Category Archives: ideas

My list of 59 thoughts on privilege

I read alot about privilege. Reading about it, I end up considering the privileges I have that arise from being an educated, white, middle-class man in an affluent part of the world with a high standard of living. The flip side to that is that I also consider the priviliges I did not have when I grew up, as well as the privileges I had and no longer have.  I tried to use that to write up a specific view point on privileges, but ended up with this list of thoughts on the topic instead. I have not come to any specific conclusion on the topic. If anything, the list points to the conclusion that I need to think further on the subject. That said, I think sharing the list is worthwhile.

Some people are interesting in certain aspects of privilege: white privilege, or male privilege, or the privileges of the 1%. I am interested in privilege in general, how it comes about, what effects it has, when is it good, when is it bad, and how to manage it in a way that leads to positive social action. That interest lead to this list.

With that all said, rather than sit on it any further, here’s my  list:

1. Privilege assumes a number of things.
2. It assumes that there are at least two distinct groups: the haves and the have nots.
3. It assumes that there is a social good that one group has a surfeit in and one group has a deficit in.
4. It assumes that the social good is recognized as such by both groups.
5. Privilege is about access and the ability to acquire or maintain that social good.
6. There many small social privileges that aren’t noteworthy (e.g. the privilege of belonging to a certain club).
7. Likewise, not all privileges are universally or generally desirable.
8. Some privileges are held by a small number of haves. Other privileges are held by a large number of haves.
9. Some privilege we earn. Some we get randomly. And some we get from belonging to a certain group by default.
10. Rights differ from privileges, for in theory rights are not a social good that one group should have more than another. (In practice, this may be incorrect, but in theory it is)
11. Some privileges are fairer than others.
12. Fairer privileges usually involve things in abundance.
13. Fairer privileges are either random or universally acquirable for most in a society.
14. Unfair privileges are never random: there is a recognizable pattern whereby one group is perceived to have more access than the other.
15. Fair privileges are assumed to be accessible by method agreeable to most of society. For example, to go to university can be considered a privilege, but it can be earned in a way agreeable and accessible to most.
16. Privileges that are most unfair usually involve scarce social goods or rules that are slanted to favor a particular group.
17. Economic wealth is rare privilege. Having a home is a common privilege. Even common privileges are still privileges.
18. Higher education used to be a rare privilege. Now it is a much more common privilege.
19. The right to vote used to be a rare privilege. Now it is a right.
20. Health is not a privilege, until heath care is involved. Then it becomes partially a privilege.
21. Many would like to have the privilege of being wealthy.
22. Many would like the privilege of working for specific companies, belonging to certain occupations. being members of certain organizations.
23. Everyone has privileges.
24. It is worthwhile to consider your own privileges.
25. If you are reading this, you have quite a number of privileges, starting with the technology you are using to access this post.
26. Technology is a tool, and the ability to access tools is a social good.
27. Challenges occur when there are statistical variables associated with privileges. A white man may have a 10% chance of acquiring a particular social good, compared to a 1% chance for everyone who is neither white nor male. From the point of view of the white man, a 1 in 10 chance may not seem much of a privilege. For everyone else, his chance of acquiring the social good is ten times great than theirs and this increased likelihood is a significant privilege.
28. Being aware of your privileges can help you appreciate what you have.
29. Being aware of your privileges can help you understand the grievances of others
30. Thinking you do not have privileges means you have not thought about it enough.
31. Renouncing your privilege doesn’t necessarily result in greater fairness, especially when there are large number of people involved.
32. For some social goods, especially when there are large number of people involved, it is easier to redistribute privileges so as to be fairer.
33. For other social goods, especially when there is only a few people involved, it is less likely to redistribute privileges so as to be fairer.
34. Even social goods that seem meritocratic are to a degree unfair.
35. Social goods that are meritocratic trend towards being less unfair than others, but still have a degree of unfairness to them.
36. Not everyone can have access to every social good.
37. Meritocratic systems are based on rules, and those rules exclude people from certain social goods from the beginning.
38. Social structures reinforce privileges. Friendships and families can reduce the chances of some having access to social goods.
39. Geography reinforces privileges. Being born into neighborhoods and communities with poor or no facilities can reduce access to social goods.
40. Some privileges are more unfair than others. Privileges based on religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, age, body shape are just some of those.
41. Certain privileges we accept. Physical, emotional, and intellectual ability generally are accepted as fair, even though these are not common when the ability is very high or very low.
42. Certain privileges we used to accept we no longer do. It is less acceptable to build publicly accessible environments that cannot be accessed by people who need wheelchairs.
43. As peoples lower needs (as laid out by Maslow) are met, privileges arise in the higher needs.
44. Everyone has access to certain privileges and are barred from having other privileges.
45. Individuals and societies give some privileges higher values than others. This weighting of privileges shifts all the time.
46. Some privileges become undesirable over time. Other privileges become common. Having electric lighting was once a privilege. Now it is so common as to be no longer seen that way.
47. Some technologists believe it is possible to make all social goods abundant so as reduce priviliege.
48. Some privileges may remain privileges because the social benefits outweighs the social cost.
49. Other privileges need to be tackled and dismantled if a society is to consider itself fair and just.
50. One way to dismantle a privilege is to make access more common.
51. Making it more common is possible if a social good is not scarce.
52. If a social good is scarce, then one way to tackle the privilege is to make access to it random.
53. Another way to deal with a scarce social good is to make the criteria for accessing it fairer.
54. The challenge of fairness is judgment.
55. The other challenge of dismantling privilege is the desire of privileged groups to maintain their privilege.
56. The challenge of dealing with privilege is agreeing if fairness consists of access to opportunity or access to outcomes.
57. In achieving certain privileges, I may trade off other privileges.
58. When individuals within a group are encouraged or forced to trade off certain privileges, they may not be able to reacquire them, as others may not want to release their access.
59. Ideally a society can produce such a wealth of social goods that any tradeoffs individuals or groups make, they still feel overall good with their choices and that the society they live in is a good one.

Is life a toy or a game?

Intrigued by the question? Then you will like this article: Life is a Toy, Not a Game | Ian Welsh. Well worth a read.

Periscope, Meerkat, and the future of virtual tourism

If you haven’t heard, Meerkat and Periscope are two apps that allow one person to stream an event and have others watch it. For example, here is an artist streaming her work on a painting while others watch and  interact: Wendy MacNaughton paints live on Periscope My… – Austin Kleon.

It’s an interesting idea. Once people get creative, there will be all types of events that people stream, from the obvious (porn, music concerts) to things no one thought of before.

I think one of these not so obvious ones will be virtual tourism. Essentially someone will visit a place like Japan and stream the cherry blossom festival or go to Pamplona for the running of the bulls and others will watch in real time. Maybe people will sponsor the person ahead of time, or the person will wear a shirt with ads on it, or find some way to make revenue. In return, lots of people can see something they might not be able to see otherwise.

People will use Periscope and Meerkat in all kinds of ways. Expect this to be one of them.

(Image via techcrunch)

Bill Gates on inequality and Piketty’s Capital

Bill Gates has a strong post on Piketty and inequality and I think it is one of the better ones I’ve seen. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything Gates argues for. For example, to counter Piketty at one point in the piece, he refers to data from the Fortune 400 records. I think the data that Piketty has gathered is much more significant than that and it is not something Gates accounts for.  Still, it’s clear that Gates has thought hard about the book and his comments seem to reflect that.

Gates is on stronger ground when he points out areas concerning inequality that Piketty has left out or not touched upon. His assumption there, though, is that Piketty’s book is the end of the discussion on capitalism in the 21st century, when the better assumption is that the book is the start of a new and better discussion. I expect Piketty or followers and supporters of Piketty will be expanding into those areas based on the material in this book.

I am not surprised that Gates has wrote about this – Piketty uses him as an example at one point! Plus Gates is no stranger to wealth and capital and what to do with them. He’s a natural to write about inequality and the French economist.

All in all, a good read.

 

How to relax using white noise, winter edition (the joy of simulated warmth and coziness)

In the winter, I think one of the nicest forms of white noise is a fire. It’s not the same as having an actual fire, but if you have a computer or big screen you can Chromecast this to, I recommend this video:

I’ve watched quite a number of these videos, and this one is my favorite so far: really good sound, and it looks realistic. (Oddly, this matters to me, even though I know it merely a video).

If you want the feeling of being warm and cozy inside while it storms outside, I recommend this video for white noise:

On adults around you doing science experiments on large populations of children

Right now there are many adults around you doing science experiments on large populations of children. Here are three examples.

#1) The city of Calgary is currently doing a science experiment by removing fluoride from Calgary’s water supply (Dental decay rampant in Calgary children, pediatric dentist says | CBCNews.ca Mobile). The results from that experiment:

Dentists and dental hygienists are seeing an increase in child tooth decay and Dr. Sarah Hulland says the decision to remove fluoride from Calgary’s water supply three years ago is playing a big role.

“I’m seeing a lot more children having a lot more cavities,” she said. “I’m seeing a lot of decay on 19- to 20-month babies, and this is even before they’ve got all the teeth in.”

#2) We have a rise in measles and other infected diseases because of parents decided to experiment and not vaccinate their children. That experiment is not going well either. According to the CDC, measles cases in the United States reach 20-year high:

Two hundred and eighty-eight cases of measles were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States between Jan. 1 and May 23, 2014. This is the largest number of measles cases in the United States reported in the first five months of a year since 1994. Nearly all of the measles cases this year have been associated with international travel by unvaccinated people.

“The current increase in measles cases is being driven by unvaccinated people, primarily U.S. residents, who got measles in other countries, brought the virus back to the United States and spread to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated

#3) Climate change. This is potentially the biggest science experiment of all, affecting the largest population of children. See Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet: Evidence, if you haven’t seen enough evidence of this.

I think, and likely you agree, that performing these experiments is wrong and unnecessary. Somehow too many people do not.  Too many think there is a need to disagree with the science behind fluoride in water, vaccines, and climate change.  It is true that science is not dogma, and it needs to be challenged.  But the way to do that is scientifically and in a way that minimizes or eliminates harm to the subject of the experiment. I would think that would be especially true when it comes to children.

I understand people having concerns and worries about technology. The way to deal with those thoughts about technology is to become better educated and to developer numeracy so that you can have a better understanding of the science involved. If you can’t do that, at least develop better sources of information, so that if you have to depend on authorities, make them the best ones you can find. I would think that is especially the case when it comes to science that has to do with children.

On the Jonathan Chait p.c. discussion

I joked that when this article by Jonathan Chait came out, I would wait three days, and then comment. My joke being that in three days the whole story would have blown over and there would be nothing left to comment on.

I was clearly wrong here, and instead it has gone on for some time. If you click on this: chait political correct – Google Search, you’ll see what I mean. Given this, I feel I should say something. :)

I don’t have much to add to the content of the argument going back and forth, and there are much smarter people than I who have commented on the topic: if you go through some of the results of the search, you can find them.

However reading the various pieces, instead of the content, I had some thought on the format and structure of the pieces. Specifically, I had four impressions:

  1. The first impression was that many writers do not like Jonathan Chait. Even a number of writers defending what he had to say would start off by saying disparaging things about him. I found it odd they had to say that, as if supporting the argument wasn’t enough. They needed to show somehow they were on the side solely of the argument and not of Chait.
  2. The second impression is how much of the evidence one way or another was anecdotal and not data or statistical driven. I don’t doubt the anecdotes and examples given: I just didn’t seen any hard data in the pieces that I read. Maybe it is some and I just missed it. Examples are relevant, but data is better to me.
  3. The third impression I had was how in arguments the people arguing often did not agree on the terms of argument. I realize the writers are not philosophers, but I felt sometimes that the definitions used were twisted to suit the argument of the writer.
  4. The fourth impression I had was how much invective was pulled into the pieces for or against Chait. It wasn’t enough that the authors had to disagree with Chait: they had to disparage him.

It’s important to stress these are impressions. I read roughly 6-10 pieces, including the original one by Chait. I’d be happy to be corrected on these.

The things about the impressions is that while I didn’t find the argument that Chait made had merit, but it wasn’t because of the pieces critical of him. If anything, it was just the opposite. Maybe I should dislike him, but even if I did, if he had a good argument I should listen to it, and if he doesn’t have a good argument, then it should be enough to dismantle it to discredit him or his supporters. This may be naive, but it is what I look for when someone is making an argument for or against something. If anything,  name calling and invective towards someone tends to persuade me to go in support of that person. In this case, perhaps I am not the audience, and the writers do not care if I am persuaded or not.

This had me thinking about a bigger thing that I have been thinking about for some time. And that is the topics of influence and attention. I think influence and attention are the key attributes writers want to have associated with their work on the Internet.

This idea of the importance of influence and attention  requires more thought though. For now, I wanted to jot this down, to get it off my mind, if anything.

Thanks for your attention. I hope this influenced you in a positive way.