On privilege

When we moved from hunting-gathering to agriculture and domestication as the primary way of living, aggregation into groups and formation of hierarchies became critical for the effective functioning of these structures. This gave birth to the concept of privilege.

Being privileged is about having special rights and powers that are only available to you because you are part of some group. Among other advantages, it allows the exercise of influence by a select few and is responsible for where we are today or where we go from here on. Given the benefits that it entails, getting on the right side of privilege forms the basis of all our major cravings—from aspirations of getting rich and powerful to attaining fame.

The problem with privilege, however, is that it is also at the core of a lot of issues we face as a society. The privileged build traps that create inequality and in extreme cases become a proxy for oppression. But we often fail to recognise and isolate these instances.

There are numerous examples that illustrate the point but this viral comicstrip by Toby Morris is a perfect take on how privilege runs the world—inconspicuously masked behind the usual perceptions of success.

Two important points to note are:

  • I feel that if we plot the distribution of the number of people vs the degree of privilege, it would look something like the following. Most of us, I believe, are ‘somewhat privileged’ meaning that we are on the right side of the privilege barrier in some cases and on the left of it in some others.

  • It is not uncommon for people to cross the barrier and go from not being privileged to being privileged and with time the number of people doing so is increasing. Technology has been the biggest driver of this democratisation process that provides the activation energy for people to transcend boundaries. The internet led the way and blockchain should transform this to a even greater extent.

The purview of this privileged and not privileged divide is too wide and beyond the timescale/scope of a single discussion but fundamentally what is important to understand is that this divide works for and against us in different circumstances. The way to deal with it can be summarised as follows:

  • If you are privileged then try to identify and acknowledge that. Be empathetic to the those who are not in a similar position as you, support them in any way possible and try giving them the necessary conditions to thrive.
  • If you are not privileged then accept it and fight with all your might. While some systemic acts of discrimination like racism are difficult to eradicate completely through individual efforts but the only way they will be is through the collective voice of people—so it’s important to get that voice heard. Then there are other lack of privileges such as the disparity in the kind of education or career that you have which can be offset by hard work to a certain extent. If that’s the case, then work extra hard.

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