Thursday, June 25, 2015

Deconstructing Privilege Arguments

Nishin Nathwani from the Harvard Political Review explains:
Much of the contemporary left, however (perhaps out of shame of its indebtedness to Marxism in an increasingly hostile neoliberal environment), has done away with “ideology” and has erected in its place the framework of “privilege”. Discussions of privilege, in their most diminished form, uncritically applaud the perspectives of the marginalized by their mere origin in the marginalized classes; and, conversely, they reject the discourse of the dominant classes as inescapably tainted by power. [...] The privilege framework critic may suggest that power and subjectivity cannot be disentangled, and that the very subjectivity of the one percent is a legitimate target for emancipatory action. This argument, however, ironically mimics the very oppressive structure that it attempts to critique. In entrenching power as a feature of certain classes of people rather than of structures, it inadvertently justifies the exclusion, in the widest sense of the term, of entire groups of people from discourse.
He goes on to to say that the privilege framework by which most leftist arguments rely on isn't so much flawed as it is misused resulting in ad hominem attacks. Privilege says a lot about groups, not so much about individuals. Structural critiques are far more productive, but it's easier to make a tidy argument based on who someone is and how they relate to those power structures. This lazy narrative permeates online writing on both sides of the political spectrum.