Privilege as a Commons

Critics of privilege allege that it is unearned, and therefore unfair. Well, part of that’s true, so far as it goes. I didn’t earn my privilege. I inherited most of it. But I do pay to maintain it. And I must pay to add to it, so that I may pass on more to my children.

Every time I’m extended privilege, I’m necessarily given the opportunity to abuse it.

When I go into a store, say, and am not followed around by security, I’m given the opportunity to steal. By foregoing that opportunity, I’m bearing an opportunity cost, and in so doing, paying for my privilege, and at the same time, maintaining it as a commons for others like me to enjoy.

When I am pulled over by a cop, and am polite and cooperative rather than belligerent and reactive, not only do I purchase a better outcome for myself, but for everyone who resembles me (in whatever way.)

Every time I seek to do my share, rather than to shirk; to pay my way, rather than to free ride; to give, rather than take; I pay into the privilege bank. I can only ever cash in a fraction of that. But if I can count on others like me to do likewise, we all come out ahead.

Now, if someone would be willing to bear those costs, but their coethnics are not, or are less willing than others, that’s unfortunate for them.

But if they demand the same privilege, it is they who are demanding something unearned, and that their coethnics have not demonstrated a willingness to pay for, or at least an equal willingness to pay for. They are demanding that others take a risk for their benefit; one that has not been shown to be a good risk, one worth the cost of taking.

If you want privilege, pay for its construction as a commons. But do not attack those who do and demand that they share their privilege with you, and offer nothing in return.

Now some might object that this is “collectivism” or “collective responsibility” and we should instead only judge anyone as individuals.

But that is not a reasonable objection nor a reasonable suggestion.

I don’t hold anyone accountable for the misdeeds of people who resemble them. But I can’t necessarily tell them apart. There is a cost involved in telling them apart. It takes time, effort, energy, resources, etc… And even then, there is risk, because it’s not foolproof.

Now, if someone doesn’t want to be profiled, or discriminated against, there are three ways they can realistically attack this issue.

They can help make it easier (and therefore less costly) for me to distinguish them from less reputable elements by using signals (dress, mannerisms, speech etc…) which demonstrate that they are not a threat, that they are successful, reliable, etc…

They can increase the value of what they can OFFER me so that I have more incentive to invest in telling them apart.

Or they can suppress the misbehavior of the disreputable element within their community to reduce the NEED for me to tell them apart; to reduce the risk for me of failing to tell them apart.

But to simply demand that I presume they are not part of that element, when I have no way of knowing whether they are part of that element or not, is to demand that I take a risk. And even if that risk is a good risk, and worth my while in their case, that demand includes the demand I extend the same benefit of the doubt to all others. And that is not worth my while.

This is, so far as I can tell, an accurate and truthful (though not necessarily full) account of what social justice warriors are talking about when they talk about “privilege.”

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And when they rally and shame you over your privilege, they are behaving as a child behaves when it throws a temper tantrum, and for the same reason. They want you to give them something but they don’t want to give you anything in return. So they resort to moral, emotional and social blackmail, hoping you will give them what they want to leave you alone.

But they never will, because as long as this method works, they will never quit using it, never quit making demands, never quit throwing tantrums like bratty children.

Never give in.


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