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

It’s not attacking white cisgender males for their privilege, it’s pointing out that privilege exists for them and that it makes their lives easier – both of which facts they refuse to acknowledge (or, worse, spin into disadvantages in a “PC society dominated by alien ideas of diversity run amok”). They’re the kinds of people who take a problem merely being pointed out as an attack (see also “pointing out racism makes you the racist!”). You’re correct that…

…but people who refuse to acknowledge its existence in the first place are never going to reach that point.


Consider that people who get to ‘play the game of life on the easy setting’ rarely ever give the people who have no choice but to ‘play on the hardest settings’ a second thought, unless some aspect of that disparity somehow encroaches on their own comfort and complacency.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I’d gladly trade places with anyone who feels that being called out for having unearned societal privilege is such a "massive burden."

Come ye, venture forth in my shoes; see how ye likes the feeling…


Only if they have a built-in bias or vested interest in not getting it. In which case, there’s really no way to get through to them, anyway.


You really seem to be finding fault with Scalzi for not solving systemic injustice with a single tight soundbite.

I’m hesitant to start a second sentence here. Will you read it? Will you follow a line of argument that lasts longer than a dozen words? If you wouldn’t be bothered to read something as small as a short essay that helps outline a basic approach to dealing with systemic power imbalances, then maybe the problem isn’t with the people offering you education?


Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”


But I have read it. I have bumped into it and re-read it many times, in fact, since it was published, lo, these many years ago. Although I’ve come to think the games metaphor is too complicated, over-developed, and not very useful, I agree with what he says about privilege there.

But my point isn’t much about me or what I believe.

You really seem to be finding fault with Scalzi…

I don’t think Scalzi has any place in the discussion, so I didn’t bring him into it. The phrase has developed a life of it’s own; he doesn’t control what it means, to anyone, anymore.

What sad irony, here, really. “You didn’t read what I wrote, go back and read it again” is no way to persuade anyone, it’s a bad-faith style of debate, a refusal to engage, it’s technically not an argument at all. It’s a sign that one’s original phrasing was ineffective and a doubling down on that phrasing all wrapped up in one stinky package.

Yet here we are, now, accusing each other of not reading things. Would anyone here find it persuasive if I complained that obviously, none of you had actually read my first comment here in this thread?

I think you would not find that persuasive and I think you should not. But you shouldn’t find it persuasive when Scalzi does it, either. It’s a crappy cop-out, a refusal to defend or explicate a position. You shouldn’t find it persuasive just because the person saying it is “on your side.”

You’ve brought this point up many times and I truly don’t understand it. Of course it’s possible to lose on easy mode… if you suck at the game. “Haha, I didn’t mean to call you a loser, I just meant to say that you suck at life.” I don’t see how that’s better.

No, of course they don’t, but this is only relevant if you’re thinking in terms of what they deserve. If you’re trying to figure out how to convey a message that a few of them can understand and empathize with, that might not be the thing to focus on.

This isn’t even about their comfort. Of course they’re going to become uncomfortable somewhere along the way if you’re really offering them a new point of view. It’s about preventing that angry shut-down, shut-out denial reaction that makes someone unreachable.

Kids talk about “cooties” as some intangible aura of ickyness, a condition that exists outside the control of the possessor, perceived only by one’s peers who sit in judgement. If we you talk about privilege in the same way, you’re going to have the same divisive, unproductive reaction. We will even persuade some people that privilege is not real the way cooties are not.

Rather than scornfully suggesting privileged people are weak or naive or sheltered (“playing on easy mode”) – however true that might be – maybe it would work better to focus on how fortunate they are. Or to talk about how, as a privileged person, they have an opportunity or a duty to reflect and amplify the concerns of less fortunate people.

But I am only spitballing, and I didn’t come prepared for this, and I’m not a genius, and it’s late. There may be better ways to talk about privilege. Is that so upsetting to contemplate, really?

Good night.


Once upon a time, you read it, thought about it and agreed with the general thought put forth in the argument. That’s great. That sounds like what an essay does when it’s more-or-less successful. It worked, that time.

You’re operating from the tired premise that it’s the responsibility and duty of people suffering injustice to educate their oppressors, and if they fail, it’s all on them for insufficiently trying.

If people hear a slogan against sexism and don’t magically decide to not be sexist, that’s still on them. If someone read’s Scalzi’s page and decides, “He thinks privilege is like cooties”, they didn’t get it from the essay, it’s because they had that prejudice going in, and coming out.

People have been saying some version of, “If you’d only explain your argument more persuasively, I’d respect your requests for human dignity,” for centuries.

But the problem has never been that people aren’t ready to have discussions about privilege in context, or that no-one’s taking the time to be extra-patient and ready to defend or explicate a position.


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.