Monday, October 22, 2007

Playing Games With Privilege

During the past few weeks, I've been visiting feminist blogs, trying to figure out where I stand on a number of issues.

Inevitably, when a man tries to comment on a post, the discussion focuses solely on whether the commenter admits he has "male privilege" - this becomes a litmus test of whether he is a serious participant, or someone who is dismissively considered a troll. Woman love to point out the Male Privilege Checklist, and in particular the final privilege - the ability to be blissfully ignorant of privilege. Feminists believe so much in the issue of privilege admission as a litmus test that white feminists are anxious, almost desperate, to point out on WOC blogs, that of course they admit to having "White Privilege."

Well, I'm not a Feminist, and I'm not a Male Rights Activist either. I think that the notion of judging people by the privilege they have, and the privilege they admit, is superficial. Even to the extent that I think my own Female Privilege List is silly. Because in some circles, the admission of privilege supports an ideological view of the world that slots people into fixed moral categories. Whether it is the fight of feminism against patriarchy, the fight of marginalized peoples against western white oppression, or the latest addition, the fight of transgender people against - and I plead willful ignorance of some of these post-modern nuances - against social constructions of gender, heternormativity ... whatever.

All of these ideologies have one thing in common - they slot people into fixed categories of relative moral worth, while at the same time accusing others of doing the same thing. People with privilege lineage suffer from moral blemishes that obscure their view of others; people with victim lineage have clear and accurate views of the evil that others do. The views of anyone with privilege lineage are deeply suspect, because they lack what is called "epistemic knowledge" - a valid standpoint from which to make any worthwhile value judgments.

In general, these ideologies confuse power with ethics, and make the implicit assumption that privilege always causes bias, and victimization always makes the truth clear. It ignores the fact that sometimes privilege grants the space and perspective to discover empathy, while victimization sometimes breeds rage and blind hatred.

So yes I do have privilege - the privilege of rejecting all these confining, myopic ideologies that claim to tell me the right and proper view of every social exchange. Ideologies that sometimes lead to vicious fanaticism. I'll make a moral assessment of myself and others that is based on my religion, my values, and my experience, not some historical grievance theater that is, quite often, more about revenge than justice.

Update: thanks to Philosophers Playground for the reaction to my original version of this, one that helped me clarify my thinking and express it better.

4 comments:

Exposing Feminism said...

Just dropping by to say thanks forlinking to me ;-)

Malik said...

You're like water in the desert. I was beginning to think I was the only person in America who saw how utterly dogmatic and morally incoherent the modern feminist movement is. My particular bugaboo is feminist hostility toward Black males (as if we don't have enough to contend with), but I think you're right in observing that feminist ideology sorts absolutely everyone into the categories of chauvinists versus the marginalized, and uses that sieve to sift every issue in the world, from sexuality to disability. You might be interested in my recounting of the experience I had in a class titled "The Sociology of Gender".

Sweating Through fog said...

Malik,

Thanks for stopping by! My apologies for taking so long to respond.

I read your paper with great interest. It confirmed my suspicions about the type of dialog and critical thinking that would seem likely in these academic circles.

Yes - I find this stuff totally incoherent - far more like a religion than what I consider a serious academic discipline.

In was also amused by your stories of the paper that you wrote - how easy it is to get an A if you know the right incantations. Curious if you have heard about the hoax that was played years ago on a supposedly "peer-reviewed" leftist Postmodern journal. You can read about it here.

Malik said...

I'm familiar with Sokal and "Intellectual Impostors". Unfortunately, it's an issue that extends beyond the academy. The sacrifice of reason and social cohesion for the sake of "ideological correctness" is occurring in all departments of life and across the ideological spectrum. One of the more interesting articles I've read about ideological dogmatism is "America the Abstraction". It points out that much of what is identified with conservatism today is actually the product of the same kind of Marxist thought that underpins campus leftism.