A friend on Facebook linked to Louise Mensch vs Laurie Penny on the “check your privilege” thing. He went on to say he hadn’t come across that phrase, and wondered if it’s anything more than thinly veiled argumentum ad hominem. I done a comment, which seemed long enough to blog:
It’s jargon from the Internet social justice warrior subculture, as far as I can tell, so if you haven’t heard it, hang out on Tumblr, LiveJournal or bits of the feminist blogsphere (or, you know, don’t). It’s becoming more mainstream, if those articles are anything to go by.
The injunction to “check your privilege” means different things at different times. Sometimes it means “you are not in a position to know that”. For example, if I claimed “there is no homophobia in Cambridge”, someone could rightly point out that I’m not that likely to be a victim of homophobia, so I should probably ask some gay people for their opinions. Saying that continues the argument by undercutting my claim.
Sometimes it does seem to act as what Suber calls “logical rudeness“, that is, saying “CYP!” insulates a theory from argument by attributing some fault to those who do not believe it, stopping the argument about the theory by switching it to an argument about the unbeliever. As Suber says, though, it’s not clear that there’s a general duty to respond to would-be debunkers of theories we hold, and claiming that, say, feminism is nonsense because so many feminists are fans of privilege checking is itself rude. However, Suber doesn’t seem to address the point that, if we’re interested in having accurate beliefs, we should debate those with the strongest counter-arguments: our rudeness should not allow the opposition to conclude we are mistaken, but it should worry us.
Using “CYP!” a single line response (on Twitter, or in a comment box, say) is just blowing off steam or cheering for your team, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t actually mean anything other than “yay for us and boo for you!”
Edited to add: There’s some more discussion of this over on Liv’s journal. Read the comments too.