There is one word commonly associated with almost every problem facing the world: Privilege. Today the white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) is the ultimate holder of privilege, and that’s no secret. Look at any sensationalist issue of the day and the conclusion is likely that white persons, and specifically white men, are the ultimate reason for the issue existing in the first place and its general lack of progression.
This post has nothing to do with proving or disproving whether or not privilege exists and/or if it effects how equal we all are. It does exist, it does affect everyone (whether they are recipients or not) and it does lead to haves and have nots.
This post has everything to do with how humans respond to leaders, how leaders manipulate movements and how the generalizations we make lead to dangerous outcomes. Greek Life professionals and students are not immune to these trends, nor are self-proclaimed intellectuals, faith-based decision makers or “neutral” media sources.
The Human Brain
If you agonize over other’s “tunnel vision” and wonder why it’s so hard to convince faith-based healers to take children to the hospital, read something of Robert Anton Wilson’s, a psychologist and author of Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology, two books which play a part in this post.
Your brain controls all you do, but it is not just one blob of neurons aiming for the same goal. It has parts and they all compete for dominance. Four evolutionary developments of the brain separate humans from the rest. The brain of a fish is essentially our brain stem, the part that keeps us alive and guides us to nourishment, away from trouble, and gives us gut feelings.
Further developments in brain technology lead to the development of circuits specializing in authority (think wolves), rationality (think dolphins) and ethical/moral reasoning, something that makes us humans special. We are lucky enough to have all four circuits; they build upon each other.
Successful wordsmiths use all areas of our thinking to guide followers to action, but elite ones rely primarily on the fish brain. Referred to as the 1st Circuit by Wilson or the “oral stage” by Freud, the fish brain impresses feelings of trust and mistrust into our personalities. A child whose parents were largely abusive is more likely to be untrusting toward other adults because his or her fish brain was imprinted to do so. It controls our “fight or flight” response; destroy the trust of an enemy and you can manipulate others to rationalize and ethically accept anything you do.
Ethically, our world seems to be split; Is an innate right related to what one has? Rationally, our world seems to be split; did life evolve from a single-celled organism or are shamans correct to say that we were brought here purposefully? Authoritatively, our world again seems to be split; do we want lots of authority or little to no authority? Each of these questions may influence the others, but none influence one absolute truth:
Some people have, some don’t, and most want what they don’t have.
This isn’t just in the human world. Hyenas want what a cheetah has, and so they’ve learned to take it. Our development to use language, authority, rationality and ethics are no more than the human way to get what we want without needing to kill. . . well, without always needing to kill.
We have learned to label common traits among those who have what we lack, which allows us to develop envy for a type of people rather than attempting to identify “haves” individually. It has helped elevate us above every other species of the world, and so the only enemy we have left to fight is ourselves.
The Jewish people spent a good deal of history taking the blame for hoarding wealth and power, and Germans openly spoke against their Jewish community for decades prior to National Socialism. It just so happened that Jewish families, a minority, seemed to own more of the businesses/factories in which the Germans worked. The physical differences were enough for a pattern to be imprinted; Hitler simply capitalized on an opportunity to turn mistrust into action after World War 1.
By faulting the economic collapse of Germany to the actions of others, Hitler tapped in to decades of mistrust and moved an entire nation to strip the perceived holders of wealth of their property, freedom, and, eventually, lives. I suggest that anyone who has not skimmed through Hitler’s speeches or writings do so; it doesn’t sound too different from things we say today.
He may have had his own sick reasons for exterminating the Jewish people, among others, but the people of Germany believed that he was rightly punishing those who had deprived them of a decent standard of living and many claimed to be unaware of the grotesque killing camps. Why would they investigate? Their leader didn’t say he’d kill all the Jews in his campaign speeches.
What the poor Germans were taught to believe was that it was innate in a Jewish man or woman to accumulate power and wealth at the expense of all non-Jews. So long as that problem was being addressed, most didn’t care to look into the details or challenge the system.
Look to any war or movement, international or domestic, and you’ll notice a pattern of unequal wealth distribution, stereotyped mistrust and a boiling point that leads to action. The American Revolution, the Union vs. the Confederacy, Communism, Prohibition, and suffragist movements relied heavily on mistrust in those who can be stereotypically associated with wealth and power.
Whether true or false or a positive or negative outcome, mistrust is the foundation and remnants of these movements because it is so easily manipulated and so difficult for the mistrusted to overcome.
Mistrust is why confederate flags will forever mean something different to white southerners than they will to northerners. It’s why we still debate abortion rather than come together to drive toward zero unwanted pregnancies. No one votes for unwanted pregnancies to end; they only vote to save the baby or save the aborting from mistrusted liberals and conservatives respectively.
How can you compare Nazi Germany to Suffrage and Fraternities?
Good question, and I’m aware that some may be offended by the association, but I only mean to say that movements built on mistrust are an injustice we have yet to overcome, and one which has turned modern political discourse into sensational name-calling.
That is not healthy, and I don’t believe the ends justify the means. Our language regarding privilege is hateful, and I’ve seen firsthand the effect it’s had on people, particularly in the profession of higher education. Some will immediately resort to thinking that this is “typical white-man speech,” . . . that’s exactly my point.
I sat with a student from a university in the south and his fraternity and sorority adviser who listed social justice, among many other things, as a personal passion. The adviser excitedly shared the philanthropic and academic successes of the student’s chapter. How can one cap that praise?
“Now all they need to do is recruit some black men.”
Sounds cultured and social justice-y right? The poor kid’s face managed to turn a little whiter; damn him.
All this chapter needed to do was recruit a black man and the professional would be proud of them. Just one man whose skin was different from their own was all that was needed to be convinced that he and his chapter brothers weren’t terrible people. What!? You call that social justice?
When was success negligible based on whether or not a group matched skin colors? Why is my fraternity applauded for incorporating women into our professional staff, but no sorority equally celebrated for hiring a man? Newsflash: We hire competent women whose talents will help us better the world, not because we think it makes us look cultured or because we are trying to make some sort of statement.
The language of equality cannot be divisive; it cannot be infused with mistrust.
This is the biggest lie we have all at one time or another bought in to. There may not be organized violence regarding privilege in the U.S. as of yet, but the language implies it. There is a “war on women,” a “war on income inequality,” a “war on life,” and “ground troops” operating every political campaign. Our language has been militarized; we are taught to believe that every cause needs an enemy, rather than a peak.
This language trend is getting dangerous, and it has lead to the use of force throughout our human history. It’s time to evolve beyond the argument of privilege, evolve out of our fish brain, and to allow people to say what they want to say and to accept that their background shapes them, but doesn’t necessarily make them an opponent.
I’m not the only one who feels this way:
Here’s a black man saying it:
Here’s a woman saying it:
[UPDATE] Here’s a black woman saying it: [Explicit Language]
Some may think they are traitors to a cause; that’s more militaristic, mistrust-oriented language. I like to think they are brave to publicly publish that change can be based in trust and honest optimism.