Privilege: you're probably not the one percent


#1

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#2

Things are broken for everyone except the literal one percent – that is, the actual, non-metaphorical one percent richest Americans.

This seems to be the popular opinion, but these percentages are indeed metaphorical. If you believe in “ownership”, you basically create your own problems. When the people who claim to “own” the culture are those who make the rules, then - as said in War Games - the only way to “win” is not not play their game.


#3

Actually if you are not a billionaire you are down on the flat part of the L-curve with everyone else.


#4

You seem to be suggesting that the only divide that matters is that between the 99% and the 1%. That only the 1% have privilege.

You’re raising a strawman argument about who is and isn’t in the “1%.” The Vox editorial didn’t actually say that Whole Foods buys etc are in the “1%.” Rather

“Don’t console yourself that you are the 99 percent,” he says. “If you live near a Whole Foods; if no one in your family serves in the military; if you are paid by the year, not the hour; if most people you know finished college; […], then accept the possibility that actually, you may not know what’s going on, and you may be part of the problem.”

Amazingly it’s possible to be part of two groups at the same time. It’s possible to be on one side of one problem and the other side of another.

I am very definitely part of the 99%, yet I am also all the things described in the article. I accept that my privilege has given me a much easier life than I might have otherwise have, and I accept that there are difficulties that underprivilaged minorities have that I don’t necessarily even comprehend.

As such, even as a member of the 99% I can’t presume to speak for everyone else in the 99%. I can’t presume to understand what it means to live in a world with systemic injustices that would have dragged me down from birth.

I think that’s the point of the Vox editorial.

Further, I think it’s reductionist and wrong to pretend that all of the problems experienced by the 99% are due to the 99%-1% divide. Systemic racism and sexism were around long before the differences in income were as drastically different as they are today.

Point being: don’t reduce all problems to simple “99%” narratives.


#5

The Vox piece honestly is attempting to pit the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, which more often than not is the target of the class warfare in this country. As Cory alluded, the Democrats are no better, they are also the 1%, and it’s convenient for them if the proletariat attacks the middle class instead of them.

The “Tea Party” gets bashed a lot on the largely left-leaning internet, but the ORIGINAL Tea Party Protests were centered around the same thing as the Occupy movement: opposition to the government bailouts of banks. The fact that the talking heads have successfully divided 2 movements with the same original grievances should be troubling to us all.


#6

Yeah… the Vox thing basically says if you have any measure of household success you are part of the income distribution issue when that’s no true. As a member of the top 10-15% who grew up around the 1%'s kids I know the difference first hand. I have seen 16 year olds abandoning clothes/cars/etc because it wasn’t worth the slightest effort in the moment, parents working at most half time and never asking for change for $50 bills, students having expulsions and college entrances paid for, and many more things. It’s insane some of the stuff I thought was no big deal when I was in my teens.


#7

A friend of mine worked for a capital management firm for extremely wealthy people (what other kinds of capital management firms are there?). The part of the firm they worked in did the boring part of trust management, bill paying and accounting.

There were all kinds of byzantine and labyrinthine ways for people with a lot of capital in stocks they didn’t want to sell to create trusts and partnerships and I don’t even know what, to protect this capital and the money earned from it from ever paying taxes, capital gains, inheritance taxes or anything else. Indecipherable ways to pass the wealth from generation to generation without ever paying taxes on it. If you think your taxes are complicated down here where we just earn boring old wages, you would not believe what is created in the US tax system if you have actual wealth.

It is as if a great game of what can we get away with has been played with the tax code. To change it would take beating the people that benefit from it who will be spending lots of lobbying dollars just to stop that. More shocking is when folks in the bottom 99% vote against their own interests because everybody thinks they will be rich one day and wants those loopholes.

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

John Steinbeck


#8

I do not know what this Vox is. Does its opinion matter?

The idea that anybody not in jail is the 1% is just silly. The reason the Powers worked so hard to discredit and destroy the Occupy movement is that the idea of 99% of us united is terrifying to them. In the minds of the truly wealthy, it’s a short step from there to torches and pitchforks.

Articles like this do a lot to divide us. The middle vs. the poor; prisoner vs. free; yankee vs. cowboy. There are so many tools for dividing us and obscuring the nature of real power.


#9

Yes, quite.


#10

What examples are there of large corporations lobbying for the government to have more power for selfish benefit?


#11

This is why I favor a system that would be: (a) a consumption tax/VAT tax combined with (b) a minimum income (probably at just slightly below minimum wage today) that would go to everyone.


#12

The Vox article was, indeed, terrible. “Privilege” certainly is used for elitist one-upmanship, and in that usage, is of no political use whatsoever.

However, I have two major criticisms of Kilpatrick’s article.

First, it’s not just middle class elitists referring to the concept of privilege; there are much more sensitive critiques of racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry, that refer to it. It doesn’t contradict class analysis; instead, it’s an effort to describe the mechanisms of stratification, in which there are hierarchies within the working class, and working class people are turned against each other. For generations, socialists have struggled to explain why it is that it is so obvious that racism, for instance, is used to divide the working class, and obviously harms all working class people, yet people persist in supporting racist institutions. Whatever the limitations of the model of privilege, it’s a persuasive model: it describes the privileged as having advantages which they don’t even realize are privileges, which they assume everyone has; that leads them to be suspicious of complaints from then unprivileged. The fact that privilege seems natural, and effectively invisible, to those who have it, is the crux of the problem, and the reason why “check your privilege” and discussion of microaggressions is relevant. If you really value working class solidarity, then as much as possible, the burden should be on those with privilege to acknowledge the problem and to try to counter it. It’s counter-productive to insist that those with valid complaints squelch them for the sake of unity.

Second, class can not be reduced to income level. Class is about roles within the structure of the political economy. It certainly correlates with income level, but to reduce it to income level is misleading; it leads you away from an analysis of the structure of political economy. The 99%, for instance, includes most of the middle class, who are notoriously problematic as a class in class conflicts. It includes people whose social role is to oppress others, such as police.

A common element is that Kilpatrick is favoring a populist slogan, against structural analysis. And the flaw with this populist slogan is that it can be adopted by the right and far right – as it has, in the past. The sloppy analysis that follows from adhering to such a simple slogan permits this.


#13

A lot of this stuff happens at the state level, but a few federal examples off the top of my head: Cable companies lobbying to prevent the government from unbundling channels; Goldman Sachs insisting on higher capital reserve requirements; Big Pharma supporting all manner of additional FDA requirements that make it harder for little pharma to get very far without a Merck-sized piles of money. At the state level, there are all sorts of cartel behaviors: lawyers come first to mind.

Now, I guess you could say the government isn’t “getting more power” but rather “using the power it has in new and awful ways” but that’s not much of a distinction.


#14

Defense spending, and spending on prisons and police.


#15

Typical inflammatory clickbait article. Tut-tuts wide swaths of readership (eg anyone who isn’t addicted to meth) to provoke involuntary psychological defense mechanisms, blowing up the viewcount. The internet equivalent of a runny nose.


#16

Those are some good examples that would fall in the middle of @atl’s Venn diagram, and it sure would be nice if they were things the tea party actually spent time opposing. Instead it seems they have focused almost entirely on things like taxes, the affordable care act, border security against immigrants, the 14th amendment, and various other things that…don’t really overlap much at all.


#17

I agree with you in principle but not the specifics. Consumption taxes can be extremely regressive and end up taking a larger fraction of a lower income persons income than a higher income persons income. If the minimum income is not sufficient you have the same problem we have with income taxes today (in the United States), where in general above a certain income wealthy people actually pay less taxes as a fraction of their income than lower income people.

I am not sure if a consumption tax would tax anything having to do with the ownership of wealth or capital and what can be done with it. Would a consumption tax apply to lobbying contributions or buying TV commercials? That might be something.


#18

A solution here applies to people not just corporations. Wealthy people with influence and perhaps the use of corporations lobby thus making it easier for them to continue the concentration of wealth and power. Wealthy people lobby the government all the time for their own benefit.


#19

Spot on. Though to be charitable to Kilpatrick, I think he’s pushing back against the liberal conception of privilege which tends to drop any sort of class analysis, turning “checking privilege” into individualist moralizing, rather than an acknowledgement of how structural forces determine one’s social position. Without class analysis, privilege theory is unable to fully explain why sexism/racism/etc exist, which is because they serve the stratification of wealth and power.


#20

“We are the 99%” was a great slogan to highlight one important power imbalance: the distribution of wealth is crazy. And, as the article stresses, the vast majority of us are losing out because of it. This is true, and it’s a very important point.

But the article is complaining that when it comes to discussions of wealth distribution, we should only discuss them in terms of the 99% vs. the 1%. And that’s just silly, because reality is a lot more complicated than that. You can only push a slogan so far before it becomes a cartoon; the animated series based on a true story. It glosses over all the ambiguity and internal contradictions, all the complexity, to show a story that’s easy for the audience to grasp.

Which raises the question: who’s the audience? “We are the 99%” was most appealing to people who did not previously consider themselves to be victims of injustice, because it highlighted a form of injustice they hadn’t thought about much. That’s great! It’s so good that all those people realized that they have something to fight for. But, as often happens, some of those people got so excited about that fight that they started to feel like it was the most important thing to fight for. That all other struggles were either distractions from The Struggle, or else they were subordinate - i.e. they would inevitably work themselves out if (and only if) The Struggle was won first.

This is a seductive and dangerous line of thinking, and it’s prevalent among very well-meaning leftists: The idea that one form of privilege (in this case membership in the 1%) is the only thing worth talking about, and that introducing other criticisms of privilege (for example, comparing a trailer-park upbringing with a private school one) are pointless or even counterproductive.

I think the main appeal of that kind of view is that we all instinctively want to be on the right team. We don’t like finding out that we’re “the baddies” in a particular power imbalance. So we’re excited and inspired when we hear about a struggle where we’re on the right team, and where we have something to gain by winning. Conversely we’re sort of blah and/or defensive when we hear about a struggle that we happen to be on the wrong side of, and where we stand to gain nothing or even lose something if it succeeds.

That’s totally understandable, but it’s a cognitive bias that we should try to overcome. We should be eager to hear about all the struggles, all the perspectives on privilege, especially the ones we’re on the wrong side of, because those are usually the ones we have the most power to change. As they said during the Arab Spring “Let a thousand flowers bloom”. Don’t give in to the comfortable option of collapsing all those blossoms into one - even if it’s your favourite.