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.


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