Princeton University freshman Tal Fortgang has been told repeatedly to “check his privilege” – to be aware of how his socio-economic and cultural background shapes his views – and he’s not happy about it.”The phrase,” he writes, “handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung.”
This article is an interesting read as it highlights some concepts that I learned while studying the systems thinking modules as part of my Open University degree. ‘Weltanschauung’ was a term used widely, and while it doesn’t directly translate to ‘worldview’ it is a close-enough approximation.
Tal is displaying some understandable frustration with this ‘check your privilege’ meme that seems to be popular among on-line activists. However, he is also showing the limits of his own Welstanshauung. He does have an advantage over many of his American cohorts, and this is not due to any hard work on his part but by the luck of his birth. White males in the west are much more likely to succeed than ethnic minorities – this is the ‘privilege’ that Tal should be aware of. It’s not his fault and it’s not something he can do anything about, it’s just a consideration – an epistemological awareness of his situation.
He is only 20 and has most of his life ahead of him. His views are limited by his life experience, just like everyone else’s, and his worldview will change over time. Perhaps he will look back at his essay in a few years and wonder why he expressed himself in such a fashion? Opinions based on a personal Weltanschauung are fine and all but that doesn’t mean that others cannot provide their own responses based on their own experiences and views.
Tal is wrong, he should ‘check his privilege’, as should we all. We would all make more informed decisions.
Mary Elizabeth Williams writes far more eloquently about this than I can over at The Salon.
But what people often don’t like – what Fortgang himself quite obviously doesn’t like – is when someone who hasn’t walked in your shoes tries to tell you your experience. What people don’t like is when someone who moves through the world with a particular set of advantages writes an essay that uses the word “empathize” but then confidently announces that he lives in “a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.” Young man, if you honestly think this country doesn’t care about religion or race, then you are privileged. You have grown up in an America that has enabled you to not know otherwise. And I don’t need to you to be sorry about it, because you didn’t create that. I’d just love for you to someday understand it.
It’s not much different over here in the UK with our political elite; educated almost exclusively in expensive schools they fail to understand why the proletariat think they’re an utter bunch of privileged, useless tossers. It’s almost like they’re living in another world that bears limited resemblance to the reality of existing in a normal job with normal problems.
A bit of empathy – from everyone – would go a long way to soothe much of the discontent that exists between people from different backgrounds.