil, beginning with slavery of native peoples, slavery of african peoples and then the european immigrants, and all the effort put in to keep these groups from having a common cause.

As someone with a background close to yours regarding white salary-class privilege, but who lives in the countryside of an historically impoverished region, I'd like to ask if you have any advice, sources or other guidance in bridging this class gap, from the starting point brought here in the comments of accepting your privilege and duty and making a sincere effort to meaningfully communicate and contribute to the community you live in.

Thank you in advance :)


Mister Roboto said...

One thing that occurred to me as I read this post was my evolving attitude (resulting in eventual more-or-less rejection) of what people these days call political correctness. This social ideology has birthed the social justice warriors (SJWs) of modern college campuses. The term SJW is almost exclusively used as a put-down these days on account of the unpopular mindset associated with it.

According to the PC SJWs, the existence of the privileges you outlined in this post means that if you are white in this society, you personally are racist because you benefit from white privilege; if you are a man, you personally are sexist because you benefit from male privilege; and if you are heterosexual, you personally are heterosexist because you benefit from straight privilege. While these forms of privilege certainly exist and awareness of the fact that they exist should inform one's conduct in terms of avoidance of racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes and behaviors, I don't think I agree with those PC statements anymore.

For one thing, these statements imply that the individual is irrelevant and the only thing that matters are groups or collectives. If find this idea as absolutist and nonsensical as the counter-notion promoted by Ayn Rand that groups and collectives don't matter at all and there is only the individual. In this crucial regard, PC has its roots in the New Left thinking of college campuses of the late sixties and early seventies, which openly admired and imitated the ideology of Chinese communist dictator Mao Zedong and his Cultural Revolution. I really do think you can see those totalitarian roots in the social attitude of those who cleave to SJW orthodoxy.

And while these forms of privilege still exist, they are on their way out, however frustratingly slowly. A good way to bring about the retrenchment of the prejudiced attitudes that go along with these unjust privileges is to prescribe a cure that is as bad in its own way as the disease. That is the main reason I ultimately decided to reject PC thinking. There is really too much to describe about what makes PC ultimately stand for Poor Cure, but I will say the mindset has become so rigid, intolerant, absolutist, and victimhood-fixated that it has become entirely contrary to human nature and as such will likely fade away the way fundamentalist Christian dominionism is starting to do.

Though I suppose a Randite or a neo-reactionary (AKA alt-right) person reading my posts on Tumblr would accuse me of being a "light-beer" version of PC because I probably do have somewhat more in common in my overall mentality with the PC people than I do with those Randites or neo-reactionaries. I would certainly appreciate hearing your thoughts on the matter as you probably have more influence on my evolving attitudes than any other thinker on "teh Internetz"!

Alex said...

Some thoughts:

Eating with fingers - you probably got stares just for being foreigners, but you were probably not eating with your fingers "correctly". The equivalent of eating with a fork but holding it upside down. (We'll leave that weird way in which some people somehow pick the food up correctly with their fork but then somehow stuff the food into their mouth with the fork upside down - I don't even understand how that works.) For one thing, if you're eating with your hands, always use your right hand.

Body size - At least in the US, the people doing the hard work tend to be small. 5'4" is probably the median, and a lot are smaller. It seems the taller the person, the easier their occupation. It seems from what I've read of Orwell, it was the same in England too. It's an odd sight to me, seeing a bunch of big tall people standing around while these little Hispanic guys are hustling around busting their butts, like at a construction site.

Bated/baited - I'm afraid people are using "baited" because they've seen others use it that way, or because they're thinking in terms of their breath literally being baited, like they just ate some sardines, or maybe some kim chee. But "bated" is much more interesting to know about as it's an English word that comes from falconry. A falcon is trained to stand on our glove, and is secured by a couple of soft leather strips around its legs called jesses. You hold the jesses in your gloved hand. Well-trained falcons may not need such carefulness, but younger ones and ones in training, can be skittish. So sometimes they'll try to fly off, and are restrained by the jesses, and this is called bating, or you'd say the falcon is bated. It wants to fly off, but is halted. Now imagine your breath that falcon - isn't that nicer than sardines?

donalfagan said...

Alex, I think you're exactly correct, as far as current science goes. I have read that the closest we have come to a modern separate sub-species, or race, of sapiens were the Tasmanians, who were geographically isolated for almost long enough to diverge. Thinking of race as a sub-species is interesting because various types of wolves, dogs, dingos, jackals and coyotes are all sub-species of canis lupus. (I guess coy-wolves are, too, and I think I saw one last week.)

JMG, this post reminded me of Travels With Charley, in which Steinbeck talked about having a hired man at one time. They got dirty working outside, but needed supplies. Steinbeck wanted to just go to the store, but his worker said, Oh No, we're not rich enough to go out all dirty like this.

It also reminded me of Split Infinity, in which the serf Stile was able to increase his privilege with time and good performance.

Alex said...

Pygmycory - I'd say my accent is "clear" or at least I try to speak clearly, and have been told I do so. However, a couple of times I was actually accused of being English! Rather resentfully too. This was in Arizona, where there are a surprisingly large number of English retirees, and I think my accent sounded a bit like that of the royals, that's to say the upper-class, and he resented that. I tried to convince him I was not English, and I'm not sure I succeeded.

As for getting into disability, congratulations. Getting on disability is the new American dream for the 90%. The reason for this is, if you know you have steady money coming in, you can go live anywhere. You can literally buy some junk land and build a cabin, or just move to some underpopulated city like Saratoga Springs, NY, and you know you'll be able to live. Moving to such an area without a financial safety net is NOT advised. I've been out in Arizona (lived with a friend who I paid "rent" to with half my food stamps) and in a good month, made $100 or so, in a bad one, $5. It's that bad out there. Food stamps are a way of life in flyover country. This is why the advice everyone spews to leave California is stupid - there are no jobs out there. At least I have work and a place to live there. Going to Minnesota and living in a hole in the ground would be much much worse. If I were able to get disability that would be a real game-changer though.

rapier said...

It's off in the weeds a bit perhaps but de Tocqueville, as a proud member of the upper class, , the aristocracy, had plenty to say about America's insistence on eliminating class. Or at least eliminating an aristocracy. One of his main points was that eliminating formal class distinctions ended up leading to widespread dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction with ones place in let's call it the social order. People were forced to or often eager to strive to rise to some higher level and for those forced to, eager to and even those who didn't bother trying, the majority ended up dissatisfied. All this constant striving ended up consuming a large part of the energies of people so they could not just get on with their lives and just accept some common sort of contentment.

This is a profoundly conservative idea, with a catch. You see the very best definition of Conservative is the belief that society and for that matter government should be lead by an elite class, an aristocracy. However no American conservative can acknowledge that. While America totally avoided a formal heredity based aristocracy in every place locally and then nationally the upper class became composed of the wealthy. Government was not taken over directly by the wealthy but rather those eager so serve them. With the stipulation those serving usually never acknowledged even to themselves that they were serving the rich, those who owned the bulk or assets. At first that was land and real estate and then financial assets.

It's true that Americas so called left and its liberals have a schizophrenic association with privilege but Americas conservatives have an equally strong schizophrenic association with class. They simply deny that class exists, all the while working to insure the current monied elites gain more wealth and power.

Even in the old slave South it is mandatory to deny that class has any bearing on their 'conservatism' despite the regions former embrace of Americas only pure class system, and nostalgia for large aspects of that system that exists to this day, or it’s bastard child Jim Crow. Conservative take umbrage at nothing as much as the charge that they are acting out of class driven motivations. In fact as stated above conservatives deny the very existence of class either as a former or current reality or even a theoretical one they seek too advance.

This opposite pole of liberalism is I think more to blame for "..frank talk about privilege stopped being socially acceptable in America over the course of the second half of the twentieth century". I mean an ancient if not the most ancient of political ideas, that society should be ruled by a tiny elite, is denied by the very people dedicated to that self same idea.

If liberals had then or now admitted they are privileged they would have instantly been subject to withering attack by conservatives who would have successfully brand them as inauthentic Americans, or some such, and worse, I am sure you can fill in the blanks.

Admittedly there are other branches of Conservatism and Liberalism but I believe the root of America's isms dating from its early days is that conservatives have denied the very existence of the thing they believe in most. That the country should be ruled by an elite and a class system is best.

Alex said...

That Omelas story is a hell of a read. Thanks for posting that. What an excellent refutation of Utilitarianism.

pygmycory said...

Because my disability check comes from the BC government, it means I can't really go move to the other side of the country. I'd promptly lose my main income, and I do NOT want to go through the rigmarole of getting it all over again. I can move within BC. Due to issues with driving and cycling, I'm best off if I stay somewhere with public transit. I've actually fallen into a good situation right where I am, so I'm intending to stay here until and unless that changes in a major way. I've also made friends I would be sorry to lose, and gotten fairly tied into the community, at least for me.

It sounds like you've been having a really hard time. I get the impression the situation in the USA is much worse than in Canada so far.

John Michael Greer said...

Before I start responding to comments, I'd like to thank the vast majority of my readers for responding to so difficult a subject in so thoughtful a range of ways. One of the things that makes writing this blog a pleasure for me is the quality of the audience that it's attracted.

Of course there are a few exceptions. I'd like to thank the several white straight salary-class guys -- i.e., people like me -- who took it on themselves to demonstrate my point that privilege is invisible to the privileged, by going on at length about the occasional situations in which they get treated like, oh, women, or people of color, or gay people, or wage class people: that is, when their feelings aren't respected, their explanations aren't wanted, and their interests aren't considered. Yes, that does happen. I'd encourage you to imagine getting that sort of treatment 24/7, which is what people less privileged than we are generally have to deal with.

I'd also like to thank the various people who took it on themselves to demonstrate last week's points about the Rescue Game, by trying to use this post as an opportunity to talk about how everything wrong with the world is the fault of some group of people they don't like, such as Jewish people. I don't think any of my other readers need more examples of how to play that dysfunctional game, though.

With that, let's go on to comments.

Cherokee, not sure if you've read this, but New York City has a stunningly high rate of mental illness -- it's been a while, but I seem to recall that something like 40% of the population is basically nuts. Having been there, that makes perfect sense to me. ;-)

Alex, the thing I'd point out is that human beings are also xenophiles -- attracted to people who are different than they are -- and so the tendency to form local varieties has been powerfully shaped by an opposite (and at least equally strong) tendency to mate with people from elsewhere. One of the things that's coming out with the recent spread of DNA testing is just how much of a melange we all are. Race is a social construct, not a biological reality, and certain historical forces -- which I'll be discussing in an upcoming post -- gave that social construct a brief and inglorious heyday. Those historical forces have nearly had their day, and I expect the entire concept of race as a source of privilege to sunset out in the couple of centuries ahead of us. (This is why, for example, in my deindustrial-SF novel Star's Reach, pretty much everyone in 25th-century Meriga has light brown skin, and stories about the old days when there were "white people" and "black people" make schoolchildren scratch their heads.)

Patricia, as far as I know, every feudal society in history had the concept that the privileges of the aristocracy were balanced by duties and responsibilities to those lower down. Human beings being what they are, that concept was as often as not honored in the breach, but the idea was there. Confucian thinking comes out of China's first feudal age, the Warring States period, and enshrines a great deal of thoughtful reflection on the values of what, in the time of Confucius, was already a waning era; it's not hard to see why it became so popular in feudal Japan, which had the same traditions!

I agree, for what it's worth, that the dream of equality was a noble one. Like so many abstract ideals, though, it worked out very poorly, producing societies that are just as caste-ridden as before -- it's just that the caste system is covert, and so no longer induces any sense of responsibility in the privileged. Mind you, as industrial civilization winds down, that'll take care of itself -- I'll have more to say about that next week.

Danogenes said...

Dear JMG
Thanks for persisting with this line of thought. I couldn't agree more that as the oil economy implodes we will be finding a lot of us experiencing shrinking privilege on a grand scale.
I thought you might find the new book by Thomas Frank of interest. He is working in another realm of the same topic. In his case its how the white liberals mover their expectation of their personal good up the income scale while actually making the lives of what you call the "wage class" more miserable.

Please keep firing away with this and wrap it around your erudition in history and politics. It is a viewpoint that is most often ignored for its depth and tediousness in our compressed ADD present. Thanks.

TomK said...

I am uncomfortable with the claim that privilege is collective and with "Note also that I don’t have to do anything to get the privileges I have, nor can I get rid of them." However, before you say I am denying a simple fact and that I have just proved your point that privilege is invisible, what I mean by this is that I am tired of being assigned privileges I don't have, because while I am white heterosexual male, I am also Eastern European, living in Eastern Europe, and happen to be materially relatively affluent professional. There was no wage or salary class to be born into in 1980, only communist party members, passive non-members and a handful of dissidents. As far as income, the differences were ridiculously small. As the cards were being reshuffled in the early 1990s, both merit and ruthlessness played an important role in which of the new emerging classes you'd become. Seen from the dogmatic part of the left in the West today, where race and sexuality seem to be stubbornly valued as more important than other kinds of categories, I should feel guilty for white man's imperialism, colonialism and racism. But the net flow of the wealth pump in my country is moderately negative in favor of countries further to the west... So we are included in the West as far as expected self-mockery, but excluded as far as profit from the actions for which we should feel guilty. If privilege is collective, then the collective can be broken down to so many subcategories that you come pretty close to a handful of individuals. These no longer fit into simple ideological obsession of the western left to point at a certain cool category du jour and use quotas and affirmative action to prop them up. Usually, you end up with new injustice rather than compensation for old injustices. As for not being able to change the privileges, just take moving to another country within the EU, which is easy enough. The sum of people's prejudices towards me would certainly change.

fudoshindotcom said...

Interesting, I hadn't considered the possibility that privilege was invisible to those who possessed it.
Is this because the privileged were, from birth, intentionally blinded to the advantages they had? Perhaps under the guise of being taught that what they had was available to everyone and not limited to themselves? From that viewpoint it's easy to see how the privileged could come to believe that the unprivileged had failed in some way and caused their own difficulties.
If you take that narrow-mindedness and combine it with Greed's insatiable appetite for material gain..............well, you've conjured up quite an unpleasant beast haven't you?

a d said...

as someone above mentioned, "meritocracy" seems to promote abuse of privilege (it might be the largest factor in america given the low level of moral sophistication in present-day society)

John Michael Greer said...

Tortoise, excellent! Yes, exactly; affluent white people making poor white people pay for benefits to poor people of color has been the name of the game for decades now.

Swift developer, you might want to start by looking up the meaning of the words "privilege" and culture in your favorite dictionary, online or otherwise. No, privilege is not the same thing as "culture;" culture is one of the features that is used in some societies to assign differences in privilege.

Cassandra, yes, I've been tracking the lithium boondoggle for a while now -- thanks for the convenient set of links! We'll be talking about green energy in more detail in a later post.

Maxime, that's good to hear. Once the concept of privilege gets pried loose from the Rescue Game and recognized as a simple fact in human social life, which has to be counterbalanced in order to manage some kind of equity in human affairs, there's much that can be done.

TCS, I'm sure it does look weird to Asian eyes! The problem with the Left -- as Edmund Burke pointed out trenchantly more than two centuries ago -- is that it tries to make human social life conform to an assortment of abstract notions that have no grounding in history or actual experience, and trying to force a society to conform to arbitrary human concepts is as reliably disastrous as trying to make an ecosystem do the same thing. I really should do a post one of these days about Burkean conservatism as political ecology...

Mat, of course it's a distribution fight. The bitter reality is that there aren't enough resources on the planet to give everyone a comfortable developed-world lifestyle, and so distribution fights are going to be the shape of the future as we proceed. That's another reason why frank talk about privilege is needed now!

Greg, excellent! Yes, exactly -- privilege is invisible because being privileged mostly means that you're spared a galaxy of inconveniences and insults, and since you don't encounter those, you don't realize that other people do encounter them. Thus the outrage of straight white salary-class guys like me when, on occasion, they get treated like people lower down the ladder of privilege: it never occurs to them that this is how others are treated every single day of their lives.

MigrantWorker, that's a useful analysis. I'd go even further and identify the primary payoff of privilege as a matter of identity -- the privileged person builds his or her identity around being privileged and being able to expect the various perks and benefits of privilege, just as the unprivileged person very often builds his or her identity around not being privileged and having to bear the burdens and insults of that lack of privilege. One's sense of one's identity is an extraordinarily powerful thing, and when a wide enough gap opens up between someone's actual experience and what their sense of their identity leads them to expect, various kinds of craziness often ensue.

Yeast, yes, and I've discussed that at great length in an entire series of posts here already -- you'll find them summed up and rewritten at length in my book Decline and Fall.

Cathy, the starting point here as elsewhere is a piece of advice I've given many times already: "Collapse now and avoid the rush." I'll expand on that further as we proceed.

Blueback said...
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James M. Jensen II said...
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Alex said...

JMG - So, you postulate that the only reason we have different races is that different people fanned out over the earth and after living in different areas, got to look a bit different. It's a very good postulation, but to me it does not account for some observations:

Seeing in the news a few years ago, the aftermath of some horrible tornado in one of the southern states, and people were digging out their stuff, and you could tell they were neighbors and friends, but what struck me was they were either quite black or quite white. There was no cafe-au-lait in sight. There are probably strong cultural taboos there.

There are insular groups like the Ainu in Japan, perfectly free to mix with the Japanese and they have apparently, a bit, but they remain distinct. Distinct groups like this are all over the world.

Even within one "race" if there are societies that are stratified, the nobles end up looking very different from the commoners because - I can't think of one that isn't - traditional cultures like the Hawaiians are obsessed with genealogy, at least among their ruling class.

I agree that race is a social construct, although animal breeders talk about "landraces" and that's really what races are. But it comes down to genes, and certain people who have a history of living in a certain area and intermarrying within that group will have genetic markers that indicate they're related to people in that group.

Science/medicine have had to face the uncomfortable fact that there are some "racial" realities. Pima Indians have to watch their diet because they evolved to be very "thrifty" and on the standard American diet they get *very* overweight. Most of the best sprinters come from one area, marathoners another. It's made the news lately that certain heart medications that work pretty well for Caucasians, don't work nearly so well for those of African descent. If you're trying to help your patient, you have to know this.

I do not believe in superior or inferior. I might be an astronaut but is a bushman living in Africa any less happy than me? He's probably happier.

Alex said...

Pygmycory - It sounds like you won out. I'd stay there if I were you.

I'm not having an especially hard time as Americans go. It's just that things are that bad here. I'm in the middle of the fabled "silicon valley" and companies are being caught right and left smuggling in foreign-trained tech people and paying them what they'd get at home plus a free place to sleep in a dorm and free food. So, if I'm Joe Blow from India and I can get my same $2-something an hour plus free rooming and free rice and lentils, plus get to see America, I'm gonna go for it. But not only is this illegal but it forces everyone else's wages down. We have an utter ton of homeless people and most seem to come from a tech background. There are big homeless encampments all around here and the gov't will come through and clean 'em out, including people's personal papers, medicines, etc and they just pop back up somewhere else.

Mental health care is, for the poor, back to pre-Bedlam times. If you're mentally ill you just live in the streets, a target for anyone who feels like attacking you.

Medical care is hard to get. Theoretically I have it since I have an Obamacare card. In reality I have to make an appointment months ahead to see my regular doctor then, since it's very far away, I have to have the money to take the bus out there the day before and stay in a hotel room, then walk to the Dr's office. So I suppose things will just hang until they're an emergency - preventive care is only for the rich here.

There is public transportation here and it's OK, it's a mile walk to it though.

People are very standoffish. They're a bit nicer than they are in Southern California but that's not saying much. The only way to get acknowledged as a human being is to be a member of a "tribe" such as ham radio (although I like to say there's not much community in the ham radio community at least not here) or some hobby, sport, church, something like that.

But those really aren't tribes; there's a saying that goes, "Home is where when you show up, they have to take you in". Regular Americans don't do things that way. If you're a relative and you show up at their door because you've lost everything, they'll tell you to get lost. A real tribe, you're in it, thick or thin - and in return, the members of the tribe who are doing well have an obligation to help those members who are not doing well. That's in direct opposition to everything our society stands for.

SamuraiArtGuy said...

"The fact that people who were made uncomfortable by a frank discussion of class privilege actually admitted that, rather than trying to pretend that no subject so shocking had been mentioned at all, says to me that we may be approaching a historical inflection point of some importance."


I don't know why the very phrase "Starhawking" fills me with such inappropriate glee. But having grown up as a mixed person in the NYC region, I've ABSOLUTELY fared better when *PERCEIVED* as part of the White Majority. What they used to call in the Black Community as "passing", along with the connotation of falsely partaking of privilege you were not entitled to.

But I got a particularly rude lesson in the reality of privilege being a spectator to one of the few howling screaming fights my parents ever had in my presence. My father, who is of French/German/Anglo ancestry commented once to my mother that as a former Communist in the early 1950s, he could identify with the Black Experience of institutional persecution.

She read him the RIOT ACT.

My father, of course did experience persecution, but he could, if he so chose, cut his hair, shave his beard, put on a tie, tidy up his language... and he was good to go as a fully-vested member of society. My Mother, mixed Native American/Black/ and a bit some of the finest families of Virginia, or Mississippi... No matter how elegant and eloquent she was, and she was surely elegant and eloquent - could never, EVER shed her dark skin. She would always be first perceived, and often solely as a Black Woman. Most White people never even noticed her Native blood, or saw anything beyond a Black Woman, permanently part of second-class America.

That scene has stayed with me ever since. But still, they had the courage ... and love, to be, and stay together. And the good sense to ditch Chicago for the more enlightened New York City. I'm glad I grew up in a swirling working-class melting pot instead of a segregated checkerboard. Black Square. White Square. NO brown squares.

Candace said...

My understanding of Western history is that the Code of Chivalry and later types of protocol and etiquette were attempts to mediate privilege. The idea being that these codes were intended to restrain the privileged/powerful and to make sure that the less powerful received some recognition. Of course it was also intended to solidify these differences and also provide a way to make sure some one didn't get hung because the unintentionally offended someone. The ways to offend or appease someone were made explicit.

It seems our remnant of this etiquette went out of fashion around the same time that the illusion of a classless/privilege-less society took hold in our popular (mis-) conception of our society.

@ Onething - if you enjoyed any of his other books, I think you will enjoy this one. Of course the discussion involves accepting the upper salary class concept of success.

Alex said...

That TomDispatch link is pure gold.

It describes the San Jose I live in to a T. Lots of empty buildings, not just older empty buildings but brand new ones, or newly renovated ones, sitting empty. That town, Falls River? Those stats sound like here - 23% real unemployment, an average income of $33k and so on. We've got the pawn shop downtown, the "we buy gold" places, the places you sell your blood to.

And it describes the thinking of the "haves" around here to a T also. Somehow, those who call themselves liberal are actually libertarians and don't seem to realize it.

I grew up with school teachers telling me that it's because of Unions that we have the 8-hour day, and weekends off, and so on. I grew up with my mom telling me you NEVER cross a picket line.

John Michael Greer said...

Dagnarus, what you're saying varies sharply from what I've read -- and I did a fair bit of statistics in my first pass through college, so know the usual wiggles. I'll go back and take another look.

Davidchuter, exactly. When affluent white people wax rhapsodic about all the awful things white people have done, you can bet that they're trying to divert attention from their own privilege and covertly (or not so covertly) redirect the hostility of people of color onto other disadvantaged people who have light-colored skin. That's Starhawking of the classic sort.

Robert, I wasn't there, of course, but that sounds to me like a perfect example of what I described last week as the Circular Firing Squad end of the Rescue Game. Since nobody wanted to take on the real problems, and no Persecutors were showing up to give the game an impetus, the other players identified you as a Persecutor on the basis of your gender, skin color, and class status, and bullied you until you left. No doubt they turned on someone else next. That's the way the game is played, and until that stops being the heart of contemporary activism on the left, it's going to prevent any actual change from happening.

Rita, of course it's okay -- the article says much of what I've been trying to say about the covert role of privilege in liberalism, from a different and useful angle. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

Jay, I haven't read Ignatiev -- I'll have to remedy that. As for your second point, I'd take it even further: in the future ahead of us, not even those who are currently on top of the privilege ladder will be able to have the things they think of as essential to their lifestyles. More on this next week!

RPC, not a bit. There's a savage irony in watching "Christian" politicians today espousing exactly the attitudes and behaviors for which Jesus condemned the Pharisees of his day to eternal damnation. I gather their Bible study somehow never got to Matthew 7:21 -- "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."

Avery, very nicely phrased. Yes, indeed, we'll get into that in due time.

Soccer13, those are both valid points, of course. Class in America is somewhat flexible on the basis of income, though "somewhat" is the operative word here -- as you've noted, there are class markers that stay with you, and you can only rise so many steps on the ladder before those further up begin to make an effort to exclude you. As for the second, privilege is always contextual, and in a sufficiently complex society there are always subcultures inside which the ladder of privilege runs differently. White kids in mostly black schools are in one of those subcultures; so are Neopagans, of course -- the ladder of privilege there has a fair amount in common with that outside the Neopagan scene, of course, but there are additional divisions based on religious affiliation and the like.

.Mallow, that's a huge and complex question, not least because a given system of privilege functions within a single culture, and when you've got a bunch of competing cultures cheek by jowl, you've got a very different situation. The western end of Eurasia and the Mediterranean basin are both well into the process of warband formation, which complicates the matter even further, but here again, this is something that'll take at least a post of its own. (Which I was already planning to write, if that's any consolation.)

Ghung, that's a great example -- many thanks.

Alex said...

Candace - Probably the first time I got an inkling of an idea that real tribes stick together is, well, growing up I read a ton of books, including about Albert Einstein of course. So I'm reading this book about him and it mentioned that it was a custom for well-to-do Jews to invite a poor Jew to dinner on Fridays. I was astounded by this. Why, why in the world??? In the world I grew up in, the rich wanted the poor kept away from them, not invited to dinner!

Now if there's any group who has a million rules, it's the Jews and they have all kinds of customs like that. It's very very different from the Calvinist society the US essentially is.

But feudalism was also tribal in that, you had chunks of land, you had serfs, who had more holidays than just about anyone does now (certainly more than Americans) and your land did well if your serfs did well. You were all in it together. And if you were a bad manager, well, the Church would lean on you, and belief in hell was a real thing.

I guess what it comes down to is, the social system of the US values money. Money is the ultimate measure of good. Not only that, but the US is doing its best to get the rest of the world to think that way. Other societies valued wealth too, from the Maasai to the Navajo, but they didn't let anyone go hungry - feeding the poor was the best way to show off. Jewish society values learning, and being ethical. Some societies like the Inuit and the Tlingit, actually valued giving stuff away. The poorer you made yourself, the richer you were!

I guess the difference is, the US type society is the only one I can think of that blames the poor for their circumstances out of hand, and considers it a positive thing to make them poorer.

James M. Jensen II said...

Hey, I hope you don't mind that I deleted my last comment. The more I thought about it, the more ashamed I felt about my knee-jerk self-defense.

I feel now that what I've been talking about have simply been the most perverse cases (men being punished for their privilege) of what happens - only in Western countries, only in recent decades, and only due to a long struggle on women's part - to be one the forms of privilege with the most exceptions (male privilege). That detracts not at all from your points.

I also realized that my concern about these cases is in some ways a rationalization of my cognitive dissonance stemming from the conflicting moralisms that are bandied around the issue of gender. I honestly have no idea what it means to be a good man qua man. I don't think it's possible just now, at least not on the leftward end of our culture. The right, at least, seems to have such a role, though it's not a very desirable one from my perspective. Perhaps there are alternatives, but I'm not sure what they are.

patriciaormsby said...

@Soccer13: Only you would be able to speculate on the motives of the people requiring you to undergo that kind of challenge as a child. I underwent a similar experience, where at church I was a racially different "black sheep" amid a persecuted minority, while at school I was an outcast for religious differences. Kids attack anyone with a notable difference, under the honest, simple impression that differences are bad.

Putting a child through that might be a way to toughen him up for a life of taking moral stances against mistaken majorities. Or it might be a way of vicariously relieving one own's sense of guilt over various injustices by having someone close to you undergo some sort of penance. Or it might be simple lack of empathy, or a fear of facing conflicts, driving a person to ignore real problems. Or was this the government making you do that?

Your experience will distinguish you for life, conferring certain real advantages and some other disadvantages. Minimizing the latter is the key to a truly meaningful life.

Robert Carran said...

JMG, Thanks for your thoughtful response. I'm amazed that you respond to so many posts so thoroughly. I find myself in a quandary of wanting to have an in-depth discussion and realizing that you have way too much on your plate and I am one of many responding. Oh well. But I wanted to make the point that while, overall, your assessment was correct, the reality was more nuanced in an essential way. Sure, I was bullied by a handful of people that needed a Prosecutor. But a good 95% or better still respected me and supported my voice and realized I was in integrity and service. What really allowed the disruption was a sense of guilt on the part of so many, triggered by the cry of "You're oppressing me just like our enemies". It was paralyzing. I didn't leave because of bullying - I left because too many others allowed bullying and the game. And, of course, the hand in hand focus on protest over practical action.

Another related topic I am supremely interested in is what I consider - in homesteading, intentional community and permaculture circles - throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The baby is leadership with integrity and service, (and in my experience, healthy yin masculine expression) the bathwater is rampant male dominance and aggression - perverted yang masculine, no yin in sight. And by yin I mean a container for collective needs and feelings and human potential. I am convinced issues of perverted masculine/feminine and yin/yang energies are at the core of our modern dilemma, along side the commodification and abstraction of value of everything.

Anthony Romano said...

JMG said "You're right that a lot of people on the leftward end of things are going to be left flailing at empty air as that happens. Their unwillingness to deal with issues of privilege is based on an extreme case of the invisibility of their own privilege, and it has quite literally never occurred to them -- and can't be gotten into their heads with dynamite; I know, I've tried -- that they really are hugely privileged, and the end of the system they claim to hate will be the end of their privilege and the cozy lifestyles and abundant options that come with that. That's one of the reasons that some clarity on the subject of privilege is so useful just now."

I'd posit that you could replace the word "left" with "right" in that quote and retain its validity. Not only can rich people be both liberal or conservative in disposition, but you can also be poor and retain more privilege than someone of greater economic status by virtue of biological markers.

I'm not sure if I'm alone in this, but I feel like there has been a larger partisan slant to the recent posts on this blog or perhaps its the comment section that is coloring my perspective, either way, things feel less neutral around these parts of late. It's interesting because the Rescue Game and other past posts were largely devoid of this sort of left/right blame game. I'd prefer my real talk to be spread evenly. Then again, who knows..maybe I'm just being defensive.

John Michael Greer said...

August, thank you! I'll be getting back to collapse in the near future, but the issues of class and privilege interface with the collapse process in important ways, so it's not wasted space.

Unknown Clark, that's an important point. Privilege, again, isn't just a matter of class -- it's class plus race plus gender plus a galaxy of other things, including neurotypicality or the lack of it. (I have Aspergers syndrome, so have run up against that one a few times myself.) That is, privilege is always individual, contextual, and intersectional.

Eric, exactly. Tolerably often, the people who shout "Check your privilege!" the loudest are the ones who should be paying attention to their own (ab)use of privilege; the invisibility of privilege doesn't just affect straight white guys, after all! It may be the most difficult route, but it seems to me that it's only when we get past the distortions of the concept of privilege on both sides of the political spectrum that we can deal with privilege as it actually exists, and take steps toward building features into our society that will ameliorate its negative impacts on the less privileged.

As for your second point, yes, and that's just it. Both the left and the right abandoned the wage class and then tried to pretend that they were still speaking for those lower down the ladder of privilege. Now the wage class, with its back to the wall, is finally waking up to the necessity to speak for itself and define its own agenda, and both ends of the affluent elite are flailing wildly, trying to cope. I'm glad to see this happening now, via the electoral system, because it's precisely when the bulk of society has been disenfranchised by a corrupt political system that demagogues flourish and autocracy becomes likely.

Tokyo, good. The wild card in play this time around, of course, is that the resources needed to "level up" the rest of society don't exist, and so "leveling down" is the only available option -- and yet it's the option that terrifies the affluent classes the most. My slogan "Collapse now and avoid the rush!" is relevant here as well!

David, oh, granted. There'd be a reason to raise an eyebrow if Sanders were proposing a discussion of class that was limited to rich white guys, but of course he's not -- it's just a central theme of the Clinton campaign to parade Hillary's gender as a way to deflect attention from her exceedingly high place on the ladder of privilege. If you want to engage -- and there are good reasons to engage, when you're not just getting sucked into the Rescue Game -- challenge the characterizations. Pointing out Clinton's privilege is a good move, but so is challenging the Clintonistas' facile dishonesty about who supports Sanders. Oh, and since they always use the same thoughtstoppers, learn to anticipate those and knock them down in advance. That's how the game is played!

Redscott, thank you! Yes, exactly.

234567, why, yes -- when "progress" has made things worse, it's a perfectly valid move to bring back something that was discarded and put it back to use in place of some newer and shoddier replacement. That's one of the core concepts of this blog's project, after all... ;-)

Other Tom, true enough. Class is a complex thing, and there's wiggle room available for those who are able and willing to use it -- not everyone can, of course. In the same way, all the other markers that are used to assign privilege can sometimes be finessed.

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, I want to tackle your presupposition that the privileges accorded to different groups of people have anything necessarily to do with whether the ancestors of those groups "accumulated a bulwark against Fate." That's a facile oversimplification of a far more complex reality, unless you agree that part of that "bulwark" consists of arrangements that allow one group to exploit other groups by force or fraud. This latter isn't the whole picture of privilege, of course, but it's a very important part, and pretending that it's not heavily involved renders any analysis of privilege vacuous.

I suppose you could claim that your ancestors' acts of violence and chicanery against other groups in society are to be credited to you as their heir -- but once you admit that, haven't you just provided ample justification for the claims of those further down the ladder of privilege that you should be held personally responsible for the abuses their ancestors suffered at the hands of yours? You can't have it both ways; either your privilege is unearned by you and therefore you're not responsible for the acts that brought it into being, or you deserve your privileges and therefore you also deserve to be held accountable for the acts that created it in the past.

Hal, thanks for the link! I hadn't seen the article yet.

Clay, I'm delighted to hear it. I get the impression, from comments like this, that a lot of younger people are much more attuned to the realities of privilege than most of their elders are. As time goes on, that could have some very positive results.

Sven, I score extremely high on IQ tests. That's partly because I'm good at aping the proper salary class modes of thinking, and partly because back in elementary school, I began to work out a set of algorithms for getting good scores on multiple choice tests, and as a result I reliably score far higher on multiple choice tests of all kinds than my actual knowledge and skills would otherwise justify. The conclusions I draw from this are, first, that IQ tests determine how well you conform to the salary class stereotype of what intelligence is, and second, that multiple choice tests are very easy to fake out and do not provide a valid measure of anything.

Aias, thank you! I'll put it on the get-to list.

Shane, I didn't mean my reference to the cluelessness of the salary class to apply only to liberals, you know. It applies across the board -- and it's a reflection of a very ancient and widely applicable principle: the unprivileged tell the privileged what they think the privileged want to hear. Plenty of Southern plantation owners, for example, seem to have honestly believed that their slaves were happy with their lot, since it was easier for the slaves to play along with that fantasy and reap the benefits of relatively lax oversight than it was to 'fess up to the reality. In the same way, I'd encourage you to reconsider your apparent notion that the blindness of privilege only applies to the people you don't like...

Lew, I've been thinking of the same thing. My family has its share of legends, too, including a Lakota farmhand and the farmer's daughter, which isn't quite as common as the Cherokee princess great-grandmother; I have a lot of curiosity about just how tangled and murky my family's ancestry actually is (I suspect quite a bit).

Tag, I haven't read it -- I'm embarrassingly behind on my English classics. I'll add it to my get-to list, though.

Chris and Asr, thank you both! I admit seeing that in Vox was a bit of a shocker, as Vox always struck me as the epitome of smug liberal glibness.

John Michael Greer said...

Bruce, thanks for rising to the challenge! "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" may just deserve a post of its own; the response it suggests has its own problematic features, but that's a conversation for a different day. What I'd say, in very short form, is that we may not be able to get rid of our privilege but we can refuse to exploit it to the detriment of the less privileged, and we can use it deliberately to help the less privileged -- not by "rescuing" them in terms of the Rescue Game, or by imposing our own ideas of what they need on them, but by countering the attempts of other privileged people to exploit their positions of privilege, and by using our privilege to help the less privileged accomplish what they want to accomplish and say what they want to have heard. That concept needs more development, but I think it's a step in a more constructive direction.

Matt, here again, the men who do that aren't getting rid of their privilege -- they're the ones who make the choice, after all. What they're doing is refusing to exploit their privilege, and to me, at least, that seems to be at least a very good start. Yes, there are benefits; exploitation of privileges builds walls between people, which a refusal to exploit can begin to tear down. There's a long discussion here of I-It and I-Thou relationships, but that will have to wait for some other time. (As for your offlist comment: in my view, that's not a word that should ever appear in polite discourse. If you'll resubmit with appropriate edits, I'll gladly put your comment through.)

Renaissance, it seems obvious to me, too -- but to most people in the industrial world, it's anything but obvious. For that matter, peak oil seems like the simplest sort of common sense to me -- you can't take an infinite amount of oil out of a finite planet, duh -- but an astonishing number of seemingly intelligent people don't seem to be able to grasp it at all. So the work continues...

Gottfried (etc.), I haven't read Graeber, though he's been on my get-to list for a while.

Unknown Rita, thank you for the illustrative examples! All good points.

Atilio, I wish I had easy answers. It's taken me quite a few years to begin to become just one of the local eccentrics, and I had the advantage of membership in Freemasonry, which is very large and active here in Cumberland. Still, I'll see if I can come up with anything to suggest.

Mister R., my take is that the social justice movement has become locked into the Rescue Game so deeply that it can't extract itself, and will continue the game until the last round of Circular Firing Squad is over. The notion that every white person is racist because they benefit from white privilege, for example, is a classic bit of game logic -- remember that in the game, once the role of Persecutor is assigned to a group of people, everything they have ever done and will ever do becomes a deliberate act of persecution, for which they can be bullied by the Rescuers and Victims. Of course the difficulty here is that if every white person is a racist, and will always be a racist, why should any white person bother to make the attempt not to be racist, when by definition they must always fail? That's where you see into the heart of the Rescue Game, with its covert rule: the game must go on forever, and nothing -- especially not any actual improvement in the conditions under which the Victims live, or any actual change in the behavior of the Persecutors -- must be allowed to get in the way of its continuation.

nuku said...

JMG and YCS: YCS commented that “ In India the very first conversation any two people have is used to determine what societal position both people inhabit and what behaviour is required by either party“.

It seems to me that, within any particular culture, when strangers meet there is a mutual assessment of privilage/status going on right away. It involves visual clues like dress, appearance, posture, age, and verbal clues like accent, vocabulary, sentence structure, etc.

In some human cultures the language itself has built-in forms of address (even a whole set of words or special dialect) that persons use when speaking to someone of higher or lower status. So even before speaking, there must be a non-verbal assessment of relative status. This would seem to show that staus/privilege is built-in at a very basic level in probably all human societies.

John Michael Greer said...

Donalfagan, that hired man knew the way things work.

Rapier, but that's not the very best definition of "conservative," not by a long shot. The very best definition of "conservative" is someone who wants to conserve what already exists. A penchant for elitism is common to some versions of conservatism, especially those with continental European roots, but by no means to all -- and a great many ideologies going from liberalism to the far left explicitly seek elite rule of one kind or another. I really do need to do a post sometime soon about Burkean conservatism, don't I?

Danogenes, I'll definitely want to take a look at Frank's new book. Thanks for the heads up!

TomK, I said repeatedly through my discussion that I was talking about the United States. If you live somewhere else, you've got a different set of privileges, and a different way of assigning who gets how much privilege.

Fudoshindotcom, exactly. Since the condition of the privileged is presented as normal, those with privilege assume without thinking of it that everyone else has the same privileges they do, and it can be very hard for them to grasp the fact that this just isn't so. Yes, combine that with greed and you get a really ugly mess.

A D, exactly. "Meritocracy" sounds so good on paper! It's like assigning rank based on who can run a race fastest, when everyone ignores the fact that some people have lead weights shackled to their feet.

Blueback, thanks for the link.

Alex, ordinary genetic drift and a bit of natural selection, perhaps with occasional interbreeding with closely related species, accounts for all the genetic variability among human beings quite nicely, yes. Of course there are some societies where interbreeding is relatively discouraged; there are plenty of others where it's not, and even where it is, the amount of genetic exchange can be pretty spectacular -- there are very few white Southerners, according to data-backed accounts I've read, who don't have some African ancestry in the last 300 years or so. Then you place the complex social construct we call "race" over the top of this, and the fit just isn't very good.

Samurai, that's a story worth pondering. Thank you.

James, I don't mind at all. Yes, it's a very challenging time to be male, and the use of absolute moralisms by various interested parties to promote an assortment of Rescue Games and grubby political maneuverings doesn't help at all. The process by which established patterns of privilege break down is always a mess!

Robert, thanks for the clarification! One of the reasons I've decided to talk about the Rescue Game explicitly, and get that concept into circulation, is that I hope it'll help counter the maneuvers of the bullies who like to use it. As for the tangled mess around the masculine and feminine principles, no argument there at all -- in the Western world, certainly, it's right down at the core of the mess we're in, and I suspect it'll take a long age of struggle and suffering to get that finally straightened out.

Anthony, so noted! It's been my experience that people on the right tend to admit their privilege and then claim that it's justified, while people on the left deny that it's there. Neither position is defensible, and both are in for a world of hurt as the basis for American global privilege and the perks and benefits thereof go away -- but I suspect the impact will be different in the two cases. Still, I'll try to be more evenhanded as we proceed; the gods know there's no shortage of good hard knocks to be handed out to either side.

Alex said...

"The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" is a story I will never forget. I'd rate it just about up there with Of Mice And Men.

Obviously, it's the reductio ad absurdum of Utilitarianism, no society would be that insane. BUT ... here we are using smartphones and computers and many of us wearing diamonds although by now we know it's child slaves digging up the diamonds and the coltan.

We all know solar ovens would help people in Africa who have to walk miles to get a bundle of glorified twigs to make a smokey fire to cook over but how many of us have donated money to send some of those stoves over? I have not.

Look at me, I ride a bike or take the bus and use not much more than a gallon of water a day - hello, this isn't being saintly, it's the fact that my building has no running water so I filch a gallon at a time from the building next door (they're nice Chinese people and don't mind a bit) and on my income a car is unthinkable.

There was a book out some years ago by a guy who was concerned primarily about not feeding the military-industrial complex, and social justice in general. I wish I could remember the title but it's got a feather on the cover. He concluded that the only ethical thing is to make little enough to not pay taxes. Kind of like how I live, where I pay all right, but I'm not sure much at all is actual income tax; my payment is going into social security and medicare. He concluded that the only ethical thing to do is to make the world average income which at the time he wrote was about $6k. Very few people are willing to do that - tell a yuppie they have to give up their SUV, and watch 'em turn green.

And ultimately that's what makes the story fiction: That that many people were willing to walk away.

Alex said...

JMG - You are right however there are a few notable exceptions. If you are Fijian royalty, you are going to know your genealogy for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. Same goes if you are a Japanese noble. European Jews were a very inbred group for hundreds and hundreds of years. Intermarriage was very rare before the post-WWII period,exactly when my parents married, and even then, I think it only happened because her father had died and they'd lost everything, and I think she was willing to grasp at any life ring. Trust me my dad's folks were not happy about this! Aside of the treat of quite a number of genetic diseases particular to Ashkenazim, if you think you are one and want to find out by means of DNA, the signal is pretty distinct. You don't get ambiguous results. Believe me I checked all this out before I shelled out $200 for the test, especially on my income! Then if I'm wrong I get to say, Oh, guess I'm Armenian/Navajo/Godknowswhat, better get into the cuisine. And if I'm right, in other words I "win", then I get to shell out more money to have a real genealogist trace my background because it's easier for me to pay them and just make some extra money to do so than to do it on my own.

Then I'd get to prepare to learn a language which although I think it has a really cool alphabet, and probably live like a college student, very modestly, but at least in a place that actually reminds me of the Honolulu that existed when I was little (Tel Aviv).

Everyone thinks it's a sand pit over there but it's like Hawaii. And not today's Hawaii, it's like the Hawaii I was a little kid in. Green places, dry places, clean ocean water... And they're doing amazing permaculture there.

davidchuter said...

There's a good argument that when a word becomes as controversial as "privilege" has, it should simply be abandoned as not being of any actual practical analytical use. Like "fascist" it's become an all-purpose term of abuse. Like "fascist" also, it's essentially a subjective accusation, for which in principle no objective evidence could ever be offered.
The alternative is to say what you mean, which people often dislike doing . This debate is really about power, who has it and who doesn't, and whilst power brings privileges, the allegedly "privileged," according to the modern discourse, often have little or no real power.
Power has its own conceptual problems (see Lukes etc) but it's a relatively objective way to analyse society, which is why it worries people, and makes them want to hide behind a smokescreen of vague and unprovable clichés.

. said...

That’s great thank you.

Someone mentioned how the left emphasizes overcoming divide and rule tactics by trying to show both sides the interests that they have in common. They would say that differences need not become divisions.

Europe generally doesn’t share the US denial of class. We don’t have a native equivalent of the American Dream meritocracy thing. But that means we can demonstrate the danger of going too far in the other direction – of obsessing about class as a source of privilege at the expense of all others.

One problem that arises is that people begin to insist that differences should not become sources of division. This is partly a strategic concern because divisions weaken the working class.

It’s also partly an ethical one but that aspect comes from half-understood, subconscious Christianity I think so it’s a total mess. It’s an insistence that division among humans is bad per se and that unity is good. One of the worst accusations to be thrown at someone is ‘causing division’ while ‘uniting communities’ is a good thing. No one questions the logic of this.

It’s actually quite narcissistic. They’re lacking in healthy personal or group boundaries. In theory they recognize the idea – as in the dreaded Safe Spaces. But in practice it’s the opposite. You can see it at the micro level where they find it extremely difficult to exclude people who are obviously disruptive and damaging and instead they’ll endlessly appease them. They do exactly the same at the societal level.

The quest for unity means that the left condemns any attempts by one part of the working class to point to differences it has with another part and to seek to remain divided on that basis. This is explained away as failure to understand their true, objective interests. Those interests of course can only be materialist – economic and political – because socialism is basically materialist. The idea that other forms of privilege, other identities, other interests (like religious ones) can be more important to people and can actually motivate people’s actions, just doesn’t really register. ‘False consciousness’ they’d call it.

Money and power (in the form of class) is assumed to be the real motivation for anything. Beliefs, worldviews, religions, are viewed as merely rationalizations/justifications for the pursuit of materialist ends. The reality that people will in fact sacrifice power and wealth for what they believe does not compute.

So, for example, in northern Ireland it’s quite true that working class Protestants and Catholics had common interests economically as a class. But there were other aspects of privilege at work there that mattered to people more than that: imperialism and sectarian privilege. Working class Protestants and Catholics had very different positions on those aspects of privilege and that affected their lives hugely.

In Europe, the left spends much of its time complaining that the working class refuses to ignore other divisions in favour of class. So, for example, at every terrorist attack they’ll helpfully remind everyone that more people die from poverty or something. Jihadists are then force-fitted into a class analysis where their motivations must relate to money and power.


. said...

It’s the same with cultural divides on the position of women and LGBT people. They now have buses segregated by gender in Germany, special women-only parking places near stations and gender segregated times in swimming pools. Women report changing their behaviour by not going out clubbing as much, staying with a group or with male accompaniment, not taking late trains, car pooling rather than using public transport alone etc. Of course this is officially either denied or claimed to be nothing to do with the recent wave of migration, Cologne etc. Sexual harassment of women and persecution of LGBT people by migrants is blamed on overcrowding and boredom in refugee centres. Moral relativists describe it as a ‘cultural quirk’. Absolutely anything other than recognize the existence and importance of cultural and religious divisions.

Likewise with religiously-motivated violence against Sikhs, Christians, Ahmadis, apostates, Muslims who drink and sell alcohol, women not veiling etc. Some readers may not be familiar with what’s happening in Europe these days. An Ahmadi was recently killed by a Sunni muslim in Scotland for claiming he was a prophet (and doing so as an Ahmadi). Leaflets urging the killing of Ahmadis are distributed in London, including in a mosque, by a sectarian genocidal group affiliated with the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain. A Sikh temple was bombed by Salafists in Germany. A man was murdered for being an apostate. A Kurdish kiosk selling alcohol and two trans women were stoned and muslims drinking in public have been attacked. As have unveiled Muslim women. All in Germany.

Jews are leaving France in unprecedented numbers for Israel as a result of rising antisemitism – no one is allowed to say so but the increase is coming from the Muslim community (of course it has also always existed in Europe). No one really cares about that because it’s viewed as just misdirected political opposition to Zionism which can be resolved with a little education or something.

Christians are attacked in refugee centres and LGBT people have had to be provided with separate accommodation because of the level of persecution against them. No one wants to do that for Christians because that would be all Crusadery or something. That’s seen as misdirected political anger at Syrian Christian support for Assad.

The fact that religion can and does divide the working class is simply denied. Everything is blamed on class and race even within subcultures with completely different ways of assigning privilege. Intersectionality in practice is limited on the left to basically class, race and gender issues. No other forms of privilege are acceptable topics of conversation. If other parts of the world can avoid following our example please do so!!


. said...

I posted this to last week's article but too late in the comment cycle. Could I be super cheeky and repost it here please?!

Have you any suggestions for how one would go about applying that to migration policies?
Western Europe is completely mired in the Rescue narrative on the asylum/refugee system which is now colliding with the reality of mass migration.

At present, migrants pay €10k to fly directly to Europe with false papers from, say, Afghanistan – a sum that most Afghans will never see. In other words, it disproportionately benefits the more privileged globally, rather than those it was intended to help back in 1950’s Europe.

I’ve started a campaign trying to put forward a compromise position that could be politically acceptable. It starts from the premise that the needs of current residents of a country should form the basis for setting and implementing limits on migration. If taken seriously, that ‘should’ create political space for an open discussion of who benefits and who loses, and in what way, from various forms of migration.

It would include, for example, people’s need for decent pay and safety from terrorist attacks to be taken into account in migration policy. That would of course breach EU laws but the EU’s existence and membership are moving targets and such international law is far more a matter of politics than law. I’d expect those trends to continue.

Then, subject to those limits, I’m saying that refuge should be offered directly first to those most in need of it around the world, not those most able to physically reach a European border – which is the current limit in practice.

That would cut out the people smugglers, drownings etc. In theory it should also hugely reduce the security risks – because it would focus on people whose real identities and ages can be established (most now destroy their documentation because the system incentivises that) and because, contrary to the Rescue narrative, terrorists are far less likely to be found among that group. I think that flows from the nature of oppression and persecution.

This element does involve playing the Oppression Olympics. But it seems to me that there are contexts where it’s appropriate to do that. Providing refuge is more a form of charity for those who can’t really help themselves than it is (or should be) a form of solidarity with people who are better able to take care of themselves.

Engaging in it is also almost politically necessary because a majority of people from all classes do want to help those fleeing war and persecution so the retention of the spirit of the asylum system is necessary.

I’m trying to redress the balance for wage class people in a way that can be accepted by enough of the political class to be implemented. From what I hear from wage class people, most want to help genuine refugees but, rightly, don’t trust the current system to do that, and they don’t want to be disproportionately burdened with the costs as they presently are. Some seek a shutdown of the whole rotten system, some a total ban on Muslim immigration etc.

Whatever about the ethics of those positions, I just don’t think they’re remotely achievable in the present political climate here. I’m uncomfortable about putting forward a position which won’t simply amplify those kinds of demands but which I think has far more chance of succeeding in achieving the outcome they’re looking for, because I know how the political classes work. What do you think? Anyone have thoughts on it?


TomK said...

Dear JMG, your kind-of dismissal of my comment at 5:30 is understandable. Indeed, I have noticed your focus is on the United States. I consider your first post of 2016, as well as your two previous posts as some of the most informative pieces on US politics I have read. As an outsider reading them, I can't help but look for analogies to trumpism here at home, to make it less off-topic for you:
the pauperized Trump voter can be compared to Central and Eastern European (CEE)voter who, post 1989, expected to gradually achieve western European worker standard, but never made it and never will. The US salary class can be compared to the new middle and upper middle classes in CEE, they are our post-1989 globalization winners, along with the oligarchs. The new middle and upper middle class tend to hold views similar to US liberals, but numerically, they are a minority. The current migrant crisis only exposed this. From the EU-elites (academia, media, mainstream politicians) point of view, who look down on CEE countries, kind of like the US liberal elites at the 'red' states, we are now xenophobes who refuse to accept our share of MENA migrants and refugees. These elites want to impose their views on heterosexual white male privilege and guilt on us. (Never mind the migrants themselves refuse to be distributed to CEE anyway...) The ratio of globalization losers to winners within our societies is, thanks to the wealth pump directed from the east to the west, simply different from western Europe. That is why local Trumps already are in power, to a different exent in the various countries. That is why I expect a profound change towards disintegration of the EU. And as for economic future of (north-)western European countries, they should look at us or to the European South. Not, as the religion-of-progress-believers would have it, at the CEE and the South becoming like (north-)western Europe in the future.

Phil Knight said...

It has occurred to me that privilege without a corresponding sense of duty is a functional definition of decadence.

Shane W said...

Geez, JMG, as you say, the opposite of one bad idea is another bad idea, which is true regarding pseudo conservatism as well. Cruz's Christian Dominionism w/the Goldman Sachs wife seems to be the poster child for that. I'm recalling your post about Atlantis and Pseudoconservative Satanism right now. It's just that recently I've encountered front and center in my life more of the liberal variety of cluelessness/death wish.
Ginger or not, as a white person from the South, I'd be highly disappointed if testing didn't show that I have my "one drop" in there somewhere. I'm pretty hopeful that there's at least some "miscegenation" in my ancestry. Odd how it isn't "miscegenation" when whites & natives mixed...
Regarding the election and elite cluelessness, I've noticed a number of articles in the MSM sneering about how Trump just "doesn't get" the whole party delegate selection process. I'm thinking that they just don't get that Trump is deliberately crashing their party and intentionally transforming things. It'll be interesting, in the Chinese curse sense, as this plays out...
Regarding Malaysia and "walkabouts" with the locals, I've had the exact same experience here in the U.S. w/migrants. It really amazes me how invisible migrants are in our society--if you have bronze skin and speak Spanish, you simply don't exist except as an invisible hired hand here. It reminds me of stories I've heard where the part of the reason the South lost the Civil War was because they spoke freely around their slaves, treating them as nonexistent, not even considering that they could spy for the North. I've had amazing responses in the migrant community by violating this "white invisibility" rule, by speaking Spanish, knowing rudimentary Mexican & Central American geography--Mexican states and their locations/climates. Even remembering people's names and their children's names. All basic stuff English speaking people expect, but Spanish speaking migrants are normally (not always) literally floored when you break the "invisibility rule" and treat them as individual, real human beings. And BTW, I've been using Spanish with native speakers since high school--you CAN get enough out of basic schooling, but you have the supposition that you CAN speak and understand people, and, even more importantly, that the people you are talking to have something important to say--which is why most Americans get so little from language classes in school...

Leo Knight said...

Alex, was the book "Radical Simplicity?"

Phil Harris said...

JMG wrote: “Alex, the thing I'd point out is that human beings are also xenophiles …”

I like that word – and this is the first time I ever met it I think! It reminds me of the first time in Britland (well … actually mostly in the London area in the early days) when the reality of noticeable immigration from the British Caribbean as well as being reported in newspapers, got debated at the level of family and with school friends. The debate was triggered by mooted political decisions about legislation restricting immigration. Before that we had rather liked the fiction of Pax Britannica with allusions to Roman citizenship – but the supposed attractions of empire if belatedly were retracting fast. People decided they had to take sides, even in more privileged suburbs and within professions that were scarcely affected.

I body-swerved the very early ‘60s family internal argument by saying: “The sooner we are all khaki the better.” (Btw, when I read your Star’s Reach I picked-up on the Meriga universal brown skin.)

I remember also a couple of years on from school, four friends in a pub, and two of us could not see what the skin colour / racial divide was about emotionally, while the other two declared themselves ‘racist’. (I think they actually used that term.) It helped me at the time I think to be working on a construction site with West Indians who were electricians and carpenters, but working like me as labourers in their case because they were barred by our Union rules disqualifying their trade qualifications.

That last point needs a whole essay I guess, because of its explanatory value for a complex industrial society now largely disappeared. Old Factory Britland had multiple seemingly minute differentials at every work place that were typically fiercely defended despite most workers earning within very narrow absolute bands. Unions could only work as part of such a system in my experience if they could also appeal to larger solidarities, which in their case was the Labour Movement and public goods like the universal ‘free’ NHS, within a broadly politically acceptable social settlement served by a ‘permanent’ civil service accountable to a ‘public service ethos’. Things have changed of course.

I will follow your discussion of privilege with great interest. Could be at the heart of the matter. Change seems the order of the day.


Matt and Jess said...

Many years ago, while walking in an upscale store with my very dark-skinned, very beautiful Indonesian family member to buy a small gift, we were followed quite closely and noticeably by staff. I was outraged to the point of writing a nasty letter to management; she shrugged it off ("this literally happens to me every time I go into a store"). And then in the library a couple weeks ago the alarm went off as I went through (the books weren't properly demagnetized or whatever that security thing is) and the staff member asked me why I was stealing. I wasn't sure if he was joking or not, but I was angry: How dare you accuse me! because... I'm white! I'm not used to this... I'm used to being given the benefit of the doubt because of my skin color. It's amazing how much those of us with privilege take for granted.

I'd just like to recommend a book: Grace Matters, by Chris Rice. It's about a white and black community in the south working towards racial reconciliation, I believe in the 1980s-90s. Lots of frank and open discussion, including the white guy (Chris) having to overcome his instincts that he was there to rescue the black folks. It's been quite a long time since I've read it, but I remember it being really good and right on target with what you've been saying.

onething said...

"If you simply weighed all humans and there domestic livestock and then weighed all remaining creatures in the biomass of the planet, humans now make up 98+ percent of all planetery biomass."

Not even close. Ants are generally considered to have the most biomass. Arctic krill also have a lot. Even with our domestic livestock it is unlikely that we constitute as much as 2%, and that is without considering the really big amount which is bacteria and, of course, plants.

David said...


Thank you for the advice. I realize that I am, unconsciously perhaps, still approaching these engagements as honest debates, and seeing the game often occurs after the fact. Eventually, I'll be able to react more adroitly in real-time -- with practice!

onething said...


"Well, these ideas didn’t go over well with folks on my campus. I’d be interested in feedback here. Comments?"
4/21/16, 7:11 A

As a reader and thinker of a certain amount of history and general observer of human nature, I've long thought that a certain tinge of the white guilt spectrum is simply false: That there is something inherently bad about white Europeans (with white Americans being the same stock). That if they could be solved, the world would no longer suffer from aggression of one group upon another. But this is of course not so at all. It's just a matter of who is up to bat.

I can also say that in the schools my kids attended in one of the more affluent and salary class enclaves in the US, the white kids were afraid of the black kids as well. Probably because there was no will to impartial discipline on the part of the guilty white administration. I would say that the kids themselves took it somewhat philosophically.

Nestorian said...


I am interested in learning what your algorithms for gaming multiple choice tests are. Would you care to share them?

Also, I think there is some validity to the point that being able to game tests is itself a sign of the kind of aptitudes that these tests are testing for.

Soccer13 said...

@patriciaormsby Thanks for the sympathy. The folks behind it had the best intentions. Sometimes that isn't enough, though. It all worked out more or less. Glad its over but I learned a lot. I was left with some anger management issues but that helped me connect with my wife who came out of the Killing Fields with similar scars. I do programs for disadvantaged youth and she does pediatric oncology.

Helen Highwater said...

It seems strange to me that you would use the term "Starhawking" to describe avoidance of any discussion of privilege, because Starhawk has written extensively about privilege and how it shapes the way we see the world, and the way the world treats people. In an article she wrote for the the Winter 2015 issue of Permaculture Design magazine she says "Privilege is hard to see when you have it, because a lot of it consists of what doesn't happen to you. Because I have white-skin privilege, I get in the car and drive to the grocery store, and don't get pulled over by the cops. I walk around the store and do my shopping, and no one watches me suspiciously. I lose my wallet in Mexico, go to the consulate, and they issue me a travel document without question." Later in the article she said "Acknowledging that I have privilege doesn't mean I have to sink under the weight of guilt. Nor does it invalidate all that I have genuinely earned in life. It just means admitting that the playing field doesn't start out level." So perhaps an isolated event in San Francisco doesn't really define how this woman treats the issue of privilege.

John Roth said...


Regardless of all the posturing, Clinton vs Trump has been the odds-on favorite for some time. The fact that the Democratic hierarchy were preparing for a coronation of the Crown Princess while the Republican pooh-bahs would have liked nothing better than to attend a (political) funeral for Trump has nothing to do with it.

Admitting that, of course, wouldn’t have given them anything to sell papers and keep up their reputation as pundits.


Correct. You saved me from having to say it. One thing you didn’t mention, though, is that fields that are traditionally female are paid less than those that are traditionally male, even if the work is pretty similar (although not the same, of course).


A side note: the “Actual teachings” of Jesus the Nazarine may well be lost to history. Rene Salm, for example, makes the startling claim that Nazareth didn’t exist at the time Jesus supposedly lived. He backs this up with a detailed examination of the archeology around “Nazareth,” and finds it shoddy. “Early Christianity,” in the sense of the Gospels and Paul, is a construct of the second or third generation, and possibly later. It’s theology, not history. Actual biographies of that era look nothing like the Gospels.

@JMG, pigmycory, etc.

You might want to learn something about IQ testing, and the effort that goes into making sure it’s as culture and value neutral as possible. Multiple-choice tests aren’t usually part of the repetoire of actual IQ tests. And yes, I’m also one of those people who usually hits well above my weight class on those things.


Height is a well-known factor in dominance. I’m substantially taller than average, and it does work that way.


It’s easy to get confused by American attitudes about class until you look closely at the British invasion of the East coast. There are three major roots: the New England Puritans, the Jamestown planters and the Scots-Irish. The Puritans were mildly anti-aristocracy for socio-religious reasons - it was the British aristocracy that was trying to stamp them out. The Jamestown planters were pro-aristocracy, while the Scots-Irish were fanatically anti-aristocracy and anti-large-government. It’s easy to see why - they lived on the border between England and Scotland, and had a history of being trampled underfoot by English armies heading North to beat up on the Scots, and Scottish armies heading South to return the favor.

The mix looks incoherent because it is incoherent.


About “everyone in Meringa had light brown skin.” That’s not the way the genetics of skin color works. Every once in a while the tabloid press goes ape over “black and white twins.” It actually makes a decent classroom genetics exercise, because the vast majority of the difference in skin color comes down to variation in exactly four genes, each of which is classically dominant/recessive. The only way you’re going to have an even skin tone through a population is if one version of each of those four genes becomes fixed through some mysterious process. In the time frame in the story, that’s unlikely to happen.

pygmycory said...

Speaking of family legends, there's one that I have a manx pirate on my mother's side some generations back. Apparently it isn't actually true, but it was a fun story.

Shane W said...

"- there are very few white Southerners, according to data-backed accounts I've read, who don't have some African ancestry in the last 300 years or so."
So, JMG, according to the "one drop" rule, we're all "colored", but some of us can "pass" while others can't? What a relief--makes total sense to me, coming from the South--explains a lot, culturally. :)

Nancy Sutton said...

Before this gets too long, and hoping this isn't redundant, perhaps you could comment on the preceding effect of 'Social Darwinsim' in giving the imprimatur of 'science' and it's shadow, 'progress', to the class system. And then there's the 'religious' autoriztion from Calivnism. (Jesus may have been right... the opposite of the divine, i.e., the demonic, is mammon/wealth.)

234567 said...

@ JMG RE: your reply to Alex...

I AM one of those southerners you refer to. And it isn't just in the south - the west is replete with this as well. Few will acknowledge that before, during and after the Civil War sex between races, while publicly anathema, was privately very common. In the southern tier, those with darker skin tones would posit their heritage as "Mexican", "Cherokee" or "Choctaw" to avoid being on the slave rung, although Indian was little better (no - don't come after me about Native American as I am just using terminology of the time).

This was extremely common, and is easily researched photographically on Ancestry-type sites. My family is very southern, but there are "Indian" members from the 1800's marrying into a Germanic heritage...hmmmm LOL! If only people would truly understand that none of us control our birth, but we can control what we do with the heritage (privilege level) we are born into.

No - the entire 'Race' thing is just a flashy red cape for angry bulls that do not wish to see or change their basic thinking. Humans, in a very few generations, could breed themselves into many types of variants - witness the plethora of dog breeds all carrying one heritage.

Roger said...

It's amazing how the perception of privilege sometimes manifests itself. Sometimes it gets to the point where the privileged think they can help themselves to other people's children.

My home town had a thriving industrial economy (now rust belt), where people like my parents, who had little education, could get decent paying jobs so that, for all intents and purposes, hourly wage earners were middle class in material terms.

Though there were a few higher income enclaves, mostly the managerial class lived next door and across the street from their hourly wage employees. Not a lot of class stratification in that particular sense.

We lived in a tidy, well kept neighbourhood. Across from us lived an older couple that owned a prosperous retail store. They were old-stock Canadian, more English than the Queen.

One day, when I was about twelve years old, the Missus came over for some reason that I cannot recall. And during the conversation with my mother she said what a lovely girl my younger sister was, how smart and talented and how they would love to adopt her to give her the greater opportunities they could afford.

I heard it with my own ears. Can you bloody imagine? Apparently this nut thought that my parents middle-class lifestyle wasn't good enough, their cultural background and social contacts weren't up to snuff, and that my mother would actually consider giving up custody.

So there you go, there's class privilege, in this case, old-stock English that think they're entitled to make outlandish propositions to the under-class.

As a post script, my mother shooed the woman away, my sister went to a top-notch university and is employed in a medical field. So there.

jeffinwa said...

Thanks so much for the hearty meals of food for thought. I always look forward to my next visit to your table. (and thanks to the guests who round out the feast)

Twice in your comments this week you've made reference to doing a post on Berkean conservatism:

"I really should do a post one of these days about Burkean conservatism as political ecology..." and "I really do need to do a post sometime soon about Burkean conservatism, don't I?"

I for one have been wishing for that for quite a while now; you do have a well crafted talent for distilling the essentials.

avalterra said...


Thanks for taking this on. It is a subject I have been thinking about a great deal and I appreciate having your perspective.

You responded to a Julius Evola quote by saying that you did not agree with him but acknowledged his intellect. You have in other posts stated that you thought that in the very long term a form of Feudalism might re-emerge. Do you think the neo-reactionary movement (who are quite taken with Evola) might be the very early attempts at a justification for Feudalism?

Or are they a dying gasp of privileged mind set?


V. Else said...

As a white woman with a brown immigrant husband and half and half son, can I just say thank you? I have had to exercise my white privilege to save their lives on one memorable occasion, and all I can say is that I never felt so dirtied by any other experience. So I can vouch for the fact that privilege is a searing, corrupting, and utterly persistent aspect of identity. You are 100% right.

Urban Harvester said...

JMG, I will be waiting with falconer's restraint-like breath for your post on Burkean conservatism :). I've been curious about that for a while, and I suspect it will make a few things clearer for me. There is so much to disentangle, between privilege, doing your "duty", actually conserving things, and walking away from business as usual. Trying to see my own privilege is not easy, and I can see evidence of my own enculturation not to discuss it or class going back to my youth. The irony is that what it comes down to for most of the privileged in the United States is that to truly do one's duty in light of our predicament is to walk away from one's privilege as best as one can. For what else is collapsing now but to walk away from the trappings of privilege and the ways of subsistence that perpetuate it? Sure, there are aspects of privilege that we can't abandon, but the pride and entitlement, as well as the guilt and shame (for not living up to the standard one is expected to meet), not to mention the willful ignorance are aspects that can be. The trick, it would appear, is to do so without getting wrapped back into the sticky web of the rescue game: How do I collapse now without becoming a de facto persecutor, because in my failure to be upwardly mobile I am somehow betraying the system? How does one 'collapse now' and not have their integrity be usurped? It is a helpful tool as I plan my path forward to not allow myself to think of myself as a victim, or a rescuer. Thanks for this discussion.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ Nuku & JMG - Something I noticed years ago, about when strangers meet. Now, I'm an old guy, and not much of a catch, as far as I'm concerned. But, I noticed when I met women, often, in the first 30 seconds, or so, they would mention a husband or boyfriend. I realized this was a signal, that they were unavailable and off the market. LOL. OK by me. On the other hand, if they did not mention a significant other, MY defenses would go up, as, even though I'me not a great catch, I've had to step lively on occasion to maintain my unencumbered status. So, status, class and availability? Lew

Shane W said...

I'm reimagining the old "colored" & "white" signs saying "passing" and "non-passing", instead...

Shane W said...

JMG, I'm amazed at the volume of comments these posts generate--they just keep pouring in!

Alex said...

Mallow- the things of which you speak are occurring because you are being invaded. Either you guys find your present-day Martel The Hammer or you go under.

Shane W. - Where I am, English is for the ruling class and Spanish is for the workers. In fact there's even a monument, a sort of table thing, on Paseo de San Antonio, a car-excluded walkway, with that written on it and it's also actually embedded, in brass, on the walkway, a quote by Cesar Chavez about how he spoke English to the bosses and Spanish to his fellow workers. The English/Spanish divide is entrenched, and yes, I think the average English-speaking employer would no more ask his Spanish-speaking workers about their families than he'd ask his forklift about it's.

Leo Knight - That's the book all right.

Phil Harris - The amount of "race-mixing" that happens now is a function of industrialization, cheap air tickets, TV/radio/internet, etc. If we're de-industrializing, and I think we are, it's going to go back to distinctive "looks" in different areas even if there was a lot of prior mixing in the old "golden age when men could fly".

Matt & Jess - I was pointedly followed once here on the Mainland, by a tall black security guy in the Safeway here. I think he was just following the rules in the manual. I was wearing a messenger bag, and was wandering around aimlessly. I personally found it hilarious. But all the time, it would get old.

Clay Dennis said...

I have been trying to wrap my head around why Hillary has been vacuuming up the Black and Hispanic vote for this entire primary cycle. To my mindset, it seems so counterintuitive. But this post has made me realize that my Salary Class (perhaps even egghead intelectual class) mindset has made me blind to the realities of the minority classes (not necessary wage class). The liberal salary class has made honesty, and transparency in political dealings something of a mantra because we can afford it. But members of more disadvantaged groups don't have this luxury. They have to gravitate towards political figures that they believe will protect them regardless of how squeky clean that person is. With the spectre of Trump or Cruz on the horizon it is only more reason to support any powerful figure that might be on your side. While from my view, Hillary is corrupt, a warmongering neocon, and defender of the worst of establishment abuses, to the democratic who is disadvantaged by race , class or circumstances she is an O.G.* ( as my son from my earlier post would say). Like the neighborhood crime boss, she represents benevolent power ( to some) and a consistancy they can trust. * Original Gangster in rap parlance.

Calm Center of Tranquility said...

Good one, JMG. Reminds me of a post John Scalzi wrote four years ago ( which I mention only because of the difference in the comments. Don't know if that's due to a different audience, or what you mentioned about a change in times, but John's post engendered much more resistance to the idea.

Mister Roboto - when you talk about being anti-PC... I think that's because the PC response you mention is a surface response to this recognition, one that wants to assign blame. But as Scalzi points out, privilege isn't what you've earned - it's what you are born with. You didn't ask for it, and it can't be taken away from you. Your only choice is how you respond to it.

I would make that same point to Shane's comments about how the "liberal salary class" somehow "deserves" what might be coming. Well, Shane, only if you can "deserve" a consequence for an action you did not actively participate in. I tend to believe that responsibility and authority go hand-in-hand.

As a woman, I am not as high on the privilege scale as some (though just one level down), but if we broaden the boarders beyond our own culture, as an American I'm about as high as they come. So I try to keep my own focus on what I can do to erase those barriers that privilege creates. Admittedly, it doesn't seem like much, but recognizing the issue is an important part of it. I like Chris' point about stepping away from privilege - though here, it's hard to do. No matter what, I'm still white, and still straight and, at this point in time, still receive benefits from that.


Caryn said...

Thanks, JMG and fellow commenters:

One's own privilege is indeed invisible to one, kind of like smelling your own morning breath - everyone else can smell it, but hard as you try, you can't. (ha, ha, lovely analogy eh? Sorry - it just came to me, er, this morning.)

I know I have it, although almost all of the time, I can't see it. OTOH, I've experienced too many glimpses, glitches in the matrix to disregard it or convince myself it's not there. As fellow commenters have said, the one or 2 times as a white person, you're followed around in a store like a presumed thief, or denied service even though you're the next in the queue, cash up front instead of credit or good faith….small slights that you know less privileged people experience consistently. I find myself latching onto those, fascinated, as they draw back that veil of my own privilege, what would it feel like to go through life with those every single day? It's hard to grasp through, as I know I'd be infuriated - but that in itself is also due to my expectations - based on my privilege! AARGH!

At the same time, we can see clearly the privilege of others, that they themselves cannot or will not see. I think the cloak of invisibility is partially due to the nature of the thing, it is truly hard to see your own - you can only know intellectually it is there, you can't FEEL it. It's often the lack of abuse, not anything tangible. I think the other part, however, is a willful ignorance of it. Who WANTS to smell their own morning breath!? Who WANTS to feel their unearned, undeserved elevation? Some of us do because we are obsessives for truth and reality, but IMHO, most people just don't want to know. Their lives are fine, why look for what could be trouble?

Personally, I am born a Libra, gifted or cursed to see both sides, and seem to have somehow straddled two or more 'worlds' my whole life, (too long and boring to explain in full.) I understand exactly what you are saying. I get it. I also understand why my (very) privileged acquaintances and fellow white expats don't see it at all.

Honestly, I'm terrified of the future. Collapse is going to be brutal. What I don't see is how anyone can say "Time to grab the popcorn!" like it's going to be fun watching other people getting torn down and destroyed, while 'we' sit on the sidelines, perfectly untouched by the earthquake and tsunami. I don't see anyone getting out of this unscathed.

Not sure, but this may be my last comment for awhile. Boxes filling my flat. We are moving today. Probably moving again in 2 months, (home to the States? don't know.) The ground is already rumbling under my feet. For my family, I THINK that earthquake is already here.

Dagnarus said...

Yes, my understanding is that it is a common practice of those who quote that statistic to conflate it with "equal pay for equal work". Although my understanding is that the skilled political operatives will make certain that they don't directly conflate the two, for example Obama will make mention of the statistic, and will make certain to talk about equal pay for equal work, he generally doesn't seem willing to directly state that women in equal jobs get paid 79% of a man (current stat).

I'll just point out that the stat is questionable on its face. Knowing what we know about corporate America, when confronted with a brand new workforce, equal in size and training to there current one, which was willing to work for a quarter less pay than there original, do you think they would a) Give thanks to the patriarchy, and praise his mighty schlong, or b) Ruthlessly exploit this in order to crush male wages, thus destroying the gap? Personally I have to go with b) or at a stretch c) both.

That of course probably wouldn't apply to the highest end jobs which are acquired by personal connections, but I personally don't really care whether the parasitic class possessed of penis unfairly earn more than the parasitic class without.

Justin said...

Er, I suppose I'm guilty as charged as being one of the white salary class guys who took it upon themselves to complain about being treated like a woman or person of color. No, I shouldn't complain, because I make a decent living, my opinions are generally respected and my expertise in my field is not questioned on the basis that I might be a 'diversity hire'.

And I guess I really did talk about how pin-the-tail-on the persecutor makes the concept of privilege toxic and impossible to discuss in most settings, which was last weeks topic?

Mallow, it seems to me like the refugee dilemma presents many examples of what I could call 'tactical starhawking' - using an exceptional case as an attempt to shut down any kind of reasoned discussion of the issue. For example, a PEGIDA type will use true stories of atrocities committed against refugee center volunteers, and an Antifa type will use different true stories in exactly the same way, with the same intentions.

nuku said...

Re white privilaged people having great difficulty understanding the daily experiences of the less privilaged, in this case dark-skinned people:
I can recommend the book “Black Like Me”
From Wikiapedia,
“Black Like Me is a nonfiction book by journalist John Howard Griffin first published in 1961. Griffin was a white native of Dallas, Texas, and the book describes his six-week experience travelling on Greyhound buses (occasionally hitchhiking) throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia passing as a black man. Sepia Magazine financed the project in exchange for the right to print the account first as a series of articles.
Griffin kept a journal of his experiences; the 188-page diary was the genesis of the book.
At the time of the book's writing in 1959, race relations in America were particularly strained and Griffin aimed to explain the difficulties that black people faced in certain areas. Under the care of a doctor, Griffin artificially darkened his skin to pass as a black man.

Kevin Warner said...

I think that we forget how arbitrary "privilege" can be assigned and how it can be attached to people as easily as adjectives are to nouns. I once saw an funny incident demonstrating this point and the effect that it had on on the people around them.
In my salad years I once went to apartheid-era South Africa and was traveling to Natal by train. Sharing my compartment were a couple of young blond-haired young men - Boer descendants almost certainly going by speech and manners. A Japanese guy entered our compartment (with the obligatory camera paraphernalia), smiled, and took his seat.
It was my understanding at the time that Japanese were, for reasons of their history, regarded as honorary whites so took their seats with the whites. Remember, this was at a time when the blacks had their own central train station separate from the whites in Johannesburg (guess who went to the wrong train station to pick up his train not realizing, or willing to believe, that there were actually two main train station?).
You could see the glances that these boys gave the Japanese guy that there was a bit of cognitive dissonance going on but these were good boys and were not going to make anything of it. Still, they looked as flummoxed as if they had opened a door only to find a blank wall there.
Upon reflection, I suppose that claiming privilege, even subconsciously, will always be with us as people are in the end tribal by nature. I wonder if the only way it can be made acceptable is to tie it directly in with competency. That is, you could claim the privileges that go along with being a leader but only if you have a proven track record of leadership. Being made leader because of race, religion political beliefs, etc would simply not hack it. You would have to earn your privileges. Just a thought.

Shane W said...

I think that privilege and Burkean conservatism may tie in together in this way: class is an enduring, universal feature found in all human civilizations except hunter/gatherer, and even there, there is stratification. All societies are stratified into lower/upper classes, and any number of stratified ranks in between. The enlightenment push to do away with class and stratification does not take into account human nature, and, much like rationalism, damages human society by forcing it to do something it cannot do: eliminate class & social stratification in civilizations.

John Michael Greer said...

Nuku, status and privilege are found among all social primates, so yes, those things are very likely hardwired into our behavior. That's all the more reason to find ways to ameliorate the negative effects of privilege on the less privileged, of course -- it's the same logic by which we look for treatments for hereditary diseases. "It's innate" does not equal "it's good," after all.

Alex, oh, I know. I've had a lot of fun at peak oil gatherings, when one of the participants (almost always a white guy from the middle to upper salary class) starts rhapsodizing about how wonderful it will be when we're all living simple lives in sustainable ecovillages without modern media, etc. I wait for a lull, and then point out that he could have exactly that lifestyle today if he wanted it. The usual result is backpedaling on a heroic scale.

Davidchuter, I think the term "privilege" is useful enough that it's worth trying to rehabilitate. It's not the same thing as power, though of course there are overlaps -- and if we had to stop using any word that's been exploited and debased for political advantage from time to time, we'd have a hard time talking about most things!

.Mallow, your comment about boundaries seems very perceptive to me. I hope the European left manages to shake itself out of its current trance, or Europe's probably going to have to make an unwelcome choice between Shari'a and a resurgence of fascism. If I were a fascist demagogue, I'd be rubbing my hands together with glee at the current situation -- the political leadership of most European countries is allowing the emergence of a situation that the vast majority of people in Europe will find intolerable, while blocking any attempt to resolve that situation from within the system. That's a situation tailor-made for a putsch.

With regard to your broader question, hmm. I don't know that I have anything to offer; so much would depend on the details of opinion, and on who's getting hurt how badly and in what way by the current fiasco. Anyone have a suggestion?

TomK, it wasn't a dismissal, it's a statement of my own limits; I've never lived in central or eastern Europe, or anywhere else outside the US, and the last thing the rest of the world needs is one more clueless American telling other people what's what! From what you've described, you've got several different levels of privilege overlying each other -- there's one hierarchy within your own country, and over that the broader hierarchy of the EU, in which some countries (or the privileged classes thereof) are decidedly more equal than others. That's a situation most countries get to experience, and the US will be doing so in the years ahead. More on this next week!

Phil K., that's exquisite, and earns you tonight's gold star.

Shane, interesting. Out West, marriages between white people and Native Americans were definitely considered miscegenation back in the day. Are you familiar with the role of the villainous half-breed in Western literature? It's a relic of that.

Phil H., thank you. I ran across it years ago -- I think it was in a James Tiptree Jr. story -- and it explains a lot about human mating habits!

Matt and Jess, many thanks for the story, and the book recommendation. It's good to hear from so many people who get it.

John Michael Greer said...

David, it does take practice -- of course it's also helpful to have such discussions on online forums like this one, where you can take a few minutes to think through a response, and then have the same response ready for an in-person discussion.

Nestorian, that'd be fodder for an entire post. The very short form is that you need to know the scoring system first off -- is your score the number of right answers you give, the number of right minus the number of wrong, the number of right minus one-quarter the number of wrong, or what? You choose a different strategy depending on how much a wrong guess will cost you. I scored absurdly high on a national math test in high school, which was right minus wrong, by refusing to guess; if I didn't actually know the answer, I left it blank. Most of my classmates didn't do so, and got clobbered by their missed guesses.

Next, you always work backwards from the proposed answers, not forward from the question -- it's often easy to figure out that several of the possible answers can't be right, exclude those, and go on, and it's also very often easy to figure out what you need to know to decide which of two or three answers is the right one, and focus your calculations on figuring out that one detail. There are a lot of other angles -- for example, most teachers don't actually randomize the letter of number assigned to the right answer, and when you've taken a few tests they've written, you can usually figure out the unconscious pattern they tend to use; different teachers tend to focus on specific kinds of questions, and you can figure out what you need to cherrypick out of their lectures and the textbook, etc. It sounds complex, but once you learn how to do it, you can get through the public schools with a reasonably high GPA even though you spend every class session ignoring the teacher and writing bad fantasy fiction -- glance up every so often with an intent look on your face, and they'll think you're taking notes.

Hubertus Hauger said...

I am, being male, white, educated are privileged before so many others over here. Yet, because my "entitlement" is not fulfilled, as I have fallen down to the lower class level, I am very unsatisfied. So I see myself and others of my kind as the growing force to revolt. The activities I do, networking, participating in alternative economy-systems, as par-taking in that movement to prepare revolution.
Not so much consciously, but driven by that resentment against the un-fulfilment of my entitlement. It’s true to me; The system inherits in itself the spark for its own destruction - when unable to supply the 2nd grade privileged, to stabilise the system. We are sliding down in a great wave. Slowly but unavoidably.

Alex said...

Clay Dennis - I think Hillary is doing well among blacks and hispanics because (a) she's been around a while and we all remember the Clinton years being much better than now, (b) Barnie's new to most of us, certainly myself, and when your ass is on the line, you don't take chances, and (c) as funny as it sounds, his accent. He does not speak "American TV English" and that may unnerve some people. There's a nonzero chance it's because he's Jewish too - I think it's small but it's there.

Caryn - when I was growing up in Hawaii, if you were white and ONE PENNY short, you had to walk home and get that penny. The "penny dish" was a pleasant shock to me and I put pennies in all the time.

Nuku - I place little faith in that book given that the pills the guy took actually turn you orange - I know, I considered taking them myself. They are or were popular with bodybuilders. However, yes, having limited places to use the bathroom etc., are certainly a thing for the out-group. What I found more in keeping with my experiences was the accounts by Jews pre-WWII, how they were assumed to be faking about being poor, there were parks they could not go (not by official law but unofficial law which is more binding and can be fatal) places would not hire you etc. And the eternal urge to get out, to find a home where you can live and breathe and walk down the street.

John Michael Greer said...

Helen, as I noted in the post, I didn't invent the term -- it's in common use in some corners of the Neopagan scene, having been inspired by the scene I described. No doubt Colonel Boycott and Charles Lynch both did things other than the ones we all think of when their names come up, too.

John, my dad has a master's degree in educational psychology, and we've discussed the matter at length, so yes, as it happens, I know some of what goes into IQ tests. Your comment about the tests being culture and value neutral show that you've missed my point completely. What is this thing called "intelligence," after all? Psychologists can't define it in any objective way. As a result, the tacit working definition, the one that underlies IQ tests and a great deal more, is that "intelligence" equals "that particular set of thinking skills that the salary class values." It doesn't matter how much neutrality you try to put into the test if the thing for which you're testing is a selectively chosen set of human mental skills.

It so happens that I've had the chance to meet a lot of people who aren't good at the kinds of mental skills that people in the contemporary American salary class value. Some of them have been really, really limited where those skills are concerned. What I've noticed consistently is that the great majority of them had different mental skills -- skills that today's salary class-centric culture doesn't happen to value, but that have plenty to offer on their own terms -- and many of these people had those other skills to an extent I never will. The current model of intelligence, as embodied in IQ tests, misses that completely, and the discourse that treats "intelligence" as an objectively defined, value-free label covers over that missed understanding with a thick larding of intellectual arrogance.

I'll have to look into the situation with skin color; all I can say is that I meet a lot of mixed-race kids where I live, and a very, very large majority of them are the same cafe-au-lait color I imagined for the people of Meriga.

Pygmycory, by all means adopt a pirate into the family, then! Every family needs a pirate ancestor.

Shane, got it in one. I read a while back that the reason Louisiana dropped the "one drop" rule is that activists did some digging, and found out that a very large number of the state's richest and most nose-in-the-air white families had at least one drop, and very often quite a bit more than one drop, of African ancestry tucked away there in the family tree. They went public with this, and called on the state to reclassify all the families in question as black. The legislature immediately changed the laws in question.

Nancy, every society has some justification for its system of privilege, and when one justification gets shot down, another quickly gets cobbled together. Social Darwinism was popular for a while, and in mutated form, still gets the more than occasional airing in the form of claims that our society is really a meritocracy in which the rich and influential have risen to the top by their own ability. (As exhibit A for the other side of that argument, I present George W. Bush.) The Calvinist theory is actually a religious (or pseudoreligious) version of that: the rich are rich because God has rewarded them for their virtue. Back in the days when money wasn't the be-call and end-all of privilege, there were other excuses, and no doubt once money stops being as influential as it now is, the excuses will change again.

234567, I suspect, rather, that you're simply one of the Southerners who's honest about his ancestry, which I applaud. I have my suspicions about my own ancestry, which is more or less mostly Scots on one side and Heinz 57 on the other, and well down in the wage class until my parents' generation (my dad's dad worked in a pulp mill after twenty years as a small town firefighter, my mom's dad worked in the Oakland shipyards).

John Michael Greer said...

Roger, yes, I can believe it. I haven't seen any examples of privilege that got to so breathtaking a level, but some got close.

Jeffinwa, so noted! Yes, I'm already starting to rough it out mentally. As per my usual habit, it's going to offend all sides of the political debate equally. Do you know, for example, that a very strong argument for the right to same-sex marriage can be made on Burkean conservative grounds? Stay tuned...

Avalterra, I think it's partly the dying gasp of an outworn condition of privilege, and partly the normal adolescent habit of looking for something to do or say that will really, really shock your Mom. Feudalism is on its way -- as noted in previous posts, it's the normal state of affairs after the collapse of a civilization -- but it won't be put in place because disaffected intellectual argued for it on the internet. It'll be put into place because public order has gone missing in action in a time of social chaos and pandemic violence, and personal loyalty to a competent leader is the one glue that succeeds in uniting a force large enough to stop the killing and plundering and allow some semblance of settled life to continue. Read the history of any Dark Age you fancy -- there have been a lot of them -- and you'll find that old story repeated.

V. Else, you're most welcome. I'm sorry to hear you had to do that, but glad to hear that it worked!

Harvester, excellent. Yes, those are highly relevant questions.

Lew, well, yes; I make a point of mentioning my wife in certain contexts, to ward off certain offers before it's necessary to make anybody feel unwelcome.

Shane, I'd love to see that meme get more traction. The whole race thing, to my mind, is one of the least productive notions in the history of human thought, and the sooner it goes the way of phlogiston, the better.

Clay, don't discount the very strong element of machine politics that still exists in both parties. My guess is that the graveyards are turning out to vote at much more than the usual rate this year!

Center/Trish, fascinating. It may be a difference in audience, but you're right, he got much more pushback than I have.

Caryn, best of luck with the move! I can't speak for others, but when I make comments about popcorn, it's gallows humor. I think there's very good reason to expect this next downward lurch in the process of decline and fall to be even more brutal than usual.

Alex said...

JMG - Look into the Cattell IQ test, as opposed to the Stanford-Binet or others. Cattell tried his best to make a test you could give to anyone, and it would measure raw intelligence. It's much more symbolic and much more universal. Interestingly, I scored in the 130's on the "regular" test and in the 160's on the Cattell. I knew nothing about "gaming" tests and I admire you for figuring out how to. I took the tests to get into MENSA because for some reason I thought it would help me get a job. All I really remember was looking at some triangles and being very hungry, my state too much of the time back then.

I suspect my DAR-member dad's side of the family are probably all proud of who were probably a bunch of horse thieves or something.

I believe social darwinism is probably stronger now than it ever was.

As for cafe-au-lait/cafe-con-leche, the way I like to say it is, "I like my coffee the color of the back'a my hand".

John Michael Greer said...

Dagnarus, you're assuming rational action on the part of corporate hiring. I find that implausible, since after all the people making those calls are just as deep into the structure of privilege as the rest of us. Talk about "just hire the best person!" so reliably gets a white guy with a salary class background for any salary class job that I have my doubts. As I said, I'll look into the matter when I have time.

Justin, thank you for this! It's a very easy trap to fall into, and you're encouraged to fall into that trap by the media and every other source of mainstream culture. The key is to figure out that that's what happened, and adjust your sense of what's normal accordingly.

Nuku, a first-rate recommendation! Many thanks.

Kevin, that's a good story. I'll have to look up the details, but there's a great story about the African-American guy in the early 20th who decided that he wanted to get better treatment on a train trip across some large chunk of the US, and so dressed up as a Hindu, assumed an accent good enough to fool white folk, and claimed to be some kind of minor raja from India. His skin color didn't change a bit, but everyone treated him as though he was a slightly exotic kind of white.

Shane, stay tuned. I weave the concepts together in a slightly different way.

Hubertus, that's a point of immense importance, and we'll be talking about it more as this conversation proceeds.

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, yet again, I've had to delete several otherwise good comments because of profanity. Come on, folks -- you know the rules!

Dagnarus said...

To be fair, going by median income, it would actually be go with the salary class Asian guy, pick the white guy if he isn't available.

But I was more referring to the fact that US corporate culture has been making a concerted effort to drive down labor costs by replacing it with cheaper labor for the last few decades, going so far as actually getting people to train their own replacements Now it could be that HR departments (which are roughly 70% women now I believe), have so far been blind to the fact that the nation is sitting on a treasure trove of scab workers willing to work for 3/4s the pay. But I think my argument still stands that it is the sort of statistic which one should not accept uncritically.

nuku said...

JMG, My comment about status/privilege being built into human societies (and into all social primate societies as well as many other animal societies) wasn’t meant to imply that its good (or bad) because its innate. BTW, Desmond Morris is a very good read on that subject.

I very much agree with you that because it is a “fact of life“ in all human societies, in the interests of justice and fairness, the less privileged need to be protected from abuse by the more privileged. In the long run, it is quite obviously in the interests of the more privileged to not systematically abuse the less privileged lest they find themselves hanging from lamp posts.

Cherokee Organics said...


I wasn't aware of that statistic but it does make sense given the lack of contact with the natural world that those people would experience. I have a dark suspicion that people living there may believe that what they see is the whole world - and that is not good.

Anyway, I mentioned your reply to my wife who pointed me to a recent and thoughtful article which discusses this very issue: The trouble with millennial sitcoms.

The problem is that whilst I understood that the show was meant to be funny, to me it wasn't. To my mind, it comes across as a drama based on the possible lived experiences of young people in that city. It touches on class issues because, people in the characters race and social class are not meant to be having those sorts of issues. And I deeply suspect that the mental health issues on display in the show have arisen due to the cognitive dissonance between life expectations for that class of person and the characters lived reality - and that is apparently funny to some people. As someone who experienced a "recession that we had to have" as a very young adult, I don't find that the show is particularly funny. It is an interesting show, although it would be nice if they somehow remembered to tell a coherent story, but one cannot ask for everything.

The article touches on the very subject of class and expectations - which is relevant to this blogs essay - and links to another article which was basically summarised into the concept that: "conversations about millennials that claim to reflect the plight of an entire generation are actually code for the failure of a middle-class ideal." Fascinating stuff and I respect the fact that it is being discussed elsewhere. What do you reckon about that?

Hi Cathy from Winston Salem,

I realise that you were replying to JMG, but I thought that you may appreciate a little bit of additional info on ritual.

You see from my perspective we employ ritual every single day, although we may not realise it. For example, getting up and going to work every week day is a ritual which many of us undertake in order to ensure that tomorrow is much like today. Interesting stuff, huh?

Anyway, overtime some rituals descend into what we understand today to be superstitions. For example, I'm currently reading a lovely story about northern Italian peasant olive farmers written by an English Lady (Annie Hawes - Extra Virgin) who was actually there. In an amusing side story she talks about the difficulty of convincing the local cafe owner to provide her and her sister with a second espresso coffee (a worthy task!). The café owner, in addition to the various locals, are very reluctant to provide her with that second coffee and they explain to her that a second coffee would close her stomach, which would be a bad thing. Everyone knows that a second coffee will do no such thing and so we treat that belief as a superstition. However, in a land where coffee may be expensive and in short supply, that belief is a good thing as it acts to curb peoples natural bent to over consumption.

Your task is really to think about what rituals work and what don't given your circumstances and then act accordingly. ;-)! And remember to change those rituals if circumstances change. That is not as easy to do as you would believe!

Hi Calm Center of Tranquility,

;-)! It's not easy to do is it and of course we have to ask ourselves the awful question: What is in it for us to continue as things are?



davidchuter said...

On the recurrent theme of the difference in pay between men and women, it's perhaps worth pointing out that in Europe, at least, there are laws and customs which ensure equal pay for equal work. So all government jobs pay the same - a corporal with ten years' service, a teacher with certain qualifications and experience, an administrator of a certain grade and seniority earn the same salary regardless of whether they are men or women. And in most European countries, there have been laws since the 1960s that prevent employers offering the same jobs at different rates to men and women. So a supermarket cashier will earn the same irrespective of what sex they are. Maybe it's different in the US. Or maybe this is another of those elite liberal issues - what do we want? Equal pay for female partners in large commercial law firms! When do we want it? Now!

Fred said...

If you want to deeply know privelage, be a Peace Corps Volunteer. You'll get dropped into some of the economically poorest parts of the world alone. With nothing familiar to rest you views on everything you know about how things works will be questioned.

Don't want to make a 2 year commitment to poverty? Then talk with a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer! In the thirty years since I returned not one person has asked me about what it was like, how my views changed, and what I learned. Americans are deeply uncomfortable to really know what it is like for poor people in the world to deal with the US, our privelage and policies.

I have no data to prove this, but I believe the only reason many countries don't hate the US more is the people fondly remember a young Americans dropped in their villages who befriended them, lived with them and helped them in every way they could.

Fred said...

I said "talk" to a Returned Peace Corp Volunteer and the better word is "listen" to what a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer has to say on privelage.

Fred said...

Mallow - what is confusing to me about the refugee crisis in Europe is how it happened all at once, how far the refugees are going and how the United Nations didn't step in to help. While I lived in Swaziland in the 1990's, there was a civil war in Mozambique winding down after 17 years. The UN set up refugee camps for millions of people feeling that war in Swaziland and South Africa, just over the borders. I attended a couple hour long talk and question session with the head of the UN Refugee Center there at the time and he said the reason they set up the tent cities is the intent is temporary housing so people can go home, refugee is a temporary status and the goal is to get people back to their home country as quickly as possible.

Europe doesn't have a refugee crisis using that definition of temporary because I don't see the intention of any of the people coming as returning to their home country in a year or two. The countries in Europe are integrating people into their societies as much as possible, or at least attempting to. So you have a mass invasion going on, a mostly peaceful one without weapons which is going to change the culture of Europe.

PRiZM said...


Thanks for helping me appreciate how I was "starhawking" the issue last week when I redirected the issue to American foreign policy instead of talking about domestic politics. I know many people are flat out afraid to discuss the issues of race, and other prejudices, and privilege. It's a touch subject. A subject easier ignored. But it is obvious that it needs addressed. Just the same as we try to avoid the issues of racism and privilege in our society, we use those same tactics to skirt issues dealing with the environment, economy, and frankly any other ideas which are not business as usual. It's unrealistic to expect these issues to be solved if not confronted. Perhaps I missed it, but have you any suggestions for making this discussion discuss-able? Or for convincing others to admit the issues even exist?

I can't help but think that these problems exist because Western society, and America in particular, has lost touch with the feminine. Many of these issues are so difficult to discuss because of all the emotion tied into the topic, and people's unwillingness to understand others emotions, simply dismissing them as illogical (the foundation of the Rescue Game?).

Ray Wharton said...

@ IQ Test. I have taken several, done pretty well, but they are rubbish for measuring any thing beyond a trite sliver of symbolic abstraction. Hands are where much of the intelligence in the body resides. Any test where hands are doing clever things is for accountants an ilk alone. Also, the ability to use abstractions literally and not literally at the same time is very tricky to imagine, because who can wrap a ruler round the imagination? I meet many people of great IQ, being of their type we mutually attract, one trait that is common is ham witedness with non literal expressions. I think that IQ measures our ability to herd well domesticated words and well fenced symbols. An IQ of 150 would impress me little for herding sheep, the sheep would be far to clever... I have lost enough sheep to know!


"I’ve started a campaign trying to put forward a compromise position that could be politically acceptable. It starts from the premise that the needs of current residents of a country should form the basis for setting and implementing limits on migration. If taken seriously, that ‘should’ create political space for an open discussion of who benefits and who loses, and in what way, from various forms of migration. "

From the sounds of it you are very thoughtful about these things, I can only encourage you to work to make the conversation more intelligent in Europe. These situations push for stupidity, and you pushing back with all strength would be noble. Your strength is too little. But if you push hard others might too. But you mush put your shoulder to the work before others can join. If you give it your all I think that you could help much!

@ JMG & Phil K

"Decadence is privilege without a corresponding sense of duty."

I put this variation on the internets. Very little response. To my left the word duty is repugnant. To my right the word privilege. I also posted a question.

"______ is a sense of duty beyond ones privileges?"

'Austerity' is the only guess so far received, but I didn't see how it related to duty.

RCW - said...

“Equality before the law is probably forever unattainable. It is a noble ideal, but it can never be realized, for what men value in this world is not rights but privileges.” - H.L.Mencken

After processing this post through my WASP (mid-salary class) prism, it seems to my simple mind, that this topic & debate boil down to the most recent meme of micro aggressions, which leads us further down the slippery slope of thought crimes. And I find that idea/practice quite ghastly & despicable. Are not free people, enlightened or not, at least entitled to their thoughts without fear of persecution?

Lynnet said...

It doesn't take much to get the social class prejudice going. My husband and I were visiting in San Francisco 25 years ago. He was shooting pictures on the street, wearing his usual Army-surplus olive-drab vest, a bit tattered. When he put the camera away, he was treated like a homeless person, shunned or ignored, unable to use the bathroom in stores, etc. When he picked up the camera, people fawned on him as an Artist, asking him about what kind of camera to get, what was he taking a picture of, etc. It was just like a light switch: Homeless to Artist in a minute or two, and back just as fast. It was funny at first, but gradually bugged us more and more, and we left two days earlier than we had planned.

Urban Harvester said...

JMG, if I may make an additional request... you mentioned a while back about doing a post on what I might term 'finding one's calling' or choosing a vocation. If Plato is to be believed that we all of us receive a calling and a daemon whose work it is to help us encounter and follow it, using the terminology in this post, one might equate the 'calling' as 'in-born privilege', to which one has a duty. Our contemporary society would berate us for having such superstition and insist we fall in line with whatever we are told consists of an approved vocation appropriate to our (undiscussable) class - in other words yet another disavowal of noblesse oblige. So in the context of burkean conservatism, collapsing now, and what we can do to constructively build a proto-retrotopian seedbed, might it finally be time for said post?

Urban Harvester said...


While I talk about my experience as a mormon missionary to Brazil with some chagrin, my experience bears your point out. Though I spent the majority of my two years there “na roça” of Minas Gerais, in mostly rural, some semi-urban, but all impoverished areas, I spent the last part of it in Belo Horizonte. My initial experience of race related issues was “Wow racism kind of doesn’t exist here, people talk so freely about color and they have so many words to describe every shade of coloring”. But then I was sent to work in a very wealthy suburb followed by a very wealthy part of B.H. and the white/colored divide was palpable. This was further impressed on me when my Mother and brother came to pick me up at the end of my stint and we stayed with a well off family in B.H. who by coincidence we had met in Utah because they were our neighbors at the University family housing where my Dad went to school when I was young. They had a ranch in the mountains that we visited and when I pointed out areas in which I had worked and lived as we passed them, the family was shocked because they were areas in which they wouldn’t even tolerate the thought of stopping the car. At home they had colored maids/help etc, but none of the class/race differences were discussable.

I don’t know that I’m qualified to comment on your situation really, but I am at least aware of an example that is inspiring to me. The story of a german immigrant in the 70’s who bought a property in the mountains of Minas and started what became a Waldorf school for the locals and improving housing. You can find the story here. So much depends on specific circumstances though… Boa sorte, um abraço!

Rita said...

Talking with a friend about the "bubble quiz" I thought of a couple of questions that I believe would be more informative about class status than whether you eat at chain restaurants or like NASCAR.
1) have you or a family member ever been evicted for non-payment of rent? or foreclosed?
2) have you or a family member ever had an automobile repossessed?
3) have you or a family member ever had a utility (electric, gas, water or telephone) shut off for non-payment?

Mark Mikituk said...

Ball = Knocked outta the ballpark.
One of your best John, thanks!... although now that I think of it, my impression is that quite a few balls have been knocked out of the ballpark these past few months.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Alex--Thanks for the clear and detailed description of the class and ethnic structure of the Hawaiian Islands.

If you have a spare $150 or someone wants to give you a nice present, you can find out whether you have Jewish ancestry by buying the Nat Geo deep ancestry test kit and mailing in the swabs for analysis.

I bought this for my birthday and it confirmed the family stories. 89% of my genome has the pattern Jewish Diaspora. The other 11% hails from Scandinavia, Asia Minor and Central Asia. That makes sense because one side of the family emigrated to the US from Hungary and the other from the Ukraine.

It's at least possible that you are both Jewish and Navajo. When Ferdinand and Isabella expelled all the Jews from their kingdom, a lot of Jews converted to Catholicism and then emigrated to various parts of the Spanish Empire. There are a good number of Catholic families in Arizona, New Mexico and the rest of the Southwest who have Jewish ancestry, and some of them know it. Over the course of five centuries,
one or more of them might have made whoopee with a Navajo.

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