The Failure of Dystopian Vision

One of the things one is stricken by when reading so-called dystopian fiction is the eerie plausibility of it all.  From Huxley’s cultural void to Orwell’s cultural beartrap to Gibson’s technological vulgar Darwinism to Golding’s Hobbesian children, and so on, etc, the bite is always intended in the idea of just how similar this all is to the everyday world, how near at hand it seems to be (indeed, it is already present in the metastasizing long apocalypse of global capitalism).  But this is precisely how dystopian fiction reveals its antithetical nature to the Utopia.  The Utopia is always a plan, a vision, the impossible dream of order.  The Utopia is always an awful place for real beings, to the point where we reach the absurdity of Gilman’s Herland and its project of obliterating the kindness of dogs.  Need we even speak of Plato, More, Sade?  We can list endlessly the flaws of Utopian vision, not in terms of formal structure but in terms of its incompatibility with lived experience; a slight familiarity with Poe should be enough to dispel our enthusiasm on reading Marcuse.  And so lived experience finds its expression in the dystopia; the dystopia is a world that shows the stresses of subjectivity in the grime of cyberspace, the mandatory cleanliness of meatspace, the absurdity that only something as shitty as the endless tedium of an office job could keep the subjects of the Wachowskis’ Matrix satisfied.  The Utopian vision that always disrupts the dystopia (although almost always crushed by the narrative) is already impossible, otherwise we would be reading a different book.

And yet this only gives us half the picture: what is forever absent is the Dystopian vision, and the corresponding utopia of everyday life.  Even the Dystopian vision of Christian Hell is insufficient, or else we would not always feel the need to be affirming that we are already in hell.  Somehow Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights always seems to present a hell that, for all its chimeric absurdism, feels more comfortably familiar than the smooth, happy bodies of paradise, so much so that one must wonder if all along one was asking the wrong question.  The right question escapes me, but perhaps it is enough to point out the dilemma–that utopian reality seems infinitely distant as long as Dystopian vision is still unalienable.


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Reading ∈ Meaning ∩ Understanding ∩ Nonengagement

I’d like to quickly elaborate on my terminology. Reading is the act in which a text is put into interaction with a mind—which is to say, a body of symbolic discourse is run through the symbolic discourse of the mind (mind here is used in an explicitly materialist sense, as an emergent property of the brain). As it is put into the mind, it takes its place in that symbolic setting, as such both being shaped by and shaping its surroundings. We can think of meaning and understanding as two poles of this process. The immigrant text, if it is to be interacted with at all (the alternative being to simply look over the text without “taking anything in” as the phrase goes, although of course you are, on an unconscious level, absorbing these symbolic patterns), must either assimilate or create a new space within the pre-existing symbolic structure. I use the term “finding meaning” or “looking for meaning” to refer to the process where a text is approached in a hostile manner, and as such is generally forced to assimilate. An apropos example would be Chomsky’s reading of Lacan, in which he cannot find content because his reading consists of looking for meaning. Lacan’s text, as a resistant text, is not available for this kind of reading. On the other hand, Chomsky reads and writes in a manner heavily available for meaning. This isn’t to denigrate that method of writing—it’s the one I’m employing right now—but it’s to point out that it is one pole of writing and it has serious limitations. The primary limitation is that it caters to the pre-existing structures of the reader’s mind. There is a second pole to the process of reading (which can be thought of as a three-pronged graph with meaning, understanding, and nonengagement or ‘skimming’ each as the opposite of the other two). Understanding is the effort to bring oneself into the text. It is in many ways difficult with texts that offer themselves up for reading, but almost necessary for any engagement (and we can think here of the marital and military readings of that word) with a text that resists reading. We speak in the language of resistance and struggle, but that is only applicable insomuch as we are trying to draw meaning from the text. When we are trying to understand the text, we are open before it as a history textbook is before a middle-schooler. We engage with the text, allowing its terminology and structure to take residence within our own mind.

reading diagram

Obviously these three processes are never excluded (so in our three-pronged graph we can think of the graphline, which represents a value of 0 to the two opposite terms, as asymptotically unapproachable) in that we can never completely ignore a text while reading it, in that we can never derive total meaning without a slight change of our own understanding (and a slight unawareness/skimming), in that we can never imbibe a text without altering it (and a slight unawareness/skimming). Nonetheless, conceptualizing them in this manner helps us to see the modes we perform while reading, and think about how we want to approach and critique a text. Current educational structures privilege reading for meaning, which has led to the notion of reading for understanding as being unnecessary, and the resistant text as being somehow morally at fault. This in turn has led to recriminations and attacks of reading for meaning as simplistic and vulgar. What often dominates, then, is a lack of reading, in which a text is passed over for a few snippets from which can be drawn meaning and for a few ideas which can create understanding. This should also not be denigrated; nonengagement is a form of engagement (absence) with the text, one characterized by the conservation of one’s own mind. In the end, we should simply think about how a text wants us to engage—what primary mode of speaking does it employ? Is it worth this response from us? Or shall we read it against this—for example, I am currently engaged in a project of trying to understand the MPAA’s guidelines for ratings, which were clearly designed for nonengagement/meaning practices. To read Lacan for meaning as Chomsky does is to read against Lacan, which would be an acceptable mode of engagement if only it were acknowledged as such. To read against meaning is to engage with poetic writing, but also it reminds us that the first encounter with mathematics is always poetic, as a Taylor Series is at first a veiled metaphor. I find that for my own endeavors, which are generally poetic, reading for understanding is necessary, but it takes a great deal of time and effort, which are serious considerations. Whichever way, all three are necessary.

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The Metaphysics of “American Freedom”

In keeping with the vivisection metaphor, let’s think of this essay as an exploratory surgery.  Rather than making a specific argument that I believe is true, I want to entertain a notion that I believe might be true and follow it.  The notion in question is that contemporary American political discourse is structured around a historically unique metaphysical notion of ‘Freedom’.

In The Postmodern Condition, Jean-François Lyotard famously identified postmodernity as the lack of a ‘metanarrative’, or overarching worldview.  This would seem to be backed up by the heterogenous superfluity of philosophies and schools of philosophy that defines the contemporary moment, where the disparity between something like Slavoj Žižek and Richard Dawkins–two people I have heard described as philosophers at the forefront of culture–seems unbridgeable, even if they do have a certain degree of common ground.  But when we look at the people afflicted with this postmodern ennui through the lens of contemporary American pop-political discourse (which for the sake of convenience I will refer to as American politics/culture, well aware of the problems this entails–but from its own point of view, as we shall see, it is the totality of America–and I hesitate to say ‘right-wing’ because I see this discourse on the left as well) we see that those afflicted by it are uniformly rejected as elitist, effete, socialist, or in some other way ‘not American.’  Perhaps this is because America is not struggling with a loss of meaning, even among the contingents that proudly call themselves atheist.  America has a God, and that God is Freedom.

Freedom-with-a-capital-F is a radical departure from the historically or lexically accepted meanings of the word.  It eludes definition, because to define it would be to limit its use or nature.  It is for some distinct from and contiguous with God and Country, the new WASP holy trilogy, or with Free Market and Country.  It is transcendent, an ideal like Heaven that is infinitely sublime–it is to be fought for, to kill for and die for, to cheat, lie, steal for–and yet like the Heavenly afterlife it is incredibly precarious, constantly at threat of collapse or being lost forever.  The threat does not ever come from within, this is one cardinal rule–one never gives up one’s Freedom.  To give up one’s freedom for one’s country (this being, of course, America) is considered acceptable as long as by doing so one is preserving Freedom.  It is, like salvation, composed of sacrifice.  One of the founding myths of Freedom is the appropriation of the (American only) war dead.  Many people have died for your Freedom.  It is guaranteed in sacred documents: the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights.  It has a new pantheon of deities, the Founding Fathers, who may be lauded or attacked but must always be understood as the key and vital catalyst for Freedom.

Most importantly, Freedom is defined by its lack.

Freedom is defined by the people who do not have it and the people who will take it away from you.  Freedom is the opposite of socialism, of fascism, of Islam, of Stalinism, of Maoism–of any other conceivable government system, all of which are defined by their lack of Freedom (this may seem a tautology–Freedom is what they don’t have, they are what doesn’t have Freedom–but a bootstrapping metaphysics like this is built on tautology).  The logical end of this is either to see the US government as uniquely capable of bestowing freedom, or of being itself an enemy of Freedom and therefore of America (we will talk about the shift from one to the other in a moment).  Freedom being lacking in all other countries, it is therefore uniquely, explicitly American.  Interestingly, it is wedded to the populace, not the soil–when the American goes abroad, they expect their Freedom to follow.

And yet “American” here is only a self-defining term again–it means those who have Freedom.  How do you lose your Freedom?  Someone attacks it.  But who?  How?

Let’s say A and B both possess Freedom and are therefore Americans.  Now let’s say A makes a sexist joke and B tells them it is not okay.  Within this metaphysical system, this constitutes an attack on A’s Freedom, which makes B un-American and therefore lacking Freedom.  Which is to say, one loses one’s Freedom by ‘attacking’ another’s, but only discursively.  One does not actually lose Freedom by losing real freedoms.  Take as example, the USA PATRIOT Act, which pretty definitively took freedoms away from the US citizenry but which was lauded as a defense of Freedom.

Now let’s look at how this mechanism plays out.  (Since this is an exploration rather than an argument: anecdotal and unsourced evidence ahead.)  A man fired for referring to basketball players as “nappy-headed hoes”: an attack on Freedom.  Marxist professors allowed to continue teaching at universities: an attack on Freedom.  Silencing the son of a 9/11 victim by cutting his mic when he talks in opposition to the Afghanistan war: a defense of Freedom.  Banning gay marriage: a defense of Freedom.  Banning assault rifles: an attack on Freedom.  A renowned law professor claiming police treated him roughly because of his race: an attack on Freedom.  A white man being criticized for shooting an unarmed black kid: an attack on Freedom.  Mandatory ‘nondenominational’ prayer and ‘teach the controversy’ in schools: a defense of Freedom.  Openly admitting oneself to be a Marxist: such an attack on Freedom that even among ‘left-wing’ Americans it can silence a conversation.

A familiar, unpleasant pattern begins to emerge.  When we look at definitions, Freedom appears founded on a tautology; when we look at experience, it is nothing but the mystification of racist, sexist, and otherwise bigoted processes we’ve been long familiar with.  Am I saying that American Freedom is bigotry?  Not quite–look at some of the smaller examples, like the defense of the two guys Adria Richards drew attention to for sexist comments at a tech conference.  More than anything, Freedom seems to be the right to be bigoted.

This explains its peculiar character.  When someone appeals to the American’s conscience, they are trying to undercut the right to bigotry.  They themselves are therefore not bigoted–which is to say, un-American.  This is also how one’s Freedom can be genuinely threatened: an appeal to conscience may succeed.

Bigotry is founded in the kyriarchy, the network of power structures in our society that includes sexism, racism, classism, and plenty of other forms of abuse.  It is institutional and also socially amorphous.  As I pointed out in previous posts, everyone participates in it, both from a place of privilege and from a place of marginalization.  This is stressful–to be marginalized means to be in a state of discomfort, among other things.  Thus Freedom, which will solidify the boundaries of one privileged group, the Americans, and the rest.  However, Freedom is both something people are unfortunate to lack and something they are responsible for lacking.  As such, one need not feel compassion for those lacking Freedom, since they must have reached that point out of some perverse desire of their own.  Alternatively, if one does feel compassion, rather than examining the systemic abuses that create the ‘lack of Freedom’, one must bring Freedom.

There are a lot of ways to bring Freedom, but they are almost all figured as invasion, and they are all nearly impossible ventures.

Because Freedom is inherently bigoted, someone cannot have it without accepting this bigotry.  With a few unpleasant exceptions, few people are willing to openly accept bigotry directed at them in such a way as to not make one being bigoted feel uncomfortable.  Certainly this cannot occur on a national level; hence the inevitable failure of any effort to bring Freedom abroad.  If a nation like Canada or Mexico is not Free (as, of course, they are not), then how could Iraq ever be?  Freedom is again a drive to root out whatever may challenge Freedom, i.e. whatever challenges the conditions of bigotry.  The greatest exception to this is of course on the level of class: we see Americans who equate wealth with hard work while having none of the former.

I believe this mechanism has not yet been particularly understood because for a long time the Freedom-worship seemed like another simple form of authoritarianism.  This is due to the degree to which the authority participated in Freedom culture.  If you look at pop culture criticisms of the situation during the W Bush presidency, most of them adopt the language of George Orwell’s 1984 or of response to Hitlerian Fascism.  This was because the notion of Freedom was wedded to the federal government.  Country was made of land, government, military might, Founding Fathers . . . the whole package was in sync.  However, something happened to severely disrupt this synchronism: a black man was elected president.

Obama created a paradox within the Freedom system: a president against whom one should be bigoted by the rules of the system.  If one could be bigoted against the man, how could he be president?  (Remember the quasi-religious nature with which the office of president was received circa 2007.)  If one could not be bigoted against him . . . then he is attacking the American’s Freedom . . . and therefore not Free.

All told, it was not particularly difficult for Freedom culture to jettison the federal government and jump into the arms of one of the sects that had been waiting around for a while: right-wing libertarianism.  Although built on principles of Atheism, that was not fundamental to its core; an obsession with Freedom was.  Thus the Tea Party, which among other things organized a number of bigoted attacks against Obama.  If he is not Free, he is not American–let’s check his birth certificate!  It must be a fake!  I’ve been trying very hard to skate free of Godwin’s Law throughout this article, but if I may be permitted one slip-up, it’s hard not to see how the conflation of Muslim and Socialist in the attacks leveled against Obama mirror the conflation of Jew and Bolshevik in the attacks Hitler leveled at his enemies.

All of which is not by way of defending Obama for the atrocities he has committed–but only recently has Freedom culture begun to take advantage of these as a leverage point.  And who knows, perhaps that leverage will have a real positive effect in the world, as bigotry is used to help prevent massacres.  I don’t have much faith in such a thing.

What I do have more faith in is the limitations that arise from the structure of Freedom culture.  In short, it lies in the degree to which bigotry can no longer occur in a cultural echo chamber.  More and more people are speaking out–again, after a decade of decreasing discourse.  The information age puts the American in accidental contact with the un-American in such a way that superstitions about those lacking Freedom may be unintentionally challenged.  Most of all, those excluded from the America of Freedom culture are making their voices heard in the US.  As I pointed out before, Obama was reelected on the basis of the marginalized vote.  Women are becoming a political force.  People of color (half of which, of course, are women as well) are becoming a political force, even in the face of a country that is seeking dozens of ways to criminalize them.  Even queers are beginning to have some political draw, although generally only the wealthier white ones.  Freedom culture may be the last gasp of the long historical moment of liberal (meant in the tradition philosophic-historical sense) oppression, brought down by the the very notion of universal enfranchisement that it birthed.

Or we may be witnessing a temporary lapse before another rise to power.  Even if this depiction of the political situation in the US is accurate, it doesn’t yet answer the question that I find most pressing: where to go from here.  But from the angle of personal ethics, the answer seems clear: renouncing Freedom to begin working toward freedom.

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Why I Will Not Call You ‘Homophobic’

One of the hardest things about trying to fight for a just cause is realizing just how much you compromise yourself.  In retrospect, this shouldn’t be surprising.  We were born in a century where fighting for class equality spawned Stalinism, ‘stabilizing the world economy’ bred secret police, a movement for racial equality attacked gender equality, and a movement for gender equality attacked trans people.  Of course, these things also overthrew oppressive regimes, secured civil rights, prevented violence and warfare, and formed the foundation for contemporary notions of justice.  It’s important that, sitting at the current moment of these historical motions we recognize that a just movement is never fully formed, and that we ourselves must always be a target of our criticisms, that we must continually reexamine and renegotiate our actions and relationship with history, and must always avoid falling into the sclerotic dogma that divides communities and breeds distrust, violence, and, on rare occasions, genocide.

Which all stands as an introduction to what I want to say today: I will no longer use the words ‘homophobia’ or ‘transphobia’ to describe the bigotry directed toward people of marginalized gender and sexuality.  The phenomena commonly understood to be the meaning of these words is absolutely real, and I will continue to critique it.  However, I will not use the words because they are ableist–which is to say, bigoted against disabled people.  To explain:

Phobias are real psychological conditions.  They effect real people, sometimes in detrimental ways.  There is nothing “wrong” with having a phobia, any more than there is something wrong with having a physical disability.  However, they are still affected by the stigma of ‘mental illness’ in our contemporary culture, a stigma that associates psychological disability with degeneration and deviancy.  As people interested in equality, queer rights activists should be working to remove this stigma.  Even if it weren’t a general moral imperative, it’s especially significant withing the queer rights movement because disproportionately more queer people are affected with a number of these issues.  The stigmatization of psychological disability both results in a double dose of marginalization for disabled queers and is part of the general network of bigotry toward gender and sexuality minorities, since these minorities are often assumed to be in some way “mentally ill” or “sick in the head” by bigots.

And yet, despite this, queer activists have been comfortably using the words ‘homophobia’ and ‘transphobia’ to refer to what is, in fact, straight-up bigotry.  Yes, most people understand the meanings associated with those words, but that is in a sense the problem.  Rather than people thinking we’re talking about phobias when we’re actually talking about bigotry, we’ve got people thinking about bigotry while using the word ‘phobia’.  This creates an unnecessary, inaccurate, and unwarranted negative association with the word phobia, and thus contributes to the marginalization of phobic people.

Equally problematic, these terms create a pathological association with bigotry.  Attacking bigotry by treating it as a pathology means basing your attack on ableist norms–the assumption that pathologies will be received as negative.  Let’s not forget that for a good chunk of recent history, homosexuality was regarded as a pathology.  Let’s not forget that being transgender is still referred to as ‘Gender Identity Disorder’.  Rather than distancing ourselves from this pathologizing of queer identity, we should be fighting the negative stigma of pathology, itself a holdover from inaccurate fascist notions of biology.

Furthermore, using a pathological representation of bigotry exoticizes it insomuch as pathology means, (according to Encarta Dictionary 2006) “a condition that is a deviation from the normal.”  The sad fact is, bigotry is the norm, and it is a norm that needs to be destroyed.  But as long as we treat it as a sort of ‘condition’, we’re misunderstanding the origins and nature of bigotry.  Bigotry is immanent to the social fabric; it is the result of how our society is structured.  The responsibility lies with no one and everyone, and as something that flows through our everyday discourse we all stand at a point to stop it and fight it.  When someone says, “you’re gay,” as an insult, they are not demonstrating the symptoms of a condition called ‘homophobia,’ and to treat it as such would be a mystification.  Rather, they are reiterating a bigoted use of language that they have heard before and that others will hear from them.  To fight bigotry is not to point out ‘homophobia’ or ‘transphobia,’ it’s to cut off the continued repetition as acceptable and try to encourage an empathetic understanding.

Recently I argued that we all have privilege.  I would like to extend that argument a little further to say that almost certainly we have all been bigots at some time.  Being a bigot is not a matter of identity, like being queer or even having a temporary psychological disability.  It is a state brought about by our actions or our words that we only occupy so long as we maintain those behaviors.  The difficulty is that since bigotry is premised on ignorance, we often cannot move out of it on our own.  We require someone else to remind us of our privilege and the bigotry it has produced.  As a relatively able-minded person, I had not thought about the harmful effects of using the word ‘homophobia’ until someone referred to the word as ableist.  Responsibility for our bigotry always rests on our own shoulders, but it is also important that one of the easiest ways to fight it is to point it out to others, and insomuch as we live a life devoted to creating a just society, it is important to not remain silent.


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On Appropriation and Art

I’ll probably have more to say on this topic with time–something about Picasso’s use of African imagery to fuel his own creative processes, the Japonisme style in France, Duchamp’s readymades, etc–but for now I just want to draw your attention to a very singular case:
See here photographer Arne Svenson’s photograph series The Neighbors.  On the presumption that maybe this has been taken down, as it should be, you should know that the content is a number of photographs–quite artistic-looking, for sure–of various neighbors taken through their windows without their knowledge or consent.  (For reasons that should be or become obvious, I will not replicate these photos here.)  The lives of others are appropriated all the time in the creative process, as our own lives and experiences are inextricably linked to others.  Writers do a better or worse job of disguising their real-world inspiration, and this often leads to questionable ethical situations–such as when the real-life Kramer drew flak for actor Michael Richards’ racist outburst.  But in this case, the ethics doesn’t seem very questionable to me.  Photography has long been acknowledged as a complex but threatening gesture, and Svenson’s photographs in and of themselves are threateningly voyeuristic, particularly those directed at people who have the curtains or screen drawn but are still partially visible: they have made a clear gesture toward privacy that should be respected.  But on top of that you have his practice surrounding the photographs–not consulting the ‘subjects’ for ex post facto consent, taking these to a gallery, displaying them, and asking for money.

The intersections of privacy, art, and business have always been muddied in a country whose moral foundations are set against each other, but it seems clear to me that the rule we should follow here is the same one we follow with other ethical gray areas: consent.  What we have here is not only a lack of consent but a celebration of the invasive gaze, that sees people when they are feeling week or trying to remain hidden.  Although in itself very creepy, the act of photographing could at least have been mitigated by getting the consent of the people involved, but that is the exact opposite path from the one Svenson took.  The appropriation and exploitation of the lives of others may be an important part of art history, but it should remain in the past.

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You Are Privileged

Let’s get something straight, because I’m tired of hearing a lot of people talking a lot of bullshit about the issue of privilege.

You are privileged.

I don’t care who you are, you are privileged in some way.  Not all privilege is equal, not all privilege is the same.  You may be privileged for age, body type, physical ability, location of birth, race, gender, gender expression, sexuality, sex, political beliefs, class, religion, or a host of other things, but I can pretty much guarantee that there is no one on this planet who does not benefit from some type of privilege, however small.

Corollary to that, you are also, in some ways, probably losing out to privilege.  There is something that others have over you.  You may be a rich, white, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual, Methodist, male graduate of Yale and Harvard who just happens to have been president for two terms, but people are always going to make certain presumptions about you on the basis of that accent and your speech difficulties.

But just because George W Bush is himself lacking in a couple privileges does not make his situation equivalent to that of a poor, black, transgender lesbian Muslim.  There are different degrees of privilege, and it’s important to recognize, when you’re discussing privilege, that the obstacles you face may not be nearly as difficult as the obstacles others face.

You may say: “But I just don’t get it.  Isn’t bringing up all this stuff creating more division when we should be working together as a community for human rights of all sorts?”

No.  I know that thought is tempting, because to you it seems like there was a unified community, and then it was broken up when half the members started raising complaints.  But you were just living under the misconception that the community was unified.  The community was already divided, and half the members knew this and were experiencing the negativity of this, but you were expecting them to carry extra weight without realizing it.  And the ability to not realize is a major part of privilege.  In fact, we could almost define privilege as all the benefits you get and give without realizing that’s what you’re doing (unless you’re just a straight-up bigoted asshole).  This is what the phrase, “check your privilege,” means.  It’s not saying that you need to shut up, as I’ve heard white cis males saying.  It’s just meant as a reminder that you don’t know what’s going on here, that the person talking to you is coming from an experience you’ve never had and you need to stop before you continue making presumptions about their life.  Why is it, a lot of people ask, that marginalized figures are so sensitive?  It must be because they’re all whiny, right?  Or is it because they come from a place that you don’t know?  Is it because you’ve never experienced year after year of cumulative putdowns and limitations, of little things that can ruin a perfectly good day because they all just serve as a constant reminder of how much the world that now exists is set against you?  Perhaps you think that you can imagine what it’s like, but you’re probably wrong, especially if you’re trying to calculate from your own experiences rather than letting them tell you what it’s like.

And that’s the final, most obnoxious element of privilege: the insistence that the privileged person gets it.  If someone confronts you, saying that you’re talking from privilege, the best thing you can do is let them explain.  You probably don’t know what they’re going to say, and chances are they know what you’re going to say.  They’ve probably heard it a lot.

For some extra context, here’s some examples.  The purpose of a privilege checklist is to bring to your attention all the things you benefit from without knowing, since privilege is so often steeped in an ignorance of one’s own advantages.  Corollary to that is the fact the the moral obligation is on the privileged folks–not the marginalized folks–to spread awareness of these things, even though the marginalized folks often end up having to take up the task.
White Privilege Checklist
Straight Privilege Checklist
Male Privilege Checklist
Able-Bodied Privilege Checklist (this one switches to being a checklist of lack of privilege halfway through but it’s still just as useful)
Cis Privilege Checklist
Thin Privilege Checklist
Class Privilege
Christian Privilege (looks like it’s pretty much in America / predominantly Christian countries, but it can also give you an idea of what sorts of privilege any dominant religious group gets)
Black Male Privilege Checklist
Muslim Male Privilege Checklist
“Gamer” Privilege Checklist (it actually seems to be more about defining gamers as a privileged group, i.e. only the privileged are gamers, but that’s a discussion for another day)
Male Programmer Checklist

I would say all of these lists are worth your time to read.

So, from these lists there’s a couple things we can see. First of all, intersectionality (meaning the multiple power networks affecting a single person) is particularly apparent in some of these, and must be kept into account at all time, since most people are laboring under several categories of marginalization–the ability to avoid which is in itself, as the Black Male Privilege Checklist points out, a privilege.

Another thing I noticed is that most forms of privilege tend to fall into a few specific categories:
-the world is made for you
-there are positive media representations of you
-people generally know about the characteristics of your identity
-you don’t have to worry about your identity in conversations/business/relationships
-you can get the things you need
-you are subject to less violence
-you are unaware of some or all of this

I’ve probably missed a bunch, but it seems to me that a lot of the privileges are predicated on being unaware of or unwilling to respond to them.  We have to remember that every time we benefit from a privilege, we do so at the expense of marginalized folks.  As a white American living in a pretty ‘liberal’ but vanillocentric town, I’m used to seeing people aware that their world is founded on violence, but these same people do not as much acknowledge that they are perpetuating that violence, and will continue to as long as they fail to respond to and attempt to ameliorate their privileges.  Awareness of your own privilege should not be the end of the conversation, it should be the starting point of a new conversation about what you can do to make things better.

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Quick Thoughts on the Video Games Industry and the Notion of Collective Work

Just a quick aside.  On the internet, I ran across an image someone had posted:


The degree to which the notion of individual work permeates our consciousness actually prevents us from having a rational discussion about acts of group work.  You don’t just see this in video game journalism, you see it in film theory, literary theory, sociology, anthopology, politics, history, even in the way that biologists try to understand animal behavior (many use a simplified form of game theory that presumes a selfishness that, while accurate to a degree, often fails to even consider mutually beneficial arrangements that police transgressions).  When revolutionary Enlightenment ideals emerged from millennia of variations on monarchism, they kept the tendency to attribute the work of many to the work of one (I mean, we still speak of Khafre’s Pyramid, not the Pyramid of a Fuckton of Slaves and Many Engineers That Was Built on the Instructions of One Guy).  Some might even argue that the cultural willingness to attribute work to oneself is a good working definition of class consciousness–it’s definitely true that we see, for example, second-wave feminism beginning to organize around an awareness of “women’s work.”  Recognizing the efforts of the ‘lower’ workers entails not only seeing that they put in a great deal of work, usually just as much or more than the figure who serves as the cultural referent, but also that their lives are likewise determined by the success or failure of the project, even if they get no say in the project’s management.  Except, of course, in the hopefully rare cases where the management is so abusive that even when the workers have created a successful project, their lives are still jeopardized within the ordinary course of doing business; see my earlier post on the VFX industry and specifically the Life of Pi incident.

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