17 May 2012

Game, Life, Class

By now, you've probably seen John Scalzi's post "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is" (and perhaps John's amusing commentary on deleted comments and follow-up post in response to some responses).

My post here is simply to point you toward three responses among the many, many, many that the post has drawn. Excerpts are here merely to entice you to read more, not to suggest that they are the only things you need to read from these excellent writers.

First, Nick Mamatas:
...when class is fully integrated into an understanding of the difficulty setting of the Game of Life, I think the arguments get much clearer.

The question: "I'm a poor white guy; should I fight against systems of privilege?"

The answer: "Because you'll benefit from it. The more equal things are, the better off you are."

For rich white guys who ask the same question, well, they're clearly on the other side, so they don't need an answer.
All too often, Straight White Men do not see that their setting is easier, and they assume that those struggling against bigger challenges are simply poorer players. At first this is innocent — the Straight White Men are focused on surviving the game themselves, after all. They didn’t design it. But the “easy” setting’s invisibility breeds arrogance, not the humility necessary to acknowledge that you’re “winning” the game because a. the game is easier for you and b. the game itself is designed to benefit you most. The fact that privilege robs us of empathy and humility is nearly as poisonous as the advantages it brings, because humble, empathetic people would not gleefully skip through difficulty while leaving others to suffer.
What I’d like to add to John’s and Meghan’s furthering of Life on the Lowest Setting, the metaphor of privilege as a function of how easy or difficult life is based on character aspects, is that class does indeed count.  If you’re a highborn mage instead of a lowly farmer’s son who happens to have a small knack for casting magic, you’ll receive all the best teachers, all the best training in the arcane arts, will have access to all of the materials you might need to cast a spell, which can be quite expensive.  Or likewise, if you’re a highborn knight, you’ll receive all the best armor and weaponry and training in arms and defense, whereas the pub master’s kid will mainly know how to throw a punch and will swing wild without any really access to training.

Those are material considerations–the wealth aspect, or knowledge resources–to which a person of a certain socioeconomic identity generally has little access.

But class cultural considerations can also severely restrict some people, by learning your place, by taking direction because that’s what you were rewarded for, rather than learning to plan and set goals, rather than being among people who value reading and education or even networking beyond one’s own family in order to have greater opportunities in the warp and weft of our social order.  And these are inherent to one’s personal nature if you have grown up in those conditions.

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