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Privilege & Mystification

Friends,

Of late I have noticed a disturbing trend in discussions where parties invoke privilege as a trump card which has the power to nullify the arguments of any person who doesn’t meet a certain criteria of disenfranchised pedigree.

“Here we go, another bitter men’s rights/white rights advocate.”

Sure, if you want to look at things reductively like that then so be it, but know that you are part of the problem I am trying to draw attention to.

The premise of privilege is that the straight, white, non-handicapped male…

ronald-reagan
Pictured Here

…is the most heard from, listened to, demographic in the Western World and as such, he should shut up and give everyone else a chance to talk. Failing that, he should at least say things that don’t exacerbate the disenfranchisement of various minorities. At face value, this seems like an appreciably good idea; certainly I know a lot of people, many of whom are straight/white/male, who say shit that is limited by their own experiential biases and who don’t really try and empathize with those outside of their demographic. Could these people benefit from saying a little less? Well, yes of course, as much as anyone could, but I guess I’m dissatisfied with how this idea of privilege manifests on the back end.

You see by definition it takes someone without privilege or with less privilege to arbitrate what those with (more) privilege are tastefully allowed to say (because someone with privilege couldn’t possibly empathize with a fellow human being). And since the arbiters of what is PC/appropriate/sensitive are fallible human beings as well, there is far too much temptation to abuse the trump card that is privilege and thus void all the arguments of the person they are engaging with, no matter how logical those arguments, on the grounds of artificial constructs. This allows people to hold on to ideas past the point of reason simply because challenging said ideas becomes unpopular. It’s like an unlimited credit card for an intellectual materialist and frankly, it’s a little disingenuous.

Also, there is an explicit element of mystification in how I have seen the concept of privilege handled. Since as a straight, white, male (an identity which for the record I try to avoid claiming for myself because it separates me from other human beings) I simply “don’t get it,” and thus I am forced to rely on a priest-caste of “less-privileged” groups to reveal some arcane truth to me like in one of the great mystery religions. But like a Scientologist who has shelled out thousands of dollars and spent years of his life in study only to finally have the anti-climactic gospel (ALEINS! [sic.]) revealed to him, the truth is simple. Disappointingly so.

As a student of history (like, as in an actual degree holder…which is great in case I ever run out of TP), not only do I not deny atrocities and hardships faced by women, non-whites, etc. but I also try and view them in a broader sense as outgrowths of various socio-economic systems which were conducive to violence. And what was the common denominator in all socio-economic systems which predated our own? Scarcity, or at least the ever-present looming threat of it.  Shit son, you don’t even gotta have an edumucation to see that; we have no record of a time when there was ever a universal, perpetual abundance for all. And in the current socio-economic model is it really so different? I’m not really a statistics guy, but its something like a billion people don’t have access to clean water and 3.5 billion (or half the world’s pop.) is living in poverty. So yeah, scarcity is still alive and kicking.

But what does economics have to do with privilege? Well, as I have maintained in the past, racial, sexual and gender and differences serve as convenient dotted lines to cut along when you want to divide people and consolidate power by creating an “other” to unite against in conditions of scarcity. Power consolidation, which is a required aspect of the gaming strategy integral to surviving in the competitive economy which rose up in conditions of scarcity, underlies all so-called “atrocities” which have been since painted with a thick veneer or racism, sexism, jingoism and others.

“War is merely the continuation of politics by other means”
-Carl von Clausewitz

“Politics is merely the continuation of economics by other means.”
-Michael C. Ruppert

And herein lies my biggest problem with the concept of privilege; in no way does it address the structural mechanisms which cause and exacerbate the historical violence which has been done to under-privileged groups. Rather, the privilege argument assumes scarcity as a pre-condition of existence and simply demands more for the historically maligned which necessarily equates to less for the historical “maligners.” An apt metaphor would be fighting for more scraps from the table rather than trying to create a seat at the table for all.

And I’m not even gonna get into the fact that in Eastern Europe, Russia and the United States, there are straight white males, ostensibly members of the privileged class, who are either starving or food insecure. We clearly need a solution which is inclusive of all people, rather than just assumes, “hey you look like an oppressor so surely you must be doing ok.”

Of course there is a caveat to what I am saying, and it is those situations where gender, race & sexuality expertise is completely valid. Example, this May I will be portraying a gay male drag queen in a web series. Great! I hope I yield a performance which the gay drag community approves of. But what the actual fuck do I know about being a drag queen? Not a damn thing. So I will be looking to find a drag queen to hang out with, and study from prior to the shoot. I acknowledge that this gay male drag queen is probably expert on the topic of being a drag queen, but I don’t think he will necessarily be more or less expert than me on the human experience based simply on his historically under-privileged sexuality. Nor will he, by virtue of the fact that he likes men and dresses like women have a grasp of the structural causes of violence inherent in our socio-economic system unless he has devoted some thought and study to it.

However, by hanging out with him a curious thing might happen: empathy.

MIND = BLOWN

Sure he’s just a hypothetical drag queen now and as such pretty hard to relate to, but as I get to know him a little better I’ll see commonality and similarity I never saw before and see him as more like me than a cursory, superficial glance might have indicated. Any constructed line drawn between his gayness and my straightness would dissolve and be seen for what it always was; an artificial boundary.

Enter privilege.

The privilege argument seeks to formalize boundaries and identities which only serve to obfuscate the truth about how similar we all are. By accepting identification as a member of a disenfranchised group, an individual accepts ownership of resentment and the honor neurosis, and is primed to become indignant due to perceived offences from those not identifiable as part of THEIR tribe.

“The things you own end up owning you.”  -Tyler Durden, Fight Club

To me it’s simple: relinquish ownership of cultural, racial, and gender legacies which carry with them resentment that you don’t need in your life. It’s baggage you don’t need, like the hoarders on the reality tripe I don’t watch. If you must identify, choose an identity that is inclusive of all peoples. Personally, I opt to identify as a human being,** but certainly there are other identifiers which would function just as adequately.

Ultimately, it’s the othering we need to get away from; the othering that makes us clamor for retributive punishment for a transgressor, the othering that makes us cheer when we hear a “bad guy” got killed, the othering that makes brother kill brother in a civil war. Guess what?; they’re ALL ‘CIVIL’ WARS.

To be clear, I don’t deny that certain segments of the population have had a harder go at life than others, but I can’t co-sign issuing redress along the same bigoted lines that were used as avenues of disenfranchisement. Maybe that’s my privilege talking, but the handy thing my privilege has afforded me is that I don’t see any groups as my enemy. Rather we’re all brothers and sisters, human beings, living souls.

Let’s start acting like it.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

*As a rule, I am against sensitivity and other people’s threshold for being offended being the limiter of what can be said.
Obviously this isn’t a license to be a complete dick and say things simply to offend, but if there is a point to be made, make it. Just be willing to stand by it and defend it, remaining open to the possibility that you might have to recant, modify or alter that point if new evidence is presented.

**I realize that this identification will prove to be limited once the ALEINS make first contact. Also, the film, Earthlings makes a compelling case for why identifying as a human being even at this point in time might be a little reductive, given all the different forms of life on this planet.

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The iPocalypse

Friends,

In the last few years smartphones have become ubiquitous in society.  Walking down the street its impossible not to see people wearing ear-buds.  Sitting on public transit you would be blind not to notice that everyone around you has their eyes glued to whatever viral video or vine is popular at the moment.  Well, either blind or immersed in that same video on your own phone.

These typical bland & innocuous observations out of the way I want to dig a little deeper than your average observational blogger might be wont to do.  Now I gotta qualify what I say by pointing out that I tend to be a bit contrary and I will argue any position even if its to point out that the person I am arguing with hasn’t thought deeply enough about their point of view even if I share their point of view. Whatever, I’m a dick like that I guess.  That said, the anti-smartphone sentiment has become fairly common Facebook bitching-fodder, and by default I am suspicious of any view which becomes the common man’s claim to intellectual discourse (see: atheism).  

So, without any further ado…

The Zombie Apocalypse Redefined
One of the most common criticisms levied at smartphone zombies is that they are in fact the zombies slated to take over the world in the imminent zombie apocalypse.

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Now I actually have a little bit of sympathy for this view, but only insofar as smartphone obsession is treated as an aspect of materialism and conspicuous consumption.  This view was of course explored in Goerge A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead (1978), although I confess I have never watched it the full way through and thus such observations on my part are only hearsay.

Dawn_of_the_dead

However, when this zombie comparison is postulated reductively to suggest that anyone immersed in the virtual world is a zombie, I begin to take a bit of an issue.  In a limited sense I agree: People being oblivious to what is going on around them can open them up to many hazards, but at the same time many of these hazards already exist even without smartphones.  Take for example walking into traffic and getting hit by a car: There’s a lot of variables present in that event, including but not limited to, the amount of traffic, the condition of the vehicle, the speed of travel, the disposition/distraction level of the driver, the awareness and agility of the pedestrian, etc…  But the witch-hunt for oblivious smartphone zombies assumes that someone on a smartphone is the prime cause for such an event.  Taken more broadly, this seems to be the latest permutation of our society’s fascination and preoccupation with foisting all responsibility for a complex occurrence, inevitably brought about as a result of a multitude of factors,  upon a single individual for expediency’s (and legal liability’s) sake.  Taking a systems approach and looking at the broad range of causality is simply not done because it would force us to ask difficult questions about our obsolete infrastructure and the lunacy of manually-operated cars and trucks when safe, automated operation is a technological reality.
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However, potential hazards notwithstanding, can an individual immersed in smartphone reality be accused of being a zombie?  Not always.
You see, that way I figure it, a smartphone zombie is distinct from you average couch potato in two important regards: One is visibility.  Whereas the couch potato immerses himself in his vice largely in private, the smartphone zombie engages in his smartphonery for all the world to see.  Hence, in my opinion, the popular backlash.

zombies3

The other distinction is that the smartphone zombie’s obsession is mitigated by the fact that his experience is not passive.  Certainly its not active in the same way punching someone in the dick or having sex is active, but its certainly interactive.  Even if its something as malignant as flaming a cancer patient’s support page, there is still more effort and thought being put into the endeavour than simply receiving a message.  Hell, the greatest part about the internet, aside from access to the entire world, is the ability to leave your indelible mark on that world.  And, with all those possibilities at someone’s fingertips suddenly me bitching about my day doesn’t seem all that interesting as a topic of discussion.  Which brings me to my next point…

It Hurts to be Ignored
We’ve all hung out with someone who could not put their phone away for five seconds.  It’s one of those things that becomes more insulting the more you dwell on it.  You roll your eyes whenever their attention wanders from you to their phone or groan audibly whenever their phone beeps or vibrates.  The feelings of rejection and unimportance inspired by occurrences like this are very real and are not diminished because you are being brushed aside for an object rather than a person.
Typically, I don’t get upset by stuff like this anymore because I try to keep two rules in mind:

Rule #1: “The responsibility for being understood belongs to the speaker; the responsibility for understanding belongs to the listener
Let’s call this the prime directive of communication; obviously you can only influence your own actions in any direct, meaningful way, and since you play both the listener and the speaker in any given exchange, the responsibility for understanding is always yours.  The upshot is that if you can’t communicate with someone who is absorbed with their smartphone then you are not coming at them effectively.  Don’t waste time fretting about how “unnatural” a form of communication it is because you can’t reach them with your words.  That’s like a guy talking about how sex is a really superficial and lame way to bond with people because he has erectile dysfunction.  Bottom line: reach out to people on their level and work to bring them to your level.  Don’t start on your level then become bitter when they don’t respond to you  There’s a reason why my French teachers taught us French class in English.  If they came into a classroom of English-speaking 10-year-olds and started spouting off in frog-speak my notebook would probably have been filled with dick drawings instead of conjugated verbs…
…and French impressionist dick paintings, graphite on paper.

Rule #2: “Don’t have conversations with distracted people.”
I learned this little gem from a book called, “How to be a Pick-Up Artist” by Wayne “Juggler” Elise.  I believe the lesson here is really two-fold:
First, and the more immediately pragmatic of the two aspects, if you persist in talking with someone whose attention is elsewhere, some part of the message is going to get lost.  It’s like, don’t give me directions while I’m on the phone getting the results of a medical exam.  There’s a chance I might not remember the finer points of your instructions if my own mortality is first and foremost on my mind.  To take this kind of example to a less extreme level, sometimes my girlfriend wants to tell me about what so and so said at the gym.  While this information is not incredibly essential to my continued existence I am happy to digest it, even if it is occasionally uninteresting, if only to strengthen the bond between me and her.  However, if she begins sharing said story while I am typing away furiously on something as profound and consequential to my existence as, say…this blog post, and then simply to fill the silence, then I might look at her incredulously and slightly annoyed.  That is not effective communication.
The second aspect in this rule is that you should have a little more self-respect; if someone is ignoring what you’re saying because they are too wrapped up in other things, but you keep talking in an attempt to win them over, then you are demonstrating lower value.  You are implicitly telling this person that you are worthy of only a fraction of their attention by co-signing their inattentiveness with your continued engagement.  Stop doing this.  Also, it need not be adversarial; simply tell them politely that you will let them finish what they are doing and then talk to them.  9 times out of 10 they will put aside whatever occupies their attention (smartphone in this case) and give you their rapt attention.  If they brush your polite concern aside and insist that they can concentrate on you and their phone at the same time, remain firm in your polite refusal to have conversations with a distracted person.  They will eventually come around and respect you the more for it at a sub-conscious level.  Or, they will stop hanging out with you.  But in this latter case, if they don’t have it in them to ever give you complete attention then they probably aren’t worth your friendship.

To these two rules I might add a third: If you are going to insist on having someone’s complete attention, at least have some interesting shit to say.

I think that if these two (3) rules are followed and really adhered to then we wouldn’t have the current backlash against smartphones that currently exists.  It all comes down to communication; if you’re a good communicator with interesting shit to say, no technology is going to stand in your way.  If you suck at communication and you talk about banal shit …well, no amount of pining for the good old days of probing, intellectual discourse while sitting in well-worn leather chairs in front of a fire while swirling brandy in snifters is going to cover for the fact that you talk like a faggot and your shit’s all retarded.

This unfortunately does not bring me to my last point in any artful way, so apologies if my argument seems disjointed, but here goes.

Motherfuckers Love Them Some ‘Takin’ Shit Out of Context”
Consider the following image

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What do you thing Einstein meant when he said this?  What do you really think he meant by saying this in the first part of the 20th century when the possibilities for inter-continental communications were being initially being explored and promised to bring all people closer together?
Do you think he meant:
A: “We must be careful not to lose our humanity and critical mind in an age of mechanization and automation which promises to alleviate many of the burdens now placed upon us” …or something to that effect (This is my own personal interpretation BTW)
or…
B: “Fuck cell phones and anyone who uses them!” (Not an actual Einstein quotation…at least I don’t think so)

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a way in which a solid quotation can have empirical value than transcends the context in which it was initially delivered, but we really gotta be more selective about the piecemeal way in which we apply broad ideas and concepts to issues of marginal importance.

Conclusion
I’m not really sure.
I’m all for deconstructing what I feel is a popular backlash against smartphone technology, but that is not to say I see no problems whatsoever with the use/misuse of them or any other technology.  I guess more than anything my point is a variation of what it always is: look at the bigger picture, place things in a broader context and question everything.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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