There’s a discussion about that question attached to a posting from the toothycats. One of the toothycats (who are a couple with a shared blog) posted an entry about their Christian beliefs, which promptly exploded into religion_wank (why does that community not exist already?) after lark_ascending turned up, and, angered by a toothcat‘s oppressive action of posting about an interest of theirs on their blog under a cut, started a huge argument (she later experienced drama remorse and deleted fracking everything, but there’s an archive of some of the thread here). I’m unable to resist this sort of thing, so I’ve stuck my oar in here and there.
I can see the point of these privilege checklists which circulate on the net. You don’t know what it’s like to be someone else. If you’re someone who has it good, you may assume that everyone has it equally good. Checklists are a reminder that this assumption isn’t valid.
If you’re not careful though, what you can get out of in a discussion of privilege is black and white thinking (if you’ll pardon the pun) where you insist that someone must be oppressed because they belong to a group you’ve identified as under-privileged, regardless of anything that person says about it. This has happened to a couple of LJ friends, but it doesn’t happen to me very often, because I’m male, middle-class and white so nobody (except Daily Fail readers) would argue that I’m discriminated against. Nevertheless, I am a non-Christian, and I’m not being oppressed. The situation in the UK isn’t like it is in some parts of the USA, so checklists from there aren’t portable.
The other thing I didn’t like about the list that everyone’s been doing as a meme on their blogs lately is that some of it effectively asks “do you come from a healthy culture?” and might, if handled badly, cause people who do to feel bad about that. It’s no credit to you where you were born, of course, but neither do you want the situation where you can’t say that to be from such a culture is a good thing, worth having. A privilege, in fact.
lisekit has a discussion on novels, religion and relativism in religion. She says that, where religion is concerned, she doesn’t like to say that anyone’s views are more or less valuable than anyone else’s. This set me thinking about the idea of relativism in general (which lisekit isn’t advocating, lest I accuse her of it, as she mentions respect and tolerance as moral virtues).
I seem to have been brainwashed by Neal Stephenson into believing that strict relativism is undesirable because it does not work. If you cannot say one thing is better than another, the only sin left is hypocrisy (and, perhaps, intolerance 🙂 In a sense I’m a relativist, since I don’t believe in absolutes imposed by a deity, but in another sense, that of refusing to say that one thing is better than another, I am not. In morality, say, I advocate things which I believe will lead to a society which I hope will be a good one for myself and people I care for. In religion, I would like to see well-reasoned disagreement between people who do think their viewpoint is the right one but are prepared to learn from others. Better that than the pop-culture spirituality which accepts everything that feels good (poor Greg Egan’s disgust for that sort of thing in Silver Fire makes me think he’s forgotten what G.K. Chesterton said happens to people who stop believing in God). Stephenson again:
The only real problem is that anyone who has no culture, other than this global monoculture, is completely screwed. Anyone who grows up watching TV, never sees any religion or philosophy, is raised in an atmosphere of moral relativism, learns about civics from watching bimbo eruptions on network TV news, and attends a university where postmodernists vie to outdo each other in demolishing traditional notions of truth and quality, is going to come out into the world as one pretty feckless human being. And–again–perhaps the goal of all this is to make us feckless so we won’t nuke each other.
On the other hand, if you are raised within some specific culture, you end up with a basic set of tools that you can use to think about and understand the world. You might use those tools to reject the culture you were raised in, but at least you’ve got some tools.
In this country, the people who run things–who populate major law firms and corporate boards–understand all of this at some level. They pay lip service to multiculturalism and diversity and non-judgmentalness, but they don’t raise their own children that way. I have highly educated, technically sophisticated friends who have moved to small towns in Iowa to live and raise their children, and there are Hasidic Jewish enclaves in New York where large numbers of kids are being brought up according to traditional beliefs. Any suburban community might be thought of as a place where people who hold certain (mostly implicit) beliefs go to live among others who think the same way.
— In the Beginning was the Command Line
(The rest of Stephenson’s essay is a huge digression on technology and culture, seen through the lens of the Windows/Unix clash: it’s well worth reading if you’ve an hour to spare).
I suppose I’m back to morality as enlightened self-interest again: the reason these people are inculcating their children in their particular culture is because those cultures work, and they want their children to be happy, fulfilled and all that stuff. There are cultures which don’t, and I’ll gladly preach the superiority of those which work over those which don’t, as it’s in my own interest to do so.