You’re not to think you are anything special.
You’re not to think you are as good as us.
You’re not to think you are smarter than us.
You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than us.
You’re not to think you know more than us.
You’re not to think you are more important than us.
You’re not to think you are good at anything.
You’re not to laugh at us.
You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
The above is taken from the Law of Jante which is a codified prescription for behavioural patterns in Sweden and other Scandinavian nations. It was formulated by the Danish author Aksel Sandemose and first presented in his novel “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks” in 1933. In this novel, the Law Of Jante is presented as ten rules which effectively shaped the rather dim view of individuality and individual success which is now fairly common to Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. Individual effort and achievement is disparaged, and all emphasis is placed onto the group efforts of the collective as a whole.
This is a fairly good example of the kind of doctrine I believe has helped shape the modern social justice movement. Even in regard to Anarchism+ (Defined as Anarchism PLUS Social Justice, or “Anarchism PLUS Insanity) which seems to have adopted quite a lot of this idealism as its own.
I find this interesting and personally, I would compare it to a brand new guilt cult akin to traditional Catholicism which has effectively infiltrated secular atheism (and various generally atheistic political movements such as anarchism, libertarianism and socialism) under the auspices of social justice. Now, instead of the cult of sin, atonement and the church, we now have the cult of the social sciences academia.
Privilege-checking is a prime example of this.
For those who are still unaware, “privilege checking” is essentially about constant reminders of of ways in which you might have gained some sort of socioeconomic benefits (either perceived or real) as a result of your background. This could be to do with your race, your gender, your class, your able-bodied status and so on. The more supposed privilege you have, the more you supposedly benefit from it at the expense of those without such privileges and the less weight your opinion on issues such as sex, gender, race, class and so on carries.
This is the first main reason why I think it is fair to compare it to the traditional guilt cult of Catholicism. Your very existence is argued to be that of privilege and thus you are tainted by this “original sin”. Your opinion on matters of race, sex and class is therefore less meaningful as a result.
Don’t even consider therefore, that you could possibly have anything meaningful to contribute to the debates about social oppression.
This is somewhat bizarre as the first assumption behind the “privilege checking” fanatics seems to be that someone’s opinions are less meaningful because of the condition they were born into. In and of itself, how is this not a form of discrimination on the basis of birth? Fundamentally, it also ignores the fact that many of the well-known leftist social thinkers were themselves from privileged backgrounds. Karl Marx, Peter Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin amongst others spring to mind. Of course, their opinions on subjects dear to the left are well-respected by leftists, despite not actually hailing from the same background as an average proletarian or oppressed minority groupings. Indeed, academia in general is still dominated by the middle classes including that of the social sciences.
In arguing that one must have actually lived the experience of an oppressed person in order to have anything meaningful to say about their predicament, then debate is undermined and potentially meaningful contributions are excluded. In this respect, the “check your privilege” meme, amounts to little more than a “shut up” to anyone attempting to apply some form of disagreeable a priori reasoning to any particular situation regardless of how accurate the reasoning in itself may be. In practice, why is this justifiable other than to hardened dogmatists who have no interest in accuracy or basic logic? And why is this any more justifiable than hardcore fundamentalist religious dogma?
Now, for the sake of clarity, I am not attempting to make an explicit denial of systematic racism, sexism or class here. Rather, I am pointing out yet another facet of what i consider to be a bizarre sort of socially conservative zealotry on the part of the social justice warriors who attempt to address it. Fundamentally, it is illogical to insist that a person necessarily must have lived something in order to have a valid opinion on it. To go a little further, then it does indeed constitute a form of discrimination (despite what people might say about such a thing not being possible). If a rich white man were to tell a poor black woman that their opinions are less meaningful because of their race, colour and class then they would rightly be accused of bigotry. So how and why is this any less bigoted when applied in the opposite direction? I don’t believe that the so called “good intentions” of the social justice campaigners (or their essentially meaningless sociology degrees) really do a lot to validate this approach or make it any less arbitrarily discriminatory in practice.
Not only is this outlook somewhat bizarre from a logical perspective, but this sort of constant guilt-pricking (as with that of Catholicism) is fundamentally disempowering as a philosophy. After all, very little is more destructive to an individuals state of being than philosophies constructed on the basis of provoking constant feelings of shame, guilt and pity.
As Nietzsche recognized in The Antichrist:
Christianity is called the religion of pity. Pity stands opposed to the tonic emotions which heighten our vitality: it has a depressing effect. We are deprived of strength when we feel pity. That loss of strength which suffering as such inflicts on life is still further increased and multiplied by pity. Pity makes suffering contagious.
Therefore, a philosophy which argues that a persons very existence is something either to be ashamed of or to be pitied (either for its apparent privilege or the apparent oppression it bears) is both disempowering to individuals and psychologically destructive. Indeed, this is effectively the modus operandi behind conservative religion. By making an individual’s very existence into something to ashamed of, and therefore something for that particular individual to feel guilty about, the only purpose it can serve is to strip them of their individual desire to improve their own situation. Of course, the fundamental goal of the left is supposedly to improve the situation of the working classes, (even those workers who live relatively privileged lives by global standards in developed nations) so how does villainizing everything that a person is and making their very being into a net contributor to systematic oppression do anything to encourage people to take action to improve their situation? Indeed, how does villainizing the relative success, wealth and pure good chance of people born in developed nations do anything towards inspiring the oppressed proletarians in these countries to succeed with their struggles against the ruling classes and the state?
If applied to the developing world, then what would seem to be the logical conclusion of this?
This kind of depressive morality of self-pity and pity is the antithesis to any kind of meaningful anarchism. How else can we move forward as anarchists except by encouraging people to work towards bettering their own situation and that of those close to them?
This sums up why I think the guilt cult of the privilege check should be flatly rejected. Leftists need to realize that shouting at people who, although well off by global standards, are still a component of the poor within their particular nations about how privileged they are is no way to encourage any kind of movement for destroying the status-quo or improving the lot of the working classes in such countries. Moreover, it does nothing to improve the lot of the relative poor who mostly live in the developing world either.
As per usual, I suspect the real motive behind the privilege checkers are really nothing to do with abstract ideas of social justice but are more about narcissism and simply making a person feel better about themselves.
This kind of philosophy also mirrors the Law of Jante and conservative religion in its attitude towards individualism. The privilege checking cult seems to have no regard for the individual and reduce the fight for freedom down to simply a few slim lines across various identity boundaries. Of course, our struggle is ultimately a broad one – we are at the mercy of both our respective federal governments and, internationally, the system of power and finance that they all collaborate to maintain as well as various other socio-economic factors such as bigotry. So, if systematic oppression is a result of this system, then what sense does it make to focus *exclusively* on thin lines in this larger struggle? Those groups experiencing and intersectionality of oppression (E.g. black transgendered women) are not even a united force in society and it is fairly pointless to try and treat them as such. Likewise, the “white cis gendered males” are not a united force in society either and it is similarly futile to try and generalize them as all being unwitting cogs in the machine of oppression.
This kind of identity-politic can achieve nothing more than division and discontent along such lines of intersectionality just as the typical failed multicultural politics of the mainstream liberal-left has already done. Instead of achieving a more unified society, there is now a more divided society and this merely encourages the growth of aggressive nationalism which is counter-productive to fighting social oppression. What leftists should be pressing for is a united effort between different social groupings against the larger enemies (such as the state) while recognizing that all individual effort is complementary to the wider goal of achieving some sort of functional anarchist society. It makes no sense after all to just organize minority social groupings against social oppression. There can ultimately be no progress without the socio-economic groups who are the dominant majority working towards achieving it as well.
This applies in all areas. To achieve a functional anarchist society, we need to take the herd along with us for the ride somehow and the first step is to start treating people like individuals instead of abstract racial or sexual entities, and appealing to their sense of self-interest instead of demonizing them for indulging their material desires. Guilt and pity can never be the basis for a coherent anarchist movement.
The privilege checking cult stands in opposition to this and its about time we recognized it as such.