Book Review: The Perils of ‘Privilege’ – The Good Men Project (blog)

Society often teaches us many lessons without us being consciously aware of it. More often, however, those lessons are acknowledged and learned later – much later than the teacher teaching them intended. When that happens, time tends to slip away and things tend to get lost in the shuffle. It’s perhaps too late to ask oneself, ‘What did I do wrong?’ by then, and failure and apathy to starts to creep in because a reason to care was washed away with whatever was lost to begin with.

Words get thrown around, tempers flare, and accusations slowly rise to the surface. They may be questionable, but anger sometimes gets in the way of righteous judgment, perspective, and even privilege. The notion that it’s easier to blame others and wrongfully point fingers starts to feel wrong itself, it becomes clear that the things that were lost weren’t “things” at all. They were much more than that.

It’s easy to look at someone and think, ‘That person has more than I do.’ or ‘That person has it all!’ This idea of privilege and what it means to “have it all” has been questioned and contested for decades. In the age of the Internet and social media, hover, the very essence of wealth, riches, and things which lead to privilege have changed as drastically as the times we live in. It might leave questions about what this all means, and how exactly has the advent of technology altered humanity’s view of prosperity as well as privilege?

In her new book, The Perils of “Privilege”, author Phoebe Maltz Bovy examines this monumental switch in thinking and the many dangers that come with it. She dives in by using a series of online conversations about privilege as the foundation for her argument that injustice cannot be solved by accusing others of having an advantage over someone else.

The conversations included in the book occurred prior to Spring 2016, and highlight the thoughts and ideas of writers and thinkers – which, in turn, also shines a light on the ever-evolving (and dangerous) ties between the Internet, social media, and the instant satisfaction of privilege.

In an author’s note before the main text begins, Maltz Bovy writes:

“Just as my own thoughts on the topic of privilege have evolved and continue to evolve since I began exploring the subject [around 2009] on my blog, What Would Phoebe Do, it’s entirely possible that the writers and thinkers cited herein will have changed their own views by the time this book is published, or at some later date.”

She follows this up with an introduction to the book. It’s here that she pinpoints – from her own collection of facts found in articles along with personal thoughts – the moment she believes the very word “privilege” and the weight of its meaning, took a drastic turn and entered the digital age, noting the observations of writer Laurie Penny in a publication known as The New Statesman:

“I’ve spent very dark days, following social media pile-ons, convinced that I was a horrible person who didn’t deserve to draw [a] breath. 

Maltz Bovy suggests that Penny’s words are as unpleasant to write as they are to hear, but at the time they were written, were easier to handle. The reason for that may be due to the fact they tap into fear – fear about Penny’s value as a human being, as thought by an accuser.

Maltz Bovy’s honest observation here helps the reader make sense of why technology is, in many ways, to blame for why so much fear is sometimes attached to the “Interweb” that humanity has created. She also helps readers feel like they’re not alone in their understanding of fear – that the emotion itself is human, and that’s the reason it needs to be tackled head on.

It is with this same honesty that Maltz Bovy approaches the rest of this book, as she analyzes the meteoric rise, shift, and power of privilege. The conversations highlighted within these pages begin at the Internet and social media’s beginnings, when there was the potential for danger, to what it has become today – when there is danger.

With the digital age well imbedded into modern American culture, there’s no doubt that privilege now comes with fear – and vice-versa. It’s not fair to simply point fingers at buttons and machines. The hands and brains that control them need to be held accountable, now more than ever.

If these words aren’t enough to solidify that observation, perhaps those from Maltz Bovy herself are:

“Privilege isn’t so much a concept as it is a worldview. It has a simple definition – unearned advantage, likely having to do with wealth, but implies so much more.”

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