Privilege and False Control

I was satisfied after I read this Freshly Pressed post on privilege, which is odd, because “privilege” is a loaded word these days, and articles about it usually end up irritating me. The thesis of the post is that we are not the sole author of our life story, and many things happen to us that are beyond our control, most of these things occurring before we were even born, that bring us into the lives we currently occupy.

In other words, we didn’t necessarily create our own “privilege.”

It’s hard not to get disgusted when you encounter a person who is homeless or who is on drugs or whose lifestyle differs from your comfortable one. It’s hard not to lord it over that person and think to yourself “I’m glad I made the right choices and didn’t end up like that bum.” It’s hard to see this person as an actual person and not just a mute, hopeless bundle of rags. That person has no control over his life, we think. But I do.

We like to pretend that we have control over our lives, and we like to think that everyone’s life follows a linear course just like ours might have, but that is not always true. I think the articles and rants about “privilege” these days are really an increasingly secular society’s way of saying “judge not, lest ye be judged.” One tiny change in circumstance before you were born could have put you in a position just like that of the homeless person or the drug addict you encounter on the street. And one tiny change in circumstance could cause something to happen right now, totally beyond your control, that could plunge you into a life you would have scorned just the day before.

2 thoughts on “Privilege and False Control

  1. I think this is very true. It makes of think of the movie Goodfellas (of all things). In that movie, the main character describes how he grew up: poor, in a poor neighborhood (I don’t remember the exact details, but it kind of doesn’t matter). The point he makes is that, given the options available to him (the real ones, not the fake “you can achieve anything you want” ones), working for the mob was the best choice he could make.

    People make choices, but they (we) don’t get to choose the options available to us.

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