Problems With White Privilege

 

“[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.”

—George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

 

 

In 1988, Peggy McIntosh published her essay "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies" which popularized the term “white privilege.” Today, Dr. McIntosh’s terminology and thesis are a mainstay of left-leaning thinkers and self-described progressives, and the word 'privilege’ overloaded with novel definitions. Critiques of the ideas proposed in her essay tend to either counter with examples of hardships suffered by whites, or reject the idea that racism continues to be deeply integrated systemically within American institutions. At times the critiques do little more than to serve as expressions of hostility toward liberalism in general. I hope to offer a more rigorous critique of McIntosh’s thesis, all the while acknowledging that, in America, racism, sexism, and a host of other prejudicial and tribal mindsets are stubbornly alive and well. The starting position of this essay is that systemic bias based entirely on superficial characteristics such as sex or skin color is clearly observable in news and evident in scientifically collected and analyzed data, and that its devastating effects on American society are unambiguously causal.

 

My concerns with the argument and legacy of McIntosh’s essay are four-fold: logical, semantic, social, and educational. I will attempt to show that “white privilege” is a baseless trope which harms our society and clouds our discussions of race relations and social justice.

 

    1.    The Fallacy Of Corollary Advantage

 

McIntosh introduces the idea of corollary advantage at the very beginning of her essay: 

 

“As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage. [ . . . ] I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege.“ 

 

She does not return to defend the idea at any subsequent point. What she does do, repeatedly, is to treat the corollary as a given — a feature of the world, a self-evident premise that is given no justification. She refers to this corollary casually: “Only rarely will a man go beyond acknowledging that women are disadvantaged to acknowledging that men have unearned advantage.” If we are to resist accepting this statement at face value and insist on investigating its soundness, how might we do so? One approach might be to imagine the qualitative notions of “advantage” and “disadvantage” quantitatively. We can do this by representing advantages by positive numbers, and disadvantages by negative ones. Assigning negative numbers to black members of our set and positive numbers to white members, we are able to visualize the state that corollary advantage describes in the following diagrams: 

Corollary advantage posits a connection between the negative and positive circles. It predicts that, if a negative number goes down, some positive number must go up, either individually (Figure 1) or in aggregate (Figure 2)*. Our question, then, is, why must a positive number go up if a negative number goes down? 

 

One unspoken premise that would yield such a result is the supposition that the larger circle, representing the entire society, contains a finite amount of what we count as advantageous. For instance, if we were speaking of farmland, and we knew that it was in limited supply, we could understand how having less farmland for one party might potentially result in more for another. The grand total of all the numbers would always equal the total amount of land available, which would have to be some limited constant. 

 

The number of residences available for tenancy in a given area at a given price, the number of applicants accepted to a given school or program in a given year, the number of books printed in a given year by a given publisher — these are indeed examples of opportunities that are naturally limited in their supply, and processes which disadvantage blacks in any of these cases must give the remaining people, who by definition must have light skin, an advantage as a matter of course. These are important examples of real, race-based privileges, their advantages truly corollary. It is no accident that affirmative action policies attempt to redress precisely these sorts of advantages, however imperfectly their implementation. But very few such examples make up McIntosh’s list, and it is hard to believe that “men are taught” that a referee prejudiced against one team doesn’t advantage the other.

 

What if we counted dignity, respect, education (generally, rather than at a specific institution), information, health, or justice as advantageous, and their absence disadvantageous? Those concepts are never necessarily finite in their supply. If we follow the model’s conclusion, we would need to accept that we could never educate everyone, however we try to advance as a society, as once we start to improve the negative numbers (poor education) for one party, the other must necessarily lose some of their previous access to education. Similarly, we could never improve on justice served within this society as a whole, as the model predicts less justice for a white party if a black party were to see more of it. This is an example of a cognitive bias known as the zero-sum bias. It falsely and underhandedly has us assume that there is and can ever only be a limited supply of, for example, an honest audit by the IRS, a prompt and accurate diagnosis by a physician, or fair treatment by law enforcement officers.

 

We know this to be untrue, and must reject it. This leaves us with an alternative argument: yes, there is no logical requirement for someone to become advantaged as a result of disadvantage suffered by another, it just so happens that that’s the way our society functions. While black kids are unnecessarily shot by the police as a result of personal or institutionalized prejudice, white kids reap some unnamed, unearned new benefit from the police, not because the police are limited in how much fairness they are capable of engendering, but just because that’s the way the police, and every other socially bound institution, works. But, if it were not absolutely necessary for someone somewhere to be awarded unearned privilege for every additional victim of disadvantage, then any awarding of such privilege at all can be called into question. 

 

What are these dotted lines, then, in the real world? How can we spot them? What is the mechanism of action, what are the pre-conditions for them to take effect, and how is the privileged party identified? Is corollary advantage as a phenomenon universally present in all societies, and if not, what weakens or eliminates it? If we do not offer ways to distinguish the when, the how, and the whom, then how can we convince anyone that corollary advantage even exists? 

 

An airtight argument proving the existence of corollary advantage cannot pick and choose its recipients arbitrarily, and cannot require the conjuring of a magical mechanism by which the advantages are doled out. More troubling, if we bought into the idea that corollary advantage is a feature of society whose mechanism and recipient selection requires no defense or proof, we could then make any argument at all, co-opting the logic for any self-serving purpose. If we are not required to identify how a free individual comes by unearned advantage as a result of someone experiencing a disadvantage, there is no defensible position that individual can take in contending the absence of such an advantage. This theme of branding will come up again in subsequent sections. 

 

Looking at this model, one thing that stands out is the absence of circles labeled with zeroes, representing those that are neither advantaged nor disadvantaged. Corollary advantage asks us to believe that there cannot be zeroes, so long as negative numbers are present in the set. It cannot account, so does not allow, for something like “an absence of advantage in the presence of disadvantage,” and asks us to see the world as containing only the advantaged and the disadvantaged. But such a view is fatuous: a runner who suffers some disadvantage in the middle of a race does not transmit an advantage to another, specific runner, improving his finishing time. We are asked to dismiss the common sense notion that someone can remain non-advantaged while someone else is being victimized.

 

Sociologists have found that disadvantages resulting from prejudice yield the very opposite result to that which McIntosh’s corollary advantage expects. The sociologist Gordon W. Allport wrote,

 

“One of the facts of which we are most certain is that people who reject one out-group will tend to reject other out-groups. If a person is anti-Jewish, he is likely to be anti-Catholic, anti-Negro, anti any out-group.”

 

This quote, from Chapter 5 of his book The Nature of Prejudice, introduces a review of sociological research that demonstrates how a holding of prejudice against one out-group is highly correlated with having prejudices against other out-groups, regardless of their members’ skin color, spoken language, or cultural trappings. The out-groups enumerated include “white” people such as Turks and Italians, as well as nonexistent, made up groups. This observation stands in stark contrast to how the effects of corollary advantage are theorized to exist. In the real world, the manner in which prejudice manifests multiplies victims across ethnic boundaries, rather than creating beneficiaries out of them. Where a black woman faces prejudice, a (white) Syrian man is likely to face it as well.

 

Nature herself is replete with arguments against corollary advantage, as is human history. When a genetic defect affects the male population of a species, the females become worse off and the population’s overall survival can fall under pressure. The internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during the Second World War abrogated their human as well as legally given rights as citizens, and at the same time deeply damaged the fabric of American society, yielding no substantive benefit to any particular group. The wives and children of the tens of millions of Soviet soldiers who perished in that same period enjoyed no unearned advantages as a result of this injustice, and would have rightly treated any suggestion to the contrary as insulting and absurd. 

 

    2.    The Redefinition Of The Word ‘Privilege’

 

The OED’s entry for privilege is, "a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group," offering the following example of usage: 

 

“Education is a right, not a privilege.”

 

Whether or not one agrees, the distinction put forth by the example seems irreconcilable with McIntosh’s enumeration of 46 “privileged conditions,” which in part reads like a list of basic human rights** (the other part reads like a wish list for an educated, civil, Western society). Webster’s dictionary defines privilege as “a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others,” but universal rights by their very definition cannot be given, they already belong to everyone, and are an essential part of the human condition. Like the human skin, these rights can be stripped and restored, but not re-gifted. Even within the framework of a fallacious concept like corollary advantage we can see that its workings do not support the bestowing of rights — with corollary advantage these rights are not bequeathed by some entity with the authority to do so, they just happen. Webster’s alternative definition, “the advantage that wealthy and powerful people have over other people in a society” is also a poor match, as people who are awarded unearned privilege are neither necessarily wealthy nor powerful. Indeed, it is standard practice for devotees of the concept to note how unnecessary and irrelevant wealth and power are to being a beneficiary of white privilege. 

 

One could argue that the criticism of word choice is pedantic. After all, McIntosh herself concluded her essay with doubts regarding this choice — “the word ‘privilege’ now seems to me misleading,” she writes, adding “We usually think of privilege as being a favored state, whether earned, or conferred by birth or luck.” Precisely. So why continue with the word? To buttress her decision and help us understand her meaning, she breaks up the idea of privilege into “positive” and “negative” types. Positive privilege is good, but negative privilege is a type of “advantage that unless rejected will always reinforce our present hierarchies.” This is unconvincing backtracking, and the distinction lost to history — nobody ever speaks of positive or negative privilege. It is also disingenuous, as there is no way “negative privilege” can be rejected. This is a good opportunity to disabuse those who might think of “white privilege” as something not necessarily negative. From the start this kind of advantage has been characterized as a harmful, anti-social attribute, meant to be vilified.

 

Reviewing the traditional use of the word privilege in the English literature and jurisprudence, some hallmarks can be observed:

  • The mechanism by which privilege is granted or attained is understandable and discoverable.
  • A free agent enjoying privilege of any kind has the ability to reject or eliminate it from their life.
  • The privileged party is identifiable.

None of these qualities are present in McIntosh’s use of the word. How privilege alights on a given individual is not described, no method is provided of ameliorating or eliminating white privilege from one’s life, and when asking the question of oneself or another — “Does this particular individual enjoy white privilege?” — there is no test that yields a definitive answer. 

 

Of most importance to us, however, is the way the redefined word is used and understood today, nearly thirty years later. In the sociological context, there seem to be three new, non-interchangeable meanings for the word ‘privileged’:

  1.    Wealthy, particularly if the wealth is inherited and great.
  2.    Free from injustice.
  3.    Willfully ignorant, esp. as a result of being sheltered.

 

Let us review some recent examples.

 

Definition #1: The Great British Class Survey of 2013 promoted the idea that the traditional triplet of aristocracy/gentry/proletariat is no longer relevant in describing British society, and should be replaced with seven classes based on cultural capital. In the BBC’s coverage of this survey, the publication offered this description of the “elite” class: “[The] most privileged group, set apart from other classes because of wealth.” McIntosh’s “unearned advantage” novelty definition doesn’t quite fit, in part because their class calculator places black dentists into the privileged tier. Wealth seems to make the most contextual sense. 

 

Definition #2: The New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow summarizes this definition: “When one has the luxury of not being forced to compensate for societal oppression based on basic identity, one is in fact privileged in that society.” This point of view regards the absence of force against one’s will a luxury, and freedom from oppression a privilege.***

 

Definition #3: The same Mr. Blow, in describing why he feels black voters were not drawn to Bernie Sanders’s candidacy for President, writes “It is not black folks who need to come to a new understanding, but those whose privileged gaze prevents them from seeing that black thought and consciousness is informed by a bitter history, a mountain of disappointment and an ocean of tears.” What human condition blinds people in this way? Mr. Blow avoids the word “wealth” as the cause of blindness. Neither does he say that these people are prevented from seeing because they have not been subject to oppression (thus rendering non-oppressed supporters of pro-civil rights actions “accidental soldiers,” incapable of profoundly understanding what they were fighting for in the first place). "Willful ignorance,” however, seems to fit his context snugly.

 

None of these definitions can be easily squared with the dictionary, nor do they hold up with any consistency in practical every day usage. The first meaning comes quite close, and its use so common that the two have become almost interchangeable — one often finds the words side by side, like fraternal twins — “wealth and privilege.” But there is a conceptual, perhaps aspirational disentanglement of wealth from the bestowing of rights that sits deeply within the heart of American democracy, and only the greatest cynic would treat its far from perfect success as a death sentence for the values on which it rests. (We can approach the dictionary definition by saying that the wealthy enjoy special advantages that come from wealth, but this would be a rather reductive statement.) Freedom from injustice describes an absence of an evil, but substituting an absence of one thing for the presence of its opposite is sophistry. Further, it is a kind of mendacity on a grand scale to lead the public to regard universal human rights as a luxury that can be given to some and not to others, rather than something to which everyone is already entitled, something inherent to all of humanity. And ignorance fails the identity test — it is simply impossible to replace the word ‘privilege’ with ‘willful ignorance’ in literature or daily speech and yield sensible meaning.

 

So, we have a word for which its new meanings are neither complementary nor usable for the purposes of understanding literary works or legal documents, and whose positive and specific meanings are commonly swapped out with ambiguity. Privilege has become an empty payload deployed to induce a false sense of guilt in the party to which it is attributed, and, though McIntosh refers to the possibility of rejecting white privilege, never is a path toward relieving it described, nor could it be. It is a brand, a scarlet letter, deployable by anyone, with the caveat that the recipient appear white. It is more than a shadow of the yellow identifying badges legally required of Jews to display on their person by the Nazi party. (This practice was prevalent in much of Europe, on and off, since the 13th century.) Though the full breadth of intent behind the use of these novel meanings is unclear to me, and certainly not comparable to the known intents of the Nazi party, it is in essence the same act of political branding, ironically, sadly, wieldable against the same target group.

 

“[W]ords [ . . . ] were sometimes retained for the sake of convenience, but only with the undesirable meanings purged out of them. [ . . . ] The intention was to make speech, and especially speech on any subject not ideologically neutral, as nearly as possible independent of consciousness.”

 

This, George Orwell’s description of Newspeak’s “B vocabulary,” well describes McIntosh’s legacy as it relates to the use of the word ‘privilege’. When it appears in common public discourse, it is singularly political, parroted by party loyalists in slogan-like forms or embedded in clickbait agitprop. It is a stock presence in introductory paragraphs, self-directed in obligatory yet feeble attempts at establishing bona fides (and so diluting the force of any subsequently made arguments). It is turned to when a word bereft of clear, unambiguous meaning is required, typically in schemes involving emotional blackmail — uses which are void of any test to verify direct efficacy on social injustice.

 

    3.    The Racism Inherent

 

A rudimentary litmus test for prejudice consists of a check on whether, lacking additional information, an individual is treated as if she herself evinces a negative stereotype of her group or class. For instance, if one sees a young black woman and, without knowing anything about her, thinks “single mother,” we might be troubled and reach for the racist epithet. To be introduced to a young black man and immediately inquire, "How is it you're not in jail?" is to treat the individual in accordance with the objectionable qualities of his perceived type rather than as a person, which is referred to as profiling, or, more simply, racism. It is not that, in such instances, the stereotypes can't be grounded in data, or that the individual’s type is misidentified. Both may be entirely valid. Rather, one must not treat an individual as if he were a statistically probable sample of his perceived race, nor expect, nor demand this of him, if one wishes to avoid engaging in racist thinking.

 

McIntosh's thesis, and its contemporary adherents, ascribe a pejorative attribute to all white-seeming people, and believe that these individuals are seen, and so should see themselves, as having that attribute. The power of "white privilege" as a guilting tool is instantly diluted if a white individual is allowed to see themselves as an outlier, excepting themselves from the privileged label. This is the sinister side of newspeak. There is no way an individual can deny having a trait if the trait is undefined, or defined in non-complimentary, vague, and inconsistent ways. In practice, such tools can yield easily repeatable refrains, mechanically deployed to shame and silence, and so it has become with “white privilege.” Such is the ubiquity of the shaming reaction, that there is no accepted instance of anyone publicly pronouncing freedom from it. 

 

Consider the statement “People who have light skin tend not to have to suffer race-based prejudice, and the resulting discriminatory effects thereof, to the degree that people of color do in America today.” This is a clearly worded statement whose veracity can be subjected to evaluation. It allows for the fact that prejudice is pervasive, and at the same time its essence — pointing out inequity — is undiminished by its nuance. It does not lead to a path for pre-judging anyone: from that statement, one cannot know or say anything specific about any given individual’s advantages based on their skin color. The sentiment and structure of that statement is orthogonal to the way in which the term “white privilege” is used. White privilege is exclusively used as a shorthand to describe unearned rewards reaped by all people who appear white to a racist entity, as it is “a term for societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries.” Not who identify as white themselves, but who are identified so by others. “White privilege” tars and feathers based on how someone else defines you, regardless of whether the definition, or any of its purported beneficial consequences, has any grounding in reality.

 

It is sometimes said that a black person knows in their heart whether or not their interlocutor is racist, and that racism cannot be hidden from them by careful selection of bon mots or avoidance of political incorrectness. This capacity is not exclusive to people of color. A man with light skin, having arrived in America after escaping an oppressive society that murdered his ancestors and harried him for his ethnicity in his youth, having no personal connection to American racism, and having gained a thorough and lucid awareness of his newfound social context (though still rightly regarding himself as a minority), knows full well whom those who use the term “white privilege” have in mind when they raise their bogeyman: it is him, there is no doubt. He cannot be allowed to be seen as less privileged, and feel less culpable, than any other light-skinned person, for the enthusiasts of the idea of "white privilege" take care to eliminate that possibility. In his new home in America, he might very well belong to the religious group most targeted by violent hate crimes. Yet when he reads about white privilege, he knows he is meant to feel guilty about his lot in life, even as he takes his first breaths as a free individual. 

 

We see that whiteness, as a sociological concept, grossly fails in consistently identifying its target group. The whites which once represented the look of America — the face of its norms — have little in common with the experience and cultural values of a newly arriving Greek immigrant. The person to whom Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was referring when he spoke of the white man who “needs the Negro to free him from his guilt” is not the light-skinned Muslim or Russian Jew, who knows nothing of such guilt. At the heart of all prejudice there exists a lie. The lie behind the racism of white privilege is the assertion that the groups to which these people belong are fungible. 

 

Allport states, “[w]henever a negative attitude toward persons is sustained by a spurious overgeneralization we encounter the syndrome of prejudice.” This observation leads us to see “white privilege” as a racist term, particularly as we note how commonly spurious overgeneralization accompanies its usage.

 

    4.    Smoke And Mirrors

 

A recent web search for the “meaning of white privilege” led me to a Miami Herald opinion piece by one Leonard Pitts Jr. In it he relates a story in which auto mechanics attempted to cheat his wife on a repair, but at the mere presence of the author, who is male, became honest and helpful. He explains that for him, this experience was an example of male privilege, “the ability to be taken seriously at an auto shop because of my gender.” Since the topic of race- and sex-based social inequity is so serious, let us examine how we might teach the moment to a youth just reaching the age at which the topic becomes appropriate to broach. 

 

As we place ourselves on the sidelines of the action and observe, we have a choice of where to place our frame of reference — the frame from which the lesson will play out. The traditional approach is to focus on the actors involved in the unjust transaction: in this case, the mechanics and the female customer. We would review what transpired, why it is unfair and harmful, whom it actually winds up harming, and try to touch on why it happened at all. The mechanics’ assumptions and fears about women would have an important place in the discussion, as would an overview of the unique pressures and expectations their society places on men. We would want to speak about how the men may have been raised, and the role culture may have played in their world view. We would spend considerable energy on discussing why their behavior is a form of disrespect and disempowerment, how this directly harms the woman. She can be victimized by the mere attitude held by these mechanics, and this victimization creeps beyond the one woman, bleeding over into society at large and causing harm to all its women, and, in turn, all its men. We would touch on how very prevalent the “fear of the other” is all over the world, how self-reinforcing world views tend to be, and how this ancient instinct once served, and may still serve, to preserve us. We would point out other examples of this fear, perhaps not as egregious or obvious, to show that the instinct is deep, universal, obfuscated, treacherous. 

 

Hopefully, we would try to show that these kinds of world views are vestiges of a societal structure no longer necessary for our wellbeing and survival, and indeed this kind of thinking can be seen as outdated and self-harming to many contemporary societies, much like a host of ancient rituals which, having been judged to be ill-conceived and counterproductive, were rejected by those societies in which they were practiced. And, eventually, we should consider bringing up the yields of scientific research that point the way to effectively overcoming the obstacles to fairness and fraternity. In this way, the root causes of this most pressing problem are exposed, attention directed therein, and the young mind can begin to address these roots with all the creativity and imagination at its disposal.

 

On the other hand, we can move the frame back, and introduce an additional party to the story: the male customer. The character of our examination is now wholly different: rather than focus on root causes and their far-reaching effects, we shift to the non-participating actor who doesn’t contribute anything, nor suffer any direct, immediate harm from the transaction. At a stretch, he might be considered a catalyst, though this is too contentious a position to include in an early lesson. The sum of his role is that he was treated fairly. By changing the frame, we spend our energies teaching how to seek out and vilify the uninjured bystander, and underscore the injustice of the undeserved state our bystander finds himself enjoying — freedom from feeling powerless and treated as inferior. 

 

This now becomes our lesson for the next generation: oppression is about the non-oppressed. Sadly, and certainly, the two lessons can be exclusive not only in the young mind, which is apt to internalize the language used to convey this false message, but in the minds of the public at large. In this way, by abrogating Occam’s razor, we cheat society’s next generation of thinkers and activists. We cheat society of its future. We cheat the victims of racism. We cheat the victims of sexism. And because, contrary to McIntosh’s contention, we are all of us victimized by prejudice and oppression, we cheat ourselves. 

 

    5.    Something To Consider

 

Whether we believe in corollary advantage or not, whether we are convinced that “white privilege” is but harmful political propaganda, admit our susceptibility to false lessons or doubt their relevance, we can still perhaps come to approach the question of “white privilege” from an altogether different angle. 

 

One of the cheapest and most effective ways to deny ourselves connection and understanding is to presume to know what can or can not be contained within another’s range of experience. A failure of perspective and empathy, it yields this unfortunate statement: “Privilege means that there are issues and struggles you will never have to experience or think about just because of who you are.” Not only is this statement incoherent (in order to know the truth of it, the speaker needs to have been both privileged and not; yet while privileged she couldn’t have experienced what she did when she wasn’t) and trivially shallow (the vast majority of the world’s population, having given nary a thought to the plight of the Amazonian Awá tribe, must therefore be privileged), it comes from a place of exceptional hubris. It is hubris to think for a moment one could know and understand, to a degree sufficient to make any pronouncements, let alone anything so grand, the range and possibilities of another’s experience. It is a misplaced overconfidence in oneself that yields division and sclerosis of understanding, directly inflicting harm on our communities. And yet, evidence of this strange overconfidence is all too abundant in contemporary American society, where ascribed identity and its tyranny over the individual are allowed, too readily, to define how we see one another.

 

What would our conversations be like if we condemned baseless assumptions about people we don’t know, and ceased to make such assumptions ourselves? What if we refused to accept such assumptions of ourselves, and upon hearing that we “can or can’t because of who we are,” respond, “I don’t know who I am! How can you possibly know?” I should think that, though we’d lose the short-term pleasure of feeling righteous in the categorizing of our enemy, and perhaps come away with a less thorough, less confident sense of who we are as individuals, we’d be more honest, more clear eyed, perhaps even more sanguine about our future. For these assumptions, being just forms of warrantless pre-judgement, would no longer play such an outsized role in the combating of our most pressing social concerns, and then, perhaps, the inclination to vilify wholesale large swaths of people, identified solely by their sex or skin color, would cease to be so appealing. 

 

Our societal ills will not be corrected by spooky-guilting-at-a-distance, nor will they improve by willfully diverting the focus of our attention away from the practitioners and shepherds of prejudice, and the ubiquitous biological and sociological phenomena that nourish their biases. Categorically denying complete strangers their ability to imagine and understand, and glibly invalidating their life experiences only serve to further bedevil the struggle for justice and equality. 

 

Armen Yampolsky

Los Angeles, California

July 2016

 

 

 

*) Advantages always exist in relation to some reference, and cannot exist without one. If a sole survivor on a desert island comes by any advantage, this would still need to be in relation to someone else — to a previously living survivor, for example, or to her own self under former conditions. These diagrams are normalized such that 0 represents the reference to which all advantages and disadvantages are compared. 

 

**) President Obama, using language clearly and precisely as is to be expected of a legal scholar, expressed the distinction between a right and a privilege in a recent defense of the ACA: “[A consensus on timeliness] contributed to my decision [to prioritize health care reform], along with my deeply held belief that health care is not a privilege for a few, but a right for all.” Like FDR did of his Four Freedoms — “essential human freedoms” — he views health care as a right to which everyone in America is already entitled, but is not necessarily receiving or benefiting from.

 

***) Note that “basic identity” is so vague a term as to be almost meaningless — a perfect example of newspeak using newspeak to define itself. I say almost, because we know what the true meaning is: it is the identity given to us by society, rather than that authentic identity we create ourselves as part of our personal development. Any identity provided by a society changes as that society changes, and alters entirely when moving from one society to another. In other words, “basic identity” is an ephemeral definition of someone, almost entirely outside of their control, external and fully disconnected from the continuous thread of internal life that makes up the whole of a person: not basic or essential at all.