[originally from December 23rd, 2014]
People take good things as granted. People take bad things as granted too (for example, those Russian professors thinking that getting $400/mo is just natural and a cross to bear, and those American students thinking that owning $30000 is a cross to bear), but first and foremost we’re completely blind to what’s already good. For all we know, it’s normal. Even the real feeling of happiness returns to the baseline in most situations, and the perception is even more flexible. People in 19th century were probably about as happy as people in 21st century, despite objectively lower life quality.
That’s the first part of how privilege ignorance works. People see what happens to them, and just assume that it’s expected to happen, that’s what happens to everyone. If they succeeded in life, it must be due to the effort they have put into it (which they did) rather than the good starting position. Furthermore, since the fact that happiness doesn’t depend that much on the life quality isn’t a common knowledge, and it’s commonly assumed that they do correlate strongly, people see other people of less privileged group being happy, and assume their life is just as good.
But it gets worse. The understanding of biases and developmental psychology, and the rather humble notion that our thoughts, preferences, and desires are shaped by the environment is even less common knowledge. Sometimes the life outcomes genuinely depend on one’s choices, and these choices can be made even from rather disadvantaged positions too. Sometimes all the knowledge necessary is available to people. But even in this case privilege may hit, since people are conditioned to think in a certain way, to make certain choices. Sometimes we see how the very things people complain about are caused by their own action, and dismiss the complaints as their own fault – ignoring that it may be upbringing and social pressure that make them behave this way. Yes, not everyone behaves in the same way, and often people will bring up examples six sigmas away from the mean to demonstrate that everything could be done – while ignoring that they themselves are barely one sigma away. You may interpret is as people being stupid, but then everyone is, so we either have to reengineer humans, or assume the worst case.
…So far that has been one of my leftmost posts, so let’s now make a sharp right turn – for the glory of Baal, of course – and say the following:
Everything said above applies to the groups classically perceived as unprivileged as well. Well, unless you’re such a fan of human biodiversity that you believe most fundamental things about psychology don’t apply to them. Otherwise, it is just as expected from them. Thus, every time someone spends a great deal of effort to argue that white cishet men always are in the advantaged position, and they don’t face any problems not faced by unprivileged people, and even if they do it’s entirely their fault, there are two possibilities. Possibility number one: they fairly considered all the information available, and decided that it’s true. Possibility number two: they don’t realize what kind of privilege they have.
When someone argues against this point, they may get angry, and that’s also consistent with two scenarios: either they’re tired of the stupidity and entitlement of people around them, or they defend their biases just like those cishets do.
One may only hope that people who are aware of the concept of privilege won’t fall prey to this bias, but comparing the number of American liberals who are grateful that their education system is better than in Zimbabwe to the number of those who loathe it for not being as good as in Finland, I conclude that it’s dubious.