Privilege and Guilt

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Privilege and Guilt

Post by Aggrax on Thu Oct 08, 2015 6:03 am

When I think about how lucky I was, how many chances I've been given in life despite fucking up so often and so powerfully, it makes me sick and disgusted. There are people out there who, through no fault of their own, need to fight for their very lives just to exercise rights that I, as a white cisgender heterosexual male meatsack deserving of little more than a swift kick to the nethers, just get.

There are people that could take the opportunities I've been given in life and make real difference. These talented, wonderful, intelligent people with the capacity to grow and become so much more than life has allowed them to be, have to scrape and save every ounce of what they get just to make ends meet. But I get to live like the fat, wallowing pig that I am. It's disgusting, both physically and morally. And do I use this privilege to help anyone else, to perhaps uplift the works of these other people so that they can get the recognition that they so richly deserve? Oh course not, that would require me to get off my lazy ass and do a slight amount of work.

The fact that I have the gall to complain at all, to suggest for even a second that I have any real problems in my life, is a travesty in and of itself. I don't have real problems in my life, to suggest otherwise is a farce. The minor amounts of "pain" and "difficulty" that have landed on my head over the years are nothing but the due consequences of my actions and I deserve every second of it and more. I'm nothing but rancid meat propped up by the systems in society to seem like a prime cut of steak. Someone with a mallet needs to come along and smash it all to pieces. It can't be me, I'm certainly never going to fucking change. Intelligent people, who honestly should have given up long ago and left me to my fate, keep trying to help. Trying to keep me alive longer, as though they need the heartache when they end up losing that battle in the next ten years or so. The fact that I've ignored them all, done nothing to change a situation that has now become basically unchangeable through my own inaction, speaks volumes about the arrogance this privilege has given me, arrogance that is completely undeserved.
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Re: Privilege and Guilt

Post by Prajnaparamita on Thu Oct 08, 2015 10:08 am

Oh Aggrax, I'm so sorry to hear that your jerkbrain is making you hate yourself like this. First off, I want to say that what it's making you think about yourself isn't true. I imagine though it's unlikely that you're going to be able to believe me when I tell you that, so I just want to tell you that I've felt similar in feeling guilt and shame over my privilege when others who came from a far more disadvantaged situation should instead deserve the privileges that I have, and given what I have, I shouldn't be where I am now. It's slightly different, but I feel like those people must surely judge me for being lazy and incompetent because they're coping despite having it much harder. For instance, one of my friends is trans, and he grew up in an emotionally abusive home where his ultra-Christian parents would say things to him like "How could you so defile the body God gave you?!" when he would try to do things like bind. Eventually he had to run away from home to get away from the abuse, and now he works three jobs so that he can support himself given that his parents have totally cut him off. When I last saw him, I was super afraid he would judge me, because compared to him I feel like I've had it so easy--I have a loving, supportive home with enough financial security so I don't need to work and can focus on recovery. But actually he didn't judge me at all--rather, he was really happy to see me, and expressed appreciation at my friendship and having someone he could openly talk about mental health issues with and also expressed admiration at my recovery as well. He didn't resent me at all, and actually was surprised and dismayed that I would think he should. And the thing is, the same thing happened with another friend of mine, who is also trans (and had a physically abusive father and an oblivious mother who did nothing to stop it and a generally unaccepting and bigoted extended family), he has never once seen me as lazy or incompetent for not having gone back to school or gotten a job while I'm trying to recovery.

Aggrax, given the crushing depression and anxiety you've described facing, as well as the way your family will often be cruel and invalidating towards you, I've always been impressed that you've been able continuously go to work and push yourself through it--I think I would crumple up into a heap under that pressure. No one is judging you, and no one thinks less of you. I don't know if you can really hear that when I try to convey it to you, but I believe it, I really do.


Last edited by Prajnaparamita on Fri Oct 09, 2015 12:15 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Privilege and Guilt

Post by Enail on Thu Oct 08, 2015 12:27 pm

Everyone gets the roll of the dice that they get; deserving doesn't come into it. It's just a thing that is. It's not your fault you've got a better one than you think you deserve, any more than it's someone else's fault they've got a better one than you. And then you do what you can, and try to be kind - that's all anyone can do.

If it makes you feel better in some way to feel bad about it, you can do that, but it's just an emotion you're feeling. It doesn't make the scales more even. It doesn't make them less even either (as long as you don't try to use those feelings to silence or harm others). But I'm sorry you're feeling so bad about it.
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Re: Privilege and Guilt

Post by Prajnaparamita on Thu Oct 08, 2015 6:46 pm

Aggrax wrote:
The fact that I have the gall to complain at all, to suggest for even a second that I have any real problems in my life, is a travesty in and of itself. I don't have real problems in my life, to suggest otherwise is a farce.

Hey Aggrax, I've been continuing to think about you today, and especially think about some way that I could maybe help you let go of this particular strand of self-hate. One of the things that's stayed with me about what you wrote is this quote, the idea that because you have privilege you can't suffer, and I wanted to see if I could explain to you why this really isn't true. It is possible to have privilege, a great deal of privilege in fact and still suffer immensely--for example think of the Hollywood movie star who earns millions and is rich, handsome and beloved, but ends up addicted to drugs, has his marriage fall apart and his children won't speak to him anymore--surely we would say he is suffering, even if in certain ways he has had it easier than others. The thing though about privilege is that it can buffer you from certain kinds of suffering, but it doesn't prevent you from having any difficulties in your life. For example, unlike my friends I've never had to fear my parents rejecting me because of my gender or sexual identity, or had to fear having homophobic slurs hissed at me if I'm walking down the street with a romantic partner. However, having been born straight and cisgender doesn't prevent me from having severe depression and anxiety. Does that make any sense to you?

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Re: Privilege and Guilt

Post by Paladin on Tue Oct 13, 2015 1:44 am

I've had a bit of an epiphany, reading this thread. I've realized that guilt over privilege is a lot like survivor's guilt. We feel as if we've done wrong, simply due to the whim of fate favoring us over others. In truth, privilege, like life or death, is for the most part completely out of our hands. We do not choose what privileges we were born with, anymore than people who were spared during a disaster consciously chose life over death. The sooner that we can recognize that such guilt is ultimately misplaced, the sooner we can flourish in what we have been given.

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Re: Privilege and Guilt

Post by Prajnaparamita on Tue Oct 13, 2015 10:55 am

Hey Paladin, I agree with you a lot there, but I think there is one situation at least where guilt over privilege is appropriate--when your privilege leads you to unintentionally do/say shitty things, because due to your privilege you just don't get where people are coming from. For example, there was a racist hate crime that happened at a school that I attended, and when there was a huge upswell of activism and outrage about it I was like "I get that it was a horrible thing, but it was just an isolated incident, right? I don't see what the big deal is." But that was only because my white privilege made it so I was oblivious to the everyday racism that students of color had experienced, as I'd never had to think about it or be confronted with it. After students started coming forward and sharing their experiences and there was a lot of education going on, I felt pretty shitty because my white privilege had meant I was just standing around being obliviously kinda racist while all this stuff was going on. That being said, there's a purpose to the feeling of guilt when it comes out in that way, it's a red flag that your mind sends up to convey the message of "Whoa there, I don't think you're on the right track--maybe try something different?" Now you can double down and get defensive and insist you were in the right all along, or you can wallow in your guilt and self-lacerate with hate and call yourself a horrible person, or you can be like "yeah me, that was kinda shitty. Let's educate ourselves on these issues and listen to the lived experiences of people who struggle with racism/transphobia/ect ect so this doesn't happen again."

For me, that's the response I try to take--guilt around privilege is to me a reminder in the back of my head that I have unintentionally been shitty in the past/have the potential to be unintentionally shitty in the future as a result of the obliviousness that privilege grants me. But I don't want to be an oblivious person, I feel like a real jerk when I end up doing that, so I put aside time to educate myself on these issues, and seek out accounts of lived experiences from those who have struggled with those issues. But I want to make it clear, that doesn't come from a place of self hate, or beating yourself up over your privilege, it comes from a place of "geez I would hate to come across as a jerk unintentionally, let me try to make myself a better person so that hopefully doesn't happen." Does that make sense?

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Re: Privilege and Guilt

Post by Aggrax on Tue Oct 13, 2015 3:43 pm

I understand that people who benefit from an overwhelming amount of privilege can still have difficult, problematic lives and be forced to endure hardships completely out of their control. It's just not true in my particular case where in privilege that I was born with resulted in a life I don't deserve with people seeming to bend over backwards to sympathize with me despite my status as an overall terrible person.
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Re: Privilege and Guilt

Post by Enail on Tue Oct 13, 2015 4:05 pm

Aggrax, you know that there are people here who don't agree that you're a terrible person, right? When you talk as if your opinions of yourself are unquestioned fact, it makes it kind of hard for people to respond, since they either have to ignore the overall topic in favour of disagreeing with you about your self-evaluation, or let it slide to engage with the overall topic, which gives the impression that they are accepting your evaluation as truth.

Would it be possible for you to talk about your feelings of guilt without expecting us to share the base assumption that you're fundamentally terrible?
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Re: Privilege and Guilt

Post by Aggrax on Fri Oct 16, 2015 5:10 am

It's difficult for me to divorce my feelings of guilt from my self image in part because so much of that guilt is derived from that. If I could honestly make myself believe I was a better person, then a lot of the guilt would go away.

As an example, I'm lucky enough to have some extra cash on hand at most times, even with how little I work because I'm lucky enough to live with family and not need to pay bills and such. Instead of saving or investing this extra money in a way that will help and make me less of a freeloader, I spend it on books and an obscene amounts of fast food. This is something that I know is, objectively, a terrible thing to do, but I keep doing it. When someone continues to take conscious actions they know are horrible without regard for consequences, that seems to me a pretty good sign that they are a terrible person.

I think it's possible, in the general sense, to benefit from privilege with the person feeling guilty. It comes from recognizing what the privilege is and how, in possibly numerous small ways, a person has benefited from it. But also, it requires the person in question having not squandered the gifts they have been given. Guilt should only arise if the person has wasted the potential that their privilege allowed them access to.
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Re: Privilege and Guilt

Post by Hirundo Bos on Fri Oct 16, 2015 6:39 am

Calling someone a terrible person is a very strong statement – there are so many degrees of nuance between terrible and unproblematic. To see oneself as a terrible person can be pretty painful, as can a strong sense of guilt, and these forums are good forums to have conversations about that pain...

I'm going with Enail, though, in that you might want to separate that conversation from the conversation about privilege, because the reasons she said... and as I'm growing to understand myself, to center a conversation about privilege around one's own guilt about it is itself kind of a way to express that privilege. Your feelings, while important in their own right, are not necessarily more important than the social problems privilege cause for others.

As I'm pretty privileged myself, I might not have the best recipe for avoiding that and still talk about guilt and self-image, but I suspect that one ingredient could be to use more qualifying statements... "I feel like" rather than "am a terrible person", for example. Another could be to be clearer on which of the two conversations you're having, so that both those who want to help you process those feeling, and those who want to talk about privilege itself, better can choose whether or not to engage.


Last edited by Hirundo Bos on Fri Oct 16, 2015 7:06 am; edited 3 times in total (Reason for editing : Added a lot to my original post, then did some typographical cleanup)
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Re: Privilege and Guilt

Post by Caffeinated on Fri Oct 16, 2015 12:37 pm

First, I agree with Hirundo Bos.

Second, I disagree with the characterization of spending money on books and fast food rather than saving it as "objectively terrible". That's wildly overstating things. I'd say that's like saying jaywalking is in the same moral category as murder. Or like saying the employee who drinks the last of the coffee in the break room and doesn't make a new pot is as bad as the CEO who raids the pension fund and takes a golden parachute for himself. No.

Being less thrifty than you feel you should be is not objectively terrible. Just saying.
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Re: Privilege and Guilt

Post by Enail on Fri Oct 16, 2015 2:12 pm

I'll split it off, just a sec. ETA: New thread is here.
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Re: Privilege and Guilt

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