'Straight White Male' is the Real World's easiest difficulty setting

My point in bringing up bell hooks is that she was, at least to me, the first author to fully integrate the concept of racist, classist patriarchy. There are other elements to be sure, but it is important to see it as a matrix rather than elements in suspension.

I remember having a discussion once with a white feminist who complained about the chauvinism in "Asian" society (as if Asia is homogenous). I replied to her observations with one of my own that the average "Asian" woman has more motivational commonality with Asian men than she does with the sort of white, middle class women (like her) that are likely to condemn their lives as patriarchal.

When we realize that it is a matrix, it becomes a lot easier to see where privilege works in. Stephen Clarke may not recognize the privilege of being white, male, and straight in modern American society because the other elements in the matrix (class, geography, etc.) present significant enough disadvantages to make leveraging that privilege difficult or impossible. If you see a person dumpster diving, their ethnicity becomes invisible.

Paleocon wrote:

When we realize that it is a matrix, it becomes a lot easier to see where privilege works in. Stephen Clarke may not recognize the privilege of being white, male, and straight in modern American society because the other elements in the matrix (class, geography, etc.) present significant enough disadvantages to make leveraging that privilege difficult or impossible. If you see a person dumpster diving, their ethnicity becomes invisible.

+1s

The flipside to this being that just because white male privilege does indeed disappear under many conditions that doesn't mean that white male privilege (broadly) doesn't exist.

DanB wrote:
Paleocon wrote:

When we realize that it is a matrix, it becomes a lot easier to see where privilege works in. Stephen Clarke may not recognize the privilege of being white, male, and straight in modern American society because the other elements in the matrix (class, geography, etc.) present significant enough disadvantages to make leveraging that privilege difficult or impossible. If you see a person dumpster diving, their ethnicity becomes invisible.

+1s

The flipside to this being that just because white male privilege does indeed disappear under many conditions that doesn't mean that white male privilege (broadly) doesn't exist.

Yup.

The challenge for the privileged (and to some extent, each of us enjoys privilege in some part of the matrix) is to recognize it and to make sincere attempts to make society better for all of us rather than leveraging that privilege as a divisive tool over another. The temptation among the very privileged when looking at the matrix is to conclude that each of us is "equally privileged" in one part or another. This, of course, is an exercise in excuse making.

Too often the obligation that goes along with privilege is denigrated by the privileged as "guilt". Once again, excuse making and a selfish attempt at reneging on a social obligation. To whom much is given, much is expected.

Paleocon wrote:
DanB wrote:
Paleocon wrote:

When we realize that it is a matrix, it becomes a lot easier to see where privilege works in. Stephen Clarke may not recognize the privilege of being white, male, and straight in modern American society because the other elements in the matrix (class, geography, etc.) present significant enough disadvantages to make leveraging that privilege difficult or impossible. If you see a person dumpster diving, their ethnicity becomes invisible.

+1s

The flipside to this being that just because white male privilege does indeed disappear under many conditions that doesn't mean that white male privilege (broadly) doesn't exist.

Yup.

The challenge for the privileged (and to some extent, each of us enjoys privilege in some part of the matrix) is to recognize it and to make sincere attempts to make society better for all of us rather than leveraging that privilege as a divisive tool over another. The temptation among the very privileged when looking at the matrix is to conclude that each of us is "equally privileged" in one part or another. This, of course, is an exercise in excuse making.

Too often the obligation that goes along with privilege is denigrated by the privileged as "guilt". Once again, excuse making and a selfish attempt at reneging on a social obligation. To whom much is given, much is expected.

I took this snap shot of Paleo dropping me off at work this morning:

IMAGE(http://lifeboat.com/images/peter.parker.uncle.ben.jpg)

I'm not getting punked by some fleeing robber though.

Oso wrote:
Is it possible that Americans have a harder time with this because we have certain ideas about individual responsibility and expect that life is fair?

As I think about this, a big problem is that it is really hard to introduce the concept of privilege without putting the privileged people on the defensive or feeling picked on. This may be because if I say: "White straight males receive implicit and explicit preferential treatment in mainstream American society." People tend to hear: "you are a racist, sexist, and homophobe" even when that isn't the point. American culture's assumptions about the world make it hard to say "You personally benefit from injustice even when you are not individually at fault for perpetrating the injustice."

Partly on board with this.

That is not what I (straight/white/male) hear when you say that. What I hear is you telling me that I am not as hardworking/competent/intelligent/etc as a lesbian/black/woman who has achieved something similar to me. Therefore the statement about privilege can be received as an attack on my accomplishments, which not surprisingly tends to put people on the defensive. To use the gamer analogy that I'm not wild about, but hey let's roll with it..."I completed Diablo III on hardcore while you only did easy mode. You must suck at this game."

That doesn't play well with the not-uniquely-American idea that life is fair, talent gets recognized and we live in some kind of meritocracy.

Cod wrote:
life is fair, talent gets recognized and we live in some kind of meritocracy.

Bless =)

I guess I'd say having an experience that supports the idea of fairness, talent recognition, and meritocracy is one of the main benefits of privilege.

I guess that makes me Bernardo to your Anita:

John Scalzi has posted a follow-up:
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/1...

It’s been a couple of days since I’ve posted the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” piece, and it’s been fun and interesting watching the Intarweebs basically explode over it, especially the subclass of Straight White Males who cannot abide the idea that their lives play out on a fundamentally lower difficulty setting than everyone else’s, and have spun themselves up in tight, angry circles because I dared to suggest that they do. Those dudes are cracking me up, and also making me a little sad.
There have been some general classes of statement/questions about the piece both on the site and elsewhere on the Internet, that I would like to address, so I’ll do that here. Understand I am paraphrasing the questions/statements. In no particular order:

Maq wrote:
Cod wrote:
life is fair, talent gets recognized and we live in some kind of meritocracy.

Bless =)

It sounds silly, but it's how we all tend to think of the world whenever we succeed, don't we? I think very few of us when we graduate college or land that job, or close a business deal feel like we just won a fixed game. If any of us found out we were valedictorian or were promoted or landed an account because the teacher/boss/client was a racist, we wouldn't feel the same way about our accomplishments would we? So there's a question there if we should feel our successes are similarly tainted when instead of a discrete and identifiable villain, it is a pernicious bias we could call privilege that means we got ahead of the other guy.

Maybe instead of looking at people bothered by this as those too immature (or some other blameworthy attribute) to face the truth, maybe we should look on them as the kind of people who face the truth too much and aren't capable of the suspension of belief the rest of us are. Kind of like how some depression and social anxiety isn't actually an objective dysfunction: it's a case of we 'normals' being oblivious to small-but-real messages of disapproval from others. Or how people with 'photographic memories' get depressed because they can't forget the bad stuff that has happened to them the way the rest of us can.

Hyperawareness is not always a good thing. Maybe for some people who have trouble accepting this concept of privilege, that's where the explanation is. Maybe the difference between us and them is they are less able to compartmentalize the truth when repression is healthier.

Quintin_Stone wrote:
Historically, pandering meant to acquire a prostitute for someone.

Would someone please for the love of God pander to me?

Paleocon wrote:

When we realize that it is a matrix,

IMAGE(http://i.imgur.com/MMyiZ.jpg)

The times, they are a'changing:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/17/us...

Or as Dennis Leary might say: "Already I'm tired of being hassled by the man."

Tanglebones wrote:
John Scalzi has posted a follow-up:
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/1...

It’s been a couple of days since I’ve posted the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” piece, and it’s been fun and interesting watching the Intarweebs basically explode over it, especially the subclass of Straight White Males who cannot abide the idea that their lives play out on a fundamentally lower difficulty setting than everyone else’s, and have spun themselves up in tight, angry circles because I dared to suggest that they do. Those dudes are cracking me up, and also making me a little sad.
There have been some general classes of statement/questions about the piece both on the site and elsewhere on the Internet, that I would like to address, so I’ll do that here. Understand I am paraphrasing the questions/statements. In no particular order:

See, that level of smug self-satisfaction didn't pass me by at all.

CheezePavilion:

Not an American, so different cultural background.

I've never felt as if any of my so-called personal accomplishments were purely as a result of my efforts. I did my part, but that accomplishment represents the effort and support of my society and more directly, by my household. More indirectly, I can clearly appreciate that my height, my looks, my parents, and yes, even the racist and classist biases in my society affect how muc I can do.

This sentiment is commonplace where I live. Manny isn't being uncommonly humble when he cites his belts as being a team effort. You'd have to be blind and deaf to grow up like he did and not come to appreciate that.

Bloo Driver wrote:
See, that level of smug self-satisfaction didn't pass me by at all.

Indeed. He's even got a flowchart to explain who is allowed that kind of behavior on his site: handy-dandy flowchart .)

LarryC wrote:
CheezePavilion:

Not an American, so different cultural background.

I've never felt as if any of my so-called personal accomplishments were purely as a result of my efforts.

Would you be offended if I said you're the exception that proves the rule?

I did my part, but that accomplishment represents the effort and support of my society and more directly, by my household. More indirectly, I can clearly appreciate that my height, my looks, my parents, and yes, even the racist and classist biases in my society affect how much I can do.

This sentiment is commonplace where I live. Manny isn't being uncommonly humble when he cites his belts as being a team effort. You'd have to be blind and deaf to grow up like he did and not come to appreciate that.

I feel a lot of non-ethnic American culture is like the children's story of Goldilocks (which, I'm not sure how helpful it is to explain American culture with a piece of western culture, but anyways!): anyone who got more support from their family from me is spoiled; anyone who got less was deprived; me? whatever I got was just right. There's definitely a different idea of what family means and the role it plays in this culture, and the contrast with even our 'white' ethnic immigrant subcultures can be extreme.

CheezePavilion wrote:
I feel a lot of non-ethnic American culture is like the children's story of Goldilocks (which, I'm not sure how helpful it is to explain American culture with a piece of western culture, but anyways!): anyone who got more support from their family from me is spoiled; anyone who got less was deprived; me? whatever I got was just right. There's definitely a different idea of what family means and the role it plays in this culture, and the contrast with even our 'white' ethnic immigrant subcultures can be extreme.

I'm certainly guilty of this and I agree that is useful to escape the goldilocks perspective when possible.

By non-ethnic, do you mean Anglo or just successfully assimilated into the white-bread-suburbia melting pot?

CheezePavilion:


Would you be offended if I said you're the exception that proves the rule?

I would have no trouble whatsoever believing that most Americans, and even modern Europeans would think the way you say. I have seen examples of this sort of behavior firsthand.


I got was just right.

I feel as if this entire sentiment (referred to in brief by what I feel is the cogent phrase) is a exposition of the natural assumption I said that everyone makes. "I am normal." This is a pervasive human presupposition, I perceive. The rich people in my country, at least the young and naive ones, often cannot fathom how anyone could live without fresh clothes every day and various expensive luxuries. It can be trying to get along with them.

I've had this conversation with you guys four or five times over the years. I don't know if I want to try to take that beach again. The cliffs on the far side don't seem to be getting lower no matter how many times I do it.

Maybe instead of framing the issue with a word that implies a hierarchy of experience like privilege or even "easy mode", what if we take that out and take it down to brass tacks. The issue that causes the most grief here is a problem common to all of us - we often have trouble getting perspective on problems we don't actually have.

For example, I waxed rhapsodic on this when Blizzard tried to make everyone use their real names in WoW and on their forums. Their predominately white, straight, male staff didn't properly understand the problems this would cause anyone who wasn't a white, straight, male who wasn't trying to hide the fact they play WoW from an employer. It never dawned on them how painful or even dangerous that can be to everyone else, or if it they had a glimmering they didn't understand how serious the problem would be.

Everyone does this to one degree or another. I'll never forget a thread here where RubEd was talking about how hard it was to fill out forms as a married gay man. I had my own challenges with that being a single mom, but it had never dawned on me he would run into a similar issue and feel the same fears and frustrations I did. How alienating it can feel to have to mark "other" on everything, or even worse, for there to be no place to mark yourself at all.

Do I have any solutions? No. But I can say that we're never going to find one if we don't even recognize that there's an issue.

Talking and listening can help build common ground. I tried to help a friend to design a survey form that discussed demographics and gender without causing issues for transgendered, asexual, or any other kind of person. We worked on that for a long time. Finally he threw himself on the mercy of a forum we both belong to and had a bunch of different people of many kinds helped us come up with a tense compromise. It's not perfect, but it's a start.

And I think that's what we need here. A way to talk about experience that doesn't imply judgement or turn into yet another way for people to feel pushed outside.

Prederick wrote:

Similar with being male. I'm a dude, and rape has never figured into my life concerns, even in the most random, distant way. It's not something i've ever even been passingly concerned with. For women, that is completely different.

I didn't want this to get lost in the shuffle, but this is a *very* good point. I've literally never thought about this in my entire life. Outside of getting sick to my stomach watching "Deliverance" it's never even occurred to me as something I was vulnerable against. I would say that in that case the "difficulty setting" of being a male is easier.

Prederick wrote:

I know my increasing frustration is that it feels more and more like any time you call out these disparities and problems, whether you use the word "privilege" or not, people immediately shut down defensively, as can be seen in any number of places on the internet where comment threads have devolved into people screaming at each other, because one group feels that the very act of asking for or demanding diversity or better treatment of minority groups is immediately akin to calling another person a racist/sexist/what-have-you.

Even worse is that these are discussions that adults should be able to have. How do you ever fix these problems without pointing to the facts of life for certain segments of society? That isn't ____-baiting or playing the _____-card. That's just talking about facts. Recognizing facts as a society is a helpful starting point to solving real world problems that some of us never have to think about.

Prederick wrote:

I'm often left wondering, how do we educate then, if we cannot be stringent, if we cannot be angry, if we cannot even seem to be patting each other on the back (which is a criticism i've seen of every single one of these kind of discussions)? Why are the people affected by said -isms or inequalities expected to expend the time and energy to drag people to what are, by my estimation, frequently issues of basic humanity?

No clue. The fact that scientists are doing studies into the possibility that people may be physiologically wired for certain prejudices and predispositions points me in the direction of forming little city-states. People who angrily reject the possibility that anyone might have it harder than them get their own country. Those of us who want to live in a multi-cultural, free, equal society can go live in our own. It's coming to that, I fear.

As a sidenote, i'd like to add "playing the ____-card" to the list of phrases like Godwinning that means you immediately lose the argument. I only ask after having seen seriously use the phrase "the rape card".

momgamer wrote:
I've had this conversation with you guys four or five times over the years. I don't know if I want to try to take that beach again. The cliffs on the far side don't seem to be getting lower no matter how many times I do it.

I am happy to report that I see discussion of privilege far more than I used to, and in far more atypical locations... and while it does still seem like it's a topic with explosives all over it... it certainly does seem to be a topic where fewer and fewer people populate the denial side. Maybe that's my priviledge talking... but I do think it's getting better.

Oh Jesus Christ, they put this article up over at Kotaku. That may literally be the worst possible place outside of /b and YouTube to attempt to have a discussion like that. Like, literally, the worst. I'm almost curious enough to hop over and see how the trainwreck is progressing.

I wonder, is it productive or unproductive to write entire communities off as being incapable of talking about certain subjects? Because I don't know why they persist over a Kotaku, bless their hearts.

Prederick wrote:
Oh Jesus Christ, they put this article up over at Kotaku. That may literally be the worst possible place outside of /b and YouTube to attempt to have a discussion like that. Like, literally, the worst. I'm almost curious enough to hop over and see how the trainwreck is progressing.

I wonder, is it productive or unproductive to write entire communities off as being incapable of talking about certain subjects? Because I don't know why they persist over a Kotaku, bless their hearts.

They persist because terribly awful, ignorant comments are still page views and count towards their advertising stats.

But what's missing in this discussion that simply being born an AMERICAN offers you huge priviliges that 70-80 percent of the world doesn't enjoy. Yes, GLBT kids in America face too much unfair abuse. In the Middle East, those kids are stoned to death. Yes, there's income inequality. In India or China, it's nearly impossible to work your way into a decent lifestyle if you start at the bottom - and that's including working 20 hours/day, 7 days/week. Americans may go hungry at times but they don't face famine; they may face street crime but not outright civil war where their kids can be ripped away and turned into child soldiers. We can play the victim game all day, but unless you're at the very bottom of the heap in America your life is AT MOST set to medium difficulty if inferno difficulty is living in Nigeria or North Korea.

jdzappa wrote:
But what's missing in this discussion that simply being born an AMERICAN offers you huge privileges that 70-80 percent of the world doesn't enjoy. Yes, GLBT kids in America face too much unfair abuse. In the Middle East, those kids are stoned to death. Yes, there's income inequality. In India or China, it's nearly impossible to work your way into a decent lifestyle if you start at the bottom - and that's including working 20 hours/day, 7 days/week. Americans may go hungry at times but they don't face famine; they may face street crime but not outright civil war where their kids can be ripped away and turned into child soldiers. We can play the victim game all day, but unless you're at the very bottom of the heap in America your life is AT MOST set to medium difficulty if inferno difficulty is living in Nigeria or North Korea.

I don't know if that's really missing from the discussion. It's like that Chris Rock bit "I ain't been to jail" "well you're not SUPPOSED to go to jail"; "we don't look like North Korea" "well you're not SUPPOSED to look like North Korea."

We're the most powerful country in the history of the world; we might never be surpassed and will retire undefeated with that title because next up will be some kind of one world government for when we start colonizing other worlds. Isn't it kind of embarrassing for us to be compared to India and China, let alone Nigeria and North Korea? We're the country that put the first man on the moon half a century ago and our competition is a country that looks like it had a massive power failure when photographed from space at night?

That gets us into larger issues like how America is a hybrid country, both colony and metropole and how that legacy has shaped us into a unique case, but on this kind of simple level, it's...uncomfortable to even bring up those comparisons, isn't it?

I don't feel this is like "playing the victim game" or something like that. This is about asking why inequality exists and to what extent. Maybe "in America your life is AT MOST set to medium difficulty if inferno difficulty is living in Nigeria or North Korea" but that pretty much means 'straight white male' is 'push X to win' difficulty by comparison. I feel like you're missing the point if you think this is about 'victims'; this is about 'problems'. It's about asking how in a country as powerful and prosperous as America can *anyone* wind up on medium difficulty?

> that pretty much means 'straight white male' is 'push X to win' difficulty

And here we get back to it's easy to see this as being a smug dick talking down to those who disagree when you're upper middle class with a college degree. Thanks for belittling the problems in my life, no no no, go ahead and tell me more about how I apparently can't "push X".

If we're going to be talking about it in game terms, it actually seems a lot more like the Beguiling Gaze 4e D&D power, offered as a bonus perk. Provided you're in the right situation, that thing is just downright OP. Against a raging dragon? Kinda useless.

I don't think it's right, Stephen_Clarke, to rail against the point. I've been very poor, too, but at no point have I ever thought that I would rather be a child soldier in Africa. I still have it better than that person. As miserable as your life is, you could have it worse (example: half-paralyzed female sex slave), and one of the ways it could be worse is if you had more melanin in your skin, liked johnsons or had a vagina.

Stephen_Clarke wrote:
> that pretty much means 'straight white male' is 'push X to win' difficulty

And here we get back to it's easy to see this as being a smug dick talking down to those who disagree when you're upper middle class with a college degree. Thanks for belittling the problems in my life, no no no, go ahead and tell me more about how I apparently can't "push X".

You're trying to lump all the problems together into one bucket and claiming that being straight, white and male isn't an advantage because fate has dealt you a bad hand or two. Fate, kismet, or whatever you want to call it is a random factor. However, gaining a societal privilege is not.

As a gay man, I know the disadvantages I have that heterosexuals, especially married ones, do not.

Here is a smattering:

* I can be forced to testify against my husband.
* I am financially disadvantaged because I cannot file jointly on my state and federal taxes.
* I can be fired from my job in most states because I am gay.
* I can be kept from the bedside of my husband if he is injured or dying in most states if the hospital chooses to do so.
* In most states, I can be kept from the funeral of my husband if his family were to want that.
* My Social Security benefits cannot be passed to my husband.

Those aren't random instances of fate. They are disadvantages codified in law or by societal acceptance.