(with apologies to Aretha Franklin)
So, there's this new social media platform by Google—no, not Buzz…or Wave…this time it's Google+. At some point in the not-so-distant future I'd really like to assemble a post about the service and where it fits into my social media and Internet self-aggrandizement landscape, but first I have to figure out where it fits into that landscape; a task proving more difficult as time goes on, rather than less. Instead, I want to discuss something only peripherally related. Let's talk about privilege.
Google is impressing upon us that we "use the name that [we] commonly go by in daily life", and I couldn't be much more happy with a decision. If it will help limit the ways that this platform is used for marketing, spamming, and other non-social things, then kudos. There is room in my Internet life for something that eschews anonymity in favor different goals. If I want anonymity, I'll use a different service…which makes sense, because my goals will be different, but this isn't really the focus either.
Of course, continuing to prove that every issue is a women's rights issue, this is an example of women being trampled on on the Internet according to the Geek Feminism Blog. I disagree with most of the points they make in there, and consider the vast majority of their arguments so far afield that I can't even really lodge a reasonable response…it seems like they're just lumping reasons why anonymity in general might be an important idea and foisting those reasons off on us as if they are reasons why anonymity on this specific platform is an important idea. This is especially troubling for me because I started reading GeekFeminism.org for its well reasoned, admirably thought out tone at a time when the feminist blog I used to enjoy perusing, Feministing.org, starting its rapid descent into madness with the same sorts of specious, poorly thought out arguments; but even that is a post for another day. Today, let's focus on the use of ‘privilege” in this post.
Since we (and by we, I mean rational humans) can't really play on their bingo card, I made a bingo card that can be used when discussing pretty much any topic with any activists—feminists, fighters of racism, fighters of ableism, etc.
You only need one tile type to play, because at the end of the day, the call that is going to be used to put all arguers in their place is that of ‘privilege’. This isn't to say that privilege isn't real (PROTIP: it is), or that privilege isn't an issue that makes communication difficult between those who have it and those who do not (PROTIP: it is and does). It is to say, though, that most of the time that the word is being used, it's being wielded as a weapon to shut down dissent. Rather than being used to actually identify an issue that can grease the wheels of communication, it is used as a virtual shut-up stick by one side of an argument. It is a basic form of argumentum ad hominem circumstantial, it is rhetorically fallacious, and it needs to be excised from the argument until it can be used correctly again. That's right, all of you that have abused ‘privilege’ as a rhetorical device are punished from using it.1
“I'm not sure how not being able to be anonymous on this particular platform is a slap in the face of women. Isn't that like saying that bullriding not being wheelchair friendly is a slap in the face of the handicapped? Or that a rib joint serving meat is a slap in the face of vegetarians?”…“Of course you'd say that, you live a life of privilege!”
“Isn't it fair to say, though, that everything in the world isn't designed for everyone in the world? I mean, clearly it's a fine line, but if something isn't designed to be specifically exclusive, but its design makes it such that some people don't want it (like, for example, a cigar bar not being particularly palatable to non-smokers), shouldn't we consider that reasonable and take our custom elsewhere?”…“Well look at Mr. Privilege over here reinstating separate-but-equal!”
“I don't think that's what I'm saying at all, actually. It feels like you're just hand waving the discussion with phrases that are meant to shut me up rather than discussing the concepts with me.”…“It isn't my responsibility to educate you.”
“I think you are enjoying the benefits of your privilege now. Yours allows you to invoke privilege anytime you want, but if someone calls you out on failing to participate in a discussion you created, you can fall back on the ‘it's not my responsibility’ bit.”…“Did…did you just invoke privilege on ME? How dare you use your privilege to claim that I have privilege!”
The fact of the matter is, privilege is a tricky subject, as is every other facet of this sort of discussion; and it's plenty difficult enough to talk about without misusing language to avoid your own responsibility in the educational process. If you start a discussion, it is your responsibility to actually have the discussion if you want it to be perceived as fact. When you hand-wave away parts of the discussion because they're too hard, you solidify your beliefs as mere opinion.
As it turns out, opinions are pretty easy to blow off.
So, when people misuse the term ‘privilege’ in a discussion, call them on it…and if they aren't explaining how it applies in the situation in which they're invoking it, they are definitely misusing it. And if you are someone who enjoys throwing out the ‘privilege’ word without giving any thought to how it actually applies to the argument, maybe you could consider the notion that you aren't helping anybody; perhaps you're just making the waters muddier mucking about in the discussion.
Perhaps you could even actually read the TOS and verify what you're arguing about before you start your tempest in a teapot…you might find that you are badly mistaken in many areas of your diatribe.
Nah, never mind that last bit. I knew I was going too far there.