I have been reading and reflecting on Cacophonies’ last post on privilege, a post I very much enjoyed, and instead of commenting, thought I would simply counter-point since my comment is truly another perspective and not necessarily a criticism.
Cacophonies wrote, and I will summarize rather than quote/cite, that, while oppression and privilege exist in varying degrees, does not each individual existing along that spectrum have their own right to lament or have concerns regardless of their level of privilege? To this I say yes, each individual has that right in-arguably. However, there is a further ethical question here… or, an additional axiom with which to calculate preferable behaviour. A consideration that I think is quite fair since the original complaint of Cacophonies is a social one, i.e. it is the social repercussions of ‘people with privilege who complain’, that would cause people to say things like “you know, Paris, others have it worse, so don’t let your day get ruined over this chip in the paint on your favorite Ferrari.” It’s possible that the roots of this sentiment are envy, but I don’t think it’s very likely. I think the sentiment is altruistic in nature and that it’s generally said one privileged person to the next. So that one investment banker would tell his stressed out coworker at their private spa that “Hey, your portfolio fell flat this week, but you know, look at us, we’re doing fine, be grateful.”
This to me is not a criticism of the plaintiff’s feelings, but a reminder that things will probably turn out okay given their relative well standing, be it economic, medical, spiritual, or social privilege that a person enjoys. Additionally, people do not tend to console each other over types of privilege they do not have in excess. This means that a wealthy woman would be less likely to remind her wealthy friend who recently lost a loved one that they are privileged as an effort to lessen that person’s pain. Contrarily, a person of very little wealth may indeed console an equally impoverished friend on the loss of their loved by reminding the bereaved that they led a rich life and shared many beautiful moments together. So I believe that the impulse to console, or temper if you will, another person’s emotional reaction to a perceived or real pain is done so by individuals who share the same privilege.
On a brief sidenote, I am accounting for the underprivileged who either feel they are, or actually are oppressed by the ultra elite as separate from this argument in that polarized class struggle is a social phenomenon, and therefore, it is another topic entirely.
Back to the point then. I would offer up the notion that personal excesses beyond survival necessities (say, food and shelter) can readily be called ‘privileges’ since they do not enter the realm of life and death, and furthermore, easily open the door to exploitation when labor or resource distribution are factors. I offer this notion as additional to Cacophonies’ general thesis and not necessarily contrary or irreconcilable to it. Yet, using this more definitive approach to privilege it certainly follows that those with privilege, or those with more than they need to survive, may not have a socio-ethical “right” to complain about their privilege-dependent concerns (although, here the court would, of course, withhold any harsh convictions upon children raised in privilege and simultaneous ignorance).
In this sense I would readily accept the burden of holding my tongue when my computer fails, because it is more than I need to survive, and survival is a pretty accurate indicator of whether or not one’s needs are met. And I hasten to restate now, that I hold the unsatisfied elite in great contempt when they lament within the context of their privilege, but would never console them about their lost child or dying relative within that same context. With that I feel that I have touched on a more mysterious universal truth of sorts, in as much as people can mostly agree that reasonable people who are poor or unskilled are generally provided a basic standard of living, and reasonable people who achieve incredible privilege are pressured in some way to give from their excess (and by reasonable, I mean non-malicious or non-predatory).
Finally, if it is the right of one person to complain, then it can only be the right of the next person who shares the same type of privilege to say, “hey, you may have lost a rug here, but it seriously could be worse.”, and it would most certainly also be the underpaid fast food worker’s right to roll their eyes at the tirade a wealthy person unleashes in front of them about the quality of their fast food.