Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson

  • Mood:


I picked up P. M. Bovy's The Perils of "Privilege": Why Injustice Can't Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage with the hope that perhaps a privileged, properly credentialed newly minted academic might be able to engage my assertion that the privilege knapsack really contains the received practices of the insiders, which is to say, the strategies that the insiders used to interact with each other to mutual benefit, and which, at worst, serve as ways to exclude outsiders, and perhaps the constructive thing to do is for the insiders to honor the outsiders for making the effort, and for the outsiders to make the effort to master the strategies.

That's the understanding of Mitch "Shot in the Dark" Berg, who is currently having some fun with the Minnesota Public Radio types with a tote-bag full of smug.
[Privilege] translates to “freedom”, “justice” and “being accorded the dignity of being treated as an autonomous individual rather than a member of a group” – all of which are supposed to be values near and dear to our Republic and Western Civilization itself, and all of them things we should be working tirelessly to spread to everyone.
The culture-studies types, however, have their own visions of freedom and justice, and a bias toward the collective, which, with a cold civil war brewing, might be hazardous to their health.
And when some mindless Social Justice Warrior jabbers about “smashing white/male privilege”, the proper response is “so – you want to smash freedom, justice and individual dignity?  See you at the barricades”.

Discussion of all other privileges – academic, social, class – were drowned out.  As they were intended to be.
Ms Bovy did tackle the other privileges Mr Berg mentions, but her effort falls flat. Book Review No. 10 counts the ways.

It's possible that her work is in the vein of Julia Serrano's "How to Write a 'Political Correctness Run Amok' Article," only with a lot more words.  How does that go?
Make it clear from the very beginning that you are an open-minded, social justice supporter, preferably on the left side of the political spectrum. This will contrast your take on “political correctness run amok” from those of right wing commentators — you know, those hypocrites who are pro-free speech when it comes to white, straight, Christian people making fun of minorities, but against free speech when it comes to #BlackLivesMatter, or discussions about sex education and women’s reproductive rights, or secular holiday celebrations, or homosexuals and their so-called “agenda.” You are nothing like those hypocrites! Plus, you are pitching your soon-to-be-trending article to someplace like The Nation or The Atlantic, so you will most certainly need to win over liberal readers.
Yeah, pretty much. East Coast public intellectual, degrees (in French, but not French philosophy) and working in Toronto.  And yes, much of Perils is about red-on-red (or is it pink-on-pink?) fratricide, something that Ms Serrano's essay anticipated.

How does it go wrong?  Chapter-by-chapter.

1.  "The Online YPIS Wars."  "Check your privilege" or "your privilege is showing" are ad hominem arguments.  Does it really require 40-plus pages, mostly of examples, to dance around that point without making it firmly?

2.  "Lonely at Amherst."  Which is mostly about the idiocy of the application essay as currently implemented by admissions offices to holistically curate (that might be the best turn of phrase, later in the book she juxtaposes "holistic" and "cherry-pick" to good effect) a properly diverse incoming class, who are all snowflakes and they all think alike.  Complete with digs both at application essays that "reek of privilege" and at failed applicants who file affirmative action lawsuits.  (On that last point, I agree, but that's because I suspect the Spielberg effect is present in students beyond the ones who got into one of the high-status places yet matriculated elsewhere, and the best strategy might be to shine at your safety school.  As if the concept of a safety school doesn't itself reek of privilege.)

3.  "The Problematic Fave."  That's mainly about privilege-checking and virtue-signalling on social media.  Props for quoting Lindsay Beyerstein.  "Calling a show 'problematic' is a way of insinuating that it's racist, sexist, or exploitative without actually having to argue the point." Precisely.  "Do you like the Packers' chances?"

4.  "Privileged Impostors."  Nobody wins the Oppression Olympics. Precisely.  Does it take nearly forty pages to recognize that?

5.  "Bizarro Privilege."  Read the chapter as a reflection on the vapidity of the autobiographical reflection essay, particularly as a confession of privilege, real or imagined, and contemplate a scholarship in which culture-studies types and the like do some real research.  Something analogous to observing rodent behavior in Chile or soot deposits in ice samples in Antarctica or uncovering the ways in which speculative bubbles manifest themselves and collapse, or, oh, combining several data sources in order to understand technology diffusion in heavy industry.

Conclusion.  A recent Yale graduate who has already punched several Team Pink tickets (e.g. Occupy, public radio) dies in a car crash, and somehow it's thought crime to mourn her loss, as many people live lives of quiet desperation and die unnoticed.  Ms Bovy suggests, come off it.  Plus quinoa and kale.

So answer me this: why is higher education letting people like this set the tone for the enterprise, particularly at the higher tiers of the U.S. News pecking order?

Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.
Tags: cultural studies, current events, in the media, non-fiction

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded