The Troubling Implications of Privilege Checking

Will Tippens
Feb 1, 2014 at 11:10 AM

Lately there has been a lot of discussion about whether libertarians should focus more on “privilege checking.” I recently wrote an article that said, although there’s nothing wrong with using “privilege” as an exercise in perspective, attempting to ram it into the heart of libertarian philosophy is highly problematic. I was rewarded a couple days later with a shout out by Gina Luttrell at ThoughtsOnLiberty.com, in an article called In Order to Achieve Individualism, We Must Acknowledge Privilege Exists.

Gina writes that If we want a world where everyone is truly valued for their individuality and the particular aspects that they bring to the table, then we must first start by dismantling privilege. Completely ignoring the vagueness of what is meant by an individual being “truly valued,” let’s jump right into the part that matters: the “let’s do something” part.

“Dismantle” is a strong word that implies action. So, if we are going to “dismantle” privilege, we better figure out what exactly it is. In another article Gina describes “privilege” as a social power system propagated by society. She writes, “When a system is created in which people with certain characteristics are valued above others, a cycle is created. This assertion necessarily begs another question: What is this “system” that makes people value certain qualities over others and how was it “created”?

If she’s talking about the state, fine—I agree that the state is the single biggest perpetrator of inequality and injustice to ever exist. But since neither the words “state” nor “government” are mentioned in this article, I have a sneaking suspicion she’s talking about something more in the vein of social conflict theory, a theory developed by Marx positing that society will always be plagued by an endless cycle of class exploitation (until we throw off our bourgeois shackles, of course).

Now, I’m certainly not calling Gina a Marxist. However, like Marx, her philosophy towards “privilege” is based upon a mercurial, unfalsifiable definition of "power." Simply put, "power" is a slippery slope that can mean almost anything at any given time, because no human interaction is ever on perfectly equal grounds.  To assume otherwise would reduce humanity to simplistic models, one of the insurmountable flaws of central planning.

Gina goes on to make a point that much of our “privilege” is inherited unconsciously. Although I agree with this claim, so what?  

The fact that we are not born “equal” is literally written in our genes. Of course, this does mean that any person is “better” or “superior” to another. These are value judgments, which can only exist in the minds of individuals. Just because I think Thomas Sowell is a much more valuable person to humankind than Lady Gaga takes nothing away from Gaga. In fact, many people would surely disagree, and could engage me in constructive discourse, trying to convince me otherwise. Ultimately, though, it comes down to my own preferences and value judgments.

The factors that cause me to value Thomas Sowell, hot sauce, dark hair—whatever—arise from a billion different experiences and factors, from my upbringing, to how I slept last night, to my genetic predilections. It cannot be boiled down to a simple recipe, despite the obvious fact that these experiences have undoubtedly been impacted by the fact I am a middle class white guy. No one knows what it’s like to be another person, ever. Period. No amount of sociology classes can change this fact. To assume otherwise is naïve and conceited.

Besides, in the same way that the societal acceptance of intellectual property debases the foundation of property rights, putting a prefix in front of injustice takes away from the only injustice that is real—injustice against the individual. There is no such thing as racial injustice, there is only injustice. The prefix adds nothing, and actually serves to distract from the underlying root of what justice is.

 Libertarianism is about rejecting centralized force—that is, using systematic initiatory violence against others. The single biggest offender of “social justice” that currently exists—or has ever existed—is the state. Once it is drastically reduced or abolished, everything else will naturally take care of itself through a magical process called the market. For liberty minded individuals like Gina to prioritize “abolishing privilege” before drastically reducing the state is, to paraphrase Thoreau, like hacking away at the branches of evil instead of striking the root.

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