The Argument from Uneven Privilege

I’m not the “okay if she does it” sort. I understand that some actions aren’t equivalent when they’re aimed at a woman versus a man, all other sorts of privilege being equal. I don’t, however, think bad behavior becomes not bad behavior when done by the less privileged.

That said, WilloNyx has a piece up that is making me think about the subject a bit more.

Another admission: Some untimely-ripped-from-the-arms-of-their-loved-ones deaths are justice for me. Sometimes I wish it upon a person. Sometimes I sit back crossing my fingers in the hope a person will die before they have the chance to further negatively influence my life. Sometimes I hope someone will kill them and do the world a favor. I don’t hope it without consequence. I do feel bad for my mental victims’ families. I would never gloat to a grieving family that my karmic victim “got what they deserved.” I might express relief to my peers which may seem like gloating, but really it is the sigh of relief washing through my body.

These wishes come from a place of fear. They come from a history of victimization and a desire to fight back. They exist even though I am not a violent person. I could never actually enact the revenge I not-so-secretly wish in my head. The act of wishing alone provides me the needed catharsis while living unprivileged in a privileged world.

It is that way for most people. When non-violent people desire violence on others either internally or externally, we do so from a  place of fear.  We fear the power others may have on us, either real or perceived. We do so as a manner of maintaining internal or external control over a situation where we otherwise feel powerless. We do so to survive as unprivileged people in a privileged world.

Maybe the issue is that I’m not really a pacifist, just someone who sees violence as a terrible tool to achieve most goals. That makes this a new perspective and one I’ll be pondering for a while. Go read the whole thing.

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The Argument from Uneven Privilege
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28 thoughts on “The Argument from Uneven Privilege

  1. 2

    These wishes come from a place of fear. They come from a history of victimization and a desire to fight back.

    I was bullied when I was in high school. Many’s the time I sincerely wished the bullies would die, preferably in agonizing ways. I know exactly what WilloNyx is talking about.

  2. 3

    I’m guessing this is the same kind of reason I’m not moved in the least when bad people die. Maybe I’m even happy. I say to myself, “on the balance of probabilities this world will be a better place now that the harm caused by such a person can’t continue.” I wouldn’t be more or less happy if such people were detained or otherwise removed from society though, so it’s not their death, per se, it’s the cessation of harm.

  3. 4

    Hm, on thinking on it a bit more, in personal cases like ‘Tis mentions… it isn’t their death, it’s the relief from fear. So in that sense, it is the same idea.

  4. 6

    I am not a violent person, but I sometimes wish violence on other people. Don’t bother lying from the seat of piety righteousness that you haven’t done the same. Envy of privilege is a very social creature thing.

    Fantasizing violence over envied social status? Surveys have found violent thoughts to be common; envy is understandable. Though the combination is unfamiliar to me, which makes it creepy when someone declares such repressed thoughts/urges universal.

    Probably just an editing slip while framing the subject. The personal examples were punishments motivated by moral-indignation.
     – – –
     
    Extra condensed version of the article:
    Statements

    that a swath of the population should suffer for the accident of being born into a biased society that treated them differently,

    are easier to empathize with when targeting people of greater privilege… because many privileged hateful people make the whole group scary, and it’s easier to empathize with perspectives of the fearful.
     
    What it doesn’t quite try to argue:
    If the author is marginal enough compared to the target(s), threats might approach acceptable rhetoric for being difficult to seriously imagine (notwithstanding violent stereotypes or genuinely high crime statistics).
     – – –
     
    Separate vocab question:
    Isn’t privilege passive thoughtlessness or ignorance?
    And bigotry the active malevolence?
    Wishing cosmic justice on bigots seems uncontroversial… Direct threats, even without wading into gory sadism, I think go further than the outrage-trumping-politeness Pope Song would encourage.

  5. 8

    @Azkyroth , I don’t really think I gave that impression at all in my piece because I don’t think I gave the impression that there is an ultimate seat of privilege where a person has absolutely no rational basis for fear. Even if there were said person still could have a completely irrational basis for fear and still be afraid.

  6. 9

    @CompulsoryAccount7746, You seem to misunderstand what I mean by envy of privilege as I mean it more than an envy of simple social status. I attempted to explain that privilege is something that exists by degrees and social status is one of those degrees. I suppose what I am trying to say is that someone like Tis Himself above who was bullied every day knows what it is like to envy the privilege of not being bullied every day. So it is not really an argument about envy of social status so much as much as being privileged by not being the victim but rather the attacker. Kind of like envying the attacker to a degree but mostly envying their ability to do so and finding whatever subtle (or not so subtle) ways we can fight back.

    My question as you seem mostly bothered by my assertion that the wish for violence based on envy might be a cultural universal is if you ever yourself wish for violence (I know I said I won’t believe you in my article if you say no but I will try nonetheless). If you do please try and explain where you think that wish comes from even if you never could imagine causing such violence yourself. I don’t care if those violent thoughts are merely the wish someone would just step on the toes of one of your enemies (I was searching for a super mild wishing for violence).

    Lastly further explicate what you mean by this:

    What it doesn’t quite try to argue:
    If the author is marginal enough compared to the target(s), threats might approach acceptable rhetoric for being difficult to seriously imagine (notwithstanding violent stereotypes or genuinely high crime statistics).

    I would prefer to not assume what you are trying to say so my response isn’t in left field.

  7. 10

    @WilloNyx #9:

    mostly envying bullies ability to [not being bullied] and finding whatever subtle (or not so subtle) ways we can fight back.

    Wouldn’t ‘fighting back’ mean self-defense and moral outrage? Your examples don’t suggest to me that envy of an easier life is the motivation.

    My question […] is if you ever yourself wish for violence

    I understand frustration and moral outrage and have had thoughts based on them. I said it was creepy when someone projects their own unfamiliar inclinations on everyone, especially with the liar addendum: extreme examples being predators and misogynists. Not comparing you to them; I just don’t know less-severe evocative examples. For that creepy feeling.
     

    I would prefer to not assume what you are trying to say so my response isn’t in left field.

    Much appreciated.
    I spent quite a bit of time trying to condense the article to head off more confused comments like Azkyroth’s for your benefit. Given that the title on this site suggests an argument, but what you wrote seemed to be more a reflective musing on psychology, saying at most that the retributive sentiments could be “understandable if not even justifiable” given an author’s perspective.

  8. 11

    @CompulsoryAccount7746: I see why my emphasis is so “creepy” you and I appreciate you emphasizing that you are not trying to conflate me with predators and misogynists.

    As a hobby I enjoy cultural anthropology but I used to be bothered by the idea of universals. How can they possibly apply to everyone? Well it took me sometime (and sometimes still I am iffy) to wrap my head around the intentionally loosely defined universals. I do kind of view the wish for retribution as a universal. I do also consider that to come from a place of envy (even if it doesn’t seem that way on the surface). Still if it doesn’t apply to everyone in the whole wide world, I could easily bet that it applies to most people. For that reason I am hesitant to believe anyone who suggest they don’t wish violence on others (ever at all period). I will entertain the semantic argument that it may not come from a place of envy as they may be viewing the term far less loosely than I do.

    Thank you for drawing that out for me. I guess in some ways what I wrote is an argument but I often argue through reflective musing. I tend to be a ruminator and a reflective one at that. I have a stronger than average empathy response and for that reason most arguments become recursive and reflective in my head.

    I have entertained the idea that the wish for violence may not be more or less justifiable depending on context so I am kind of hoping that someone refutes that so I can better examine my current position. Much in the way your position on my universals statement, has made me clarify it more (at least for me even if it hasn’t clarified for you).

  9. 12

    Also if people do not see the invisible word “to” in the first sentence of the last comment they must not suffer from my dyslexia which causes me to see invisible words.

  10. 13

    ‘Tis Himself, OM #2 said:

    I was bullied when I was in high school. Many’s the time I sincerely wished the bullies would die, preferably in agonizing ways. I know exactly what WilloNyx is talking about.

    Same here, except, at the time I didn’t “feel bad for my mental victims’ families.” I used to have vivid fantasies of some day becoming a powerful dictator and taking dreadful revenge on the bullies, their families and all the teachers who knew what was happening but did nothing to help me (or even punished me for supposedly somehow provoking them).

  11. 14

    @WilloNyx #11:

    I do kind of view the wish for retribution as a universal.

    This definitely. Retribution when someone does something perceived to be unfair. Social mammals, primates down through bats, do that.

    I will entertain the semantic argument that it may not come from a place of envy as they may be viewing the term far less loosely than I do.

    Oh, I think we were using different definitions: aspiration vs resentment.

    Article – Benign and malicious envy
    * can’t vouch for the quality of the paywalled article, but the abstract describes the words at least.

  12. 15

    In elementary school, I was bullied repeatedly by someone: surprise physical assaults. He had a learning disability and anger issues. Sprained my neck once. It made me sad, but I couldn’t hate him for what was wrong in his head. When my parents talked about eventually threatening to take his parents to court, it just made me sadder to imagine him growing up in jail (that being what I thought courts did at the time) and coming out even more broken.
     
    One day as he was shoving my face in gravel on the playground and telling me to eat it, I snapped, rolled over, and held him pinned. No struggle, but I couldn’t walk away or he’d retaliate, so I just held until finally the bell rang, then made a run for the doors without looking back. I was so focused on holding and waiting, later that day I briefly tormented myself worrying if I’d accidently suffocated him. He was okay but he never came after me again.

  13. 16

    @CA7746 #’s 14 and 15,
    I am on my phone now so I am abbreviating for ease of typing.

    I am glad we got that cleared up and the abstract did pique my interest.

    Your story reminds me of the forgiveness I have for my mother that she didn’t do more to prevent my childhood rape. I knew then as I do now that she had her limits and the fact that she was unable to stop what was happening to me was not because she didn’t love me. I was never able to hate her for what she was. I was able to hate my attacker though. He obviously had mental problems as well causing him to be the person he was but I still had no problem hating him.

    Sorry for any typos. Spell check on my phone seems to be dysfunctional currently.

  14. 17

    I was bullied when I was in high school. Many’s the time I sincerely wished the bullies would die, preferably in agonizing ways.

    Oh yeah.

    Some of us still want to do it.

  15. 18

    I understand where Asher’s post is coming from, and I empathize with the point behind the post.

    Nevertheless, I find that (as a woman who has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her father), I am profoundly tired of people trying to make me feel afraid. I am told not to live on the ground floor of a building, lest I be raped and murdered. I’m told I cannot go anywhere after dark, lest I be raped and murdered. I’m told I cannot walk alone, lest I be raped and murdered. I’m told not to open my windows, to carry a weapon, to dress in certain ways . . . it’s all wearing on me, especially when I already jump like a startled rabbit whenever I see someone that looks or dresses like my abuser. 99% of my life, I can’t calm down. Even when I’m just sitting somewhere, not doing anything, I can’t seem to calm down.

    So I look at that tattoo and feel empty, sad, and broken. I look at it and I wonder if I’ll ever feel safe again, if I’ll ever calm down, if I’ll ever be able to let anyone touch me again. I’ve been in counseling for about a decade (off and on), yet I’m still like this. I’m still sitting alone in my bedroom crying because some person I’ve never met got an angry tattoo to make a statement, yet I’m sitting here weeping and wondering if I’ll ever feel safe. What kind of absurdity is that?

    I used to have a goal: survive until I could find something that made this all bearable. But I’ve been wondering if there IS something that makes all this bearable. Even after a decade of looking, I haven’t found it. What’s the point of getting out of bed in the morning to go to school when I can’t even see what I might even wish to do if I manage to finish my degree? I can’t see a life for myself in five years, ten years.

    I don’t even know why I’m writing this. I’m submitting it because I spent a bunch of time writing it, but other than that, I don’t know. I’m sorry if this is the wrong place. I just . . . don’t even know.

  16. 20

    Eris I feel for you and I absolutely hate that Asher’s post makes you feel that threatened. I battle my own demons which I kind of half way address in another post about coats. Still not quite ready to come out of that closet though.

    The deal is we have traumas that affect us all in different ways. My traumas make me loathe my own existence sometimes. I despise my self to the point I seriously entertain the thought of suicide despite how much I love the people who love me. It isn’t rational but it happens and it is pretty damn normal.

    Similar to how your fear is normal. I would argue that perhaps it is even more rational than my self hatred. Still yet I think it holds you back from allowing yourself to enjoy your life. If it is any consolation it is entirely treatable. I will not beg you to seek treatment because it would be hypocritical of me as I havent sought treatment for my own problems. I instead am trying to overcome them through writing.

    I believe you can find a way to function beyond merely surviving. I hope you find it. I hope my
    post didn’t negitively affect you too much. It wasn’t my goal.

  17. 21

    Also Eris if it offers any relief, I remember the first time I saw a shrink after over a year of sexual abuse by the hands of a family member. His words to me were “you will be traumatized.” I never went back because of that one statement and it stuck with me for life. How dare he tell me I had no other choice. He may have been right because I did have trauma but forcing me into that box was not fair. What he should have said is trauma is normal. Maybe then I wouldn’t have spent my whole life trying to prove him wrong and accepted that the things I felt were normal feelings.

  18. 22

    @ Stephanie Zvan
    Thanks. 🙂 I was worried maybe I was derailing.

    @ WilloNyx

    I need to go out and buy some new clothes (my last two pairs of jeans finally gave up the ghost), but before I left, I wanted to assure you that I’m not laying my reaction at Asher’s door (or yours, or Asher’s friend’s). I don’t think this is his (or yours, or his friend’s) fault. I know that Asher’s friend is also just a person who is trying to deal with their trauma, fear, and pain, just like I am. I don’t begrudge anyone their ways of dealing. If the tattoo helps Asher’s friend, that’s good. In the end, it’s not that the tattoo made me feel unsafe, it’s that it reminded me of how painfully unsafe I feel.

    And yes, you are right that all this is holding me back from enjoying life. The problem is I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve been involved in some type of therapy more years than not over the last decade or so. I’ve been on medication. I’ve read self-help books. I’ve written about my experiences. I’ve meditated. I’m going to try group therapy next week. But I’m still here, crying, after I encountered some random thing by someone who poses no danger to me.

    I want all of these stupid reactions inside of me to all just stop, but I don’t know how to get that to happen. I don’t know what else to do, what else to try. I’m feeling very down.

    Anyway, thanks for listening. 🙂

  19. 23

    Eris, I am here to listen if you ever want to talk about it. I am just a stranger on the internet but I do care about how others feel.

    A little anecdote. Someone I care deeply for suffers from sever PTSD. To the point the thing she wants most in the world she can’t have. The accompanying triggers paralyze her to the point of passing out. It has forced her into a life much like yours and now she is trying to get better. She may never be well(which positively scares the fuck out of me cause it means I may never look in her eyes) but she is trying. Simply asserting control over her efforts to beat this thing has helped make her feel real again. That is why I dont recommend you stop trying to find a way

  20. 25

    @Eris
    You have my sympathies to, if it helps. My husband has similar problems, and I’ve watched how badly it tears him up.

    @Original blog post
    I personally have a great deal of privilege on the social axes. I’m a white cis male, and while I’m bi and atheist, I’ve been lucky enough to spend most of my life in places where I take minimal shit on a personal level for that (i.e. leaving out general attacks on the queer and/or atheist community by politicians and talking heads). Even the bullying I got as school for being a nerd was comparatively mild by many standards. In other words, I am fortunate enough that I can live my life unafraid, with basically no concern that anyone will offer me violence. That said, the reaction of anger, violent fantasies and desire for retribution are still entirely comprehensible to me. I don’t like that people like Asher’s associate or the others who have made similar comments on the various discussions are in a position where they feel that way, but the world is often not the way I’d like it to be. The reactions in question are perfectly understandable, and indeed largely unavoidable. The reason that people who don’t react that way to a lifetime of violence and abuse are often regarded as saints or otherwise remarkable people is because they are highly unusual for having a neurology and psychology that allow them to not respond with violent impulses. Asher’s and others responses are entirely natural and predictable, which is why I see no point in condemning them for it regardless of one’s own personal views regarding violence/threats (I’m against it, btw.) The fact is that humans who are in a situation like Asher’s are going to respond that way in the vast majority of cases, so if you don’t like the response, the solution is to make sure that people aren’t in those situations, so that the response isn’t called for, i.e. work on building a just and egalitarian society.

  21. Art
    26

    Humans, and most other primates, have a keen sense of fairness and it is entirely natural to want to level things out on the fairness and justice fronts.

    Mao noted that ‘justice flows from the barrel of a gun’. Malinowski that ‘war is politics by other means’. The idea that some violence might be seen as a form of self expression, and a ready form of leveling when faced with intractable privilege in other fields of interaction, fits somewhere in the middle.

    In some ways I think we have alienated ourselves from violence too much. We have invested perhaps too much in laws and nonviolence. The laws are too often written by the privileged and they too often lack the sense of shame and fairness that makes nonviolent resistance work.

    If the brokers and bankers had a deep seated, visceral, sense that the people they ripped off might meet them in a dark alley with a tire iron I suspect that they would be more circumspect in abusing their ability to screw people over. As it is many of their schemes are immoral, but not illegal. Even those few cases where they cross the line of legality they know that at most they face a fine that will be fraction of their profits.

    A person showing up at the brokerage house to renegotiate their investments at the point of a gun is the stuff of movies. Occupy Wallstreet had unfairness as a main theme. People understand that the games were rigged and that the legal system will not help. The systematic liquidation of your 401-k and savings were plundered by the rich and powerful. If all other ways of redressing that loss are blocked is it any wonder that people might seek redress by other means?

    The same is true across the board for situations where injustice and unfairness prevail and peaceful means are unavailable or ineffectual.

  22. 27

    The type of revenge based private violence you describe has been the rule more often than the exception in history, and it doesn’t have the deterrent effect you mention. It just leads to people who fear that type of thing hiring private thug squads to protect themselves. Once they have the private thug squads, they tend to use them to benefit themselves in other areas too, and pretty soon you have warlordism, which has been one of the dominant societal types since civilization began, and which really, really sucks. It also puts a lot more people into situations where preemptive and revenge based violence/threats seem like the only tenable options.

  23. 28

    “In some ways I think we have alienated ourselves from violence too much. We have invested perhaps too much in laws and nonviolence. The laws are too often written by the privileged”

    I wouldn’t call that nonviolence. I call it structural violence.

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