Privilege is not perpetual, and other observations / by Nathan Jones

My brain for "thinking slow" has been jumbled of late. Here are a few thoughts that I've been able to rescue from the mess. Nothing earth-shattering, or even original, but worth filing away as topics for future essays, perhaps.

On Privilege

  • The roots of privilege are old and run deep.
  • Privilege is dispensed arbitrarily, without regard to personal worthiness.   
  • Inasmuch as we are blind to our privileges, we accept them as our rights.
  • We, the privileged, massively discount the advantages that privilege bestows. Instead of asking ourselves why we have better health and education, more money, and generally easier lives than other people, we believe that our successes are the just rewards of our innate worth and skill; we believe that we have earned and deserve them.
  • We look down on people who are less privileged as if they are dumb and lazy and deserve their miserable lots in life because they are worse people than we are.
  • We feel justified in looking down on those who are less privileged because rags-to-riches stories are always ready at hand. These stories "prove" to us that hard work and determination are sufficient to guarantee success, regardless of circumstance. Rags-to-riches stories comfort us. They allow us to accept the inequality that abounds all around us. We do not recognize, or admit to ourselves, that these stories are outliers that prove nothing. They represent the exception, not the rule. The majority of the earth's human population confronts daily adversities that we can scarcely imagine – adversities that trap innumerable people in cycles of poverty, ill-health, and despair.  
  • When things go badly, we are quick to blame external circumstances beyond our control, yet when they go well, we credit internal characteristics, like our hard work and intelligence.
  • If the extrinsic nature of advantage came to be more generally appreciated, society would be more charitable, more just, and more equal.
  • Just because we have enjoyed a particular privilege in the past does not mean that we have a perpetual claim to it, no matter how fervently we believe this privilege to be our right. However, structural mechanisms lend inertia to our advantages and may entrench them for generations.

On (Cognitive) Bias

  • Bias is insidious because we are blind to our own. 

On Statistics

  • No individual is representative of the group.
  • Anecdote is anathema.

On Truth

  • Skepticism does not equal relativism.