Medallion Status: comparison is the thief of joy, and John Hodgman is the thief-taker

Why is this flagged?

I find the idea that privilege isn’t worth the system we currently have, even for the people that end up enjoying the benefits of it, a really powerful idea. My favorite example is terraces in big cities.

If the city is on the more equal end of the scale (less poverty, less income inequality) you get city centers where you can safely saunter around, sit outside, and have a drink or some food right next to the public sidewalk. You see this in almost all cities in Europe. Everyone gets to enjoy this free and safe city.

When the cities become more unequal, like big cities in Africa, you will see most of the terraces move to the courtyards and behind fences, moving through the city as a pedestrian becomes dangerous and you should travel everywhere in a car. This effect is amplified if you become richer, the more money you have the more you are limited in your freedom. You should build a gate around your house and even at moderate wealth levels you will get security at the entrance to your building complex.

This is the kind of freedom you cannot buy for yourself, no matter how much fuck-you money you have, this can only be achieved by creating a more equal society. (or perhaps a big-brother style distopia…)


He coined the concept. Cory linked to the article where he did it. The concept is relevant to the topic of Hodgman’s own self-acknowledged privilege. It has a place in the discussion, even if it makes you uncomfortable on behalf of white cisgender men (a discomfort that apparently isn’t shared by Scalzi, Cory or – briefly putting myself in their company – me, all white cisgender men like Hodgman, AFAIK. Odd that).

The point of Scalzi’s metaphor isn’t to give people the warm fuzzies, but to lay the hard truth on them: if you’re feeling like a loser or are one, it’s not because society is oppressing you because you’re a white straight male; quite the opposite, in fact, so stop blaming the wrong people (who start from a less privileged position) for whatever problems you’re having.

But apparently, even Scalzi framing this concept in a metaphor that will resonate with young white American males, and presenting it in a way that’s less harsh than the blunt version, is going too far in your view (even if you agree with the underlying premise).

To be fair, it’s not only your view. Mainstream American culture quails at the very thought of hurting the delicate feelings of entitled white males by daring to even point out the nature of their privilege. That’s something that has to change.


Depends on what you mean by “rich”.

Money famously does not buy happiness; but it buys stability and security. Anyone who’s been poor knows how stressful it is, and wealth means you don’t have to deal with those stresses. Wealth means you can fuck up, or be hit by unexpected trouble, and while it may be painful, you know you’ll be okay. Not so if you’re living paycheck to paycheck with no savings and a negative net worth.


A few years back, when I was still working my six-figure job, I took off for the middle of Oregon for a high-power rocket launch.

I was maybe five minutes from my house when I realized that I’d left my hiking boots – necessary when tramping around the high desert – back in the house.

“Eh,” I thought, “I’ll buy a pair when I drive through Sisters. They’ve got a Bi-Mart.”

I realized then that I kind of had it really easy. And contrasted this with a family I saw pull off the road and send a kid out to pick up a deposit can.


What all of us who have an abundance of privilege (and a middle class income) need to remember is that we live better than nobility of not all that long ago.

We light lamps or open doors with a word, a wave, or even with no effort at all. We have thermostats that heat and cool us without thought or complaint. We have cars, helicopters, jets, and rockets to take us unfathomable distances at ludicrous speeds. We can communicate around the world at rates governed by the laws of physics, instead of the rules of men. Our homes are insulated, our clothing warm, our food is abundant and delicious, and if we become injured or ill, our health care system means it’s not an automatic death sentence. Our children are educated, our streets are policed, and there’s a justice system in case something happens.

And amidst all this luxury, people want more and more. We occasionally should remind ourselves that we are the one percenters of the historical population of the world, and that things are already really great for us. Stealing from the poor to enrich ourselves further should be seen as shameful by anyone who already has privilege.


Complicated? Over-developed? It requires almost no pre-existing knowledge on the part of its audience. They need to know:

  1. Video games exist.
  2. Video games have difficulty settings, including easy and hard modes.
  3. In the metaphorical Game of Life, straight white males play on easy mode.

Oh my god, it’s so complicated that it completely flew over the heads of everyone reading it, to the point where the comment threads were empty and no meaningful discussion was had regarding the concept. Any confusion wasn’t straight white males willfully misinterpreting the metaphor, or trying to make it into something more substantial than a blog post, or arguing against points the author never made, because the whole idea made them uncomfortable. Not at all.

Scalzi seems to have wanted the metaphor to be approachable to the audience that needed to hear it most. I fail to see how he did not succeed.


I don’t care about “deserves”; that’s a fallacious concept perpetuated by the haves to keep the have-nots ‘in check.’

To anyone who has any modicum of unearned privilege, it absolutely is about their comfort and doing whatever it takes to maintain it.

Excellent point.

It’s not my fucking job to somehow make the ugly reality of my existence in a systemically racist and unjust society more palatable to the people who inadvertently or passively benefit from the status quo.


You’ve answered your own question here. You want a phrase to teach someone an uncomfortable truth that doesn’t make them uncomfortable.
I too wish unicorns existed.


Scalzi totally succeeded with his metaphor, IMO… the intended recipients just didn’t like the message being sent.


I just can’t remember the last time anything I posted online was so comprehensively misunderstood.

I don’t understand what you mean by this. You failed to most effectively communicate your message. Maybe you should have given more consideration to how it might make me feel. This response just seems to be communicating something about your feelings, and it’s not framed in a way that I would more immediately feel comfortable about listening to your message. I’ll now assume that you meant to communicate inadequately, or that you’re insufficiently committed to reaching out to me. And that seems like a real shame, a missed opportunity.

More directly

All communication is incomplete. Just complaining that one approach doesn’t solve society’s problem with systemic injustice is not news, and your critique will never be as interesting or useful as the original approach that works some of the time.


All of this centers the subjective experience of people who have less to struggle with.

This is despite constant, constant explanations that pointing out that some people have more roadblocks isn’t saying that white people don’t get cancer.

It’s an unending wall of “Well, privileged people struggle too” when that is not debated or unacknowledged, but it it is a derail of what’s at issue.

It’s like complaining about the tone and timbre of a fire alarm, with wildly disproportionate concern about how it was “startling” or “interrupted a hard-earned lunch”, and never again talking about the fire.


I don’t know the answers. I just don’t see hostility working as a tactic in the long run.

By the way, while this is a good discussion IMO, I’m thinking that we’re off topic? I don’t mean to be disrespectful of the OP or the author and book that are Cory’s topic here.

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Why does it always seem to be this way?

If white people get defensive, the expectation is to respect that defensiveness, and find ways to achieve goals without triggering them. Put solutions to privilege on hold until everyone’s comfortable.


If other people get frustrated, they should get over their frustration so as not to appear “hostile” or threatening. Put solutions to privilege on hold until the people pointing out the problem find a way to be more polite, or are able to not display “awkward” feelings of disappointment in other people (however understandable).

This double standard is there because of the issue itself. People challenging systemic injustice are held to the standard of comforting yet non-threatening 911 operators, and the people who need to be convinced maintain that they should be approached like bosses being asked for a raise, or an alien visitor that requires handholding on the basic concept of “one kind of person having an unearned advantage.”

If someone’s house is on fire, people have to stop expecting a please and thank you at every interaction.


We’re good. Cory himself brought up Scalzi’s metaphor in connection with Hodgman’s musings on his own white privilege in his new book.


Sometimes that requires working with people instead of against them. We’re not in a perfect world, that’s for sure. If some white dudes can’t hear what we’re saying the way we’re saying it, why keep saying the same things the same way? It doesn’t mean we abandon goals, just that we look for methods that will achieve what we’re looking for.

It appears that you like to fight, while I like to be peaceful. May each of us be productive toward our shared goals :slight_smile:


The Scalzi metaphor is exactly that. It also highlights the catch-22 of using a metaphor. Usually, for me, when I resort to metaphor, it’s when a detailed and straightforward argument (not in the angry sense, but the persuasive sense) is not working, because the other party is getting bogged down on the details. That’s when a metaphor can aid in reaching agreement on the big picture.But it inevitably fails in the details.

Thus, the catch-22. When it comes down to it, if someone really doesn’t want to see your point, they will poke out their own eyes (metaphorically) to remain blind.

I was already open to the concept of white privilege, but when I first encountered Scalzi’s metaphor, it was an epiphany. YMMV.


I was open to the concept of white privilege, but I’ve never played video games and didn’t know they had difficulty levels. When I first encountered Scalzi’s metaphor, I learned something about video games!