The Paradox Of Corona Privilege

  1. Absolute vs Relative Privilege: We are not a binary species, we exist on a biological continuum and cannot think but in analog terms. I’d rather be me than poor. I’d rather be poor than a stray dog. I’d rather be a stray dog than a factory-farm pig. So on. And yet the language of privilege seems neither relative nor analog, instead absolute and curiously neat in its classification, you’re either privileged or you’re underprivileged, with nothing in the middle that is neutral-privilege. I consider relativism to be a copout so the absolute privilege is an easier confusion for me to tackle. One way for me to convince myself is to say privilege is just the other side of the coin of injustice. Take the thought experiment I was considering at the end of this piece. I could say then, that everything to the left of that X-intercept (absolute injustice) constitutes absolute under-privilege, and everything to the right constitutes absolute privilege. In this case, there is no neutral-privilege. That’s technically fine but it’s so superfluous when you already have a pure version of it called justice, why bother with a buzzword as ambiguous and airy fairy as privilege that isn’t adding anything other than the convenient refuge of alacarte obfuscation.
  2. Evolution Of Inflection: The X-intercept is a dynamic quantity. Every person has a different inflection point after which they would press the button and make the trade. Let’s say for mathematical purity it is possible to abstract a certain minimum common values that everyone can agree on and therefore we remove the variability among individuals. What about variability with time. I have different priorities at different ages, I press the button at a certain value at 23 and another value, potentially to the left if I’m alone or to the right if I have a family, when I’m 43. Let’s say for mathematical purity it is possible to abstract a certain minimum common value across time and we remove the variability of age. What about one-time seismic shocks? As soon as Covid hit, many people around the absolute inflection point of privilege are moving down the curve. By the time Covid ends, they will be much below the inflection point. In the meantime, not only would their individual preferences have changed remarkably since their Weltanschauung is now considerably different, they’d also have been called privileged by society while this downslide is happening. Now while designing the system we could say that every individual needs to price into their decisions the disproportionate shocks of black-swan events like this, but that strikes me as a highly conservative and inefficient strategy, like everyone building a nuclear shelter in their backyard and continually stocking and restocking canned food. There is a certain level of risk-aversion below which individual pricing of risk makes no sense, and society loses out. This is precisely the case in countries like India where we stupidly hoard cash and befuddle macroeconomists trying to figure out how to balance savings, consumption and investment. It’s far easier in the case of seismic shocks, to protect the margins of the X-intercept based on sensitivity. What is elasticity -dy/dx of privilege Y in the face of a shock X? Maintain a range Z as a buffer zone where -dy is unacceptable. This is neutral privilege, thanks I’ll let myself out.
  3. Do you have the right to call someone privileged: Either noone has the right to do it, or everyone does, or some people do based on relative privilege? This is what makes me very uncomfortable about the language of privilege, it’s very similar to my post about PC earlier, that it has no place outside the sphere of personal interactions which are themselves already bound by enough social norms to ostracize the obnoxious and reward the empathetic. I have a singular aversion to the notion of high-order punishment, which says it isn’t enough to punish those who flout social norms but that it’s also additionally necessary to punish those who fail to punish those who flout social norms. Practically it’s necessary in a society as interconnected and non-isolatable as ours, but theoretically I find it reprehensible. Curiously enough, I have no moral reprehension against the same high-order dispensation should we transform into an enlightened society that deals in compensation and not punishment. Suddenly, I’m no longer averse to the idea. Let’s say I am owed compensation due to a flouting of a social norm, someone called me a curryface call center boy (based on a true story) and owes me $100. Let’s say I fail to collect, it’s not worth it I’d rather just go about my day. I am not at all averse to the idea that anyone in society having witnessed this transgression is now allowed to collect on my behalf, if and only if I am given a % of the earnings. By this logic, anyone should be allowed to point out a transgression of ‘privilege’ in an interaction that they are themselves not a part of, regardless of whether their own privilege is higher or lower than the person they call out, if the basic condition that there is harm caused theoretically due to the transgression is met?

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A novel insightful exercise to determine the pragmatic difference in intellectual payoff between a novel insight and an obvious fact mistaken for novel insight.

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