Sunday, August 5, 2012

Privilege explained in a comment thread

This is a comment about religious privilege, but really, its central precepts can be extended to every form of privilege: racism, sexism, class warfare, etc. The central insight is that the privileged party has no idea they are privileged; they actually think they live in a fair and balanced place, and the people who keep squeaking are just being unreasonable. It has nothing to do with that boot on their throat. The second insight is that the privileged have absorbed their privilege so completely that they identify with it; challenging a racist's claim that some skin color is inferior is not merely a factual, scientific challenge, it is a threat to their own self-identity. They are so completely intertwined that if you suggest a world without racism, they see a world without them.

Mind you, people don't get like this on purpose; it's just something that happens. Fish don't know they live in water, they just live. But as rational, sentient beings, it is required of us to step back and question with boldness even the most fundamental assumptions of our lives, and to that end, Rieux does a wonderful job.

To read the whole piece you need to go here and scroll through the comments  Here are some highlight:

Yes, from the perspective of a bigoted hegemon (and its fans), that hegemon's power plays rarely look like power plays. That's one of the uglier consequences of privilege: you don't have to give a shit about the interests or rights of the despised minorities you're trying to shove around; you can lie to yourself, and them, about what you're actually doing.

None of that disingenuousness changes the real world, though, in which you are in fact attempting to use privilege and hegemonic power to silence a minority for the high crime of making you uncomfortable.

More central to your problem, though, is that classic illogical privilege leap you've just made: from liberal theists' "defense of theism" to their fear that "once fundamentalism is gone, they"—theists—"are next on the list." In your hands, attacks on theism become attacks on theists, because you (and they) are too arrogant and privileged to notice the difference between ideas and people.

If, as you describe, theists worry that attacks on theism means that they personally are (or will be) targeted, then the problem is their privileged illusion that their ideas and their selves are the same thing. You obviously have bought into that bigoted fallacy, but it is nonetheless a fallacy, and a severely destructive one.

...Again, however deep your denial may be, theism is an idea, and the fundamental point of the free marketplace of ideas is that we all have the right to challenge and criticize (and deconstruct and attack and mock) ideas.

The "reassurance" you order is just another form of the power play you pretend doesn't exist: you demand that we forfeit our place in the free marketplace of ideas, our right to treat theism the way we see fit, in exchange for the theist hegemon's cooperation on public-policy issues that have nothing necessarily to do with theism. You are making your priorities entirely clear: silencing atheist criticism of religion is more important to you than protecting LBGT or reproductive rights or secular education.


  1. Thankyouthankyou, I'll be here all week, tip your waiter, try the buffet.

  2. And yes, you're absolutely righht, most of these same issues apply to many other kinds of privilege. As a result, those of us atheists who benefit from other varieties, such as male privilege and white privilege, ought to recognize the pitfalls they present. Too often, of course, we don't.

  3. Hats off to the people trying to educate the dumb.

    I personally find it stressful trying to even talk to theist, in the rare moments that I actually hope to save someone anymore. They are a waste of time.

    In fact I have actually found it easier to NOT worry about them and just live. You HAVE/can/could try to use reason (or any other array of enlightenment methodologies up to and including physical blunt force) and in fact they will cling ever more fervently to their ideology. Hell, some of them self immolate.

    Life is so much easier now that I have learned to just snicker and move on. I've actually fantasised about moving to a country/island/moon/anywhere in which i don't have to live next to, converse with or have any exposure to theist nonsense. But atlas, if there were such a place, the bible thumpers would come an missionary to bring god to us. I wonder how going door to door in America recited atheist perspectives would go over. Here is where your article makes its point.

    Screw em, let them remain dumb. I'm going fishing. ;)

    Your friend,

  4. Rieux - thanks for letting me use that!

  5. Steve -

    Fishing is an act of faith... :D

    And the country you want is... Sweden. Or Australia - not as good as Scandinavia but still noticeably less god-talk in public.

    Actually, pretty much anywhere except the 3rd world. Excepting, of course, Ireland and Israel...

  6. I'm only 11,000 away. Could be worse - I could be on Curiosity!

    I should be blogging about cool stuff like that but I'm just too busy doing the edits on SotBL.