Sunday, February 23, 2020

Why Promoting Equality Falls on the Privileged

In short:
  • In an environment with values of "equality", human rights have to be non-conditional... everyone is due all of them simply by being a person. They are rights, and do not have to be negotiated for, cannot be withheld, and cannot be required to be traded away for considerations.
  • Inequity of power is duress, simply by existing.
  • Consent cannot be freely given or legitimately obtained under duress.
  • The privileged are in a natural state of having power, and therefore exist in a state of applying duress, implicitly or explicitly.
  • The underprivileged cannot be required to bargain or negotiate with the privileged for their rights, because the underprivileged are in a constant state of being under duress, and, for their own safety, cannot presume otherwise.
  • It is on the privileged to freely grant human rights to the underprivileged without expectation of specific returns, otherwise it is a "negotiation under duress", and stops being "equality" due to explicit exertion of imbalance of power.
  • The underprivileged should never "have to" negotiate for some or all of their rights, individually or grouped, and rights cannot be treated as privileges to try to require or force same.


I woke up on Sunday (02/16/2020) with the crashing realization as to just WHY ideals like “civility”, “equality”, and “inclusiveness” are top-down obligations of privilege; why it’s on the privileged, more than the underprivileged, to prioritize, promote, and actively exercise civility and rationality. It all ties into to another ethical concern I spend a great deal of time thinking about: consent.

Fully-informed consent cannot be taken; it can only be freely granted. Consent also cannot be obtained under duress, misdirection, misinformation, or under mind-altering influences. Consent is also not automatically a continuous easement, a one-time trophy obtained for unlimited permission to trespass. A person has to be cognitively capable of understanding and granting consent, so children and people suffering dementia cannot give consent, for example.

A person cannot consent to sex when intimidated or harassed, when intoxicated or high, or when lied to or misled.

A five-year-old immigrant cannot sign away their rights at all.

An employee cannot consent to worse working conditions under threat of loss of job.

How does this relate? It comes down to power. In the United States of America, there it an immense, intersected legislative, executive, judicial, and financial institutional power structure that overwhelmingly favors (for a start) white people, men, the middle- and upper-class, the healthy, cisgender (straight) people, people with property, and Christian denominations of organized religion. The mindset of this power structure dates back to British-colonial expansion of empire.

The mindset driving this expansion, and adopted by the subsequent institutions of power due to its singular success in global expansion, invasion, subjugation, possession, and rule, is an authoritarian consensual reality among the subjugating class that they, and only they, understand the nature of the intellectual moral and ethical complexities of the issues at-hand well enough to be unilaterally capable of making the necessary decisions for all involved. This, all-too-often, happened to line up with their view that others who were “different” were, somehow, “savages”, or “not people”, and, so undeserving of “civil” human courtesy. If they didn’t submit to reconditioning or indoctrination, they could just as easily be killed, or enslaved, and, since they weren’t seen as capable of understanding consent, they simply didn’t have a say in the matter. If they did submit, they could aspire to indentured servitude, or, perhaps, second-class citizenship as the “Other”, the less-than-people, to minimize ethical decisions or the need to share power and resources, as expansion and diversification continued. It was a very convenient perspective for the people that had the power to compel their opinion of what should or shouldn’t be onto others. Anyone who didn’t match… “recalcitrant” women, foreigners, the poor, the under-educated, the sick, other faiths, anything different… could be cast as the “Other” and lose their human “privileges”.

These egalitarian ideals, like “civility”, “equality”, and “inclusiveness”, are mechanics of power and consent. They cannot be taken, but must be given… and consent cannot be obtained under duress.

Power is duress, by definition.

Power, by the very nature of its presence, is an implicit or explicit threat to exercise that power. In this case, there’s an overwhelming, centuries-old institution of carefully-crafted authoritarian power ready, at all times, to make unilateral decisions about other people if they don’t conform; there is an encyclopedic set of precedents. For those who benefit from it, the safety net that preserves their way of life is all but invisible, and they rarely see the impact it has on others, who are often conveniently out-of-sight; for those who sustain that net, who labor under the constant threat of dehumanization if they don’t conform, their daily lives are saturated with the awareness of it; it’s never completely safe to let their guard down, because not conforming to the comfort of the privileged classes can result in any number of unexpected consequences with unpredictable scale… from angry remarks in checkout lines, to gerrymandering and redlining, to violence and murder… with an institutional juggernaut backing them up and ready to downplay or normalize the result whenever a precedent can be set to do so as change advances.

This means the underprivileged cannot give consent; they are constantly under duress, due to the perpetual implicit or explicit threat of power. Power doesn’t even need to intend a threat; those with power may be unaware, to some degree, of the influence they have, the implicit threat they present… but the underprivileged, those vulnerable to it, can still be starkly aware of the risks, and they cannot risk anything less. Power can be whimsical in favoring its own convenience, and that whimsy can be devastating to those without it, because even small shifts in favor can leave them very vulnerable, or simply unable to function. They can lose their homes, their health, their freedom, or even their lives, if left unsupported by power; in self-defense, they can never afford to ignore the inequity.

This creates an imbalance in the perception of power: while the privileged, often, only have a textbook or second-hand account of the experience of current conditions of underprivilege, the underprivileged have a first-hand understanding of both perspectives, because relative privilege parses into finer granularities of privilege the deeper into underprivilege one descends. This has as many facets as there are inequities, so a person may have some input on one issue but no clear perspective on another, and may not even have as clear a perspective as someone else in a deeper state of underprivilege, which requires a per-instance evaluation of context when egalitarian values are considered a factor.

Where am I going with this? Simply that, in the relation between privilege and underprivilege, only one side is in a position to freely grant fully-informed consent: the privileged. Any requirement of concessions becomes duress by definition, because the underprivileged have no way to tell what scale power will use to respond if not satisfied; “order before justice” is a subjective bar that becomes a threat, and an informed lack of action becomes an action, a conscious decision. The underprivileged can speak up, dissent, even protest, but only the privileged can grant concessions of equity and equality, and both refusal to do so and demands for concessions elsewhere on the scale of privilege become duress.

Personal note: In my perspective, equity and equality are not commodities that can be negotiated or traded for; they are basic human rights, and the modern practice of insisting on negotiating to grant them is an act of discrimination, aggression, or even outright violence.

1 comment:

  1. As I'm posting this response to my own post, I'm reminded that the healthy have this obligation to the vulnerable during the novel COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic; they can't protect themselves from us if we don't protect them from us. The more active and social you are, the greater the lengths you should go to try to keep from spreading the disease... wash your hands, keep from touching your face, and try to wipe down what you handle with something to sterilize it. If the sickly get this disease, it's more likely because the healthy didn't take it seriously, and didn't think of them in the process.