Thursday, August 03, 2006

The "privileged"

Dear Mo Betta,

After Booman had chosen to refer to my views as "privileged" a little while ago, I had hoped that I could have drawn him out to explain himself just a bit more. Regrettably he chose not to do so. Had he taken a different road, I had some questions for him. He and I are roughly the same age - I believe he's in his mid-to late 30s and I just hit the big Four-Oh at the end of January, so we can assume both of us are born somewhere between 1966 & 1971. My little questionnaire for determining "privileged" status of Gen-Xers goes as follows,

Did you, growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s have or experience any of the following:
  1. Cable TV, perhaps including HBO?
  2. A VCR (whether Betamax or VHS)?
  3. The newest Atari, Colecovision, etc. videogame station?
  4. Go to rock concerts at huge arenas?
  5. Eat out at restaurants on a regular basis?
  6. Wear designer clothes - or if you chose not to, at least had parents who could afford those for you?
  7. A regular allowance?
  8. The knowledge that your family could afford to send you to the college or university of your choice?
  9. A private school education? Or if not private school, were the public schools you attended in the ritzier neighborhoods?
  10. Travel to really cool places, be it Disneyland or New Zealand?
  11. Have access to regular medical care?
  12. Have your own telephone?
I'm sure that leaves a few things out, but you get the basic idea. If you answer "yes" to too many of these items, I'd have to say that you would be "privileged" in my book. Heck, when I was a teen I would have been somewhat envious of you. Not that my family was in poverty, per se, but we did go through some rough patches, what with layoffs and all leaving us a few times wondering where the next meal would come from or when a bank might decide to foreclose on a home. Let's just say that I became quite the expert growing up as to the proper amount of ketchup to use to make liver & onions taste tolerable, and that by pure coincidence I looked "grunge" about a decade before "grunge" became a fashion statement.

The one thing we did have a lot of were books, and my parents - both would probably be considered "hicks" by our elites - had developed a love of classical music & big band jazz (took me a while to appreciate either, but that's okay). Without the cool videogames or the cable tv (btw, those antennas you stick on top of a tv usually suck), or the chance to catch the latest Rush concert, I'd open some books (my folks were stocked up with tomes by Hemmingway, Plato, Poe, etc.) probably to the background of some baroque something or other my mom was listening to at the time. Otherwise, I'd find whatever friends I had at the time to hang with, cruise the 'hood in whatever old wreck one of us would have to drive, or hang out & try to skateboard or check out the latest nudie magazines that one of my friends always seemed to have in abundant supply (I had not yet been exposed to feminism in its many diverse flavors). No A-list parties, but not too bad of a life really.

Okay, so if I'm not privileged in that sense, how about family background? I certainly had relatives who farmed - one had a fairly successful family farm operation, though most barely made a living at it. I also had plenty of relatives who worked in manufacturing or out in the oil fields. My dad was a first generation college grad, from a family where I don't think too many folks graduated from high school. Mom at least got her high school diploma. Niether family fared well during the Great Depression, from what I understand. So looks like I don't exactly have a blue-blood pedigree. How would you fare?

If I'm not privileged in that sense, could it be my vocation? You guys know me as someone employed at a small public university. Took me a bit of doing to earn the necessary degrees - had to start at a jr. college, then a state university for my BA & MA, then another state run university for the doctorate. In a sense one could say that I have the privilege to do a lot of the work I want to do at hours of my choosing (more or less). Making a living out of reading, writing, and telling some coherent stories about what is read and written is a luxury that I thought would be out of reach for someone like me - and I treasure that. Of course since I don't work at one of the big research mills, I ain't exactly rolling in the dough.

Being a white male living in the US I suspect that one could say I'm "privileged" relative to much of the rest of the world, and I would accept that description as accurate and I'd accept that an accident of birth has probably opened doors for me that would be closed to most as well as affected my outlook on life. That said, the same could be said for an ungodly proportion of bloggers (including our good pal Booman). Under the circumstances, then, use of the term "privileged" as a form of criticism from one that is ostensibly equally "privileged" makes no sense.

So although I can sort of gauge some ways in which I might be "privileged" as well as others in which I am not, I am still left wondering what in the Hell the guy meant by "privileged" and more importantly what in the Hell if anything it had to do with a conversation about being "anti-American" or on defending views that might be considered "anti-American."

Signed, dazed and confused.


catnip said...

What was your so-called "privileged" view that he took exception to?

James said...

Apparently this.

DuctapeFatwa said...

I can't know what he intended, of course, but my interpretation of it is that you enjoy the privilege of being unconditionally and unreservedly opposed to US policies, while BooMan appears to me to be somewhat conflicted.

My impression is that on the one hand, he is not entirely comfortable with at least some aspects of policy implementation but at the same time is very committed to certain deeply held doctrines and precepts that he has either been taught or with which he has independently forged a deep affinity.

Thus, when someone points out that murdering children is in fact a longstanding US policy and practice, your reaction is more likely to be that yes, it is, and that moral considerations aside it is not in US interests, and that it is unfortunate that a voluntary cessation is so unlikely, I don't mean to put words in your mouth, I'm not really saying you personally, just that someone who is completely opposed is not going to have that same kind of guilty, defensive, knee-jerk as is someone who while they may not be a fan of murdering children for its own sake, at the same time, might consider their position "nuanced" by those deeply cherished beliefs, perhaps the hope of receiving some benefit, a bit of magical thinking, a variety of factors and psychomachinations, the process by which a society arrives at the point where US society finds itself in 2006 is not a simple one.

Also, remember he, like the rest of us, has only recently had access to the info-tsunami of the internets, and where it may have been easier for previous generations of Americans to glide through life without having to confront even so much as a printed or pixelled page, or a photo of some of those aspects, any American today who has a computer and an internet account, and also has an interest in and a curiosity about world events, is at risk of finding themselves at some point, at some level of conflict, regarding what they may have been taught in school or at home about their country and its history, as well as political and policy traditions, in contrast not only to the unprecedented level of day to day news coverage, but also bringing into the mix viewpoints and perspectives that may be relatively new to them - the remarkable thing, to me, anyway, is that there is not evidence of MORE conflict churning in the hearts and minds of MORE Americans!

And I wish more Americans enjoyed the same privilege that you do. :)

spiderleaf said...

I remember that exchange.

At the time I really didn't get it and I'm not sure I do at this point. It reminds me of what right wingers say of lefties actually. Or about anti-war protesters during Vietnam.

I wonder, like DTF, if it has something to do with how ingrained American nationalism or exceptionalism is ingrained in the culture and how inconcievable it would be for some Americans to realize just how the rest of the world views the country and citizens. Of course there are good parts (i.e. the Bill of Rights), but on the whole with all the coups, etc. it is just impossible to talk about America and think it's the best country ever if you are not a citizen. I personally think we're still looking for a model nation (but I digress).

It reminds me of the argument I got into with Boo over his post about Islamofascism (I REALLY HATE THAT TERM - it is so goddamn ignorant of what fascism actually means... a more correct term in my view would incorporate theocracy. Fascism suits the US gov't more than Iranian in my view). He was talking about "imposing American beliefs" and how to "secure America's national security".

So I told him how I thought the US could achieve that -- apologize. That didn't fit into his world view much I don't think. I'm probably 'privledged' for thinking that as well.

As I've said before... the sun is setting on the American Empire and a lot of US citizens are going to be in for quite a shock that they aren't so "exceptional" anymore. The scary thing is that the majority, including "progressives" will fight tooth and nail to preserve it... even when what they are preserving causes harm to themselves and so many around the world.

Nanette said...

James, that exchange is yet one more example of that weird identity thing.

Here's the end of your comment:

And if someone's accusing me personally of being a babykiller, although on the surface such an accusation seems absurd to me, I do have to wonder to what extent my actions or lack thereof would say otherwise. I ask myself that a lot these days.

And Boo's reply:

i can't think of a more privileged view.

I can just imagine John Lewis pondering how being called an ape might just have some validity.

So, in his mind (and I guess in the minds of others who identify themselves as an entire country), your questioning if possibly you share culpability in the policies of your country, or the results of them, your reactions or your support of this or that if you personally were called a babykiller is just the same as John Lewis pondering whether he really is subhuman, animal like, child like savage, etc, if someone calls him an ape.

This sort of comparison makes NO sense to me, yet to so many it only seemed perfectly natural, and indeed many seemed to have the same difficulty (from the opposite direction) in comparing speech about Americans to speech about other inhabitants of a different country. I don't know if my brain is weird or theirs is, lol.

catnip said...

I understand your confusion now, James, since you reminded me of that exchange again. The idea that somehow this is a question of privilege is baffling, since Booman also shares the same privilege - that of being an American. Although, perhaps one privilege you have over him is that fact that you allow your conscience to integrate criticism more readily than perhaps he is willing or able to (?) Everyone actually has that privilege. Some just choose not to use it.

dove said...

There was some really strange stuff going on there about identity. It doesn't surprise me that they had the same difficulty in comparing speech about Americans to speech about inhabitants of other countries. They inhabit the centre; foreigners the periphery ,so I think it does become an apples and oranges thing. And there's a twisted sense in which they're right that it is apples and oranges, at least inasmuch as I don't think there is as much of the self-reverential nationalism/patriotism in other places -- at least not in the places I've been. With the exception of the BNP and the Tories, I don't think many people over here in the U.K. identify with nation in the same way that many U.S. people do. Though I strongly suspect -- hell, I know --that at least until the 1950s a great many did. Hmm. Which is a long-winded way of saying that I wonder whether this kind of identification is a function of where one positions oneself (and obviously where one has the option of positioning oneself, because it's not all about choice) vis a vis empire?

In terms of the privilege thing: I wondered whether part of what he was getting at was that if one was not privileged, one would not be able to reflect: one would have no alternative but to respond viscerally, from the gut, with outrage. In other words, the mere act of reflection is itself the evidence of privilege, which introduces a certain tautological stench to the proceedings.

(Though she says, recalling a memory of rare happiness, tautology doesn't always stink. ;) Nevertheless for the most part however, I do think it preferable and more productive to try and think with one's head instead of one's lower intestine, but that's just me and I shall resolutely and virtuously -- please note the virtue! -- step away from the obvious scatological analogies)

catnip said...

I think blueneck's diary about glocal exceptionalism is a great piece although, being a Buddhist who has taught herself to see things in rather simple terms, I think singing "We are the world" might have sufficed. :)

But, for those who have not been able to break through their own attachments to outside identities such as country, race, religion etc, I think he approached the subject from a fresh and new perspective. Hopefully, it will cause some to think about why their loyalties lie where they do and what the affects of those loyalties are on a larger scale.

catnip said...

In terms of the privilege thing: I wondered whether part of what he was getting at was that if one was not privileged, one would not be able to reflect: one would have no alternative but to respond viscerally, from the gut, with outrage.

Doesn't it then follow that those who share the same privilege, such as Booman, ought not be having visceral reactions (because, imho, that's exactly what he's been having)? Or have I misunderstood your point?

dove said...

We may be at slight cross-meanings, though not necessarily cross-purposes. I was meaning that I thought Booman was taking 'not having a visceral reaction' as evidence of a kind of privilege that meant the views of those holding that privilege could be discounted legitimately -- hence the tautological stench, inasmuch as the non-visceral reaction is by definition privileged and illegimate on that account. But that could be my misreading -- but no, I don't think he considers himself to have that privilege and the evidence that he doesn't is, not surprisingly, his visceral reactions, which are the proof that he doesn't have that privilege and therefore qualifies him to speak.

It makes no sense, but neither does that position, so . . .

catnip said...

I see...I think. ;)

dove said...


Yep. The convolution is a sophisticated literary device designed to reflect the revolving nature of that argument. Well that's my line anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

James said...

The funny thing to me was that I understand the capacity to reflect on social information in the process of forming a perception as universal - all of us can and do use that capacity, given of course sufficient time and assuming we don't have a gazillion things on our minds at the time. That capacity is not limited to humanity's blue-bloods. Equally amusing to me is the fact that in a blogging environment, some sort of reflection is required to have any sort of dialogue - to limit oneself to visceral reactions seemed very self-defeating. I suppose it all depends on what kind of blog one wants. Maybe he wants a blogging environment that consists of "you're an asshole" "f*** off" "gbcw" etc. God, that would get boring in a hurry. So it goes.

I also found Booman's tendency to conflate national identity with racial and ethnic identities to be a bit odd. I know some tried to point out the distinctions to him, but that fell on deaf ears.

I guess if his take-home message was "dumb it down or dummy up" all I can say is that I don't play dat!

catnip said...

:) dove. I'm just very tired today so my brain cells are a bit slow, but I think I get what you're saying.

Nanette said...

lol catnip, then you have more brain cells left than I do ;)

I will read it again!

I don't actually think BooMan (and possibly some others) does have that visceral reaction. I could be wrong...but if you follow the progression of the original conversation in Ductape's diary, barely anyone mentioned any of the stuff they all freaked out about later. Even MWAC. They were concentrating on other parts of the conversation and the topics in the article, and going on about exceptionalism and all that.

Well, except SallyCat, but she had a visceral reaction to Ductape, regardless of what he said. He could write that kittens are soft and that would probably be translated in her head as 'Ductape shreds kittens for blankets' or something.

Even the people questioning the thing about killing their kids on order (like Meteor Blades, etc) weren't wigging out, they were just disagreeing. BooMan basically just rolled his eyes and talked about the parts he was interested in and aimed the "anti american leftist" stuff at Arcturus and so on.

It wasn't until Tracy and MWAC and whoever else started emoting all over the place that (it appears) others started feeling this "visceral" reaction and being highly offended and upset and freaked out, if you ask me.

Nationalism, militarism, racism, mob-ism.

supersoling said...

I just read your diary at BT.
You....are an amazing writer and expresser of what is...I'm a little speechless.

Thank you

Nanette said...

Thank you, supersoling :). I am not happy with it, but knowing that it is speaking to people helps!

I was actually looking for you to ask you what you did with your Haiti diary? I wanted to link to it, but I can't find it. Do you have it on your site somewhere?

supersoling said...

I deleted it from BT when I bailed from there the first time a couple of weeks ago. It's still at MLW though. You need a link?

supersoling said...

It's here.

I'd asked Boo to delete the rest, but he declined....

Nanette said...

Oh good! I mean about it still at mlw. Yes, if you have a link that would be great... I'll add it in to the text over at bootrib.

Nanette said...

Yes, I am not sure what the deal is with not deleting diaries (or people, if they want to be deleted). I guess to keep some sort of historical record or something.

dove said...

I'm short of brain cells myself tonight (that's why I was valiantly sticking to that line ;) )

I think you're right Nanette, that some of those visceral responses weren't necessarily terribly visceral: I think the section James links to probably is an atttempt to claim that visceral response though (or claim that that's the response which one should have).

dove said...

And second supersoling on the Sanctuary diary

Nanette said...

dove, yes... that's what it seemed more to me, after a while. "the response one should have".

Using my certificate as an internet psychologist, I think it's possible that the later overreaction (not just from BooMan) was a sort of "establishing my patriotism" type thing. Well, and also a sort of attempt at retroactive justification for the truly egregious behavior of some by making it seem as if anyone would have to react like that, because their very being had been tormented and insulted.

Which conveniently ignores (and I guess attempts to bury) the initial sensible reactions, of course.

Nanette said...


Nanette said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention... you know this sudden, weird wrench to the right? And the party uber alles stuff? I'm thinking it's more than just "close to election time, time to purge and get everyone in line" stuff.

Me, I think he's now on the Townhall (or equivalent) list and that's why things are seeming a bit schizophrenic.

I could be wrong.

DuctapeFatwa said...

Nanette, BooMan's John Lewis comparison makes sense to me, and I actually see it as a positive sign.

(Just imagine, me seeing something as a positive sign. Call CNN)

As in my previous comment, I think he is going through some conflicted feelings, and one of those feelings is, on some level, the recognition that US policies and their implementation do involve some acts to which the adjective "inhuman" comes as an immediate gut reaction of revulsion.

I don't think BooMan is alone in the struggle to reconcile that gut reaction not only with his general attitude/opinion set, but the most deeply ingrained cherished beliefs, that some of us, myself included, tend to categorize as "exceptionalism," "my-country-right-or-wrongism," as well as that phenomenon we were talking about over at dove's a while ago, the peculiar EuroMerican placement of all one's identity eggs into the "American" basket.

Most of us, and it seems to me almost all Americans of non-European heritage, place "nationality" several notches down on the "self" shelf, but for many of the EuroMericans, they place "American" above not only their ancestry, but their gender, their family role, even their humanity.

As James puts it, "conflating national identity with racial and ethnic identities." That is exactly what they do, it IS their racial and ethnic identity, and that has been "weaponized" into American culture, as recognized by Langston Hughes, "America never was America to me."

America itself is something of a "gated community" for affluent white folks.

To return to that conflict that we see many Americans going through regarding US policies and their support of them vis a vis the reality of what those policies, and their implementation entail, I think you could even compare it to the kind of process people with problems of substance abuse, anger management, etc go through when they confront the reality of the harm their actions have done to others, and it is a challenge for many in that situation not to get bogged down in self-loathing but to move forward with recovery.

And I agree with you that the "shift to the right" is much more than domestic political hijinks. From my perspective, it is more of it having a bigger presence, maybe because of the infotsunami of the internets, and the Goebbelization, North Korea style propaganda straitjacket that is necessary to help people like BooMan, for instance, resist that temptation to have a visceral reaction to inhuman acts...

dove, "self-reverential" nails it!

LOL, I guess somebody with the gift of brevity could have said, "it makes sense because the acts are inhuman and he knows it."

supersoling, I don't know about in general, but I would imagine he doesn't want to delete your diaries because they are such a valuable "site asset."

Even though he needs to get the site back on track and on message in terms of ambience, the fact is that the purgee writings do attract clicks!

catnip said...

Your post reminded me about the SYFPH months at dkos once Kerry was nominated when the 11th commandment was 'Thou shalt not utter one unkind word about the candidate'. That lack of willingness to criticize and the stronger willingness by some to actually toe that line in lockstep applies in many situations once someone or something (ie. one's country) becomes a symbol for one's deepest longings - even when that symbol cannot guarantee the personal security that might come with what one defines as 'success'.

There's definitely something to be said for not living for one's desires and actually facing each moment's reality. But, we are human, after all. When you pin your hopes and dreams on something you can't control (such as the symbol of 'country' that is affected by so many realities on a daily basis) or you hold on to some conceived notion of glory days past that you only know through sanitized history books and you cling to that as if it defines who you are, there can't be any personal satisfaction on a long-term basis.

It's looking outward for what must be found within.

spiderleaf said...

I dunno, is it still meta if you all get this philosophical? ;)

DuctapeFatwa said...

catnip, I think that is a big part of it, it especially makes me think of the almost pavlovian response we see from some of them, where someone will post a news story about an atrocity in one of the theatres, or US rushing more bombs to Israel, and there will invariably be some replies to the effect of "Damn that Bush! People we have just got to get a majority in November and get a Dem in the White House in 2008, so let's all send some money to Our Dems."

The "Dems" become that kind of symbol, in the same way the idea of "America" is for others of them, it is as if they either don't know, or refuse to accept that electing all the "Dems" in the world will not have a substantial impact, will not mean a change in the policies, or anything more than a handful of cosmetic changes in implementation, they simply cannot bear to internalize the reality of what "America" really is, and so they hang onto that misty-eyed notion that "America" is all about these high minded ideals they were told about as children, and "America" and even "Dems" do become at once a symbol of their identity, and a protection from reality.

As I was writing that, on the adjacent TV screen appeared the commercial with Lindsay Lohan advertising a new "miracle" skin cream. (Lindsay got two million dollars for it, I read somewhere). And I was reminded of all the studies that have been done showing that the cheapest products work just as well, but that the desire to believe in that miracle is so great that ladies will pay ridiculous prices for miracle cream after miracle cream, and even look into their mirrors and believe that the cream has made them more beautiful, even intelligent and educated ladies, who on some level know better, still have such a strong desire to believe that miracle that they will willingly pay the large sums.

So we see intelligent and educated people, who on some level know better, have such a strong desire to believe a different miracle that they will willingly send their money to their "Dems" instead of giving it to the local homeless shelter, where it might at least purchase a cot or two, that those priced out of housing with the help of those selfsame "Dems" might have a place to lie down for a few hours.

See? everywhere one turns there is another truth so ugly that it is quite simply unbearable for many people, as unbearable as the reality of growing old in a society where a lady's greatest value is as an object of sexual desire, the reality that the richest country in the world has money to destroy homes and burn the flesh off children, but no money to house its own poor, to care for its own children, a situation quite at odds with that myth of the miracle cream "America" that they hold as an integral part of their own sense of self.

LOL spiderleaf, I think philosophizing is the essence of META, don't some people call it "navel gazing?"

NOTE: To head off being accused of being a sexist and FGM advocate, I could have used the example of aging gentlemen and miracle hair restoration software, or exercise equipment designed to provide us with "6 pack abs," but it was Lindsay who came on the TV at the moment, so I used ladies and cream.

catnip said...

I dunno, is it still meta if you all get this philosophical? ;)

META about Mo Betta Meta meta to make it Mo Betta :)

What's your vision, spidey?