‘Privilege’ is a bad term

The word ‘privilege,’ as used in social justice, is a bad term. There are a few reasons for this. The biggest one, though, is that most of what is called ‘privilege’ are actually rights, which are being denied to some people.

For example, we have the right to not be murdered by cops. That cops frequently get away with murdering black people is not ‘white privilege;’ if anything, it is white normalcy. A ‘privilege,’ on the other hand, is something which some people receive over and above their rights. Example: diplomats receive the privilege of diplomatic immunity. This is something which ordinary people don’t, and shouldn’t, have (arguably the diplomats shouldn’t either); it is thus not at all a right.

The problem is that most of the things SJWs speak of as ‘privilege’ are actually not privileges at all, they are merely a lack of disadvantage. Often it is not even a lack of disadvantage, but merely a lesser disadvantage. After all, white people are murdered by cops as well. Black people are murdered at a disproportionately high rate, of course, but no group is immune from having members murdered by police. Yet, I’m supposed to consider myself ‘privileged’ because I’m less likely to be murdered by a cop?

A similar issue occurs with the term ‘systemic.’ What, exactly, is ‘systemic?’ Often, it seems to be used as a synonym for ‘widespread.’

I’m not demanding a precise, rigorous definition. Not all terms need to be fully precise to be useful. There is a famous linguistic/philosophical puzzle: what is a ‘pile of sand?’ If you begin putting individual grains of sand one at a time onto a table, at what point does it become a pile? It’s not really possible to say, but the term ‘pile’ is still useful.

But with ‘systemic,’ this does not seem to be the case. If it means ‘widespread,’ then it’s merely a synonym. On the other hand, if it means ‘inherent in the system,’ well, that is not the way it is used. There is nothing inherent in our criminal justice system that lets cops get away with murdering black people; racial bigotry in some police officers and some jurors is to blame. There’s no law saying that being black is a mitigating factor when it comes to cops killing suspects/civilians, or anything.

The problem is that, if systemic merely means widespread – as it would seem – then why replace the words? The only reason would appear to be that, by calling it ‘systemic,’ SJWs hope to evoke a feeling of collective guilt.


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