Monday, June 20, 2016

'Privilege' is not a helpful framework

Perhaps some of my readers like the concept of 'privilege', as heard notably in 'white privilege' and 'male privilege'. In the interest of a productive dialog, let me start with some things I do believe.

A great deal of a person's success in life is due to factors beyond their control -- country of birth, skin color, sex, family background. It is appropriate that we recognize this. It's also appropriate that we take some action to remedy it. One example might be the idea of a certain amount of redistribution, associated in the US with liberal Democrats. Yes, it makes sense to tax the rich fairly heavily and to transfer benefits to all. (It is also important to leave plenty of rewards for people who are successful so they will strive for success.)

Many voices in society are not heard, or not heard clearly enough. We should listen.

As a pedophile, I could call out "teleiophile privilege". Maybe some of you think you should shut up and listen. And I'll be happy to have you listen -- though I don't actually think that's why you should listen, and I don't expect you to shut up.

In a debate under the old rules, we usually give people something like equal time. People don't interrupt. They state opinions and make arguments and others refute them. The 'privilege framework' changes that. The less privileged are given a right to interrupt and seize the conversation. I will argue that this is just no good. Whatever advantages someone might have, you can't just by fiat tell them to shut up. For one thing, you preempt the needed discussion of who qualifies as privileged and in what ways.

If you approve of disruption, you are giving up respectful discourse for a contest of power. Oppressed groups who have been oppressed forever can rightly feel frustrated with this -- but there is no short-cut.
All considerations of justice aside, this is not a place where disempowered groups want to be. If you are speaking to an open-minded person of power, and make your case, he will listen to you, enter a dialog with you, and he just might change. If you tell him to shut up, do you really think that will make him more likely to be your ally or reconsider his views?

One analysis of Trump's support in the US is angry white men who are tired of what they see as political correctness. They are angry about various things, but does anyone think telling them to shut up is a way forward? This trend is something to watch carefully. Using name-calling on powerful people isn't a very good strategy. One response to "shut up" that in practical terms you should never lose track of is that he might react with violence.

The world is a complicated place where we all have to prioritize our time and attention. Where 'privilege' lurks in the background, it is given an implicit claim to jump to the top of the priority queue. This is hugely problematic. One reason is that there is no end to the varieties of privilege. If I am reminded of my privilege regarding women and blacks, then straight, able-bodied, and financially comfortable privilege will be not far behind. A person could feel like the adult bird who brings back a worm to the gaping mouths of a nestful of hungry chicks, with no civilized way of choosing one over another and an implicit accusation when he flies away.

Privilege is also a fount of negative energy. Who ever smiles in a discussion of privilege? It's a zero-sum game. If you accept the framework, you are guilty for your privileges and angry about the privileges you lack. There is a lot more to life than who is ahead and who is behind. What about enjoying the sunset, the good novel, or the love of your family? What about gratefulness that you live in a time and place of peace, liberty, unlimited information, enough to eat, and medical care that Andrew Carnegie could never dream of? And what about fighting climate change, pollution, and destruction of natural habitats?

But oppression is real. What do you do? Look to nonviolent protests, persuasive essays, and earnest one to one conversations. Issues will get attention to the extent that a lot of people can organize around the issue and win sympathy. It is often a long, slow road. Anger is understandable. Anyone has the right to say, 'Shut up!', but others also have the right to walk away and harden their hearts. There are no shortcuts. "Sanity privilege" in contrast to the oppression of psychosis is a distraction that is just not helpful.

As a pedophile, I hope you will occasionally listen to my plea. I hope you will realize that many pedophiles never abuse children and that we do not deserve hatred for what we did not choose and cannot change. I hope you will curtail mandated reporting, end civil commitment and post-incarceration restrictions, and lessen penalties for child porn possession. I hope you will be open-minded if a friend or family member confesses an attraction to children. But I have no desire to angrily force your attention to my issue right now, or to stun you with a shot from my 'privilege' taser. And I do not want anyone else doing so on my behalf. I do not want you to shut up -- I want to hear your thoughts, try to understand your experience of my pedophilia, and maybe, now and then, convince you to change your views. No shortcuts.



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