“Lowest Difficulty Setting” Follow-Up

It’s been a couple of days since I’ve posted the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” piece, and it’s been fun and interesting watching the Intarweebs basically explode over it, especially the subclass of Straight White Males who cannot abide the idea that their lives play out on a fundamentally lower difficulty setting than everyone else’s, and have spun themselves up in tight, angry circles because I dared to suggest that they do. Those dudes are cracking me up, and also making me a little sad.

There have been some general classes of statement/questions about the piece both on the site and elsewhere on the Internet, that I would like to address, so I’ll do that here. Understand I am paraphrasing the questions/statements. In no particular order:

1. I fundamentally disagree with every single thing you said!

That’s fine. It happens.

2. Your metaphor/analogy is good, except for [insert thing that commenter finds not good about the metaphor/analogy]

Well, yes. Metaphors are not perfect; it’s why they’re metaphors and not the thing the metaphor describes. Likewise analogies break down. I thought the “lowest difficulty setting” description worked well enough for what I wanted to say, but I don’t think it’s perfect. “Perfect” wasn’t what I was aiming for. And of course, if you don’t think it’s the right metaphor/analogy, that’s fine. Please, make a different and better one — the more ways we can make a general point to people who need to understand that general point, the better chance they will listen.

3. Your description should have put wealth/class as part of the difficulty setting.

Nope. Money and class are both hugely important and can definitely compensate for quite a lot, which I have of course noted in the entry itself. But they belong in the stats category because wealth and class are not an inherent part of one’s personal nature — and in the US particularly, part of our cultural sorting behavior — in the manner that race, gender and sexuality are (note “inherent” here does not necessarily mean “immutable,” but that’s a conversation I’m not going to go into great detail about right now). You can disagree, of course. But speaking as someone who has been at both the bottom and the top of the wealth and class spectrum here in the US, I think I have enough personal knowledge on the matter to say it belongs where I put it.

4.I’m a straight white male and my life isn’t easy! My life sucks! Your “lowest difficulty setting” doesn’t account for that!

That’s actually fully accounted for in the entry. Go back and read it again.

This one’s a stand-in for all the complaints about the entry that come primarily either from not reading the entry, or not reading what was actually written in the entry in preference to a version of the entry that exists solely in that one person’s head, and which is not the entry I wrote. Please, gentlemen, read what is there, not what you think is there, or what you believe must be there because you know you already disagree with what I have to say, no matter what it is I am saying.

5. What about affirmative action (and/or other similar programs)? It just proves SWMs don’t have it easy anymore!

Asserting that programs designed to counteract decades of systematic discrimination are proof that Straight White Males are not operating on the lowest difficulty setting in the game of life is not the winning argument you apparently believe it is. I’ll let you try to figure out why that is on your own. Likewise, anecdotal examples of a straight white guy getting the short end of the stick in some manner do not suggest that, therefore, it’s hard out there for all straight white men all the time.

6. Your piece is racist and sexist.

This particular comment was lobbed at me primarily from aggrieved straight white males. Leaving aside entirely that the piece was neither, let me just say that I think it’s delightful that these straight white males are now engaged on issues of racism and sexism. It would be additionally delightful if they were engaged on issues of racism and sexism even when they did not feel it was being applied to them — say, for example,when it’s regarding people who historically have most often had to deal with racism and sexism (i.e., not white males). Keep at it, straight white males! You’re on the path now!

7. I feel this piece is an attack on straight white men.

You need to re-calibrate your definition of “attack,” then, because it’s depressingly (or hilariously) out of whack. Suggesting all straight white men should be defenstrated into a courtyard covered with spikes would be an attack. Noting that straight white men operate at the lowest difficulty setting in life is an observation.

Otherwise, in a general sense,  when people point out the things straight white men get on credit (or don’t have to deal with), the unspoken part of that is not “and that’s why we plan to burn all you bastards in a big screaming pile when the revolution comes,” it’s “hey, just so you know.” Because you should know. It’s not about blame, it’s about knowledge. Stop assuming it’s about blame. Paranoid and hypersensitive is no way to go through life.

8.  You did not lay out in exhaustive factual detail, with graphs and charts, your assertion that straight white men operate at the lowest difficulty setting in our culture.

Also generally lobbed at me by aggrieved straight white men. And indeed I did not. Also, when I write about tripping over my shoelaces and falling on my ass, I do not preface the comment with a comprehensive discussion of the theory of gravity. For two reasons: One, it’s not needed because for anyone but committed gravity-deniers, the theory of gravity is obvious and taken as read, and two, that’s not the focus of the entry. In the case of the “lowest difficulty setting” entry, I took what I see as the obvious advantages to being straight, white and male in our culture as read. One may of course argue with that assertion, and some did in the previous comment thread, but I have to say I’ve generally found those arguments to be less than compelling (see point six, above).

9. In your comment thread with the article, you censored people who disagreed with you.

I indeed malleted quite a few people in that comment thread. Most of them disagreed with me philosophically on the issue under discussion. They were also being assholes. They were malleted for the latter, not the former. Who gets to judge when someone’s being an asshole here? Why, I do. Because it’s my site. A quick look through the comment thread in question shows that quite a few people, who disagreed with my ideas to varying levels of strenuousness, had their comments posted unmolested. That’s because they were generally polite to others in the thread, did not lead with their asses, and their comments were not generally dripping with racism/sexism/condescension/stupidity. This is all covered in the comment policy, which is linked to on every page of the site.

Now, people may be upset that in addition to deleting people’s comments, I also mocked them when I deleted their comments. But, you know, when you show up on my site and decide to shit all over the carpet, I’m not going to be nice to you. Also, this.

10. I am never going to buy anything you write ever again.

I don’t care.

11. Not every straight white man thinks what you wrote is wrong.

Of course. Noting that some straight white men are having difficulty accepting the idea they operate on the lowest difficulty setting in life doesn’t mean that all straight white men do, or that any particular straight white men will experience said difficulties. Alternately, there are a lot of straight white men who think my premise is wrong to a greater or lesser extent, but who can express that disagreement cogently, and even forcefully, without additionally coming across as a five-year-old having a tantrum because he’s been told he has to share his toys. Straight white men, like any group, have all sorts of personalities.

12. You wrote the article and pointed out the straight white men live life on the lowest difficulty setting. Okay, fine. What do I/we do next?

Well, that’s up to you, isn’t it? What I’m doing is pointing out a thing. What you do with that thing is your decision.

That said, here’s what I do: recognize it, and work to make it so the more difficult settings in life becomes closer to the one I get to run through life on — by making those less difficult, mind you, not making mine more so.

(Update: Some final thoughts here.)

565 Comments on ““Lowest Difficulty Setting” Follow-Up”

  1. First – hope you found your computer that went missing in the cab.

    Second – I agree with your thesis – but I suspect there is some generational changes in the pipeline that may switch how one might categorize “difficulty levels”.

    I’m influenced by Hannah Rosin’s excellent article in the Atlantic that drew a lot of comment at the time.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135/

    From Rosin:

    Women are already the majority of the workforce in the US and for every two men that get a college degree, three women do.

    Women (in general) are more adept at the sort of jobs that exist in a 21st century economy. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women.

    “The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male.”

    Supposition – that right now, Scalzi’s metaphor holds. If Rosin is correct (and the whole article is worth a read) the basics of the game have changed so rapidly in the last decade or two that men (of any race/class) in general are going to be poorly equiped to play (for sociobiological rather than sociological (what Scalzi’s metaphor was addressing – I think) reasons)

  2. A quick note that this comment thread should be mostly about this entry and not the “difficulty settings” entry, i.e., please try not to see it as a way to make comments you wanted to make there but couldn’t because I closed the thread. Thanks.

    (This is unrelated to Blarkon’s comment above, he just posted before I did.)

  3. Feel free to delete if it’s going to cause you unnecessary moderation (especially if you weren’t able to find your computer)

  4. John,

    FWIW, I’m looking forward to buying more of your stuff. I hope to see you at Uncle Hugo’s in June, where I hope you’ll be able to sign a copy of Redshirts for me.

  5. Mr. Scalzi: If no one else did so, I point you to Louis C.K.’s riff on time travel. His point is also elegantly made, if profane, and matches your observations quite well. Might want to have the daughter not in easy listening range when you hear it.

  6. I once set up a minor blog for a very narrow and technical purprose (discussing realistically the plausibility of capitalizing space ventures). In the space of less than 3 posts I had been accusing of fascism, of ad hominem arguments (no, and I know the difference) and so on, and I shut down the endeavor. I simply didn’t have the patience. It takes enormous patience to moderate a blog.

  7. wealth and class are not an inherent part of one’s personal nature — and in the US particularly, part of our cultural sorting behavior — in the manner that race, gender and sexuality are

    This is about the only bit where I think you might be on shaky ground. Yes, being wealthy is not an inherent part of your nature. You can be poor and then become wealthy, and gain all the advantages accruing to wealth, but you can’t be female and then become (non-trans) male – which I think is where you’re going with your inherency argument. And in the US, where AFAIK class more or less means income/occupation bracket in a way that it doesn’t in other countries, you can be working class and then become middle class. (Not the case in Britain. No one has any problem working out that Alan Sugar, celebrity businessman and millionaire and Peer of the Realm though he is, is still not upper-class.)

    But in the sense of “advantages you start off with”, wealth and class should definitely be in there – you can’t be born poor and then become born wealthy. It’s inherent because, well, it’s inherited. That’s why we talk about being “born with a silver spoon in your mouth”. It’s why the dismissal of Bush as “born on third and thinks he hit a triple” has so much weight: it’s about refusing to acknowledge that being SWM and growing up in a rich upper-class family really is a low-difficulty setting.

  8. I didn’t want to engage in the comments, but I went away from your post thinking, “Good post, but [#3].” Having read your rebuttal, I understand and see why leaving wealth and class out of it makes better sense — it’s not as “inherent” a part of the character. Thanks for this efficient treatment of your interlocutors!

    I find myself musing, though, that it is perhaps not as universally self-evidently obvious that sexual orientation, race, and gender belong to the “essentially inherent” class and that other things, like social class, don’t. In some places, in some times, people have come to the conclusion that social class is similarly immutable (they still seem to carry its vestiges around in places that have hereditary nobility). And today, you can easily find people who say that race and/or gender are merely social constructions, or that certain persons born by all appearances as a member of one gender can and should live as a member of the other gender, or (conversely) that certain persons born with an innate sense of being one gender should live as a member of the gender indicated by their genital configuration, or that sexual orientation can be changed with therapy… This is not to say that your analogy is bad, just that exactly which game settings exist seems to depend on the version of the game.

  9. On #12: to continue the game metaphor, the guys who got set to Easy mode can maybe use some of their advantages to draw aggro and tank some of the damage that would otherwise be thrown at the folks who got set to Insanity mode.

    (The only game where I know how to apply those principles is Eve Online, where much of the gameplay is in a system where there supposedly aren’t any rules – except that there are rules, just not ones that correspond to any civilized society, because those with the power have no check on their ability to make whatever rules suit them…)

  10. I know you say you don’t care that people aren’t going to buy your books, but I, for one, will always be buying your newest fiction. Thank you for such excellent work.

  11. ajay, I think John addressed that by calling wealth and class “starting stats” — note the starting — and, although I don’t play video/computer games myself, my understanding is that the stats you start with dramatically affect your ability to play the rest of the game. But “starting stats” is not the same as “difficulty level”, because you can change your stats, but you can’t change your difficulty level. Which was John’s point.

  12. I teach Human Diversity at the University level. I would like to use “Lowest Dificulty Setting” and the two related entries for a class reading. May I? If you would like more information about me and my class, I would be happy to provide it. Thanks. (Needless to say, I found all three entries wonderful.)

  13. “. . . or not reading what was actually written in the entry in preference to a version of the entry that exists solely in that one person’s head, and which is not the entry I wrote . . .”

    Which I always find fascinating. Obviously, written communication is pitching and catching. The writer pitches, the reader catches. But exactly what the reader catches can sometimes depend on (to extend the metaphor into the surreal) the shape of the catcher’s mitt. The classic example is if I write, “I disagree with US foreign policy,” and receive the response, “Why do you hate America?”

  14. Ajay:

    “you can’t be born poor and then become born wealthy.”

    A lot of babies adopted from third-world countries (and even from poorer parts of the US) suggest that something like that could happen, or something close enough to it that the difference between the two is trivial.

    That said, I will agree that where wealth/class should be situated in all this is one of the places where I’ve seen the largest bit of discussion. I still think I’ve placed it accurately, but there’s certainly room for disagreement.

    As an aside, and with the notation that this is not what I see ajay doing here, I’ll note that I have suspicion that there’s a non-trivial number of people who want to suggest that wealth/class weighs more heavily than race/gender/sexuality because by doing so, they can avoid issues of race/gender/sexuality, i.e., it’s a derailing tactic, whether the person doing it is aware of the attempted derail or not.

    Bonelady:

    Go right ahead.

  15. I love the part about being defenestrated onto a courtyard of spikes, thanks for that.

  16. @ajay – But when you (generic you) see a person on the street, you see their gender and race first, and if they’re out with their significant other, you also see their sexuality. You don’t necessarily see their wealth/class, particularly if they happen to be adept at faking being a member of a different class than they currently belong to.

    People judge based on what group (or difficulty level) you appear to belong to. True, they also judge based on perceived class, but because wealth & class are mutable and can be based on choices you’ve made or actions you’ve taken, whereas race/sexuality/gender are not (for the majority of people), I think Mr. Scalzi put wealth & class where they belong, in this metaphor.

  17. As far as point 7, after 20 years of people denigrating everything you ever did because you just had everything handed to you it might be a bit hard not to read the nuance into what you posted, which I found pretty darn amusing anyway (the post, I didn’t read the comments).

  18. I’m one of the ones whose reaction to your post was, “yes, and?” because this conversation has been happening for three decades and it has progressed further than simply pointing out the existence of privilege. Having said that, I’m personally uncomfortable with sweeping generalizations such as the one you made about SWMs because in doing so, you use a label to create and then describe a group as possessing homogenous characteristics, a practice that is exactly the same process that bigots use to villify minority groups they don’t care for. Perhaps you encountered so many “yes, buts” because your readers expected a deeper level of discourse than you provided, and despite what you think, most of your replies were dismissive and myopic, rather than engaging. My takeaway from this post and subsequent conversations was that you are more interested in declaration than honest discussion and examination of why a set of beliefs exists within a culture (because ‘all thing being equal’ will never exist and your brief experiences with low cash flow aren’t analogous with generational poverty), which is too bad because you have a huge platform to become an engine of change, and a little change could do us all some good.

    Best of luck finding the stuff you lost.

  19. Agreeing with Bonelady: I plan to use your posts in future courses that deal with intersectional topics!

    (I already have your blog on my list of “recommended reading for aspiring writers” in my creative writing courses (with the wealth of information online by writers, publishers, agents, and professional writers’ organizations, I’ve given up assigning textbooks in those classes and use the internet).

    I just want to say that #6 is my favorite in the whole list–not only for this discussion, but for ALL others I’ve seen about social justice issues on the internet–and I plan to ‘steal’ it and use it as needed in future (always with a link back to this entry of course). I’ve seen lots of rebuttals to the “you are X” accusation that just never work–this one won’t work with everybody, but I think it’s likely to be more effective at having a shot at getting that sort of knee-jerk, appropriative, unthinking user to think a bit.

    Thank yoU!

  20. You may classify this as a “type II” objection, but I’m going to make it anyway. :) And it’s not so much an objection to the SWM piece, as an observation on the metaphor and what it says about “the game.”

    As the game progresses, your goal is to gain points, apportion them wisely, and level up.
    Let’s call this the Material Game.

    I love the analogy that you make to gain perspective, but it struck me that this may not be the goal for everyone. In a basic sense, everyone has the goal of gaining points in life and progressing to the next level (the Material Game). If you’re talking monetary or career issues, this gaming model certainly applies. If you’re talking family or spiritual or fulfillment issues, the gaming model falls apart (lets call this the Spiritual Game). Someone that starts out on the hardest setting (in the Material Game) may actually have an advantage in the Spiritual Game – life isn’t handed to them on a silver platter. They have to work for it, and thus learn early the hard lessons that help them achieve an emotionally/spiritually fulfilling life. Or the hard lessons could beat them down (not everyone is going to win the Spiritual Game, just like not everyone will win the Material Game). A SWM may have the easiest setting in the Material Game, but if he comes from an abusive home, then he’s starting out on the hardest setting in the Spiritual Game. With the exception that overcoming the hardest setting in the Spiritual Game DOES unlock extra features called fulfillment, family, and serenity in old age.

  21. Maybe it doesn’t speak to what you’re saying. I think what you’re saying is: This is a situation, and when you benefit from it and do not acknowledge that, it takes dignity and value from others who have fewer advantages. Got it.

    Now – to me, it all calls into question why it is that straight white males have the advantage. Say 2-300 years ago, it wasn’t at all obvious that straight white males would have the world by the short hairs. East and South Asia were the big powers, there wasn’t even a racial distinction that regarded people as White. And for a long time before that even the straight white males weren’t even in the running for happy and advantaged kings of the world.

    I’m not saying it’s a bootstraps situation, it’s in fact a kind of opposite circumstance- involving pressing of advantages, stealing and murder – but it still is something that was won. I won’t talk about merits of that winning, I won’t say earned – but won. Straight white males worked pretty hard to disadvantage everyone else – that’s I suppose, the thing I’m meaning to say – and I say that in aid of a larger point –

    It’s very certain that these advantages were gained by a few at the expense of the many – by pointing out the advantages you call into question a difficulty. That is, can these advantages be had by everyone at the expense of everyone? That is, can everyone equally have a low difficulty setting? And, failing that, are you asking that everyone have an equally difficult time in life. It’s not that you’re saying either of these things- but those are the questions that come up. Are you saying that everyone should be lifted up and have the same advantages – because that’s likely impossible, and if equality is important, doesn’t that mean that the people with advantages will have to give theirs up? Because it may be fair to do so, but you’re a voice in the wilderness with that, nobody’s going to foreswear the good life out of altruism.

    Maybe this isn’t the place for me to talk about it. I think about the privilege you’re mentioning, the difficulty settings – and I realize that people set about getting those, establishing them for their posterity, and then maintaining them through civil rights movements and 3rd world wars. A domination that’s won – but if these advantages come at the vast expense of the rest of the world – isn’t the only path to equality a downward one? And if so – isn’t equality then a tearing down?

  22. I’m an Internet lurker (that is to say, I hardly ever comment on anything I read but read A LOT) but one thing is guaranteed to make me come out of the dark and start frothing at the mouth – Affirmative Action. I loved this piece because it was so straightforward and written in language that would make sense to the people who read this blog, and found it fascinating that people who disagree with you feel the need to stoop to such odd levels to make a counterpoint. As a black academic female, I couldn’t have written this piece to such an audience that would read it and be willing to debate civilly.
    I digress. Affirmative Action frustrates me SO HARD because it almost never fails that no one on the “wrong” side of the argument has any idea what affirmative action IS. All I hear is “quota quota quota unfair advantage promotion unqualified whargarble” and wonder how these people actually use the World Wide Web. I just want to say all the time “go look up AA. Look up the act that initiated the entire process. read what it says. read how it does not say anything about preferential treatment but about ensuring everyone gets fair treatment. i’ll wait.” For some reason, the conversation doesn’t continue. Sad face.

    p.s. I have to confess I didn’t read the past about the first 50 comments on the original piece. My head would have exploded or something else messy.

  23. I have a question about an issue raised in this post.

    Specifically, are there committed gravity deniers? I’m actually scared to google just in case there are, and they are as bizarre as the other science!deniers. Its not even 2pm here and I’ve already used up my weeping-for-humanity quota for the day.

    As for the Easy-Setting post, I still find it difficult to understand how someone can read a post on how in like-for-like comparisons white, straight, males have things easier, and then go onto rant using a non like-for-like comparison. It makes no sense.

  24. Eliska – That’s very true. When I went to summer camp one year, I was shocked to learn that my fellow campers thought I was “rich,” when, compared to my classmates, I was practically destitute. We were lower-middle-class in an area dominated by upper-middle-class, so we weren’t actually poor, but I certainly felt that way. My mother did everything she could do make us feel just as well-off as our peers. The result was that, when I met people who didn’t know I used to wear hand-me-downs until the seams split, I came across as a higher economic bracket than I was.

  25. @Chris Bickford: If you’ve really had “twenty years of everybody denigrating everything you ever did because you just had everything handed to you”, then I suggest that you start looking for a better class of people to hang out with, because the ones you’re presently hanging with are boors.

  26. Didn’t Michael Jackson prove that race is immutable?

    And as far as seeing someone on the street, I tend to think that class is the first thing identified. When you see the thug/gangstar/coked out type, you have an immediate aversion whether he’s white, black, latino, or asian. You have a very different initial reaction to the professional in a nice suit, whether white, black, latino, or asian.

  27. Well, from my perspective, what we should do next, what we should strive for, is that excellence in whatever field is rewarded regardless of race, creed or economic station. Have a national program aimed at identifying those with great potential and support them. What we should not be doing is promoting mediocrity based on criteria that is not germane to promoting the best and the brightest. Otherwise you normalize to mediocre.

    Another game metaphor could be used: poker. As they say, even a bad hand can win the pot if you play your cards right.

    If you know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and when to run. You never count your money when your sittin at the table.

    (Did you know that that song is a favorite in sub-Saharan Africa as is Country music in general and Kenny Rogers in particular? I know, but that’s life)

  28. @Kingtycoon

    You’re operating on the assumption that life, the economy, etc. is a zero-sum game. That is, there are only so many resources to go around, and if some people (the advantaged) get those resources, than the rest (the disadvantaged) don’t get them. That’s not true. Life — and the economy — is not a zero-sum game, because benefits grow, not shrink. To put it similar to your example, 300 years ago, everyone was worse off than most people now. True, a very small minority had a tremendous advantage over everyone else, but even those very advantaged people still have naff all on a lower-middle-class American today. Economic expansion means that everyone benefits, and the greatest economic expansion comes from everyone — not just those at the top — being able to play the game. Countries today that have the least economic inequality also tend to have the greatest economic stability (the Scandinavian countries — Iceland excepted, they made some really stupid decisions — have suffered the least from the recent economic downturn), and historically, the periods in history that have shown the least economic inequality have also shown the greatest economic growth (e.g., the 1050s in the US). Lessening inequality is better for everyone, not just the people at the bottom.

  29. @ Chris Bickford —
    after 20 years of people denigrating everything you ever did because you just had everything handed to you
    If all the ‘people’ you know are truly doing this, you do indeed need to find a different group of people.

    If this is actually code for ‘I occasionally read things that I take personally, and they hurt’, I suggest that you do what those of us on the higher difficulty settings are told we have to do starting at about age 2 (sooner if we gain language skills earlier): grow a thicker skin and learn to deal.

    If this is actually code for ‘I’ve had 20 years of people projecting bad and inaccurate things onto me due to my gender, race, and/or sexual orientation’ — those of us on the higher difficulty settings call that ‘your 20th birthday’.

  30. I loved your original post, John, and had an immense amount of fun reading the comments. Seeing all those SWMs bawl like babies denied their favorite toys when certain facts of life were pointed out to them, and their reactions when called out on it made for quite a show. A number of the poor, fragile things got to be rather bratty, though the worst screamers were fortunately firmly malleted.
    I acknowledge that I play at a quite low difficulty setting myself, being straight, white, and female, and in addition living in Scandinavia (which by itself probably gives me some extra “starting points” at the beginning of the game, compared to the USA). Certain aspects of my own life have been … less than ideal, you might say. That doesn’t alter the startout setting any, though – so _I_ certainly am not going to start bitching about your analogy!

  31. I think the original post and this follow up are exactly right, if not, as you and others point out “perfect”. I too might quibble with the socio-economic bit, except that it wasn’t completely relevant to your point (as I saw it) so I let it go. Your metaphor mostly works and if one is a SWM getting defensive about this is silly. It’s just reality, it doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t mean you are also successful (for some value of successful that I’m sure is hugely variable) or that you don’t have huge challenges. It just is.

    I am not a straight white male. I am white. My children are not. They are teens now and I can see every day (and we are comfortable on the socio-economic scale) how their reality and mine are different. It would be fascinating but it’s also kind of sad.

    I kind of see it like this:

    I acknowledge that I live in a country and community that has clean, running, always accessible tap water. It doesn’t mean I am inherently a bad person because of this. It might mean that I am blind to the fact that in other communities and countries others don’t have the same access, something that I find so easily obtained might not have value to me and so I won’t see it’s lack elsewhere. Having been made aware of it, I can be more mindful of my own water use, work in ways that I can to see that others have access to clean water as well and try and figure out how to create a society where no one ever has to worry about access to clean water.

    (Hoping this is relevant to this thread-and not creeping over into the original thread)

  32. @DG:

    I’m one of the ones whose reaction to your post was, “yes, and?” because this conversation has been happening for three decades and it has progressed further than simply pointing out the existence of privilege.

    It has been happening for three decades for /some people/. It has progressed further for /some people/. That’s the thing men who Get It have to understand. There are men out there, lots of them, who have honestly never encountered this idea in any sort of challenging way. Some young. Some not young. So the conversation has to keep happening.

    I’m a newlywed. My husband is a bright, loving, incredibly smart new college graduate. But he had not encountered these ideas in a way that encouraged him to really confront them until we started dating, and then only because I got really angry at him one night over failing to see systematic sexism in (of all ironically appropriate things) video games.

    I love this man to death in part because, even after the raging fight we had, what he did next was some googling and some reading. He took my challenge to ‘look up privilege’ and did so with an open mind. And the conversation has changed since then.

    My husband didn’t /mean/ to miss the point. He wasn’t a bigot. He wasn’t a sexist. But there were things he /simply didn’t see/ because he didn’t /have/ to. Because they didn’t affect him, as a SWM, in the same way they affect me.

    And it took me saying ‘I feel like you don’t care what it feels like in my shoes’ to change that.

    That’s why John writes these things. That’s why we link to them. They aren’t for the people who’ve been having this conversation for three decades. They aren’t to throw the idea in people’s faces again and again. They aren’t to attack anyone or make them feel like crap.

    They’re for the twenty-five year old guy who respects women and respects gay people and respects minorities but has simply /never been challenged/ to think about the ways in which their lives are different from his in anything but the most simplistic terms.

    Because sometimes those guys really want to learn. And sometimes things change when they do.

  33. The numerous reactions to your game metaphor are very interesting.
    As an amateur psychologist, I observed that straight white males tend to complain more about life than man and women who actually had a difficult start in life or those who have a different sexual option.
    Also, living in a developing country, I find mesmerizing that the straight white males of USA complain about “whatever”.

  34. A great way to follow up with these posts and your thoughts on them is to read Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”. It is a challenging book that looks at history through the lens of everyone living on a higher difficulty setting. You will probably not enjoy reading the book, as I wrote above, it is challenging – it will however make you look at history in a different light.

    (Note: Zinn’s book is wonderfully written and excellently researched and he really cares about the topic, the challenge will come from the material: reexamining ourselves and our history is never easy)

  35. I have always thought this analogy explained it so much better than the “P” word (I think that offends white people as much as the “N” word does blacks). It also is a subtle way, at least to the person who is capable of rationally evaluating it, of not denigrating any accomplishments or individual hardships any SWM’s like myself go through.

    Also I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the snarky responses you had to unfounded criticism in the other thread.

  36. John,

    I think the best litmus test of your theory is the “check the box” test on a job or college application for people of mixed race. Take Elizabeth Warren (purportedly 1/32 Cherokee) for instance who checked the block for Native American to obtain “minority law teacher” status. Or President Obama. Do you think he checked “white” on his application to Harvard? The bottom line is that in the 1950s, straight white males most assuredly operated on the lowest default setting, but today that is simply not the case.

  37. Re: the what we do next point, we do next what we should have done all along; think. Think about what the other person is going through who is different than us and who didn’t have the advantages we did when growing up, and helping give others a leg up when we can. Nevermind if you’re a SWM or not, we should all be doing this.

  38. John, I didn’t comment on your “Lowest Difficulty Setting” post but I read the whole thread, and found it really depressing.

    I don’t think there is any doubt that your premise is correct. My problem is not with the premise, it’s with the debate itself. If you are not born with the lowest difficulty setting, and you want to succeed in spite of that, the worst thing you can do is obsess about how “unfair” everything is, and how much more difficult it is for you.

    The overwhelming response to your essay illustrates just how many people look at someone else and instantly judge them by what they see on the outside. These are the same people advocating against that very type of judgement. It’s sad.

  39. I don’t know what’s more awesome: the fact that some mooks keep on trying to prove you wrong or take issue with you or the fact that you take it and continue to make them look like the jamokes they are. Love it. Makes me want to spank your balding head and lick it when I see you next.

  40. Kilroy– I am on the extreme of the poverty line–the day before I got my first job last year, I had $20 left and had just been told I owed my first $400 college loan payment. However, because I have not changed in physical shape since 6th grade, and I had some wealthy relatives, I have a closet of gorgeous clothes and jewerly given to me as gifts over the last decade. It is impossible to sell clothes for anything like they’re worth, so I kept them. These clothes did give me a definite advantage when beng hired but gives people radically misleading information as to my class, sometimes to my detriment. My coworkers would applaud my commitment to cooking without realizing that I would have to go to the grocery store and wonder if I could splurge on $1.50 for a pepper when an onion at $.70 would provide so much more food. Then I’d get asked to bring a dish to company parties….

    Also, most of my students would look upon gangters as heroes that protect their neighborhood by killing people, not with ‘immediate aversion’; a white person in a suit as someone to be feared, and a non-white in a suit as a sell-out. I think you are very lucky to have grown up in a situation where you did not need to do this. There are still vast swathes of America (not to mention the rest of the world, of course) where children are told the best they can be is nothing, and to hate anyone who managed to escape this.

  41. The comment here about “wealth/class is not a stat” reminded me of something that’s come up more than once…

    My best friend in town grew up on a farm out in the county, and as one might expect of a Kansas family farm in the Eighties and Nineties, cash was beyond tight. But he was brought up with manners so that he took enormous rations of shit off of his (raised-working-class) DIs and AIT instructors when he enlisted into the Army, and was pegged for an officer more than once when out of uniform.

    …So yes, wealth is not a stat. Which was underscored in the original entry, where the the “all other things equal” point was brought up a time or three.

    I’ve read a lot of bleating that the general environment is better suited to girls and women until that degree is earned — cf. the 4:3 ratio of women to men college undergraduates in the U.S. as a likely consequence — but once that’s out of the way, those same penalties become bonuses.

    A long running question in my own trade has been “how we can we get women and ethnic minorities to raise their profile in proportion to men?” but… no answers as yet.

  42. @Kilroy: Numerous experiments prove you wrong. To give the classic one, well-dressed black actor can’t get a taxi that happily stops for poorly-dressed white felon. Race and gender get registered before class, though class can mitigate the disadvantages IF the person doing the judging stops long enough for class to register. Often, they simply don’t.

  43. @chelvr: you are confusing wealth with class. Based on your writing skills, very fact that you visit this site, and employment, you are not low class and probably never were. The fact that you did not have any wealth upon graduation also does not make you poor. That makes you the same as almost every single other college graduate. I’m still about a half million in the red as far as wealth, but not poor.

  44. @Sean Patrick Hazlett, I’m confused by your assertion. While I can follow the argument about Elizabeth Warren, questioning whether President Obama would check white on his application ignores the fact that almost no one perceives him as white (on either side of the spectrum). We don’t strictly follow the “one drop rule” in the legal sense any more (thank goodness), but societal perceptions haven’t deviated very much from those ideals. Tiger Woods was “our first black golfer” despite being half-Asian and only one quarter “black.” Any relatives I have that are equally mixed race (half white half black) are considered black unless they can “pass;” they stop being able to successfully pass once anyone finds out their parentage. I don’t think mixed race perceptions are where you may perceive them to be.

  45. “A quick note that this comment thread should be mostly about this entry and not the “difficulty settings” entry, i.e., please try not to see it as a way to make comments you wanted to make there but couldn’t because I closed the thread. Thanks.”

    *Stops, fingers poised over keyboard*

    Busted!

    Okay, then, can I say that, various disagreements aside, you’ve blown me away. Nice work. And I want to schedule a long argument with you at Fourth Street.

  46. @Birma DoctorWife Gainor: That is an unfair stereotype. Many black players are great passers. Sure, assist leaders are still Stockton and Nash, but ability to go to the hoop over giving up the ball should not be used as a qualifer for race.

  47. My thoughts were on the “#12: Yes, and?” question. IMHO, the answer to this one is Older Than Feudalism: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. When asked, “who, then, is my neighbor?”, Jesus taught the parable of the Good Samaritan, which, to me, says “your neighbor is anyone you come across that needs your help”. If everyone treats everyone they meet with love, compassion and respect, there will be no privilege or “difficulty setting” issues.

  48. Thank you again, John, for the original post, the artful employment of the mallet to its comments, and for the phrase “leading with one’s ass”, which I’ll now be using at every (depressingly-frequent) opportunity.

  49. “Take Elizabeth Warren (purportedly 1/32 Cherokee) for instance who checked the block for Native American to obtain “minority law teacher” status. Or President Obama. Do you think he checked “white” on his application to Harvard? The bottom line is that in the 1950s, straight white males most assuredly operated on the lowest default setting, but today that is simply not the case.”

    The fact that it has taken 43 previous presidents, all white men, and nearly 240 years, to have our first black, male president, is in no way an indication that SWMs are no longer operating on the lowest difficulty setting in the game. When we get another 1/2 dozen or so non-SWM presidents sitting in the Oval Office in consecutive order, and SWMs are being systematically discriminated against as a matter of normalcy, then that statement might have a leg to stand on.

    And are you seriously insinuating that President Obama got into Harvard because he’s black and not because he might have actually merited a place at an Ivy League university and that Ms. Warren’s professorship at Harvard was due to more to her “race” than her considerable qualifications (not to mention, as John Chu already pointed out, that story is complete hooey)?

    Also, please go back and read what John wrote about overall trends vs. individual cases, especially points #4 and #5.

  50. It’s easy to pull metaphors apart. They’re only tools to illustrate a point and almost all of them fall apart at some level. It’s harder to look at a metaphor and see past where it breaks down and apply it to one’s personal experience and see if the easy setting is on in his or her own life.

    The Easy Setting is certainly on in my life.

  51. @John Chu: Again, just to keep the record straight: Elizabeth Warren did check the block for “white” at the U of T, but she also listed herself as a minority in a publication that helped Law School deans identify new professors (see the Boston Globe source you cited). Moreover, she refuses to release her admission and employment records at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. That said, I really don’t blame her. If claiming minority status could increase her chances of admission, and If she was of mixed race, why wouldn’t she check a non-white block?

  52. “…It’s not about blame, it’s about knowledge. Stop assuming it’s about blame. Paranoid and hypersensitive is no way to go through life.”

    BUT THAT’S ALL I HAVE!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiIZLDeMOg0

    If I can’t be more oppressed than those other people, then how do I rationalize my place in the world?

    Other people have to have it easier, because SHUT UP!

  53. “Those dudes are cracking me up, and also making me a little sad.” will be replacing the description of “Mostly Harmless” in the next edition of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

  54. As one of the luckiest people on the face of the earth (i.e., SWM in the US), these threads have been awesome, appalling, and hilarious. Thanks for the efforts, man. I think this one may end up in your history alongside Being Poor.

    Excellent work, sir.

  55. One of the reasons I think John has placed Wealth/Class in the right place is because his difficulty rating is across those markers.

    A wealthy, upper class Straight White Male is going to have an easier game than a wealthy, upper class Someone Else. He’s less likely to be excluded from the Golf Club, he’s less likely to be mistaken for staff, he’s less likely to get beaten up when he’s with his partner*, he’s less likely to be pulled over by the cops when he didn’t break a law, and if he does break a law he’s more likely to be treated well in the process.

    I think that’s where all the people grousing about #4 completely miss the point of the whole essay. It’s not that all Straight White Males have an easier time than all the rest of us. It’s that a Straight White Male has it easier than any of the rest of us in his exact same situation. There was even a commenter on the other thread who wrote about the difference he and his not-white brother had. Same family, same school, same wealth, same class, same everything except skin color. His game was easier than his brother’s only because of that one difference.

    As for what a SWM can do if he wishes–reach down the ladder and help someone else. Speak up when you hear racist or sexist or gay bashing language and don’t use it yourself is one way to make a contribution.

    *There’s a man in my church who was beaten severely for walking down the street with a male friend. This man and his friend are Straight White Males, but the perps assumed they were gay. Working to decrease violence against gays helps the straights in this world right there.

  56. Since I once received the MoLC I want to comment on the charge that you malloted anyone who disagreed with you. The time I got it I was actually agreeing with you but used intemperate terms. I accepted that & have worked hard to be more polite since. I did not see the comments you whacked but I saw enough of the ones you didn’t to call BS on those who say you whacked based on their not agreeing with you.

  57. @The Pint

    First, I’m not insinuating that Obama or Warren weren’t qualified to get into Harvard. Neither of them has released their admissions records, so I would have no way of knowing that one way or the other.

    Second, I never said that SWMs never had an advantage in the past. In fact, I agreed that they did. My issue is that systematically discriminating against someone based on race is wrong whether or not it is meant to reverse decades of discrimination. And certain minorities receive advantages in employment and college admission that give them an advantage. An advantage that is so clear that most logical people would agree that it is advantageous to check a non-white/non-Asian block in these applications.

  58. I did see a lot of the ones that got deleted. Had a pretty free evening Tuesday, so I followed pretty closely. They were pretty awful. Had to restrain myself a couple of times from responding to the ones I knew were getting the mallet. Laughed out loud when they came back whining about John censoring anyone who didn’t agree with him. Mainly stayed out of dipping my toe in though, because a lot of those guys weren’t going to see anything but what they wanted to see.

  59. #10: this gave me a good laugh.

    On #9, private “censorship” is not really censorship. Yes, I know, I know. The definition has slipped and I am a language fascist, but still. Get off of my lawn! Another example of Xopher’s “logomachy”.

    On #6, your piece propounded a very broad racial/sexual stereotype. As such, I do think that your piece was racist and sexist, unless you’re working with a definition of these words which special-cases supposed oppressor categories. (Wiki: “Sexism involves … the application of gender stereotypes.”) I don’t think one can propound broad racial and sexual stereotypes without being racist and sexist. That is, it is sexist for me to claim that men are taller than women. And it is racist and sexist to claim that white men have life relatively easy. Both of these claims are true.

    On #4, it is surprising to me that people think that anecdotes refute a stereotype. No, they don’t. Stereotypes are not scientific laws such that one anecdote refutes them. A stereotype may be true or false, but if it is true, then having an anecdote contrary to it just means you’ve got an exception to a fuzzy rule.

  60. @John Chu

    For most of her career, she was recruited into positions and those who recruited her have now made it clear it was based solely on her record.

    And Affirmative Action makes this necessary…

  61. I considered commenting on the prior thread, but by the time I got there the tirade was already well in progress and my primary point had already been reasonably well noted by others. In the interests of full disclosure, I would also like to point out that my immediate reaction upon reading Scalzi’s post was “but that doesn’t take into account ‘my’ problems and they render my race/sexuality/gender irrelevant!” Yeah. To ME. Change my skin colour or sexuality and leave me with those same problems and see where I am, and it took a while for that to occur to me, which is of course one of the larger points.

    But saying that, I still have an issue with what Scalzi said. Well, I have several but the majority are not germane. He is talking primarily about the USA (I hail from Scotland, UK, where the issues are slightly different) and obviously being white in a non-white-majority country is usually far less of an advantage ie. China or Japan or the Middle East. That is addressed. What is not, I think, is which of the criteria he establishes as being life’s easiest difficulty setting are more weighted than others. Being a straight white male is an advantage, but what’s next down the list? Being a gay white male? Or a straight minority male? Or a straight white female? Etc. If these factors are to be highlighted as the most collectively contributory, then what about those factors taken independently? And what about other factors that also influence the wide variety of encounters you’re going to have through the game?

    Any paradigm is going to be necessarily simplified from a full emulation, but I think Scalzi does his fundamental aim a disservice by being quite so simplistic with his model. The first thing that occurred to me when considering his post was more akin to the Fallout style of character creation, with not just basic stats, but also various perks that can be positive, or negative, or both depending on situation. We all carry a large number of these perks, and quite a few are going to be ones we had no choice over. Most of them aren’t even visible. But they affect us.

    I’m autistic, I have Aspergers. Diagnosed, thank you. I’m straight, white and male, but that isn’t what I see in the mirror. I see an aspie, someone who has never fitted in to the society around him through no fault of his own. To me, that was more important as a defining characteristic than my skin colour, or sexuality. It thus slipped my mind that if I were gay, or black, as well as autistic, I might find life even harder. But at the same time, does that make the difficulties I experience as a result of the perks I carry less important or worthy of notice than the benefits I get? Or am supposed to, anyway. Being autistic keeps me from succeeding at relationships, or from fitting in, because straight people are not my group, white people are not ‘my’ group. But I am placed into those groups by others, and when I do not conform appropriately I am thus punished by society as any other minority.

    Humans instinctively form tribes, give their allegiance to a tribe and subsume their individuality within the tribe. Other tribes are then ‘outsiders’; potentially hostile, certainly competition. Yet as with any conflict, collaboration occurs to allow smaller tribes to survive and triumph over larger, more successful ones. Fighting everyone around all at once leads to defeat, more sensible by far to target the largest threat at hand as a priority, to win other tribes to your goal by pointing out the mutual threat your target poses and, if necessary, inflate the threat by allocating more people to the opposition. When seen by others, they will see me to be a white male, and likely assume (correctly) my heterosexuality. They will treat me accordingly. That is racist, regardless of if that treatment is hostile or inclusive. That is sexist for the same reasons. It is also largely a natural part of human behavior, but is the point not to be trying to move past a mentality where people are defined by such a small suite of characteristics when so many perks afflict or benefit us?

    I would thus consider Scalzi’s article to indeed be both racist and sexist, though perhaps not especially destructively so. But I do feel that it limits its scope too much to be especially useful; that by focusing on the small number of traits we’re trying to move away from focussing on, it fails to achieve the aim it should be aspiring to. Rather than saying “You have it easier due to your skin colour, trying to be aware of that” or “They have it harder due to their gender, try to keep that in mind” which are prejudicial attitudes even if they aren’t destructive, wouldn’t it be better go for “You have it different from them, that’s simply a fact. Don’t assume you know how.” There are many things society could do that would make my life as an aspie much easier, but I’m perpetually confused by the fact that the biggest one would be the one everyone else seems to be arguing for as well: Treat people with mutual respect, and seek understanding. That’s not treating me specially because I’m autistic, that’s not treating a black or asian man or women differently because of their skin colour, that’s treating everyone as an individual who can’t be defined by a narrow set of visible traits. That’s not what that post did.

    Wealth is a perk. Class is a perk. The way your minds works, however it does, is a perk. I would argue that sexuality is a perk. These and many more perks define how life treats you, how you approach and play the game. They’re what give the substance of the game character. Different perks lead to a much different adventure. Why are they considered less important, less worth the argument?

    I agree with what Scalzi said. I’m just not certain it was worth saying. Rather than damping the pendulum, it’s just trying to make it move in the opposite direction. That isn’t going to solve anything, it can only ever lead to the same problem taking on a different position.

    Another issue is also with people defining themselves relative to others, then blaming those others for any issues that arise from the first persons own actions, but I think I’ve already written quite enough.

    Apologies for the wall of text.

  62. “That said, I will agree that where wealth/class should be situated in all this is one of the places where I’ve seen the largest bit of discussion. I still think I’ve placed it accurately, but there’s certainly room for disagreement.”

    Also, as an only occasional gamer, I think the disagreement may come from me not quite understanding the concept of starting stats/starting level…

  63. Why put logomachy in quotation? It’s a real word dating back to the 16th century.

  64. I find it amusing and a little sad when people try to make the claim that the American Privileged SWM is an endangered species. it’s partly sad because it shows a decided lack of social-and-self awareness. It’s partly sad because of the issues of said hypersensitivity. Mostly, though, it makes me sad because of the collective howl about things like Affirmative Action and being PC…not because these sorts of social monitors exist but because they wish they weren’t there, so that the SWM can go back to having its boys’ club. It’s as though they’re angry because the advantages aren’t even more profound. Is this why “Mad Men” is so popular? I’m a straight white woman, I’m educated, and I acknowledge my own advantages that were granted to me through no actions of my own, that I’ve seen other friends have to struggle to get through, Stop deflecting your anger, folks, and take five minutes of quiet introspection to see if it might behoove you to try and get over yourselves.

  65. Based on what more than one commenter said, please, do NOT assume someone’s sexual orientation by who’s walking next to them. This isn’t just because gay-bashers are stupid. This is because I speak as someone whose sexual orientation is assumed and erased every day of the week. It doesn’t matter if I’m out with a man, a woman, or someone elsewhere on the gender spectrum. I’m assumed monosexual, and I’m not. Want to help people on a higher difficulty spectrum? Here’s another way. Quit assuming you know their sexual orientation based on who they’re with.

  66. @beyondpaisley: I think the census results pretty well prove that privileged SWM is an endangered species. Looks like we are in the last generation of being a majority.

  67. The comments probably were skewed wildly toward the ignorant side of Straight-White-Maledom because as a SWM that is aware and appreciative of my privilege, it felt like I was reading instructions on how to tie my shoe. Yes, yes, I get it, this is all true. While I usually really enjoy Scalzi’s rants and essays, this one seemed particularly boring because it was restating the obvious. I understand John’s point – it isn’t obvious to everyone, and it was probably good for some people to hear it. But I wasn’t interested in commenting on something so self-evident and commonly discussed, and I imagine I wasn’t alone.

    I guess my point is that your SWM readers aren’t as much in denial as the comment thread implied; you just attracted the loons with that one.

  68. I am sure your opinion on this matter, and that is all it is, inflamed a lot of people. It generated a ton of responses which is really what is more desired. Publicity (site traffic) is a wonderful thing whether good or bad. I suspect you know this and lob these things out there from time to time just for that purpose. Being a SWM I found it humorous and not offended at all. It made me laugh and entertained me.

  69. On statement #12, I think we would all benefit if you write a follow up article offering ideas on how to assist those less privileged. While your overall statement is adequate, greater specificity will be even better. Could be a simple list as don’t tolerate bigoted statements, support causes – both anti-bigotry and charitable for the less fortunate, learn about other cultures, stop listening to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage etc. – not so much because of their views of government as their attitude toward the less fortunate. I’m sure your list will make much more sense than any I can think of.

  70. who cannot abide the idea that their lives play out on a fundamentally lower difficulty setting than everyone else’s, and have spun themselves up in tight, angry circles because I dared to suggest that they do

    Word. It reminds me of so many of the questions/comments/splosions sent in to Andrew Ti’s column “Yo, is this Racist?”. The sheer amount of tight-angry-circling going on, for instance, over the concept that white people cannot use the N-word no not even hipster ironically no not even if you do have all of those black friends no not even because you mean it in a jovial fashion no not even if you are green or purple… it’s exhausting for me to see the sheer amount of gnashing and “BUT BUT BUT” being sent in, and I can’t even imagine how Andrew copes. (I mean, other than with humor. Because dude is seriously funny.)

  71. Regarding point 11–you were pretty clear about that throughout the rest of the post, but the first paragraph (and hence the first impression) describes a propensity to be offended by the word “privilege” to be a property of the class of white men. I think a “some” or “most” thrown somewhere in there would have been beneficial. I get that you want to have a powerful hook, but you’re saying something that isn’t quite what you mean and that leads to unnecessary misunderstanding and rageface.

  72. Kilroy, for heaven’s sake, “majority” and “most powerful as a class” aren’t the same set, and may not even overlap. Jesus Christ, read any history of anywhere.

  73. @Birma DoctorWife Gainor

    My “perception” of mixed race has nothing to do with my argument. Nor is my argument based on anecdotal evidence. My argument is based very narrowly on the game theoretic construct of choosing a dominant strategy in the college admissions and employment game. If one had the option to check either white/Asian or anything else, the system is such that one maximizes one’s probability of success by checking the box for anything else. The data confirms this assertion. Take SAT scores or LSAT scores at any top university for instance, and compare them by subgroup.

  74. Been reading both your posts and the explosion of comments that followed, and it’s all been quite interesting. I agree quite largely with you, although I’m afraid I fall into “Category #2”. Sort of. In spirit, maybe.

    I agree the analogy is an apt one. Fitting. I agree that other attributes such as wealth and class, while they do affect things somewhat, are not as much indicators as being a the “default easy setting”.

    I do see two distinct types of ease, though: the first let’s call “impedance” and the second “opportunity”. Impedance is anything stopping/hindering/threatening a person. Stuff like not being able to catch a cab as a black man, or other such negative stereotypes. It’s the simple ease of being able to live your life how you want, to get an education, to earn money, to live without prejudice. Your analogy is dead on there. Beautiful!

    The second type is different, and I see that as being somewhat opposite of your analogy. I’m not talking about the little bonuses that are tacked on with Equal Opportunity and the like. Those affect one’s ease of opportunity, but they’re an outside impetus, and so I can see how one wouldn’t count them even if they do affect things to some extent.

    I’m talking about an opportunity to stand out in a crowd, and there, the average, ordinary, normal, white male is at quite a distinct disadvantage. Putting it in gaming terms to follow suite: as the white male, you get to be the fighter. You can’t be the mage-thief-bard, or the fighter-mage-thief. You get plain vanilla fighter. With a broadsword and a shield. If you’re wealthy, you can upgrade to Paladin, where you get nice shiny armor and a really badass sword and shield – just like all the other knights out there. You’re at quite the advantage in a fight. You survive quite easily when compared to any other characters. But put you in an army of fighters, and your crew of adventurers could pick any random dude out of a hat to replace you, because there’s nothing about you that says “pick me, pick me! I’m the one you want!”

    Yes, that vanilla fighter type has the easiest time surviving in the game. Hugely easy for him to play the game. Pick up the sword and swing, kill the bad guys, get your grub on, gulp some ale, and swagger off to the next round. It’s the easiest character in the world to play, but it isn’t always the most advantageous, and easy mode isn’t always the most fun to play.

    If that makes any sense.

  75. susankayequinn: The emphasis on material suffering giving an advantage in the Spiritual Game is how a lot of religions handle that issue. Suffering, stigmas, and sacrifices in this life can lead to rewards in the next life, or SSS in mundane life lead to spiritual rewards in this life. I’ve noticed that the people promising the rewards are usually doing pretty well in the here and now, though, so I think that SWMs (or the local character class equivalent) use this idea to help keep the others playing round after round under the existing rules.

  76. As a heterosexual white male I think both posts are well written and can be used as a great example to explain what privilege is.

    “Well, yes. Metaphors are not perfect; it’s why they’re metaphors and not the thing the metaphor describes. Likewise analogies break down. I thought the “lowest difficulty setting” description worked well enough for what I wanted to say, but I don’t think it’s perfect. ”

    I wish more people would understand this very simple concept. I cannot tell you how many times I have had discussions with people where I used an analogy and they tried to assert that I was saying that both were “the same”.

    “Otherwise, in a general sense, when people point out the things straight white men get on credit (or don’t have to deal with), the unspoken part of that is not “and that’s why we plan to burn all you bastards in a big screaming pile when the revolution comes,” it’s “hey, just so you know.” Because you should know. It’s not about blame, it’s about knowledge. Stop assuming it’s about blame. Paranoid and hypersensitive is no way to go through life.”‘

    The only thing I would point out here is that the label of being privileged gets used often as a pejorative. So when someone is being told that they are in a privileged class, it typically is not done in a friendly discussion where all parties agree with each other on the issue. It is typically done when one ore more of the parties that is in a privileged class cannot understand the argument being made by the person in the non-privileged class.

    So I would argue that the reason the people who do not already understand privilege feel attacked (as you describe in #7) is because of the manner in which the label is presented. Presenting it as you did in the other post is likely to help more people understand the issue. (Of course, some will remain with their heads in the sand).

  77. “Suggesting all straight white men should be defenstrated into a courtyard covered with spikes would be an attack.”

    Actually, even that wouldn’t be an attack (it might be a bit rude or unpleasant, sure), because it’s not a credible threat. No one in the world has the power to back up that threat with actual force. Queer people, people of color, trans women, cis women, and so on don’t like seeing attacks because they know that there is a credible threat of violence behind them, which doesn’t exist against straight white men as a group.

  78. I think maybe the folks who asked “ok, now what?” may be pointing at the source of the reaction: Because the “privilege” metaphor and the “game difficulty level” metaphor are not focused on a specific problem related to discrimination. If you wwnt to fix the problem of police profiling people of color, of women being paid less than men for the same job, of of gay people being denied the right to marry, you can do so quite easily without mentioning “privilege” and without focusing the discusion on all straight white men. You could address the problem by focusing on the actual problem: the discrimination that is occurring, and the people who are committing the discrimination. …. But the privilege metaphor and the game difficulty level metaphor doesnt do that. And it doesnt do that by choice. They focus on straight white males, not the immediate problem of police profiling, but a secondary cause behind police profiling that is swm’s being unaware and/or indifferent to police profiling occurring and therefore not doing anything about police profiling. So by redirecting the focus from racist cops to indifferent or unaware votoers who dont do anything about racist cops, the “privilege” metaphor shifts the blame from the racist cops to the i different or unaware voters. The “different difficulty levels of the game of life” metaphor shifts the focus from direct discrimination to people who arent actively discriminating but arent doi.g anything about it. …. And we saw this have the desired effect on the previous thread when several SWM’s came back with responses like “OK, so what do I do about it”. … The thing is, if there is no direct, active discrimination going on somewhere, then there isnt much an SWM gets in the way of being “privileged” or “easier playing level”. There might some historical inertia from minorities being excluded from areas that would be rectified by affirmative action. But if there was no police racial profiling, if women got paid the same wage as men for the same job, and if gays had the right to marry, then the idea of “privilege” or “game dificulty level” would be pointless metaphors. And when asked for things to do to fix the problem, I’m sorry, but the suggestion that people buy a book from a minority author is so missing the opportunity of what could be done when unaware SWM’s suddenly become aware of discrimination. … The point of the privilege metaphor and the game difficulty metaphor is to bring about an end to needing the metaphor at all. To bring about an end to active discrimination and the enertial effects of active discrimination. If there is nothing to *do* about the uneven difficulty levels, if one doesnt have a list of the most egregious forms of systemic discrimination and things to do to help them go away, then really, what is the point of bringing it up in the first place?

  79. Liberal Dan: your last two grafs are not precisely wrong, but that’s what we call the Tone Argument. I don’t think you’re trying to derail anything, but dudes who protest that the discussion has become unfriendly often do so, consciously or not, with a view to (here it is again) style rather than content. By focusing on how we’re saying it, they’re allowing themselves to ignore what we say.

    See also “A Man For All Seasons”:
    MORE: The answer is no, and will remain no as long as you remain a heretic.
    ROPER: I don’t like that word, Sir Thomas.
    MORE: It’s not a likeable word, Will. It’s not a likeable thing.

  80. Sean Patrick Hazlett @10:35 am
    “First, I’m not insinuating that Obama or Warren weren’t qualified to get into Harvard. Neither of them has released their admissions records, so I would have no way of knowing that one way or the other.”

    Pet peeve. There’s no such thing as “qualified” to get into a university. The university itself determines who gets in and who doesn’t based on its own rules and own needs. If a university decides it needs more people from the Midwest, well then people from the Midwest are more likely to get it, even if people from the East Coast may have better grades, etc.

  81. “FYI, Jim Hines assembled some statistics for those people with complaint #8 on your list:”

    facts are facts (they never get distorted, snicker snicker) but nothing addresses WHY the numbers are the way they are. To simply say it is because of “low difficulty setting” is simplistic and wrong. That is not the whole picture. It can be many things such as (but not limited to): players being newer to the game or players not playing as hard as others. To address some of it we create cheat codes which can infuriate some of the players who follow all the rules. Once the cheat codes are know they get passed around and abused and it ruins the game at which time someone needs to come along and remove the codes. Sometimes people think they have a cheat code, use it then find themselves locked out from playing the game and get all pissy about it and scream of the injustice of it all.

  82. I was at the greek place in my neighborhood having dinner with friends last night and started talking about your post. Heads at the next table shot up and one of the folks said “are you talking about that article on the internet about straight white men?” They are not usual followers of Whatever, but rather read it somewhere else. Mazel tov, you have raised this discussion and it couldnt do anything but be good for the public discourse.

  83. Aunt Vixen, if you can’t see how “heretic” as an accusation might get misused and abused then you might not see the problem inherent in quoting that scene.

  84. Even if you don’t care (10.)…. because I really enjoyed this post and the original and it looks like your books will be interesting to me I just bought the Kindle edition of “Old Man’s War.”

    Even if I don’t like your books, I don’t care(!). I will keep reading your blog and anything else I can find.

    Thank you for making an excellent analogy.

  85. I don’t necessarily disagree with you John. But, when you oversimplify any concept, you’re going to get people who latch onto it as a strawman argument.

    I’m a straight white dude (or honkey, as I call myself), and I openly recognize the hardships of others. My best friend is a black muslim named Muhammad. I had a much better childhood than him.

    I do, however, think that affirmitive action causes racism and sexism. It has a noble goal, but in practice tells organizations that they have to meet quotas of minorities. I’ve seen, in practice, corporations telling their organizations that they aren’t “diverse” enough, and they have to hire a black person to make sure they’re “covered”. So, the problem comes from when 10 people apply for that position, and only one is black. Lets say three of those people are more qualified for the position, but they don’t get the job because they have to hire a black person.

    Now, I define racism as making bias decisions based upon a person’s race. Isn’t that exactly what happened? I contended that we can’t move beyond racial barriers when they’re still actively enforced by corporations and governments. I think that in today’s environment, we don’t need regulations saying that 20% of my workforce has to be minority. I think that as my generation (i’m mid 20s) starts taking over from my father’s, the race card becomes less and less relevant.

  86. @DG’s critic really is the best point here.

    Additionally, the absence of a progressive outcome shows the simplification of the argument.

    SWM by itself is not necessarily the _main_ problem, the problem is the lack of diversity and the acceptance of such. What is the point of blaming any “stereo-type” without a clear proposal for “improvement”. How responsible is any person for it’s “given” unchangeable attributes? How much do they actually matter in the quest for positive change?

    Yes, reflection is a necessary part for anyone’s position in the society and the game analogy is a wonderful tool for that. But that does not automatically imply that somebody is to be blamed for it’s position. Whatever a position is privileged or not.

    What is to be blamed it the misuse of privilege. What is to blamed is the lack of acceptance of other cultures and other perspectives. Go and learn to accept and live with the contradictions of this planet.

    You look into the mirror, you don’t like the picture, you shoot at the mirror and completely miss the objective.

    Not very well played.

  87. I love that flow chart. All-hail (sometimes) Benevolent Dictator-For-Life Scalzi!

  88. I especially love the people who have made repeated comments to let us know how much they don’t care. Please, tell us more about how much you don’t care, yet still feel the burning need to comment to tell us how much you don’t care.

  89. Aunt Vixen: Just to be clear, I was not protesting anything and I do not think that this discussion has become unfriendly. I think both of the posts are well written and are a must read for anyone interested in understanding privilege and a “must link to” when trying to explain privilege to someone who doesn’t get it.

    But this comment from the OP, “the unspoken part of that is not “and that’s why we plan to burn all you bastards in a big screaming pile when the revolution comes,” it’s “hey, just so you know.” “, is part of what caused me to include my last to paragraphs.

    Sometimes it doesn’t come off as “hey, just so you know”. Sometimes it does come off as being used as a pejorative.

    “By focusing on how we’re saying it, they’re allowing themselves to ignore what we say.”

    There are people who don’t feel it necessary to be educators for those who are either unaware of what privilege is or unwilling to see it (and that is their right, nobody should be expected to be an educator). However, for those of us who wish to educate members of privileged classes on what privilege is, perhaps we should work on improving the message to make sure it is presented in a “hey, just so you know” way. And that is why I think the “low difficulty setting” post is so good, because it basically manages to do just that.

    Of course there will be those for whom any mention of their privilege will be seen as an attack. Those paranoid and hypersensitive people (as the OP put it) may not be lost causes but are definitely not low hanging fruit either.

    “I don’t think you’re trying to derail anything”
    Good. I wasn’t. Why mention it?

  90. About #3: Even if you had included economic class, many people would have been just as upset. A lot of people are determined to believe that everything they have ever achieved is due to their own ability and effort and NOTHING else. See the comments in the post linked below. One called the post “a rant motivated by jealousy” and another insisted that everyone no matter how poor could have afforded to buy a computer for their children if only they had REALLY wanted to.

    Some people want to believe that there is no luck, that nothing that came to them came by luck, that everything they have they earned. It seems stunningly obvious to me that all of us, without exception, are the product of a combination of good and bad luck and more or less hard work and achievement, but some people just won’t get that.

    http://restructure.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/if-you-were-hacking-since-age-8-it-means-you-were-privileged/

  91. >”I don’t think you’re trying to derail anything”
    >Good. I wasn’t. Why mention it?

    Lest you become defensive at the suggestion that people *do* derail things, even though I hadn’t said that was what you were doing. One tries to head things off.

  92. kingtycoon:
    “2-300 years ago” (i.e. the 1700s) was the early part of the decline of the Spanish Empire and the rise of the British. The only East Asian power of note was the Qing Dynasty, which never expanded out of Asia. So, maybe you want to shift your time scale back? I don’t think that actually helps your argument, but there you go.

    coo1b1ue:
    Dude, just say it. We all know you’re talking about Affirmative Action. You’re not fooling anyone by coyly avoiding the words. Anyway, this:

    what we should strive for, is that excellence in whatever field is rewarded regardless of race, creed or economic station. Have a national program aimed at identifying those with great potential and support them.

    is entirely correct. What Affirmative Action is designed to do (ymmv, obviously, on its degree of success) is to recognize and attempt to correct for a factor you don’t acknowledge here: our most common measures of “great potential” are skewed in favor of SWM. That’s how we get rid if Affirmative Action. We make it so that we can identify potential without regard to race/gender/ orientation. We’re not there yet, so Affirmative Action is, frankly, our best stop-gap measure.

    whatever indeed:
    Thanks, man. We had managed to avoiding needing to add “You’re just doing it for the publicity/hit-count/lulz” to the list of stupid, pointless, derailing, pseudo-arguments. Until now. Well done.

  93. Aunt Vixen: On the issue of tone, I think the first post makes a great point.

    http://lucereta.wordpress.com/2011/06/30/tone-argument-as-logical-fallacy/

    “So yes, the tone argument absolutely exists and is absolutely used to derail and demean and otherwise distract from the fact that the person invoking it has no real argument against what they’re objecting to. That doesn’t mean that every single criticism of someone’s wording is a tone argument. That doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about how things are phrased. And it really, really doesn’t give people a free ticket to be an utter asshole.

    Admittedly, I struggle with this, because hi, rhetorician, which is as much about how you say something as what you say. But as I’ve said a time or twelve, I also very much believe in purpose and context and audience. There are certainly combinations of these where anger and even vitriol is not only appropriate, but necessary. As I said above, it’s seldom particularly useful to be vitriolic toward your audience, although there are layers, there. I have been known to send a fairly pointed response or two to a blogger or company rep. However, usually when I do that, I know I have little hope of persuading the person I am actually addressing. I might hope to impress on them that their words or actions have genuinely upset me, but usually, by the time I’ve gotten to overt vitriol, I’ve given up on them, and am instead hoping that a secondary audience (other readers, usually) who are at least open to my ideas will be galvanized. So when someone says that they’d have listened if I’d just been nicer, and can just shrug and think, “no, you wouldn’t have,” and move on.

    On the other hand, if I am genuinely trying to get people to listen to me and consider my ideas, then hostility and vitriol are probably not the best way to do it.”

    So yes, people can be trollish in focusing on the tone of the argument made instead of the argument itself that was being made. But as the link says, sometimes a criticism of tone can very well be justified.

    But I really hope this doesn’t become a debate about what is or what is not a tone argument and when such things are relevant and when such things are not. As that would actually be a derail.

  94. “privilege” and the “game difficulty level” speak to systemic issues. They speak to statistical probabilities. It is impossible to say anything about ALL straight, white, males, on a specific, individual level unless you know that individual. and then youre not talking about all SWMs anymore, youre talki.g about the individual. Many of the objections on the thread were saying the metaphor didnt apply to them on an individual level, because they had it hard, they didnt get all the advantages, or whaatever. I think the response to that should be, “You’re right. Its not about trying to make blanket statements about you as an individual, its trying to make systemic and statistical assessments of population level facts.” then cue statistics about police profiling, male/female pay differences, het/gay disparities.

  95. 12. You wrote the article and pointed out the straight white men live life on the lowest difficulty setting. Okay, fine. What do I/we do next?

    Good point. And it deserves another conversation.

    But note it’s a SEPARATE conversation. And both conversations are valuable to have (because there are a LOT of people who don’t seem to accept that that SWMs have advantages others don’t). Let’s not conflate the two.

  96. The thesis of the original article seemed so obvious i didn’t even bother to post to agree with it. I guess not so obvious to some. Ahh, my people…

    I actually like the analogy better then “privilege” which has a lot of additional connotations and comes with a lot of self-guilt

  97. Aunt Vixen: “Lest you become defensive at the suggestion that people *do* derail things, even though I hadn’t said that was what you were doing. One tries to head things off.”

    Oh, people derail all the time. Stating that fact wouldn’t offend me or make me be defensive.

    It is just my experience that people who say things like “I don’t think you were trying to do X” are basically trying to inject the possibility that the person was doing X into the conversation.

    It would be like saying to someone “I really don’t think you beat your spouse”. If you don’t think it, why say it? Kinda like the whole Glen Beck “I’m just asking questions” bit. He isn’t really just asking questions.

    But hey, if this wasn’t your intent, then great. It just seemed like an odd thing to say if you really didn’t believe it.

  98. As for #10, well I am sure on the individual level that is true. On a larger scale i declare bullshit. Yes here there are many that declare that they bought a book right now just because of ….. whatever. But remember, we are sitting in the middle of the choir here.

  99. A rather large number of people appear not to know how Affirmative Action works. It is about getting more people who aren’t SWMs to get the skills, to apply for the jobs. I found out that simply being called in to tick off Affirmative Action boxes (“we interviewed a over 55 white female for the position”) didn’t get me the jobs.

    Also, the European invaders of the Americas had microbial allies who probably did 70 to 95% of the heavy lifting. See the book “1491” for details.

  100. Greg: The reason for bringing up this metaphor in the first place is the fact that there are so many people out in the world who think that discrimination is not a problem. “It doesn’t happen to me”, they think, ” so how can it be a problem?” I cannot tell you how many examples there are out there of straight white guys who throw a hissy cow the moment that you point out that other groups have it harder than they do. If no one wants to admit that a problem exists, it can’t be solved.

    Of course it is necessary to educate people about problems that exist. The lack of solutions to the problem in the article does not mean that the article is useless. If you think about it for a few minutes, I bet you can come up with some things you can do to make life better for others.

  101. (Not sure if this doesn’t violate the request to make this about *this* thread, but….)

    For all the people who are saying that there are *other* win conditions besides being rich (e.g. being “spiritual”) — a lot of the time, having money *facilitates* the other possible win conditions. There was a recent article, for example, about a woman who knew she wanted to be a nun — who nevertheless had to postpone her dreams for a decade until she paid off all her student loans. Similarly, it’s easier to have a comfortable family life if you (or a spouse) have a job with a decent income, because families in which both parents earn minimum wage are far less likely to be able to take time off to spend with their families. Want to pursue your dream as an artist? That’s a lot easier if you have enough money to support yourself in the early stages of your career. Want to travel? Want to specialize in some obscure field or become the head of your stamp-collecting society? Want to be the social center of your town? Easier with money.

    Money may not be the end goal, but it sure helps you if you’re trying to achieve something else.

    @Gregory: That’s a type 4 objection, and I’ve seen a lot of SWM with ASDs make it. But they’re kind of missing the point. As a woman with an ASD, I can guarantee you my life would be easier if I were male. Women are expected to be more socially adept than men are — and, in virtually any situation, women need to have better social fluency than men in order to achieve the same outcome. I’m white, but I strongly suspect that things would be even worse if I were not — because, once again, minorities need *better* social skills in order to achieve specific outcomes (particularly when dealing with authority figures).

    It doesn’t matter if you see people with ASDs as “your people” and not SWMs in general — I can guarantee you that SWMs are far more likely to see you as one of theirs than they are to see *me* as one of theirs. (Also, the ASD community (which is, by definition, largely male)? Not likely to treat me like one of “their people.” They’re far more likely to treat me like a *woman*. Just saying.)

  102. John, having been through a similar path (poor —> upper middle class), I agree completely with you about where wealth should be placed relative to race, gender, orientation.

    That said, I think (hope?) that part of the difficulty people have with that arrangement is that they see themselves as obviously having a more difficult time with life even though they started out with all of the race, gender, orientation bonuses but not with the wealth stat.

    A way for me to clarify this in my own mind, being a mathematician, is to think about progress through the game as plotted on a simple cartesian graph: The independent variable is time, and the dependent variable is how easy is the game to play, with larger y-values meaning the game is easier to play. There will be bumps and drops, etc., as life goes on, for every person playing the game.

    However, the slope of the line for any given person is very heavily controlled by that person’s race, gender, and orientation—inherent aspects of a person that are essentially immutable, as you said. A SWM gets a steep, positive slope; a transgendered, black woman may have a steep negative slope. For a SWM, even when the slope is overall negative—due to other factors—for that individual person, it’s significantly less negative than it might have been had that person not been a SWM.

    The Wealth stat is a major control on the y-position of the graph of the game’s difficulty-vs-time plot. Being born wealthy gets one started much closer to the Life-is-Easy finishing point. Becoming wealthy later in life will certainly bump that line up significantly, making life easier from that point on. Becoming poor will drop that line down, making life more difficult. Neither becoming wealthy nor becoming poor will necessarily change the slope of the progressing line, though there are circumstances in which it is possible for the slope to be affected by stats.

    Over the 78 or so years we expect to play the game, and for most people, the slope (race, gender, orientation) has the greatest cumulative effect on the ease of play.

  103. “12. You wrote the article and pointed out the straight white men live life on the lowest difficulty setting. Okay, fine. What do I/we do next?”

    Recognize that you aren’t just a player in this game. You have the power to influence how the game works. You know those NPCs that react better to you, because you’re on the Easy setting? They’re actually player characters, and you’re somebody else’s NPC. Don’t just respond to the difficulty settings. Be aware of them, and don’t let them influence you. And if you happen to have children, raise them to be aware that the game exists. You won’t be Neo, but you will change how the game works.

    If you’re in for bigger effects, you can write your own essay, or volunteer your time doing something that will help erase the differences, or teach other people to see when they’re being controlled by the difficulty settings…there’s a lot of things to do. But if all that happened was that everybody who read this became more aware of how they respond to other people based on race, and stopped letting that control them, it would be a good start.

  104. “European invaders of the Americas had microbial allies”. Damn, that character class has much cooler weapons than mine.

  105. Actually Peter, you don’t really have much in the way of power to influence how this particular game works, at least not under the current rules of the game. This is a lie we tell ourselves to make it all more palpable. It’s drifting in the right direction over time, but slowly, it’s a big ship to turn and will take generations, like most of these things do. Do what you can, but don’t expect a lot to change in the macro world in the short term, unless the meta rules change.

  106. “Also, the European invaders of the Americas had microbial allies who probably did 70 to 95% of the heavy lifting. See the book “1491″ for details.”

    Survival of the fittest, in all things.

  107. It seems to me that those that are falling into #4 are the ones that expect to see buff icons across the top of their screen (to continue the gaming metaphor) and when they don’t ‘see’ them, they believe that they don’t have any advantages; at the very least they expect ‘Easy’ to have blatant, obvious, and impossible to miss advantages. What they fail to understand is that those advantages are actually ‘hidden stats’ that don’t show up on the character screen; you can’t even mouse-over anything to reveal them. The only way to discover them is to talk and compare experiences with non-SWMs.

    In other words, if there aren’t giant flaming letters pointing out things like “You make more money than a non-SWM for doing the exact same job, in the same company, with the same experience,” too many SWM will both not notice and won’t bother to find out about it; and some won’t care.

  108. You had me at “defenestrated.”

    Proper use of my favorite word renders all other arguments invalid.

    Also, it’s nice to know at least one website I read regularly will respond to fire with class. Little known fact…in the great rock-paper-scissors game of life, class beats all.

  109. Looking at the objections classified under #3, i.e. wealth and class are not stats, I really wish folks would remember that this is because they are NOT static attributes. Yes, wealth acquisition is important, but people need to remember that wealth can also be lost. There is a statistically significant number of retirees in this country that have gone back to work because their wealth was lost in the recession.

    We seem to be so wrapped up in the mythology of America, where one can climb the ladder to success, but we really need to remember that we can lose our advantages pretty easily if the rungs start to crumble. Because I make enough money to live comfortably now, doesn’t mean that I will always have that. Wealth can be lost, therefore it is not static.

  110. It doesn’t matter if you see people with ASDs as “your people” and not SWMs in general — I can guarantee you that SWMs are far more likely to see you as one of theirs than they are to see *me* as one of theirs. (Also, the ASD community (which is, by definition, largely male)? Not likely to treat me like one of “their people.” They’re far more likely to treat me like a *woman*. Just saying.)

    LMM, that’s very interesting. And can be generalized to so many more situations.

    Might have realized this, fleetingly. But your statement brings it home.

  111. LMM,

    Are you sure you’re not projecting assumptions? (Honest question, for those non-ASDs) Most accounts I’ve encountered have the opinion that women with Aspergers have it easier than men, due to the fact that being female provides, in general, inherently more social fluency. And I’ve never come across any treatment of anyone with ASD as anything other than someone with ASD first and foremost. In fact, the ASD community is typically a place where I expect the treatment outlined in my post, of determining what the situation is before acting. That’s not to say we’re immune to bad thought patterns, dear lord I avoid places like Wrong Planet due to the groupthink.

    Secondly, that SWM will see em as one of thiers was kinda my point, they will make that assumption and then when I fail to act appropriately, as that designation is not the most accurate one for me, I will ‘then’ get treated as an abnormality. And as I am not visibly any sort of minority, I get no ‘acceptable protections’ Yet as a SWM, I am subject to the judgement of others that I must be playing on easy.

    I simply don’t see it as overly constructive and excessively inaccurate, even if it isn’t wrong.

  112. Will read through the rest of the comments and respond further, but I did want to address one thing John said above (apologies if this has already been addressed by someone else):

    A lot of babies adopted from third-world countries (and even from poorer parts of the US) suggest that something like that could happen, or something close enough to it that the difference between the two is trivial.

    Well, yes, technically. But there are confounding factors that tend to lessen the boost in economic class in those situations: 1. Being an adoptee. 2. Being a cross-class, cross-racial and/or cross-cultural adoptee. 3. Not always knowing one’s birthfamily (this is a huge thing for adoptees, BTW) or knowing one’s birthfamily, but knowing that they’re in non-ideal circumstances (war, jail, rehab, relative poverty, etc.)

    I only mention this because far too many relatively wealthy first worlders see adoption as some sort of noble “rescuing” of a poor orphan child, and don’t understand that there’s some serious “we’re objectively better than your birthfamily” baggage that can come with that. Also, class differences can be sharply magnified in adoption, because many birthfamilies choose adoption solely or primarily because they can’t afford to parent the child–not because they don’t want to or aren’t able to for other reasons. And that doesn’t even touch on the problem of poor birthmothers essentially becoming brood stock for the wealthy. A lot of international adoptions are tainted by problems with baby farming–having babies for wealthy Americans is a quick way for some very poor women to make money.

    So, no. It’s not as simple as baby born poor gets wealthy adoptive parents and lives happily ever after. Not that you were saying that. Just heading that concept off at the pass. :)

    /in the first stages of the open adoption process :)

  113. Greg: a shorter, more succinct answer is simply, “It’s not about you“. Because that’s what the Type 4 respondents are doing: trying to make it about them, individually.

  114. Well A Mediated Life considering I know someone in that did this, adopted a kid from Guatemala, and the birth mother is now dead of starvation and are some of the siblings, I think actually it kind of is a rescue and it kind of was objectively better then the birth family.

  115. Crap, I mixed up stats and difficulty settings.
    Yes, wealth is a stat because it’s variable in two directions. It is not a difficulty setting because it is not fixed. That’s my point.

  116. It’s not just wealth that is the influencing factor of the ultra wealthy, it’s Connections and Network. Both of these are “difficulty settings” factors I think

  117. I’m emotionally wrung out just by reading the comments on these two entries, so just:
    Scalzi, as stunningly entertaining and insightful as (almost) always, and
    @Gregory Douglas (10:45 am): you, sir, rock on. Well said.

  118. Amen to #12. And for the record, a bunch of SWMs have been doing exactly what you suggest, John, for most of my adult life. Things like the LBJ era civil rights laws, voting rights laws, equal housing opportunity laws. Then there are the affirmative action laws. Still trying to figure out what went wrong with the equal gender rights amendment. Looking back most of the legislators that brought those laws to fruition and the Presidents who signed them were SWMs. Then there were those voters out here, also SWMs, who were electing those guys year after year after year, me included.

    I look around at the diversity of the high school students I teach. Soon to be SWMs are a dwindling part of the population. All those laws are truly needed to level out the real life game playing field to an easier difficulty level for the majority of my students.

    So, amen to you metaphor. Not really a call for shame or guilt on the part of SWMs, but more a call to action. Get on board, help our dwindling class of SWMs keep up the good work of conflating all the difficulty levels of the game to one, single “easy” difficulty level for everybody.

    Now, if you really want a game challenge, play Sid Meyer’s Civilization V on the deity difficulty level. See if you can even survive till one of the computer AI players wins the game. I played the deity level once; it was a most humbling experience. And I’m good at Civilization, or at least I thought I was.

  119. Didn’t even try to comment on the original post and 800+ comments in a single day, is that the new site record?

    Both “Lowest Difficulty Setting” and “Being Poor” are examples of your finest writing.

  120. Mr. Scalzi’s original post is fantastic and extremely well-written. I don’t disagree with anything he said, and I think he built an analogy that is as close to reality as you can get without describing, as he put it “the thing the metaphor describes.” I am definitely an SWM (add raised middle-class, educated, and born Christian [atheist now]), and benefiting from the consequences of my genetic lineage. I completely agree that SWMs are living the easiest path, and to deny that would be foolish. But, because we’re not allowed to talk too much about the original piece (as per John’s direction), I will stop there.

    I will comment that this follow-up piece is absolutely right on as well. He clearly points out each of the logical fallacies his more cognitively-disabled readers makes. It’s a wonder John’s brain doesn’t explode while trying to understand the cognitive dissonance of some commenters.

    Having read a good portion of the comments in both posts, I want to point out what I think is becoming a minor issue within this discussion around the p-word. It would seem, especially recently with the emergence of the Occupy Movement, that the p-word IS being used by some, unfairly, as an invective against some SWMs. Granted, there is a small portion of people engaging in this, and it’s kept to a minimum on the Whatever posting boards, but I have seen it happen several times online and in-person. It is true that SWMs are on the easiest path, no doubt about it. But there are many SWMs (myself included) who are trying to do exactly what John has suggested in point 12 above.

    Granted, non-SWMs have the deck stacked against them, but I don’t believe it is acceptable for any person to pre-judge any person they might meet. I would think that any person that would identify as a “minority” would live by the term “do unto others as you would have done unto you,” because that ethos is something that is so strongly preached by any right-thinking person. Wait for someone to show you that they are your enemy before you label them as such. Don’t use the p-word until you know the SWM you’re talking to doesn’t understand the concept.

    Again, this is something that doesn’t happen incredibly often, and it’s not a serious problem. It’s not a major concern of mine, nor is it something I’m crying about, just showing concern. But I would like people to give me a chance to show that, even though I am an SWM, I’m not an asshole.

  121. Grk, I just ran into a “pioneers and their wives” comment on Kotaku. That’s what I call the assumption that all the hard work was done by the men and the women were just riding alongside. (Seriously, pick up a random history book and look in the index. Is “women” an entry, but “men” is not? Bingo!)

    Claiming that SWMs deserve privilege because they’ve inherited it fair and square from their predecessors who invented Western civilization and all the cool stuff is dumb in so many ways.

  122. warlordgrego:
    I don’t necessarily disagree with you John. But, when you oversimplify any concept, you’re going to get people who latch onto it as a strawman argument.

    But, its not an oversimplification. It’s an analogy. And a complex analogy at that. I mean, look how long the original post was. (842 words, for those playing the home game.) As John noted in this entry, he did the issues he was accused of glossing over. Those comments wanted to pretend that he hadn’t, so they could avoid engaging the actual issue behind the analogy.

    the problem comes from when 10 people apply for that position, and only one is black. Lets say three of those people are more qualified for the position, but they don’t get the job because they have to hire a black person.

    Speaking of oversimplifications, allow me a list of seldom answered questions regarding this classic hypothetical regarding Affirmative Action:
    -How much more qualified are the three SWMs over the black candidate?
    -Why is the non-SWM candidate never the #2 choice?
    -Why is diversity an illegitimate factor of what the company needs in that particular job?
    -Why do people keep positing this hypothetical when hiring quotas are illegal? (That’s the one I’d most like answered.)

  123. “Okay, fine. What do I/we do next?”

    gwangung: “Good point. And it deserves another conversation. But note it’s a SEPARATE conversation.

    to what end? There is active discrimination and there are people who are unaware that there is active discsrimination going on. The purpose of the “privilege” metaphor and the “game difficulty” metaphor is nothing but to raise awareness in people who are NOT actively discriminating that active discrimination still exists.

    What other functional purpose does it serve?

    Awareness without action does nothing. Unless the point is to point fingers at SWM’s, then the goal should be to make them aware so that they do something.

    If there were no active discrimination in the world, and if all the historical inertia of active discrimination were corrected, then there would be NO PRIVILIGE, there would be no difference in difficulty settings handed out to people based on race, gender, or orientation.

    The point is not simply to bring up the metaphor. The point is to bring up the metaphor so people take action to make the metaphor no longer be true.

    If the point of the metaphor is the metaphor itself, then it becomes little more than a means to judge people.

    Doc: “Greg: a shorter, more succinct answer is simply, “It’s not about you“.”

    Sure, but some people use the metaphors to make it personal. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard “You have privilege”. Well, that’s taking a systemic, statistical idea and trying to make it mean something personal about an individual and it doesn’t work.

    Men IN GENERAL make more money than women for the same job. You can’t point to any individual man and say they must be making more money than a woman makes for their same job. You have no idea how much they’re getting paid.

    You can say MEN have a statistical advantage over women. But you can’t say any individual MAN has an advantage over every woman. And yet, how many times do you hear people say “YOU have privilege”? They try to take the statistical, the collective, the systemic, and they try to turn it into something personal. Which doesn’t fly.

    Blacks are more likely to be stopped by police than whites. That doesn’t say anything about any individual white person or any individual person of color, and how many times they have been ACTUALLY stopped on an individual basis.

    Saying “it’s not about you” and saying “they’re trying to make it about them” doesn’t address the fact that some people do in fact use these metaphors about statistical, systemic, collective notions, and try to turn it into something personal, something individual.

    There are also folks who don’t think there are any statistical, systemic, collective imbalances in the system. They’re clearly mistaken about the facts and possibly acting on bigotted beliefs.

    But its also clear that it isn’t just SWM’s and it isn’t just bigots who are taking a systemic metaphor and making it all about the individual.

  124. I would say that this followup proves quite conclusively that, like a lot of educated white liberals, you are more interested in using racism, sexism, and homophobia as a way to engage in cultural competition with other white liberals. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I read a more straightforwardly self-aggrandizing piece than this. Do you think that’s a coincidence?

    Here’s the question to ask yourself: why do all of your posts that are ostensibly about promoting social justice end up promoting yourself?

    Incidentally– you might have been poor. But you were never in poverty. You have social capital that people at the bottom don’t have and could never have. Spend a little time working with white people in poverty and you’ll see human devastation and loss on an incredible level. That you find it necessary to speak as though the people suffering through it are somehow responsible for it– because it’s not “intrinsic,” a vague and frankly meaningless designation, given that poverty is heritable– is not surprising, but is still sad.

  125. Doc Rocketscience, THANK YOU for that comment. I second the request for answers to Doc’s questions.

    The “Quotas” hypothetical is a Zero Sum Game fallacy. For whatever reason SWM love to talk about a hypothetical single job with x many candidates where OF COURSE the woman/black man will be hired. Mostly, I suspect, because framing it as a Quota makes it sound scary and unfair.

    Making it easier for People of Color to get jobs doesn’t mean making it harder for SWM to get them too. Unless we passed some kind of law that places an upper cap on the total number of available jobs in the US while I wasn’t looking?

    Economies don’t work that way. If everyone is prospering, then there’s a LOT of money moving around the system. Person-just-hired needs to buy more suits, which someone has to make out of cloth someone has to weave in a store that someone has to build. Etc. Etc. A person of color’s prosperity will help everyone else prosper too. Lower unemployment is considered a serious economic marker for a very good reason.

  126. I’ll chime in and say that John’s off base on point #3 (and in a particularly significant way for the issues facing the average citizen at the beginning of the 21st century.) Many (most?) people would consider their intelligence a characteristic as intrinsic as race or sex (more, given that there’s no scientific basis for race). Surprise! It turns out that overall wealth or “success in life” or whatever you want to call it is more heritable than intelligence!

    Which brings me to my chief gripe: until you know how the degree of difficulty changes between settings and the degree to which “all things being equal” applies, the proposition being advanced is vacuous. If the level of difficulty for a swm is 1 and for a swf is 1.01, well, I’d venture to say there’s not much of a problem there. Similarly, if “all things being equal” applied less than 5 or 10 percent of the time, well, that’s a pretty small part of the variance.

    I suspect that a number of people were annoyed with John, not because of the mere existence of such a disparity, but because of how coy he was with the actual numbers, with the actual degree of impact. For example, look at this basic stat: “In the majority of U.S. metro areas, single women with no children in their 20s outearned their male peers, according to Time’s story. In Dallas, for example, a 20-something woman makes $1.18 to a man’s $1.” So if a single 20-something male living in Dallas reads Scalzi’s post and objects that there are instances where this privilege doesn’t necessarily count for much, well, I don’t think they can be automatically discarded as some random troglodyte who Just Doesn’t Get It.

  127. Greg, by making you aware of the situation, by pointing out the problem, Scalzi is arming you with valuable information. If you see the problem and acknowledge that it’s systemic, pervasive, and ongoing, then you’re equipped to call out discrimination when you see it.

    You might not be in a position to fix something dramatic right now. But what about some other reader of this exact article? What about someone who hands out raises at their company, and notices that the women in his department aren’t getting their fair share of the anual bonus? What about a cop, who reads this article and forwards it to a coworker?

    What about a population, who sees an entrenched an unsympathetic police force and demands change, or they’ll vote the sherif out in the next election?

    All of these things require improvements in awareness. By showing you that the problem exists, Scalzi has armed you with the power to show OTHER PEOPLE that the problem exists. Thus, inch by inch, person by person, we can actually TRY to help.

    Sure, fine, you can’t overhaul society overnight, but you can do your part to call out discrimination happening in the few areas where you have personal influence and control. There are people who listen to you who need to hear this message. So tell them. THAT is “What now?”

  128. Righto, more from further thread perusal (not including my own followup posts from the original.) Apologies for not remembering attribution.

    Re: Wealth accumulation not being the only endgame

    Well, no. But when you start out with basically nothing, accumulating at least something is pretty much your entire point of playing the game. The concept of developing spiritual growth or creative mastery instead is a luxury of those who aren’t wondering where their next meal is coming from.

    Incidentally, from a psychology POV, this is why so many people who start out poor keep trying to hoard cash even long after they have plenty: it’s habit. They sincerely believe that even if they have millions, it could all go away in an instant and they’ll be starving again, so they’re loath to give up any of it, even to people who need it as much as they needed it before. This is especially true for people who did work very hard to get where they are, and who have had their brains pickled by propaganda telling them that the people who are poor NOW must not have worked as hard as they did.

    (Selfish people who start out rich, conversely, usually believe that they’re somehow genetically deserving of their wealth even if they didn’t work for it. Divine right is alive and well. Bleh.)

    Re: Why ARE white folks dominant?

    On a global scale, they weren’t, until some Western Europeans lucked on this really large chunk of majorly fertile land that was conveniently underpopulated thanks to a continent-wide plague that killed 90% of its original human inhabitants.

    While everyone else was busy keeping their populations low with war and crappy 17th-century urban hygiene, the white folks repopulating New England and points west in their image were fighting only local flora, fauna, and the few remaining native folks. 200 years later, they made nuclear weapons and superhero movies to ensure their continued global dominance. Yay, progress.

    (Incidentally, this is part of why geography is an important factor in socioeconomic history: western pioneers had a much harder time of it than the comparatively comfy people on the east coast and thus their descendants are considerably more selfish about the gains their ancestors made under harsher conditions.)

    Re: Invisibility (voluntary or otherwise) of certain traits

    We call this “passing.” Some find it annoying that they pass by default, and thus make a point of wearing that thing on their sleeve. In my case, for instance, I’m out as bi to an almost obnoxious level, because otherwise most people wouldn’t know. Others, wanting the perks that come with being assumed to be in the ruling class, are quite happy to let people assume they’re something they’re not.

    People who don’t have that choice–who cannot pass–find these cowards pretty darn annoying.

    Also: gender identity/presentation factors into passing as well. Ellen pings. Portia doesn’t. Which is why Portia could sail under the radar when she was younger and Ellen had little choice but to actually come out as she became more famous.

    Re: Someone seriously made the “my best friend is black, therefore what I’m about to say can’t possibly be racist” argument

    Seriously? Seriously.

  129. “In other words, if there aren’t giant flaming letters pointing out things like “You make more money than a non-SWM for doing the exact same job, in the same company, with the same experience,” too many SWM will both not notice and won’t bother to find out about it; and some won’t care.”

    This. This is a primary reason why it’s necessary to continue to have posts like John’s – for those who have privilege, it’s nothing that’s going to immediately stand out because that’s a normal, everyday experience – most people who have it aren’t going to realize they have it in the first place because the system is built in such a way that one doesn’t have to know that one possesses privilege, or actively do anything to access it, in order to benefit from it. It’s like expecting a fish to understand that water is wet – a fish isn’t going to necessarily grasp the concept because “wet” is all that it knows, but for a non-amphibious creature, “wet” is going to be a distinctly different experience than “dry”.

  130. Doc Rocketscience:

    -Why do people keep positing this hypothetical when hiring quotas are illegal? (That’s the one I’d most like answered.

    I’m not necessarily saying that this is a legal practice. It does happen though. My sister-in-law is a manger for a national merchandise chain. Her manager exlicitly directed her to hire minorities. I’ve been in the military a long time, and I’ve seen personnel promoted over better qualified personnel because of race or gender. Equality is awesome, and I support it wholeheartedly. I don’t think that equality is being practiced when you make race an issue in hiring.

    I’m not specifically bitching. I don’t feel cheated.

    My point is that we won’t ever overcome racism if we continually make it a divisive issue, which is what I feel affirmitive action does. Ever apply for a job where it asks what your race is on the application? Why is that even there? If we were trully an equality based society, race wouldn’t come into play at all. Instead, we make it an issue in the application process.

    So are hiring quotas illegal? Sure they are. But companies have to be “covered”, because as soon as somebody feels slighted, they want to be able to say “no, look we have a bunch of minorities!”

  131. ScentOfViolets, you’re taking an single urban area and using it to propose that no bias exists. I can do the same in the opposite direction:

    A member of congress makes $174,000 per year. All members of congress are wealthy.

    Women make up approximately 50.8% percent of the US population. However, women only hold 90 of the 535 seats in the 112th US Congress (2011-2012 is the 112th congress). That’s 16.8% of all seats in congress.

    All of them are wealthy, but gender still clearly plays a significant factor in the ability of an individual to land a seat in the federal legislature.

    Funny thing is, both of our stats are wrong, because better stats exist at the national level. On the national level, only 27% of all businesses are woman owned, and women only make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.

    Scalzi already made this point himself. Playing on a higher difficulty level doesn’t mean you can’t dump points into the wealth stat. It also doesn’t mean you can’t move somewhere where acquiring more wealth is easier for your character, but it DOES mean that overall, you’re going to have a tougher time getting it than someone playing on a lower difficulty setting.

  132. Ah, one more comment: I find these discussions about privilege and oppression, who is more put upon, a gwf or a sbm, etc to be soooo twentieth-cen. It was in fact just this sort of bickering that lead to the 1970’s breakup of the coalition that made the Democratic party such an effective force operating on behalf of various minority constituents.

    If you want to talk about determinatives, I suggest you focus on the one most germane for the 21st century: those born into the 1% or 0.1% by wealth and income versus those who are not. That stat is much more predictive in how well you will play the game of life than any quibbling of black or white or straight or gay or male or female. And increasingly, almost as immutable :-(

  133. Hopefully this is not terribly off topic (if so, I apologize to our host and await my well-deserved smackdown) but regarding affirmative action and the “racism” thereof, I worked as a manager for a number of years and hired quite a few people in that time. Even leaving aside the whole quota fallacy, I have to wonder if the people complaining about “less qualified applicants” getting in via affirmative action have ever actually spent a significant amount of time sorting through applications and interviewing people?

    Hiring people is not a matter of picking out the one and only “most qualified applicant” for a job. It’s a process of sorting through a large pool of applications and interviews from people who are ALL equally qualified with different, overlapping skill sets. And the actual choice of which of those 10 or 20 or 50 or 200 people you hire comes down to a nebulous set of completely unquantifiable data. Which one did I like the most in interviews? Which one seems like he or she would be the best fit for my team? (There were plenty of times I would reject someone who had more experience or a better resume because he or she seemed to have a personality that would mesh well with the team I already had in place.) Does he or she bring a set of skills that would add something we don’t have to our team?

    There is PLENTY of evidence (with data and figures!) to support the idea that this nebulous quality of “who impressed me most in the interview” and “who do I think would fit best with my team” is weighed towards the general category of “people who look, think and act like me”. For example, one study found that female musicians receive lower scores from testers who know their gender than if auditions are conducted “blind”. A 2004 Harvard study found that job applicants with stereotypically “black” names were less likely to be called for interviews than the identical applications with “white”-sounding names.

    Even if you a) know this, and b) care, it doesn’t help as much as it ought to, because at the end of the process you’re basically just coming down to “I guess I like this guy better, but I’m not sure why” (and yes, of course I justified it for my boss with specific details, but in the end it often came down to what may as well have been tacking the best applications up to a bulletin board and throwing darts at them).

    Personally I believe that a diverse workplace benefits everyone who works there (among other reasons, because a demographically diverse team makes better, more nuanced decisions), so I tried to take this into account when I was hiring. And no, this does not mean that I was hiring unqualified people simply because they were minorities; I can’t believe I even have to say that. But it was one of the sorting criteria that I used to select among the pool of applicants.

  134. I love this response to your critics, please keep writing and being you no matter how much shit flies your way!

  135. It’s articles like these (difficult setting and this follow-up) that:
    1. Tells me there are reasonable and sane people in the world. They may not be the majority by any means but they exist!
    2. Gives me some measure of hope (and sanity) in this odd culture of denial.

    What a lot of SWM may not yet realize is that working towards true respect for those with less institutional and cultural currency (because of the power structure) is actually a respect of SWM as well. It’s saying: “As a SWM, you deserve to belong to the rest of humanity and deserve to be honored for who you are rather than for your gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.” (the latter is hollow anyhow). It’s a simple matter of true self-worth, respect, humanity and integrity.

    About #12 (for the general public):
    1. The structure of unearned privilege and institutional and cultural oppression are tied – one cannot exist without the other. In order to dismantle one, you have to look at the other as well. The big trick here is that the structure is internalized as well – in belief systems most people aren’t even aware that they have. Some people aren’t even aware that they believe stereotypes to be true – they confuse a belief with reality and now you have “unintended” discrimination (social or professional) – which supports the structure and inequities we see in statistics.
    2. This structure is completely human made. It can be dismantled. It’s time we live the values we profess to have.
    3. Listening and learning is a key factor for anyone with unearned privilege for a given culture (dominant ethnicity/group, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, etc.).
    4. It’s ok to suck at it – better to suck at it than not do it at all.
    5. Connecting at the heart (through listening) is the foundation of healing our society (some say the longest distance a man will travel is from his head to his heart).

    Rock on, Mr. Scalzi, rock on.

  136. And, one last comment for now:

    Re: Point #3

    I do think our gracious host might be suffering from a little bit of sample bias in his (minor) discounting of the effects of early poverty. He acknowledges the advantages that being a SWM gave him over non-SWMs born into similar circumstances–which is great, and kinda the point–but I think he’s probably forgetting that he had one other advantage that made it easier for him to work his way out of poverty: talent in a lucrative field (though the SWM part did make it easier for him to make a living from that talent.)

    A working-class SWM may well work just as hard on his career as Scalzi has, but if he doesn’t have the same rare talent, or if his gift is for a field that doesn’t pay as much at its higher ends, he’s still not going to get as far. You can be the best pipefitter in three counties, but it’s still not going to get you the same-size paycheck as someone who’s the best quarterback.

    FWIW, this is where the Myth of Hard Work comes in. Too many people believe that wealth is fully mutable and changes based on how much effort one puts in. Definitely not the case. Not saying that Scalzi’s implying that, but enough people do that it’s worth pointing out. As mentioned above, they see that they worked themselves out of poverty, and thus assume anyone (or perhaps even anyone who had similar advantages as they) who still is poor must not be trying. Most definitely not the case.

    Take me and my husband: Aside from biological sex, we’re almost identical: White bi folks (who can pass) who grew up close to the poverty line in small urban areas on the west coast and who are estranged from our families of origin. Both of us are hard workers, did well in school and started earning our first paychecks early (~14.)

    After high school, however, we diverged. I continued on to college, he continued working in tech. Theoretically, my more advanced education (ended up with two degrees) would mean I’d earn more, right? But nope. He still makes more than twice what I do because he was blessed with a circuit board for a brain and my talents are in overpopulated fields. He has the advantage of being male, and I the disadvantages of a chronic illness and not being attractive/feminine, but beyond those things, there’s no real reason why he should be making more money than I am. He hasn’t worked any harder. He doesn’t have more education. He doesn’t even have more lifetime work experience. He simply has a skill that’s rare and in demand in the current economy and I don’t. Were I not lucky enough to be married to him, I would most definitely be struggling financially, despite the decades of hardcore work I’ve put in, simply because I didn’t have that one advantage.

    None of this is intended to derail the original point–SWMs DO have it easier than non-SWMs, all else being equal. Just to say that wealth is indeed a hardcore factor, and while it’s not as immutable as biological traits, it’s not as user-customizable as some might think.

  137. ScentOfViolets, yes, the ultra wealthy definitely have an easier life than the rest of us. But consider that they’re all overwhelmingly SWM. This isn’t a coincidence, and it’s also why Scalzi put wealth in the stats category, not the difficulty category.

    Again, Scalzi addressed this in the initial metaphor. If you have 250 points to assign, instead of 25, you’re going to play an easier game. You can dump a ton into your wealth stat.

    Someone playing on Insanity can still work their way up into the 1%, but its going to be a lot harder for them to get there. It CAN happen, but it’s difficult to the point of near impossiblility.

    It’s ALSO difficult for a SWM to work their way from poverty or middle class into the 1%, but relative to someone playing on Insanity? It’s still many times more possible for a SWM to land that particular achievement badge.

  138. I think at least some of the angry “what do you want me to do about it” people already “know” that the answer is “give up your SWM privileges” (which isn’t really possible) or “feel bad about it” (which is unreasonable).

    As someone with all three — with all the important privileges, in fact* — I try not to knowingly and deliberately take advantage, but (by the nature of privilege) I don’t always know when I’m taking advantage, and because so much privilege is in other people’s reactions to me, I can’t always refuse it. What I can do is use my privilege in the service of minimizing or eliminating privilege, the way the state legislatures that extended sufferage to women and ratified the 19th Amendment were made up of men who had been elected by men.

    *There are areas in which I am not privileged, but they’re not pervasive, and my lack of privilege doesn’t show up in my day-to-day, or even year-to-year, life in a way that’s visible to me.

    @crypticmirror: I suspect there are gravity deniers. They don’t deny that things fall, only that there’s any sort of a rule behind it. If God chooses to pull things downward when you let them go, that’s not gravity, that’s Divine will.

    @Sean:
    >First, I’m not insinuating that Obama or Warren weren’t qualified to get into Harvard. Neither of them has released their admissions records, so I would have no way of knowing that one way or the other.

    That right there is an insinuation that they weren’t qualified.

  139. ScentOfViolets, you’re taking an single urban area and using it to propose that no bias exists. I can do the same in the opposite direction:

    No, you’re misunderstanding me.[1] I do in fact agree that the bias exists as stated (though I wish it’s formulation was more concrete – it wouldn’t have been all that hard to do.)

    I’m just questioning how much it really counts for in the game life. My sense is that the difficulty level is much more strongly influenced by other factors, but that’s neither here nor there in terms of what a lot of people in the original post were objecting too. It’s that John never addressed this and seemed to rather consistently misinterpret those who were pointing out this rather significant datum as something else.

    Hopefully this objection has now been made clear.

    [1]And in any event, you need to reread that factoid: “In the majority of U.S. metro areas, single women with no children in their 20s outearned their male peers, according to Time’s story. In Dallas, for example, a 20-something woman makes $1.18 to a man’s $1.” So no, not just a single urban area. And further, a factoid which suggests John’s original thesis needs a bit more elaboration.

  140. Look: the purpose of the original post was to come up with a better way to teach dudes about their privilege. Right? And yet the followups, and all of the supporting comments that have come with it, have been expressed in an idiom of condescension, insult, and dismissal towards precisely the people who Scalzi ostensibly wanted to educate. It doesn’t take a lot of knowledge of human psychology to know that people don’t learn or reform when they’re spoken to that way.

    So this is the very obvious conclusion: neither Scalzi nor all the other people who use the same language to support him don’t actually care about getting people to reform their behavior. Rather, they care about demonstrating their superiority to those people, in a way that ensures that actual progress won’t happen. In other words, demonstrating their superior righteousness and savvy is more important to them than actually teaching these men about their privilege and improving the lives of minorities.

    And, as a bonus, he throws in a “hey, poverty’s not intrinsic, it’s their own fault” line despite the fact that poverty is heritable and overwhelmingly difficult to escape.

  141. Ooooh, I have to refute “Dingleberry” above:

    Suicide rates are highest among young white males, true. But suicide ATTEMPTS are highest among females (by a 3-1 ratio.) Also, queer and black kids are enormously overrepresented compared to their general-population percentages. Also-also, race is the one area in which the gender split is flipped: black males attempt at a much higher rate than their female counterparts.

    Completed suicides are highest among males because they tend to choose more-final methods, such as firearms. Girls and women more often choose overdoses, cutting, and other not-always-lethal methods.

  142. @ A Meditated Life

    “Re: Invisibility (voluntary or otherwise) of certain traits

    We call this “passing.” Some find it annoying that they pass by default, and thus make a point of wearing that thing on their sleeve. In my case, for instance, I’m out as bi to an almost obnoxious level, because otherwise most people wouldn’t know. Others, wanting the perks that come with being assumed to be in the ruling class, are quite happy to let people assume they’re something they’re not.”

    In a similar vein, that’s part of the reason why I try to be upfront and fairly vocal about being both childfree-by-choice and an atheist. Because I think that a lot of stereotypes about those aspects of my identity are due to neither being all that visible or common in US culture, I try to be casual and open about those aspects because I don’t think they’re anything to be ashamed of, despite some of the reactions I’ll get when I drop that information. If I’m asked if my husband and I are going to have children, I’ll say “No, we’ve decided parenthood is not for us” rather than evading with some variation of “No, we haven’t really decided/it’s not the right time,” or if someone makes a casual comment assuming a negative stereotype about an atheist, I’ll probably say something like “Really? I’m an atheist and I don’t feel that way.” It would be far easier to pass and to let people assume that of course I want kids and of course I’m religious, because such a large majority of people fall into those categories and there is definite cultural capital that comes with both. Partly, I hope that by not treating it as a big deal, it’ll help normalize other people’s perceptions. Of course, I also have considerably more freedom to do so because I work in a fairly liberal-leaning office within a heavily-liberal-leaning urban environment where the spectrum of “normal to strange” is far wider than other environments. Call that geographical privilege.

  143. ScentOfViolets, you’re right that I partially misunderstood your point. However, my earlier reply remains completely relavant to your clarified point:

    You’re picking a demographic with a lot of caveats: Urban-20s-No Children
    You’re comparing them to a similarly narrow demographic: Urban-20s

    And you’re conflating that with a national number. The relavant NATIONAL statistic is that Women make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. Women hold fewer CEO positions, they hold fewer places in the legislatures, they make less money.

    Gender matters. Race matters. Sexual orientation matters. These factors make life harder for some people.

    Scalzi’s metaphor, once again, still applies. You can be a woman, and still dump points into your wealth stat (making it possible to start with more wealth, or pick it up quicker than another player) but you’re STILL working with fewer points.

  144. Thank you for posting the original as well as this. It’s an excellent analogy, and I intend to use it everywhere, because the “p-word” appears to cause conniptions.

    It’s possible that one of the initial settings is the education level/social class of your parents, which while not truly immutable is fairly near that for most older children. But that doesn’t in any way make the original analogy less valid. Wealth is a stat, and if you start with more coins at the beginning, everything is easier. But it’s not immutable, and there are certainly plenty who have started poor and become rich, or started rich and become poor.

  145. @Gregory: SWM is not just an easy mode — it is a *hidden* mode. The fact that you consider yourself first and foremost as a person with ASD is because you are an SWM — i.e. you have no other defining characteristics which govern the way that people interact with you. The fact that you expect people (in the ASD community or outside of it) to see you (and treat you) as, first and foremost, a person with ASD is because you are a SWM. Because, trust me, in real life, people notice the fact that I’m a woman *much* sooner than they notice that I have an ASD.

    Or, to be much more succinct: Defining yourself first and foremost as “a person with ASD” is itself evidence that you are probably a SWM.

    Also, about the ‘accepting’ nature of the ASD community (since you’re not willing to accept my personal experiences as evidence): Have you noticed how many discussions about men inappropriately hitting on women have been derailed by individuals with ASDs who say that stigmatizing such behaviors would be bigoted against them? Guess how many of those people are SWMs. Now — given that they’ve just justified their behavior — guess how they interact in real life with a reasonably attractive twenty-something woman who has an ASD.

  146. ScentOfViolets, yes, the ultra wealthy definitely have an easier life than the rest of us. But consider that they’re all overwhelmingly SWM. This isn’t a coincidence, and it’s also why Scalzi put wealth in the stats category, not the difficulty category.

    You’re making my point about possible statistical inferences vs determinative characteristics. Assume that somewhere in Happy Land (where there is no discrimination by sex or race) there’s a bar where 10 swm and 10 swf are drinking. This being Happy Land, we can assume there is no statistical difference in their overall income. Then Bill Gates walks in . . . Yes, statistically, the men now make more than the women, and yes, all other things being equal, the men make more than the women, and so on and so forth, however you want to phrase it. But how much does that really mean? Do you see my point?

    Again, Scalzi addressed this in the initial metaphor. If you have 250 points to assign, instead of 25, you’re going to play an easier game. You can dump a ton into your wealth stat.

    And where I and several other people disagree. Or if you like, where his metaphor for real life breaks down. Some gets 25 points, some gets 25,000, and with just about as much say as they got when sexual orientation was assigned. Again, that’s not to say that “all other things being equal” the swm still won’t have an easier time of it – he does. It just doesn’t count for as much (imho) as some would think.

  147. Dingleberry:

    Here: http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?page_id=04ea1254-bd31-1fa3-c549d77e6ca6aa37
    and here: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-us-statistics-and-prevention/index.shtml

    These verify both your points: White men have a significantly higher risk of death by suicide, yes, but attempts are higher amongst non SWM. Men tend to succeed because they choose more final methods, such as firearms.

    This took me less than 5 minutes on google to dig up.

  148. LMM: Or, to be much more succinct: Defining yourself first and foremost as “a person with ASD” is itself evidence that you are probably a SWM.

    Oh, my, yes.

    Though that’s part of a much-larger intersectionality conversation, which will include things like pressure to identify as only one thing, and to ignore bias from people who share that one thing against other things one is. (See: lesbians expected to ignore sexism from gay men.)

  149. ScentOfViolets, for your hypothetical to work, we’d have to BE in Happyland, because out here in the real world, 10 SWM sitting at that bar would be making a lot more than the 10 SWF sitting at that bar BEFORE bill gates walks in.

    See my point? In the real world the disparity exists.

  150. LMM: “Or, to be much more succinct: Defining yourself first and foremost as “a person with ASD” is itself evidence that you are probably a SWM.”

    Yes. And again, it’s nothing against Gregory for making that distinction, but it’s a line of reasoning that’s related, I think, to why “color blind” as an ideology doesn’t work to alleviate racism, even though the intent behind it may be well-meaning. It’s because it works on the assumption that SWM is the natural default setting – SWM is “normal” and everything else is “different.”

  151. Wow, Scalzi… you definitely opened the proverbial box with Lowest Difficulty Setting. Pretty cool. Can’t wait to read additional follow-up pieces. May I suggest Why Whites Guys Gotta Be Right?

  152. warlordgrego:
    Your first anecdote (leaving aside that diversity goals are not quotas) is trying to extrapolate a systematic problem from a bad actor. Your second anecdote (leaving aside that the plural of anecdote is not data) is an un-sourced assertion that ignores both the issue of scale (how many SWMs vs non-SWMs are up for promotion) and the reverse (how many non-SWMs are passed over for promotion in favor of less qualified SWMs). Further, I have my doubts as to how many of those non-SWMs felt that they were, in fact, under-qualified for their promotions.

    Look, challenging difficulty level is inherently divisive because difficulty level is inherently divisive. Please don’t try to pretend that it won’t be, especially if your suggestions for avoiding divisiveness weaken that challenge.

    BTW, the ethnicity question is not relevant because, a) the question is voluntary, b) it’s an EOE requirement, c) what the law does require is that employers consider minority candidates and that’s what companies have to cover their butts over, and that’s how they do so. If people are misapplying the law, and in the process breaking other laws, then the answer is better, clearer enforcement, not scrapping the whole idea. And if companies don’t hire minorities in reasonable numbers and get raked over the coals for it, guess what? Those companies are on the wrong side of public opinion and, frankly, history.

    Meanwhile, there are still 3 more questions I’d like answers to.

    Greg: The Type 4 respondent is trying to use his individual case to disprove the statistical, systematic problem. And you absolutely can say that every man has an advantage over every woman. How that advantage plays out in individual cases will vary due to a number of factors, not the least of which is blind, dumb luck. But that doesn’t mean the advantage isn’t there, that it won’t play out differently later. So, sure, a man might make less than the women around him, or may have lost a job to a minority candidate, or may have been left by his wife. That’s very sad for him. (And I mean that without irony or sarcasm.) That’s going to happen. But, the law of averages isn’t holding in these cases, the system continues to favor men. To suggest otherwise is, at least, to defend the system settings.

  153. I have had only one ad nauseam debate regarding white privilege with a male friend which convinced me never to attempt that idiocy for the next thirty years. I think I’m coming up on that anniversary. Your points here will serve me well.

    You are wise, intelligent, witty, and have attractive ideas. Surely I have not been reading your blog long enough. Will you be my friend? Also, if you are physically attractive in addition to your other attributes, clearly you must be an alien. P.S. I write stuff.

    Thanks! @bruteandbird

  154. Let me attack this from the opposite end of relevant characteristics, say, handedness. Does anyone really doubt that right-handers are privileged over their mirror-image doppelgangers? That left-handers face everyday obstacles that we right-handers don’t even notice and that the world seems to be geared to catering to the needs and preferences of right-handers? That accomodations for their poor left-handed cousins are included only as an afterthought to the extent they are thought of at all? Or that until fairly recently, there were systematic, widespread attempts to eradicate left-handers by forcibly converting them into the right-hand way?

    With those givens, who could disagree with the proposition that “all things being equal” right-handers have an easier time of it, or that the “difficulty setting” for left-handers is higher?

    Now, that being said . . . how much effort should be spent on correcting this deficiency, and how much time should we devote to re-educating those foolish, ignorant right-handers who continue to insist they got to where they were entirely by their own efforts, and that living in right-handed world had very little to do with it?

    Put that way, sounds a little silly, doesn’t it?

  155. The (very misguided) men who are popping up in comments around here to dispute the idea that they are privileged are exactly the kind of men who Scalzi initially claimed to want to reach. And yet rather than do anything to actually take up this teachable moment, he has instead insulted and dismissed them, and the commenters who support him have done the same. So in other words, exactly the kind of teachable moment that the original post was supposedly about has been given away. And for what? For the opportunity to engage in the kind of self-celebratory tribalism that makes the people involved feel good and turns everybody else off.

    This is why we lose. This is why we can’t fix these problems. Because people like Scalzi and many of the commenters here are more interested in demonstrating their superiority than in actually engaging in a way that could create positive change. So, you know: congratulations.

  156. Aaaaaaaand with the comment at 3:29, folks, I think we’d all be best ignoring dingle. No way in hell John’s leaving that one unmalleted, just as soon as he has the chance.

  157. ScentOfViolets,

    I’m left handed. I don’t have a particularly hard time doing anything because of it. Yes, your substitution is silly. I’m also 6’6″, and have a much more challenging time dealing with a world that is built for all you normal size people. My brother has it even worse, he’s 7 feet tall. When will his justice come? :)

  158. ScentOfViolets:
    If a right-handed senator were to propose that left-handers pay more taxes because we’re careless with power tools and get in more accidents, I would very much want effort spent on educating them about the difficulties of being left-handed. As it is, there’s not a lot of systematic bias against left-handers, so I’d rather the effort be spent on righting larger and more pervasive imbalances in the system, like the ones affecting people who aren’t SWMs. So, no, it doesn’t seem silly at all.

  159. Wait, Freddie, who exactly are you concerned about here? The ones whose comments were left unmollested, like Ian, whom several people (John included) engaged for hours? Or the ones who got malleted, like That Guy? Cause, I managed to read more than a few of those before the mallet came down, and you know what? Fuck ’em. They really had nothing to contribute. As much as this has become a cliche, what they were saying was so wrong it wasn’t even wrong.

  160. Freddie – “And yet rather than do anything to actually take up this teachable moment, he has instead insulted and dismissed them, and the commenters who support him have done the same.”

    Do you or even JS really think his posts here are really going to “educate” or sway opinions? I hope people do not come to blogs to be educated or have their opinions formed for them. Oh, wait….

  161. ScentOfViolets, first off, lets take your whole first paragraph as completely given, no argument. That said, you’re using a false-equivalency here. No one is getting passed over for promotions because they’re southpaws. Lefthandedness is an annoyance, not an oppressed minority.

  162. “What do I/we do next?”

    I think just letting the concepts have a little head space will likely have an interesting effect. (Personally, I’ve been greatly affected recently by the hashtag #FirstWorldProblem.)

  163. Well, I’d suggest that we’re all better served – you and he included – if you directed your energies to correcting the current imbalance between the top 1% and the bottom 99% before going after all us shorties holding you and yours down. As opposed to after, that is :-)

  164. Re: # 12. “What do I/we do next?”
    I think you could perhaps link to your September ‘Shut Up and Listen’ article in your answer to #12. Most people struggle with being called “privileged” because it makes them feel complicit in oppression. ‘Being aware’ of privilege is just being ashamed of something you can’t control.

    We need to be empowered to confront privilege. As your article in September revealed, listening to the experiences of others is productive. Starting a positive, encouraging conversation about what privilege means is productive. Conversations about privilege can feel vicious and painful, but they don’t need to be.

  165. Mr. Scalzi, if only you were the moderator at Kotaku. The every first comment on the reprint of this over there embodies basically every one of these laughable objections in one excessively wordy, self-pitying post. And the majority of the replies in support of that poster who evidently believes that his problems means that sexism and racism are worst for straight white men.

  166. I’m a straight whit male, and I agree with pretty much everything you have said. There are, of course many factors that go into one’s life, but in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, I think you have hit the nail on the head.

  167. Re: #2 and different metaphors… In the section on drug policy in _Parliament of Whores_, P.J. O’Rourke called it “The Whiffle Ball Life”. In 1991, so it might qualify this argument as OlderThanTheyThink (see tvtropes, if you have a spare afternoon).

    “My friend’s kid didn’t need to suffer any consequences, not serious consequences, anyway. After all, addiction is a sickness and he needs treatment. Besides, he’s got personal problems and comes from a broken home. It’s not like he’s a criminal or anything. If he were a criminal, he’d be poorer and darker skinned.
    My friend’s kid lives in a well-padded little universe, a world with no sharp edges or hard surfaces. It’s the Whiffle Ball again. the kid leads a Whiffle Life, and so does my friend, and so do I.”

    Citation cut down to maintain fair use, it leads up to the tagline I wanted to use, but can’t in good conscience quote enough to make the tagline meaningful. Go read the book, it’s worth it.

  168. As it is, there’s not a lot of systematic bias against left-handers, so I’d rather the effort be spent on righting larger and more pervasive imbalances in the system, like the ones affecting people who aren’t SWMs. So, no, it doesn’t seem silly at all.

    BINGO. May I suggest then that you’re better advised to spend your efforts going after the much larger and more pervasive power imbalances in the system such as the concentrated wealth of the top 1%? You can beat up on us shorties, righties, and whities after the glorious revolution :-)

  169. “Do you or even JS really think his posts here are really going to “educate” or sway opinions? I hope people do not come to blogs to be educated or have their opinions formed for them. Oh, wait….”

    Uh, you’re aware that the first post was explicitly about how to educate people, right? How to talk to them and teach them about their privilege?

    But I’ll take what you said at face value. And, indeed, I think you’re right, in a sense. The purpose of all this is not to actually improve the world. It’s for people here to trade regard for each other, laugh at the squares, and reminded themselves of how much better they are than others.

  170. Point of history: Left-handers were indeed violently discriminated against in the past. Even recent past. My mom had her left hand smacked by her teachers every time she tried to write with it, and that was in the 1950s. Ack.

    It did take quite a lot of effort from lefties and the people who supported their … um … rights to change things around. Righties who whined about “why do THEY get special desks and scissors when I have a hangnail and therefore I need help, too?” didn’t exactly help them get there any faster.

    But since lefties aren’t especially discriminated against nor impeded by their NOW, the comparison isn’t quite valid. See also: Irish folk, Italians, redheads, short (non-dwarf) men/tall women, etc. All of whom got quite a lot of crap in the past century but who are generally doing quite well now.

    (FTR: The lefty analogy is always a nicely handy(!) one for GLBT rights. It points out that there are biological differences that mean certain people do common things differently than the majority, but that doesn’t mean they’re evil. Also, that said differences cannot be changed no matter how much you rap their knuckles with a ruler.)

    /The More You Know

  171. Nope, going after the airlines first ScentOfViolets. We Need Leg Room!!!!!

  172. I noticed on Kotaku that you are getting the same comments from yesterday, with the addition of “Why is this on a video game news site?” I’m not sure that you did them any favors by letting them repost you article.

  173. ScentOfViolets @ 3:53
    It’s not an either/or proposition. It’s not necessary to sideline efforts for one cause in order to address another. We can, in fact, tackle the problems of gender/race/orientation bias and wealth disparity simultaneously.

    Also, if you think that the issues of wealth disparity and gender/race/orientation bias are unrelated, you might not truly understand the problem of wealth disparity.

  174. you are a racist dumb ass, John Scalzi, and you should be fired for writing such inane, bigoted horse manure. i just removed this site from my favorites after reading this. way to focus on gaming news by writing about something completely irrelevant to the subject.

    [I was going to delete this, but it’s so spectacularly wrong on so many levels that I’ve decided to leave it as a monument to stupidity — JS]

  175. Well, Freddie, I guess the important thing is that you’ve found a way to feel superior to both groups.

  176. Yeah…. I’m pretty sure the Mallet’s in for another workout once John comes back around to check on the thread. >.<

  177. Oh Dingleberry Johnson, we barely knew you. I know you have to mallet this one to John. I understand.

  178. What Doc Rocketscience said up there. Yup.

    Justice is not a limited commodity. We don’t have to attack other disadvantaged people who are getting some just because we still need some, too.

    Jeebis. Sometimes you’d think we’re all kittens, yowling up a storm because the food dish Human Mama filled first was closest to a sibling instead of us. Re-thefreakinghell-lax. The idea that there’s not enough to go around for all of us is a myth perpetuated by the naked emperors who want to keep us busy fighting each other instead of pointing out their bare asses.

  179. @ScentofViolets- if indeed “most people” consider their intelligence to be intrinsic, they are demonstrably wrong. The best estimates I’ve seen put it at about 50% genetic and 50% environment. While the environment in the early years is disproportionately influential, there is also pretty good evidence that your intelligence can (and does) keep changing throughout your life.

    This is complicated by the fact that “intelligence” is very difficult to define and measure, and it is also very difficult to separate genetic and very early environmental influences. But the general idea that intelligence changes over life is well supported by research. Which makes it a poor example to use in your argument.

    @Kingtycoon- I can’t improve on @Bess’ answer to you. But if you want more info/argument along those lines, you might try reading The Rational Optimist. It would probably provide a lot of food for thought.

    I loved the original piece and agree with the follow up. It was interesting watching people feel attacked and judged, because there was no attack or judgment in them, and also not in the comments of the people supporting the case these posts made. I do, however, think it is fair to acknowledge that not all discussions of “the p-word” are as non-judgmental as these posts were. It takes nothing from the argument that privilege exists to admit that sometimes, the concept of privilege gets misused. I have, for instance, seen the idea get used just to shut down argument, which I think is sad. One of the most useful things that can come out of an acknowledgment of privilege, in my opinion, is a careful analysis of the benefits privilege has provided, so that we can figure out how to extend those benefits to all. And that requires an open discussion between people who have privilege and those who don’t.

    But still- I think it is on those of us who have privilege (I include myself in that group, since I have all of the standard privileges except the maleness one) to just get over ourselves on this, because really, it seems the least we can do- sort of along the lines of @Beth’s excellent answer to @Chris Bickford. So you felt judged by this post, or by what someone said to you on this topic in the past. Welcome to The Real World!

  180. Randomly: These posts are proof that SWMs are not inherently superior, or Scalzi would’ve known better than to make them when he was going to be off doing something else and not immediately available for mallet duty. ;)

  181. ScentOfViolets, it’s not a competition. I can work to solve both problems at the same time. The assumption that one kind of oppression distracts from another is a classic zero sum game myth. The issue of endemic oppression isn’t taking away from the issue of the ultrawealthy. I don’t have to pick just one. You don’t have to pick just one either.

    Personally, I’m doing pretty good on my wealth stat right now, but I know what it’s like to count the number of ramen packets in my cupboard between now and the next paycheck. For me, the issue of the 1% is personal. I’ve seen the disparities that wealth can create. So, naturally, I assign it a higher value than someone who has to deal with racisim or sexisim.

    Is it possible, just maybe, that you’re doing the same thing? I doubt you’ve experienced major financial hardship BECAUSE of being SWM (though you could easily experience it for any number of other factors). There are people out in the world who DO experience major financial hardship because they’re NOT SWM. That’s a problem which needs fixing just as much as Wall Street.

  182. Scalzi,

    Aside from this being a nice, preachy “feel-good about myself because I’m such an advocate and ally”-type of ego-stroking, your refusal to enjoin economic and class issues is indicative of your complete misunderstanding of this entire systemic system of privilege.

    The end result of systemic discrimination is to lower the economic value of a certain class. As long as we can keep the [targeted group] living in modern urban ghettos, working for minimum-wage and focused on everything aside from concerns like advancement and self-development, they retain only a small amount of power in a political/economic sense. Why is it that there exists a push to allow for employers to fire non-cis or non-straight employees? because if they never reach that middle-class picket fence, they’ll always be “the other” and a target of ire from the status-quo.

    I’m continually frustrated at the “attack dog” mentality of those who are so wrapped up in theoretical post-modernist hand-wringing. There is always a broad brush stroke leveled against anyone who isn’t a “victim” as being part of the problem. There’s always a smug satisfaction for proving just how awesome one is when they talk about how evil all cis-white-males are and how they can’t understand their “privilege”. And then there’s always the snarky backpeddle where the author comes back to say that they weren’t talking about “all straight, cis-male white people”, but only those who disagree with them! And then everything dies down and we get back to the broad-stroke accusations and nasty attacks.

    And in the end, it’s always about lording over everyone else how enlightened and intelligent you are. Despite agreeing with so much, generally, within this particular theoretical line of thinking I continually find myself appalled and disgusted by the approach continually taken to simply take a shit on the very people you need to be working with to actually accomplish anything in an expeditious manner.

  183. Shorter Freddie DeBoer: “You led the horse to water, and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT that it didn’t want to drink.”

    @ScentOfViolets: No, the old ‘false dilemma’ trick isn’t going to work, either. Got another one?

  184. As a lot of angry people from Kotaku start hitting the moderation queue about now, I now have an appreciation for what John was going through yesterday with the Mallet. It ratchets up my appreciation for such a well moderated site as Whatever even more.

  185. @ A Meditated Life

    “Randomly: These posts are proof that SWMs are not inherently superior, or Scalzi would’ve known better than to make them when he was going to be off doing something else and not immediately available for mallet duty. ;)”

    No kidding. Am I the only one here thinking it’s going to get worse before the Mallet comes out to do some serious whacking?

  186. Addendum: is anyone else as amused as I am by the apparent fact that the SWMs crying “sexism/racism” wolf are obvious sexist and racist?

  187. Illuminata: I’d be amused if it weren’t for the fact that they probably also make people miserable in ways more significant than grossly clueless blog comments.

    On the other hand, it’s nice proof that we do have a lot more work to do, contrary to the assertion of some.

  188. The Pint
    Yep, john’s probably at a panel or some such thing right now, ’cause if he was looking the Mallet would be swinging.
    Illuminata,
    About as amused by that as people accusing a SWM of being sexist and racist just for pointing out his views about SWM, and i’m very amused by that.

  189. Thought of a good, video game related, answer for #4.

    Just because you started the game at an easier setting doesn’t mean you will be successful in saving the princess.
    Just because you started the game at a harder setting doesn’t mean you won’t be successful in saving the princess.

    That it is the princess who needs saving is another conversation altogether.

  190. Freddie, apologies, but horse, meet water. I could add flavoring and put it in a fancy glass with a fruit garnish, but I can’t make you drink. It doesn’t matter how I say it, because if it’s something you don’t want to hear, you won’t listen.

  191. As a friend explained to me, one of the features of having privilege is being able to be blind to having privilege. That blindness (willful or not) is often where that rage you’re seeing against the post comes from. The blame thing you mentioned, too, since it seems a lot of people can’t make the distinction that that particular privilege is something you’re given, not something you acquire.

    Number 4 on your list here, particularly the first line of your response, highlights something I see so very often. People make an assumption about the content without reading and then make a comment that’s refuted in the post/article. I just can’t understand people like that and you know? I think I’m better off not understanding.

    My particular straight, white, male life gave me the opportunity to see the difference more easily than most, I guess. I grew up in a little town in Canada. Everyone I knew was like me. People got treated differently based on your native tongue and social class, but I only saw that in retrospect. Then I moved to Georgia. Lo and behold I was treated… exactly the same as I ever had been. The black people around me? Definitely getting the crappy end of the stick.

  192. I can’t think of a better way to absolutely drag the reputation of SWM through the shit than having the most vocal defender of SWM here on this thread turn out to be an open Nazi, once he finally decided to out himself.

    Congratulations, dude. You’re really pretty special there. Really.

  193. Just to be clear, what I intended by “amused” was not to suggest that such unhinged bigotry is funny in and of itself, but that the spouters’ apparent inability to recognize logical fallacies and their own hypocrisy is funny.

    I don’t envy Mr. Scalzi the job of moderating, despite my initial amusment. It must be tedious, since bigots are boring and repetitive.

  194. But if I don’t laugh at it Illuminata, I get pissed off, and John doesn’t like us folks to tell the assholes to go away ourselves. He reserves that for himself.

  195. Incidentally, considering that I’ve now commented here more in the last two days than I have in the entire three years I’ve been reading Whatever: Hi, folks. Pleased ta meet ya. :) Will likely relurk again soon.

  196. he purpose of all this is not to actually improve the world. It’s for people here to trade regard for each other, laugh at the squares, and reminded themselves of how much better they are than others.

    Is this another rendition of the ‘people who point out others are being sexist/racist are the REAL sexists/racists’ song? That song is *so* overplayed.

  197. TheMadLibrarian: But yours was way funnier.

    Also, the tone arguments, are they Poes? Because the “if only you had said it more nicely you might have won allies, but instead you cruelly berate us and now I must make a long, wordy lament about how utopia has slipped through your self-congratulatory fingers, woe” is so predictable, it’s like that old joke where we should just have people post “Thirty-eight” to save time.

  198. @ Ron Mitchell – that’s the hardest thing for me – not smacking down trolls. I’ve commented most at Pharyngula, where we call ourselves the Horde for a reason. I’ve been lurking here for months and months to be prepared to avoid doing that here. I like this blog way too much to bork it up. However, this series of posts finally prompted me to comment. It’s too perfect – how he made an analogy and a bunch of SWMs apparently read it and thought “let’s prove him right in every way possible”.

  199. @ mythago – ever toured around some feminist blogs? That’s the exact same tone argument they get from – surprise, surprise – SWMs.

  200. Scalzi, thank you. Both for the original post, which I have reshared and intend to continue doing so, and these two followups, which both make me giggle. I especially love your responses here. Please keep being awesome.

  201. Doc: “The Type 4 respondent is trying to use his individual case to disprove the statistical, systematic problem.”

    Well, the problem is the metaphor is a just a metaphor. Talking about game difficulty levels is not the same as talking about systemic racial profiling by police or women statistically earning less money than men. Those are statistical facts of history. Those facts still don’t say anything about Steven William Muchausen, a specific but randomly picked straight, white male individual and what his life is like.

    Maybe some people are trying to say their individual case disproves the statistical information. They’d be wrong. Police statistically stop black men more than white. Even if you find a white man who never committed a crime but has been stopped a LOT by police for no reason, that doesn’t change the statistic.

    But while they’re misusing statistics-versus-individual notions in one way, at least some consistently misuse statistics-versus-individual incorrectly going the other direction, taking a statistic and saying that since it is true of the population it must be true of the individual.

    Statistics boil down to saying “some”. No one is allowed to turn that into “all” and therefore say it applies to “that man there”.

    “And you absolutely can say that every man has an advantage over every woman.”

    A statistical advantage, which isn’t the same as an individual advantage. Steven William Munchausen might not have gotten any of those statistical advantages. None.

    This is where the “privilege” metaphor breaks down, because “privilege” and “video game difficulty level” are often metaphorical attempts to take statistical information on populations and try and make it mean something about every single individual when there is no grounding for that.

    “So, sure, a man might make less than the women around him, or may have lost a job to a minority candidate, or may have been left by his wife…. That’s going to happen.”

    And when it does, what advantage does that specific individual male have? “game settings” are a metaphor. “Privilege” is a metaphor. Neither one refer to anything objectively real. If you find a straight white male with no measurable advantage, what does it mean when someone insists he has “privilege”? How would we measure that in any objective way?

    When every objective measure says such and such specific individual does not have any advantage, but people insist on saying he has “privilege” or insist on saying he is still playing with the “game settings on easy”, then is the objective measure ignored and the metaphor made king?

    “But, the law of averages isn’t holding in these cases, the system continues to favor men.”

    Right. I keep saying that the metaphors of “privilege” and of “game difficulty settings” are good metaphors for getting people aware of active systemic discrimination. That when someone says “what do I do?” that they be pointed at specific systemic discrimination problems and continue raising awareness.

    But the “law of averages” doesn’t say anything about any specific man. The *system* will statistically favor *men*, but that doesn’t mean you can pick any random individual man out of the population and tell me anything about him at all.

    “To suggest otherwise is, at least, to defend the system settings.”

    Good thing I’m not doing that then. The “settings” is a metaphor for active discrimination and inertial effects of historical active discrimination. The toal is to remove the discrimination going on now and cancel out any historical inertia of discrimination.

  202. FWIW, I think there’s practical merit in the honey-baited flytrap approach. When it comes to initial negotiations, I try to assume that folks are just misinformed, or operating from the paranoia/irrationality that comes with signficiant personal pain, and operate accordingly. People who truly are hurting–and let’s be honest, SWM or no, someone who’s grown up in poverty and can’t find a living wage job no matter how hard they work is most definitely hurting–are going to have a hard time with any argument presented to them that doesn’t in some way acknowledge that real pain, and remind them that yes, work is being done to help alleviate that for them.

    But demands from people who already know the truth of the argument and are just asking for due deferance piss me off. If you already know you have advantages in most areas, and that people are in fact working toward correcting the one or two disadvantages you have, and yet you’re getting fussy because people aren’t affording you the honor you think you’re entitled to? You are an ass and will be treated accordingly.

    Respectful dialogue does not = tea and scones for the person whose crappy behavior you’re addressing when he already knows that he’s behaving in a crappy manner.

  203. @ mountaineremite

    “As a friend explained to me, one of the features of having privilege is being able to be blind to having privilege. That blindness (willful or not) is often where that rage you’re seeing against the post comes from. The blame thing you mentioned, too, since it seems a lot of people can’t make the distinction that that particular privilege is something you’re given, not something you acquire.”

    Which happens to be the biggest fallacy at the root of a lot of this convoluted discourse. It is the worst type of proof in that it asserts itself as true through the negation of the truth. It, literally, leaves no room for anything aside from the ultimate triumph of the idea because assertion to the statement is support, and disagreement with the statement is also support, inverted, because it proves the existence ex-nihilo of the “privilege” which negates the disagreement. This is begging the question, at best.

    If we stopped bashing each other over the head with simplistic and often hostile employment of the concept of “privilege” we’d get a lot more done. But still, it seems like too many unfortunate individuals would rather score points than actually attempt to reconcile the differences in approach.

    There is nothing as childish as putting your fingers in your ears and blathering on “ican’thearyouican’thearyouican’thearyou”, which is the equivalent of way too many approaches to this very complex and amazingly humongous larger, systemic issue.

  204. Mr. Scalzi, I’m now a fan of your work, thanks to your throwdown of offering profits to PP a ways back. So thank you on that.

    I think I’m in your #12 bucket above, but I want to help refine the analogy somehow. Because reading it felt the same as using that verboten word, “privilege”. I’m a straight, white male. I think the injustices that are heaped on every combination of what I’m not are abominable. I want those injustices righted – to wit, if I have a certain “privilege”, every damn person deserves the same exact “privilege”. My parents taught me that one and I thank them for that. Pretty simple concept.

    But here’s where I think we break down a bit when other straight, white males prickle at the analogy: there’s an unwritten insinuation that they somehow /know/ that they’re running on the easiest level (or, in others’ previous arguments, “have privilege”). Most of these folks believe how it is is perfectly normal. If I were told when I was born that society is rigged to give you pretty much anything you need, sometimes on the backs of others, merely because of the circumstances of my birth, I’d tell anyone who uses that circumstance to give me things to fuck right off.

    The raging people simply don’t know this because it’s been hidden and now they have to fight against decades of their own self-actualization. Heavy stuff, to be sure. Do I think they’re right for attempting to fight back against what you said? No. But I can understand it. It’s not an easy prospect to swallow. Sorta like Neo in The Matrix was told he had never used his eyes before at age 36 (or whatever). “Whoa” is right.

    It’ll take time to right the wrongs of ingrained, systemic lack of privilege in all non-white/non-straight/non-male groups and the generation that puts it into serious motion will be the one that will have the hardest time dealing with it. But the result will be a true egalitarianism where the human race can be proud of the work that went into making it possible.

    More than I thought I’d say, but thanks for having the forum to do so.

  205. “Well, that’s up to you, isn’t it? What I’m doing is pointing out a thing. What you do with that thing is your decision.”

    This is one of my problems with the original article, you aren’t making an argument for anything — just creating a metaphor, a declarative statement, and the metaphor isn’t even very good because the real “easiest setting” isn’t SWM, it’s a person born into a rich family living in a country like the U.S., Canada, or most of western Europe who is born with good looks and an extroverted personality, and no medical or genetic problems. Would SWM be the easiest setting if the SWM in question were autistic? Nope. What about if they were born with a genetic disorder that required them to be hooked up to an oxygen tank for the rest of their lives? Would that person be on an easier setting than the wealthy black man or woman living somewhere in California who has never had any psychological or medical issues beyond being scared of spiders, or breaking a toe? Sure, maybe the autistic person with hemophilia might not be discriminated against for their sexual orientation or for their skin colour, but who is to say they won’t be discriminated against for their lack of social prowess? Why is their life any easier because they have different problems?

    Like I said, the real “easiest setting” has a _lot_ more to it than sexual orientation, skin colour, and gender. Now, if you want to talk about the most difficult setting, then yes, it would not be a person who is straight, white, or male, but quite a few other factors would also weigh into the most difficult setting, and conversely the easiest setting.

  206. I think your decision to use “difficulty of life” as the means to which you explore the notion of race/sex/orientation privilege in north american society, is in short wrong. What makes a person’s life difficult is a function of the scale of the challenge in relation to the person capabilities with dealing with said challenge. Nothing more.

    Race, gender, wealth, sexual orientation are factors which attribute to the difficulty of social interaction/integration which again is scaled in relation to one’s initial social capabilities / “mental fortitude” / communities level of acceptance / individuals levels of acceptance / all the million other factors.

    Simply put your article should state, the difficulty of one persons life may only potentially be increased given these factors blah blah blah (not taking new positive interactions created by said change into account).

    So i say instead; being a straight white male in a society that is more accepting of straight white males may be easier unless you are ___, ____, ___, and ____ etc etc

    also you say you wonder why people use the word blame / call you an asshole/ use mean words. stop using the word YOU. its too personal.

  207. “Also, this” (the flowchart) just made me laugh out loud. At work. On the public service desk. So much for my pretense of librarianly professionalism. BTW, did you know that Library Journal just gave Redshirts a very nice review?

  208. Could someone kindly point to an explanation of the metaphor, either in these comments or those of the previous post, for those of us who don’t play these games? In particular I note that in point #3 above, John says that wealth/class belongs in the “stats” category, and is therefore not relevant to his point. OK, “stats” category as opposed to what, exactly? What do “stats” and “points” and “difficulty level” correspond to?

    (btw, although I’m over 40, my male cohort in college loved role-playing games, but I just didn’t get into it)

    Separate question: In the original post, John says that being a SWM means that “areas of the map are automatically open to you” (quasi-quote). What is the real-life equivalent of this; what things are _automatically_ open to _all_ SWMs? My best guess is that it’s things like not being stopped for Driving While Black; not fearing being raped on the street and then being blamed for it because of how you dressed; not having a sexuality not your own being thrown in your face all the time with an assumption that it’s everyone’s. Am I on the right track here?

  209. @ Ron – Yeah. It’s kind of like watching a trainwreck.

    @ TheMadLibrarian – thanks for the antacid, but I think I’ll just go straight for the virtual vodka – at least until I get home and I can get my hands on the real stuff.

  210. Greg: I need to head out so I may respond in more detail later. but for now, two things:

    1) “Privilege” isn’t the metaphor. “Difficulty level” is the metaphor for privilege. I’m not even sure what you think privilege is a metaphor for.

    2) You’re confusing the expression of the advantage with it’s existence. White people are statistically less likely to be pulled over. Steven (who?) is white. e is therefore statistically less likely to get pulled over. There’s your objective measurement. It doesn’t go away when he does get pulled over, unless his statistically likelihood of getting pulled over was 0, which it wasn’t.

  211. @ not a white guy, who has a hard life…

    You’re spot on in wondering why socio-economics are completely and utterly tossed from the consideration. It is, in short, because they dismantle the argument. “Easy mode”, as was pointed out above, has far more to do with having wealth than otherwise.

  212. Like I said, the real “easiest setting” has a _lot_ more to it than sexual orientation, skin colour, and gender.

    I’ll take “people who just embarassed themselves by proving they never bothered to read the original post” for $500, Alex.

    @autonomousdesire, your posts are making me think of some of Suzette Elgin’s comments in The Gentle Verbal Art of Self-Defense, where she writes a couple of paragraphs of high-falutin’-soundin’ academic-ese that sound like they’re saying something, but in fact say nothing at all; she notes that as an academic she can just sort of generate this stuff at will; they’re big words, and they’re strung together into recognizable English sentences that sound momentous, so it’s easy to make it sound like you had a point when really you’re just generating nonsense.

    @Illuminata: oh, I know. I’m just saying that the variations on these are so predictable and internet-wide that one could easily see people just copying and pasting them randomly for lulz. Like the old joke where a bunch of people who know all the same funny comments finally just decide to save time by numbering the punchlines, so somebody can call out “Fifty-eight!” and everyone else cracks up. You can do the same thing with the “tsk, tsk, I *might* have theoretically agreed with you but your tone was just slightly off, you lose, pity” arguments, which are too similar to make more than one space on a bingo card.

  213. Greg: You seem to be wanting every situation to come with a tally sheet, wherein the two opposing candidates list all the alphabet soup they have to come up with a bottom line of who, really, is more oppressed than the other. While that may be amusing on the (very) small scale, it’s virtually useless as a basis for public policy (which is, really, what this is all about, no?)

    Anyone who needs some sort of proof that a given person really does have it worse than they do before they’ll defer to that person’s needs is being a pedant who wants to subtitute bean counting for compassion.

    No, not every SWM has it better in every situation than every non-SWM, but enough of them do that the default action in virtually every situation should be to favor the non-SWM. If you know that 9 out of 10 lakes contain alligators, are you going to jump into all of them to be absolutely sure those alligators are there?

    Any SWM who knows he’s had it somewhat rough, and that some non-SWMs have not, who then assumes that a given non-SWMs has had it easier than him and therefore doesn’t deserve any large-scale courtesy is being deliberately obtuse.

    Or, as I often put it in political terms: just because .05% of people on public support are gaming the system doesn’t mean the other 99.95% don’t deserve that support. By taking that support away from everyone until you’re 100% sure that each person isn’t a cheat, you’re presuming guilt (and doing some very serious harm while you’re spending the bandwidth on that vetting process.) Last I checked, that’s not how we do things in most of the civilized world.

    Exceptions exist, and it helps to have some flexibility to account for those, but if we govern based on the exceptions and not the rule, pretty much everything goes to crap.

  214. @Wesley Kerfoot:

    … and YET AGAIN it is necessary to point out that Scalzi’s metaphor says nothing at all about comparing unlike things to unlike things. All the “game” metaphor says is that, all other things being equal, if you swap a single trait (black for white, gay for straight) it throws extra barriers in your path that you don’t have to deal with on the “easier”, social-default setting. A gay person in the exact same socioeconomic circumstances as a straight person has to deal with extra levels of difficulty that a straight person doesn’t. Take a poor, autistic man … now swap the “man” setting for the “woman” setting … now there are a few extra levels of difficulty to be overcome. It’s not that hard to understand, oh my god.

  215. @mythago, I did read the original post. Could you please explain why you think otherwise?

  216. @ Illuminata – same here for me. I very much enjoy the writing on this blog but I want to respect John’s wishes about the kind of atmosphere he wants these comment threads to have, which is vastly different from PZ’s approach. Both have merit, and frankly I think it’s very beneficial to me as it’s helped me cultivate different styles of approach to similar arguments, but I’ve found it’s generally a good rule of thumb to respect the wishes of the host and not “take a crap on his carpet.” ;)

  217. @ mythago

    Not to be needlessly cruel, but if you can’t follow you might want to read a little closer. Just for example:

    “Which happens to be the biggest fallacy at the root of a lot of this convoluted discourse. It is the worst type of proof in that it asserts itself as true through the negation of the truth. It, literally, leaves no room for anything aside from the ultimate triumph of the idea because assertion to the statement is support, and disagreement with the statement is also support, inverted, because it proves the existence ex-nihilo of the “privilege” which negates the disagreement. This is begging the question, at best.”

    i.e., if you want it put simply, both assertion and negation (agreement and disagreement) with the concept of “privilege” is, within the scope of the argument, seen as an affirmation (that is, as something that is true) of the “truth of privilege”. This is a logical fallacy and is, ergo (therefore) an illogical argument.

  218. @Layla, but that’s _not_ what he says in the original article. He says that the easiest setting is “Straight white male”.

    “Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.”

    I agree that if you were to change a person from white to black, then their life would probably get more difficult. Can we move on please?

  219. It`ll happen. The Mallet shall cleanse all. Sweet blessed Mallet.

    Other than that, someone up there did a cute-if-fatally-flawed inversion of a selection of John’s post to try to prove #6 is in effect. Problem is, said poster couldn’t seperate out righteous indignation to racial bigotry against a reactionary defensiveness in response to comments about one’s position in life. This is revealed by the choice of inversion. I’ll try to make my point sans the Mallet’s attention.

    For one, comments on the SWM and their resulting priviledge is not a denigration except in the most sarcastic and bitter expression of comparison between a SWM and just about everyone else; that SWM’s (or anyone else who is offended by something, generally) are offended doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, which is why inquiries are formed and studies of careful analysis are made. That these do not satisfy anyone’s immediate gratification of their personal sense of Justice is irrelevant (eg., ‘waaaa!’), be it comments made on a Blog or the Trayvor Martin case. Only when the facts have been properly (I said *properly*, as opposed to what the newsmedia reports and the distortions have been flying across the web) assembled can we hope to identify cause and effect and name the demon that besets us.

    On the other hand, repeating the statistical fiction that is essentially The Bell Curve in colorful language as a framing device is disingenuous, in that the comparison isn’t equal but is being presented as such anyways. Scalzi’s point *can* be backed by a mountain of data- poverty, life expectency, earning power, regional and national political influence in aggregate and individual; SWM have it easy(-er). The Bell Curve’s assertions are neither rigorous nor explanatory, nor even causal. Taking their conclusions as fact *is* an attack on a people who have definitely been marginalized in every way possible by advancing that marganilization further through a poorly-constructed rationalization for their current state. For those willing to believe, they rejoiced; for those looking for truth, they wept. The poster above simply chose a lazy belief without examining the content he was parroting much further than a simple word swap, which also indicates that his emotions are sincere, I’m sure, but very much unexamined.

  220. “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is”

    This is EASY to disprove. Healthy and Weathly is the easiest setting.

  221. @Wesley, the original post pointed out – at length – that “difficulty setting” != “how easy the game is to play, period”, and noted that someone with a higher “difficulty setting” might in fact have an easier time and more success overall because of other factors, like wealth.

    @autonomousdesire: Following the discussion is precisely how one realizes that ten-dollar words are being used to tart up two-cent ideas.

  222. Vidikron: That wasn’t the point he was trying to make. The point was that all else being equal those three little letters grant enormous buffs to the people playing under that class than the people without them.

    A poor, sick SWM is always going to have it better than a poor, sick non-SWM, in other words. This can even be seen in things like emergency room statistics. A white guy without insurance who comes in complaining of chest pain is far more likely to come out of that hospital alive than a black woman in the same circumstances. Hell, I have great insurance, and I often can’t even get doctors to take my health issues seriously because I don’t have a penis. So clearly, money hasn’t bought my way out of sexism there.

  223. @ mythago

    Sorry my register is a bit too high for you.

    In response to my own thoughts, you seem unable to offer anything other than ad-hominem attacks. To use smaller words, you’re two comments directed toward me are nothing more than personal attacks without a shred of relevant content, whatsoever.

  224. But that is the title and it isn’t true. Beyond that though, the article talks constantly about the “real world”, but I’m pretty sure the “real world” extends beyond parts of NA and parts of Europe. The article is a gross over generalization.

  225. @mythago, I guess my problem with the metaphor is: why make race, gender, and sexuality in the “difficulty setting” category, and everything else that determines how successful one is at life in the “stats” category? If it were me creating the analogy I would put things like genetic disorders in the “difficulty setting” category as well as race, sexuality, and gender. Actually, it’s difficult for me to see the difference between stats and difficulty settings because, as he says in the article, you don’t get to choose where to put your given points. If every point in time of your life is determined by a previous point in your life, in other words, if everything is deterministic, then everything is a difficulty setting, because everything that has happened to you, from the instant your are conceived (or maybe born depending on how you want to look at it) factors into how easy your life will be.

  226. @Wesley Kerfoot:

    That is exactly what he says. The three variables in Scalzi’s metaphor are sexuality (“straight”), race (“white”), and gender (“male”). Now you can argue that he ought to have included more variables as invariable starting conditions if you like (disability and wealth variables, for example) but given those three variables, “straight white male” is the easiest out of all the possible combinations, and adding more variables doesn’t change the underlying argument — heck, it probably makes it easier to understand, because if you add “disability” and “wealth” as variables, then “non-disabled, wealthy straight white male” becomes the easiest starting condition.

  227. Guidelines for making comments from http://www.ritholtz.com:

    “Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.”

  228. This is EASY to disprove. Healthy and Weathly is the easiest setting.

    Another one who didn’t read the post.

  229. … that would probably be less confusing if I’d said “fixed starting conditions”. My kingdom for an edit button.

  230. Nope, I did. I saw the brief nod to other factors that he trivializes as “stats”, but that doesn’t make the title true, nor does it make any of this a worldwide truth.

  231. Vidikron: If you read the original article carefully, you’ll note that he specifies that this analogy is about US culture.

    Only the economic class of one’s birth and childhood is remotely comparable to the kind of impact on daily life and therefore success that race, sex and orientation can have (in a culture that has made those three things the key factors in individual success.) Therefore it’s the only one that’s even remotely likely to override advantages in those three areas. Only rare individual cases like catastrophic illnesses/disabilities have anywhere near that same power to put up roadblocks or grease the way on a given person’s path to happy self-sufficiency.

    As I noted to Greg above, I can basically guarantee that in the vast majority of individual circumstances, a SWM will have an advantage over a non-SWM. That being the case, setting public policy based on those inequities makes sense.

  232. @ Layla

    “That is exactly what he says. The three variables in Scalzi’s metaphor are sexuality (“straight”), race (“white”), and gender (“male”). Now you can argue that he ought to have included more variables as invariable starting conditions if you like (disability and wealth variables, for example) but given those three variables, “straight white male” is the easiest out of all the possible combinations, and adding more variables doesn’t change the underlying argument — heck, it probably makes it easier to understand, because if you add “disability” and “wealth” as variables, then “non-disabled, wealthy straight white male” becomes the easiest starting condition.”

    Of course when you write the parameters of the game, you’re in control of the details of the difficulty. It doesn’t change that a wealthy female minority will have an “easier difficulty” than a dirt poor white man.

    And it comes back to ignoring wealth as if it didn’t matter. Wealth is the first and largest indication of privilege. Systemic discrimination is a direct effect on socio-economic status. Wealth needs to come first and foremost before anything else.

  233. @Layla, just to be clear I have no problem with the idea that being a gay, non-white, female makes one’s life more difficult, I just think the choice of metaphor was poor, and not getting across the right idea, which is that a lot of people are being discriminated against for things which they had no part in deciding on. Maybe most people who have an easier life don’t realize that these things matter, but I’m skeptical about whether or not this will have any effect on their views.

  234. @Vidikron: “real world” is not intended to equate to “whole world.” They are entirely different things. In this case, “real world” is being used to denote the contract between playing a video and living life. It’s not a terrifically difficult thing to understand, though I can see how it might gum some folks up. Semantics, and all.

  235. Vidikron at 5.16: “Beyond that though, the article talks constantly about the “real world”, but I’m pretty sure the “real world” extends beyond parts of NA and parts of Europe. The article is a gross over generalization.”

    From the first paragraph of the original post: “Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World.”

    I think this addresses your objection.

  236. Nope, I did. I saw the brief nod to other factors that he trivializes as “stats”, but that doesn’t make the title true, nor does it make any of this a worldwide truth.

    You obviously missed that part where he explicitly says this is about the Western world.

    Not sure how useful it is to have a discussion with someone who’s so poor at reading other people’s arguments.

  237. @ancorder & Barbara

    The irony is that most MMOs lack any sort of “difficulty setting” at all, and strive to provide balances between the various “classes” (in our case, the SWM is an example of such) which allow them all to exist on a roughly equal playing field.

    The metaphor just made me chuckle because of that, and it has nothing to do with the larger arguments at play, just a playful observation.

  238. @autonomousdesire: Criticism of your comments is a “personal attack”? No, see, a personal attack – I’m sure you would prefer the term argumentum ad hominem – is an attempt to undermine the attack by insulting the person. “Your argument is nonsense because it uses big words to say veyr little” is not a personal attack. “Your argument is nonsense because your face is stupid” is a personal attack. So is “sorry my register is a bit too high for you”, but we both knew that.

    @Wesley: Because the goal wasn’t to say “these are the most important things in the world that affect your life”. The goal was to try and explain privilege in a way that didn’t use the term “privilege”, because that gets people upset and leads to pointless fights about semantics: okay, video gamer dude, think of being a straight white guy as playing a game on the Easy setting. It doesn’t mean that the game is easy; it doesn’t mean that you will totally own your Difficult-Setting-Playing friend who bought all the DLC and has all the epic gear and rolled a class that desperately needs to be nerfed. It does mean that the one trap room will only spawn two mooks for you instead of ten, that the AOE won’t do friendly-fire damage and that you start off with higher faction with the Queen of the Ants. (I’m stretching the metaphor here, but I think you see what I mean.)

    Absolutely, you could use the same metaphor to say that socioeconomic class, or genetic disorders, should be under the ‘difficulty setting’. That doesn’t mean the metaphor is bad, only that you would construct it differently or more inclusively.

  239. @Wesley Kerfoot:

    Sorry for starting off on “full snark ahead” as *my* default setting, by the way. Basically, I think that what you said (” a lot of people are being discriminated against for things which they had no part in deciding on”) is *exactly* the point Scalzi was making, and his three primary starting conditions were chosen as such because a) they’re difficult-to-impossible for most people to change, and b) they’re three of the main criteria that are used for discrimination purposes, now and in the past.

    If that seems self-evident to you, then you’re already head and shoulders above some of the other commenters — and quite a few people that I know in real life, as well. Because a lot of people really, truly *don’t* believe that having a switch flipped in any of these categories makes a person’s life harder, and in fact will vocally shout down anyone’s attempt to point out that things are different when you don’t have the gender switch flipped from “male” to “female” or the race switch from “white” to “black”. And that is what this metaphor is: a handy shorthand for use in those sorts of arguments. Or it is attempting to do so, anyway.

  240. @ghost4

    You make some good points at first, and then you ruin them by bringing your subjective and nasty political bias into the picture. No thank you. By most concepts I’m “liberal” and rather strongly opposed to this sort of emotional blackmail as presented in the article.

  241. @ mythago

    I’m still waiting for any substantive response to any actual points I made. You’re just wanting to mince words and tell me I’m wrong without having to actually prove anything. I’m really uncertain what about my comments you even disagree with. The only common denominator seems to be the fact that I’m the one making them..?

  242. @Layla, I can understand you getting annoyed by some of the people with objections to the article though, case in point: ghost4 at 5:31

  243. Since it seems like most of your commenters are men, I thought you’d like to get a woman’s perspective. I also disagree with you, but seeing as nearly all of my points have been stated numerous times by other people, I thought I’d share why I find this idea of “men’s lives are easy, women’s lives are hard” idea extremely frustrating.

    1) It basically gives women this huge sense of entitlement from day one. I spend most of my time with guys. I can’t stand being around other women. Number one reason why? They are so. Freaking. Whiny. And I don’t think that has anything to do with biology. I think the vast majority of it is because society tells them they’re allowed to be whiny. As a matter of fact, society tells them they SHOULD be whiny. They’re women–their lives are going to be significantly more difficult than men’s, and they should be given special treatment. They spend their whole lives having society tell them they’re special simply because they’re women. They don’t deserve to be treated well because they’re smart or polite or even just because they’re pretty–they’re women, and that means you should treat them like higher beings. And a lot of women take this to heart.

    2) In trying to be nice to treat women as human beings, men are inadvertently doing the opposite. This is my absolute biggest issue with this argument. I get it; you’re trying to be nice to chicks. Throughout history, men have consistently treated women like garbage-now it’s time to treat women like human beings and not second-class citizens. Unfortunately, most men–and society–take this way too far. Instead of treating women like equals, they treat them even better. What men don’t realize is that this generally leads to them actually treating women like children. Oh, you went to college? That’s so amazing! Here’s a cookie! You’ve got a job as a boss and not a secretary? That’s incredible! Have another cookie! You want pee-pee on the potty? What a good girl! Have a cookie!

    It’s ludicrous. I don’t need to be told how awesome it is that I went to college. It’s common sense. You want a good job, you go to college. I don’t need a damn cookie because I’ve got some freaking common sense, just like I don’t need a damn cookie for using the toilet. I’m not a child, and it’s infuriating when I’m treated like one.

    You’ll probably find that most women–unlike myself–would agree with you that our lives are more difficult. However, you’ll also find that most women are tired of men constantly pointing it out. We don’t want you to hate yourselves just because you’re men, and we certainly don’t want you giving us special treatment just because we’re women. We want to be treated like fellow humans.

  244. Simon: On your second question yes, you do seem to be on track.

    On the first, wealth is relevant in that it can change your personal experience but shouldn’t be part of the “difficulty factor”. I.E. you may be able to acquire wealth at any level of difficulty of the game, but the fact that you have money doesn’t change the setting of the game.

    For example, lets say in the game you had to participate in some sort of vehicular race. In easy mode, it would just be a straight shot from point A to Point B. In hard mode, you would have turns and hills and obstacles to dodge in order to get from point A to point B. The course might also take the roundabout way to get to point B, making the distance required to travel longer. Money accumulated in the game doesn’t change the course that you as a player are required to take. Now, money may make it easier to buy a faster vehicle that can handle the turns. But the beat up old vehicle at the simple level might still reach point B first.

  245. I have to say I agreed and liked it. I am a white male.

    I have been fortuate to have a successful career in the military. I have worked to get where I am but also know that some of my success has been because it is assumed that I, a white male, must be correct.

    There are a few things I try to do to attempt to level the future playing field. I say hello sir/ma’am to everyone no matter who they are. I have promoted/rewarded people based sololy on their work. There is more I need to do and will continue to do it in the future.

  246. Mythago: That doesn’t mean the metaphor is bad, only that you would construct it differently or more inclusively.

    Yeah. That’s what I was just agonizing over four paragraphs trying to say.

    There are plenty more things in the immutable or nearly so bucket we could add to race, gender and orientation. It’s even likely that some SWMs have enough disadvantages in those extra areas to come close to wiping out the advantages they have. I’d be hard-pressed to say that an individual SWM who grew up poor, isn’t the dominant religion and has a chronic illness is most definitely in deeper shit than a non-SWM without those limitations. Heck, I’ve known men like this, and I have plenty of sympathy for them.

    But the chances of a given SWM having so many other immutable disadvantages that they completely override the advantages he has by being S, W and M are pretty darn low. Therefore, it’s pointless to base public policy on those rare cases, and instead work to improve conditions for everyone who has those other limitations–not just SWMs. The ADA, for instance, benefits SWMs just as much as non-SWMs. And unemployment insurance doesn’t care who you sleep with. And it’s just as illegal to religiously discriminate against a white Pagan guy as a black Muslim woman.

    That non-SWMs are getting extra help in areas unrelated to these things doesn’t mean that those particular setbacks are being ignored for the SWMs who suffer from them. A program to help young black girls finish their education isn’t taking anything away from a program to help people of any race or gender easily find interpreters if they have a hearing impairment.

  247. Sigh… I see that there are people here who STILL think that the Scrotum of Privilege is an item handed out to everyone when they started the game. No, Scrotum of Privilege is a unique item that is handed out to only a few. If you have Scrotum of Privilege and do not understand the buffs that are handed to you upon receipt, please come see me… I can point them out, and I promise that I will not use John’s MLOC to do so. I’ll use DA’s Open Your Bleeping Eyes (instant) to show it to you.

  248. @Liberal Dan

    I’m behind you, but when you state that:
    “On the first, wealth is relevant in that it can change your personal experience but shouldn’t be part of the “difficulty factor”. I.E. you may be able to acquire wealth at any level of difficulty of the game, but the fact that you have money doesn’t change the setting of the game.”

    You neglect to factor in the fact that the vast majority of wealth is acquired/earned through familial affiliation. Class mobility, at least in the USA, is immensely limited and individuals generally tend to stay around the same social class that their parents were members of. If one is born into wealth, they’ll have wealth; in the United States having wealth trumps everything else. When you get beyond and into the middle-class, issues of race, gender, orientation and identity tend to become more prevalent because we’ve already cut the largest factor out of the equation. This is part of why I find arguments like the article to be rage-driven and unreliable.

  249. Mythago: “Your argument is nonsense because it uses big words to say veyr little” is not a personal attack. “Your argument is nonsense because your face is stupid” is a personal attack.

    See also: slagging off what you do isn’t slagging off who you are. (A fact that gets me in SO much trouble with essentialists who believe people in marginalized groups should be protected from criticism of shitty behavior. Sigh ….)

  250. Original Post:
    A study has shown that the tallest ethnic group is the Dutch.
    Comments
    What about Yao Ming, he’s REALLY tall, and he’s Chinese!
    I’m Dutch, and I’m only 5 foot 1, you’re an idiot.
    So what you’re saying is everyone who’s Dutch is taller than everyone else?
    I knew a tall Dutch guy who walked areound on he’s knees his whole life and nobody EVER thanked him for it.
    Oh, so you’re saying all Dutch people are inferior to people of the same height? you heightist bastard!

    Root Cause: Failure to understand the concept of Statistics

  251. ghost: Wow. Privilege doesn’t imply that the person is racist, misogynistic, or homophobic. Where did you come up with such a flawed definition?

  252. I finally thought of a way to talk to some of the people who cannot seem to get this concept… easy game settings give you loaded dice, folks. You can still get a crap roll with loaded dice.

    It’s only mixing metaphors if we’re not in the world of tabletop gaming. :)

  253. autonomousdesire: I’m not certain I follow? could you extrapolate?

    Your state of being is immutable and therefore shouldn’t be up for criticism.

    Your actions are under your control, and therefore are fair game.

    And before anyone goes there:

    WRT SWM-ness being a state of being and therefore criticism free–of course. No one (sane) is criticizing SWMs for being SWMs. We are criticizing those whose ACTIONS take advantage of the benefits those three little words bring them in a way that hurts others without those benefits.

    Or: We are not criticizing the rich for being rich. We are criticizing rich people who use their wealth to keep the working class from getting ahead.

    State of being != actions. Don’t take criticism of the latter as an attack on the former.

  254. @Wesley Kerfoot:

    Yeah, and I didn’t mean to come in using a bazooka where a flyswatter would do. :D I think your comment was the one that made me react strongly because I’ve seen that argument brought up and refuted so many times in this and the other thread (Commenter #1: “But wealthy black women have it easier than poor, disabled white men!” Commenter #2: “No one is saying that’s not true; the metaphor only applies when you compare like to like.”). And yet people keep making it. Like, say, autonomousdesire responding to my explanation with the same damn argument. I guess I could explain AGAIN, in response to autonomousdesire’s “a wealthy female minority will have an “easier difficulty” than a dirt poor white man” that it’s an apples to apples comparison, not apples to oranges, but I’m not sure if there is really a point.

    On the other hand, this is not to say that the metaphor is perfect as-is. Perhaps it needs to be refined a bit. Maybe it would be more applicable if it didn’t use stats at all and everything was assigned at the start (although then it’s more abstract and less like real life — but maybe abstract is better than concrete in this instance). Maybe wealth and disability should be immutable starting conditions. I dunno. I think it’s a pretty good metaphor, though, if you just think of it as a switch-flipping kind of thing: if you keep all other things the same and change one variable (straight to gay, say), you add an extra package of difficulties that the other variable doesn’t carry with it. That’s quite a useful metaphor for conveying the difference to people who truly (and often through no fault of their own!) don’t understand that things *are* harder in certain ways for people who have one or more of their starting switches set differently.

  255. I spend most of my time with guys. I can’t stand being around other women. Number one reason why? They are so. Freaking. Whiny.

    Whoa. Irony overload. Also, self-contradiction overload. If other women are so execrable that you can’t stand them (for a multitude of reasons, apparently, not merely whininess), then why would you insist that men should treat women like equals? They’re clearly not, right, they do all this annoying shit even you, a woman can’t stand? Or was your underlying point really that if women want to be treated as equals they should cut that shit out and then mistreatment will fall away naturally?

    @autonomousdesire: but that’s just it; you really haven’t made any points to agree with or refute. (Other than the entirely correct observation that most MMOs don’t actually have a difficulty setting; I suspect that Scalzi was trying to cast around for some term narrower than “video games” for the category of games that have such a setting.) How does Scalzi’s post use both proof and non-proof incorrectly to try and support its central thesis? It’s as meaningless as praising his comments with “Discussions of this type are clearly correct in that they incorporate and transform both traditional discourse, re-tooling oppressive metaphors into concepts which illuminate the central argument” – well, okay, that’s a recognizable bunch of words strung together into a sentence that kinda says something, but it does nothing to actually show ‘Scalzi is correct’ or ‘here is why his argument is valid’. It’s a handwavy, squishy bunch of pronouncements that are meant to dazzle by sounding erudite rather than by actually saying anything.

  256. autonomousdesire: I was trying to keep it simple for someone who had limited understanding of what the game terms meant.

    Yes, there are problems in our society of upward mobility. Yes, there is major wealth disparity that is growing year by year. And perhaps the lowest difficulty setting analogy doesn’t include all that could be included. But that is why it is an analogy.

  257. @ Layla

    I think you’re missing my point, and that’s fine. I’ll re-quote from my response to Liberal Dan:
    “You neglect to factor in the fact that the vast majority of wealth is acquired/earned through familial affiliation. Class mobility, at least in the USA, is immensely limited and individuals generally tend to stay around the same social class that their parents were members of. If one is born into wealth, they’ll have wealth; in the United States having wealth trumps everything else. When you get beyond and into the middle-class, issues of race, gender, orientation and identity tend to become more prevalent because we’ve already cut the largest factor out of the equation. This is part of why I find arguments like the article to be rage-driven and unreliable.”

  258. this entire metaphor, argument, and line of reasoning is totally dependent on the assumption that every person has equal strengths and weaknesses physically and mentally the day they are born and that every discernible group of people you care to name (whether by race, sex, location, or orientation) has the same mean and standard deviation on the distribution of ability in every area. the entire field of genetics and much of biology is tossed out the window because they are clearly tools of the white patriarchy.

    that such a blindingly ignorant assumption goes unchallenged and unsupported proves to any independently thinking person that people who advance arguments like the author are totally led by ideology without any interest in objective truth.

    to put it another way – is being black the lowest difficulty setting for basketball or sprinting? is there black privilege that leads them to excel in these areas? is being asian the lowest difficulty setting for math and science? is there asian privilege leading them to excel?

    the narrative falls apart under any logical investigation, and deep down, you know it.

  259. Oh heck, I’ll risk the Mallet with a double post, maybe somebody’ll cross-post.

    I’m not following all the arguments that the original post did not take wealth into account, when it explicitly did so (see the point about wealth and ‘dump stats’), It’s also a little head-scratching, given the author of the piece, unless one is making the argument that Scalzi has forgotten all about what it’s like to be poor.

  260. Mr. Scalzi,

    I am neither straight, nor white, nor male. Please send me half your money. That ought to go some way toward “equalizing” matters.

    I’m really only half kidding. Because if you aren’t willing to put your money where your mouth is, then I’m not sure I see the point of having written the piece in the first place. You’re too smart to have just been seeking pats on the back for making what is, after all, a fairly obvious observation (though Lord knows you’ve gotten plenty of those anyway).

    Life is absolutely not fair, in the ways you pointed out and in many other ways. But some of us are, in fact, capable of overcoming this, despite the inherent racial and sexual handicaps you ascribe to us.

    I think you may be trying to get ahead of a trend; you’re guessing that one day, we poor dusky souls will insist on *taking* our fair share, and you hope to be able to point to your essay as evidence that you were “one of the good ones” all along, and thus be spared. I don’t know if it will work, but it’s a smart hedging of your bets.

    Life is not fair, but why would you want it to be? You live in the greatest country in the world, make a good living, are famous in your field with a cadre of fans, have a loving wife and an apparently happy and healthy child, and (as far as a nonwhite, nonstraight person can tell), aren’t bad-looking.

    You better *pray* life doesn’t start becoming fair.

  261. I would humbly suggest that dismissing wealth as you do speaks to your own privilege. When you don’t have a house and a nice car, it really does matter a lot more than the colour of your skin (which of course does also matter).

    More importantly, banging the privilege gavel only serves to divide. The people who’ll listen don’t need to be told and those that do aren’t going to listen.

  262. @Tess

    actually if you are playing Craps, your metaphor to John’s metaphor works pretty well. Believe me, you can take the easy way and bet “Don’t pass” (7/11 comes up first pass you lose. otherwise 7 has the better chance of beating the point [4,5,6,8,9,10] in any combination) even though “Don’t Pass” can still lose; still there is a reason casinos pay worse odds on Don’t Pass as compared to Pass… the actuall odds of the roll are in DP’s favor.

  263. @ mythago

    There we go. Thanks (really!)

    I wasn’t responding directly to the article as much as to the same arguments we always see (on both sides). The most lucid example is how the use of “privilege” within this discourse is self-affirming: that both an agreement and a disagreement, within the context of the POV of support for this agenda, are interpreted as an affirmation of the position. One either agrees that privilege as described exists in entirety, or that their own privilege prevents them from understanding the fact that they have privilege. This is a logical fallacy.

    It doesn’t get much clearer than that. And in fact, I think you’d find that I agree with more of this than I let on (and I understand that). I’ve been through so many of these discussions that I get sick of the egocentric and quite tiresome requirement to be 100% correct. There is too often no middle ground, and the entirety of the conversation reverts to a stalemate of dogma vs. dogma which creates this very sort of zero-sum viewpoint that we see here.

    This is way more complex than being able to paint a wide-swath of good vs. evil, and I’m sick of it being taken seriously as such. This issue is far more complex than presented and tends to provoke such a reaction because everyone involved employs charged and orthodox rhetoric to make their point where we’d get a lot more done if we could just treat each other all as human beings who are imperfect.

    Regardless, we’re in the realm of theory and we can’t really get out. That’s why experience isn’t any indication of empirical evidence.

  264. @autonomousdesire:

    All right. The metaphor actually does account for wealth, but as a variable stat and not a fixed starting condition. So, add a fourth starting condition: wealth. (One nice thing about Scalzi’s metaphor is that it’s infinitely expandable in this way.) The easiest starting condition is “wealthy straight white male”. Now, is it easier or harder to be a wealthy, gay white male? It’s still pretty damn easy on both counts (compared to most people), but all the money in the world can’t buy you the right to marry your partner of choice or avoid having slurs yelled at you when you walk hand-in-hand with him on the street. Ergo, being straight is easier (in some ways) than being gay. Not that all straight people have it easy. Just that they don’t have that extra level of difficulty to deal with in the course of their lives.

  265. Kathy: Public services that help ensure that effort, and not immutable states of being, will help a person get ahead in life are not the same thing as handouts that seek to artificially balance economic and political power.

    In a true meritocracy, the only thing that would make a difference between someone who’s financially independent at 40 and someone who’s wondering when they’re going to eat next would be the amount of individual effort each person put in to life. But that’s not reality. Reality is that some people start with major limitations that ensure that no matter how hard they work, they’re always going to be struggling, unless fate smiles on them somehow.

    I’m sure that the fact that you, as a non-SWM, have succeeded in life is due in great part to effort you put in. But that’s not the only thing you’ve benefitted from. On the contrary: you’ve also benefitted from the incredibly hard work of your forebears that put you in a position where you ever COULD work hard to succeed. Every woman who doesn’t get fired for getting pregnant owes a significant debt to the women who came–and suffered–before her to earn her that right. You may have genuinely hit a triple, but the reason you’re even able to play the game is because others fought to make that happen. Don’t assume that your own success means that there isn’t still work to be done to help ensure that everyone else can play the game, too.

    Also: I wonder if you’re not aware of the serious limitations you still face. It can be hard–and scary–to admit that we’re not as in control of our own destinies as we like to think we are. It’s especially hard for those of us who do know, in the backs of our minds, that we’re one bad election away from losing things like reproductive rights, or having sodomy laws reinstated. Can you truly say that you, as a queer woman of color, can move anywhere in the country you want to, and be assured that you’ll find good housing and a job? Yeah … no.

  266. The entire point of the metaphor was to get away from the term “privilege” and all of its baggage (deserved and otherwise); that said, your logical fallacy is itself fallacious. One can, for example, believe that one’s own privilege makes it difficult to recognize that such privilege exists, but not impossible. One may also believe that privilege is not absolute, or that it is mitigated by other factors, or that it is correlated with other factors rather than being wholly independent of them.

    In any case, what your point seems to be is that other discussions about the concept of privilege are often stupid, therefore it is impossible to have a meaningful discussion about privilege, ergo, Scalzi’s post must be wrong and stupid. That’s…not really a very good point.

    @Michael: if those who need to be told won’t listen, then it’s essentially harmless, isn’t it? Except, of course, for the many people who have posted that they do listen.

  267. @Layla

    “but all the money in the world can’t buy you the right to marry your partner of choice or avoid having slurs yelled at you when you walk hand-in-hand with him on the street”

    It can buy you the ability to move to a state where you can legally marry. It can buy you a plot of land in a gated community.

    So, yes. Yes, it can buy such.

  268. autonomousdesire: One either agrees that privilege as described exists in entirety, or that their own privilege prevents them from understanding the fact that they have privilege. This is a logical fallacy.

    Nope. A beautiful woman doesn’t have to know she’s beautiful in order to benefit from that fact.

    Hell, Mitt Romney is apparently completely clueless about exactly how rich he really is in comparison to the vast majority of the country, and yet he still manages to use that wealth to his advantage (and the disadvantage of millions of other people.)

  269. @mythago

    “In any case, what your point seems to be is that other discussions about the concept of privilege are often stupid, therefore it is impossible to have a meaningful discussion about privilege, ergo, Scalzi’s post must be wrong and stupid. That’s…not really a very good point.”

    Actually, this discussion is rather more stupid than most on this topic I’ve been involved in.

  270. Also: Being at the extreme ends of wealth and health can affect the relative chances of life success for people outside of the dis/advantages granted by their race, gender and orientation.

    But as those are are the ends of the bell curve, they’re useless as a basis for setting public policy.

    Again: you can’t govern based on exceptions.

  271. @autonomousdesire, nobody has said that certain starting conditions can offset the other bad starting conditions, so that isn’t a valid argument. However, you can object to the separation of “difficulty setting conditions” (gender, sexual orientation, and race) and stats with the argument that everything that happens is deterministic. For this see what Sam Harris has said on the topic of free will, namely that it doesn’t exist. http://youtu.be/pCofmZlC72g

  272. @autonomousdesire:

    But if you’re straight, you don’t *have* to move: you can stay right where you are, because, say, your family is there, or you prefer the climate. If you’re straight, you don’t *need* the gated community (not for that reason anyway). You might have the money to do these things, which, yes, makes it less of a burden on you than on a poor person (and no one was disputing this). But it is STILL an extra level of hoop-jumping that a straight person does not have to deal with. Ergo, being straight is still the easier setting.

    Refused. Next argument please.

  273. autonomousdesire, Wesley Kerfoot, et.al.
    If the analogy described every attribute of the real system, we wouldn’t need the analogy. If you want to insist on including wealth in the model, riddle me this: Aren’t SWMs statistically more likely to be born into wealth? Don’t SWMs have a statistically easier time acquiring wealth? Will wealth equalize a woman’s statistical chance of being raped with that of a SWM?

    Kathy:
    Are you for real with that shit?

    Michael Kirkland has no idea who’s blog this is.

    These last two threads are making me more than a little sad. Much, much more.

  274. I have been out for a few hours because of a business meeting and haven’t looked at this thread yet. Do I need to get to Malleting?

  275. There are a bunch of swastikas upthread you probably want to take care of. But in general it’s more civil than the other day.

  276. Meant to type “can’t” in my previous post…

    @Doc RocketScience
    I agree with you that certain starting conditions affect other starting conditions. I would never say that everything exists in a vacuum like that.

  277. Andrew C FTW! Sir, your Internet will be delivered shortly.

    A Mediated Life, I hope you never relurk.

    But geez, so many clueless people here. Reading comprehension skills below average, every single one of ’em.

    John, yes please. There’s a comment with an n-word up there. Blessèd Mallet, swing for us! (Congregation: So say we all!)

  278. Okay, everyone who has missed the whole “stats vs difficulty settings” thing. Many of you didn’t read the piece or failed to comprehend it: if you’re going on about how lots of other things matter, you’re missing the point; there are other things in there. Tons of them. Anything you can think of, really, could be a stat/attribute in the game.

    Difficulty: a combination of the Big Three characteristics that are really, really vitally important in American society. These are ascribed (people decide what race to consider you, even if you disagree) and inherent (generally not a matter of choice). They’re not immutable, but they’re hard to change.

    Stats: everything else. Wealth/class/health/ability/skills/knowledge/social capital/talent. We could make a list if we wanted to. We could divide, as White Wolf does, into physical abilities, skills, talents, and knowledge. Or we could just make a great big long list. We could have six or seven main attributes (physical/mental/social traits) and a bunch of possible skills, D&D style. Doesn’t matter much as far as the metaphor is concerned. The point is, when your character is generated, you have initial starting values that you don’t control. Maybe you’re born with a physical disability and a really quick mind; maybe you’re naturally sociable and tough but not overly bright. Whatever it is, these things can change, and part of how you navigate life is by changing them.

    It makes sense to me.

  279. Shanook, I’m fairly certain that your second point does not, in fact, refute the central thesis of Mr. Scalzi’s post. The shock and awe/cookie delivery directed at successful women is the result of lowered expectations, not the opposite of it. That’s not treating women like human beings, it’s continuing to believe that women are not, as a group, as capable of certain achievements as men. You are right to be frustrated at the cookies handed out on the basis of being female-while-achieving.

    Now, recognizing that something must have been harder to achieve because of one’s difficulty setting is not the same thing. For example, “Hey, former Justice O’Connor, it is amazing that you became a Supreme Court Justice after beginning your career at a time when the concept of women in the law was so limited that your first job offer after graduating from law school was as a secretary. You must have had to work even harder than that Rehnquist guy you dated for a hot second.”

    Not at all the same thing as being bowled over by female lawyers and future justices graduating from law school currently. Anyone who wants to hand those people a special cookie (and would keep it from their non-female classmates) is probably laboring under some pretty seriously reduced expectations for women. I would hope they aren’t acting on those reduced expectations in a way that affects the other women in their life.

  280. My favorite dumb-as-a-box-of-wood comment in this thread: “way to focus on gaming news by writing about something completely irrelevant to the subject.”

    Because as we all know, Whatever is a gaming news site. That bit might make sense over at Kockadoodle Doo (or whatever that site is called), but it’s pretty funny here.

  281. Xopher: A Mediated Life, I hope you never relurk.

    Aw, that’s very kind of you. Alas, I think I’ve used up my Righteously Indignant Typing quota for the week, and should probably bow out for now.

    Best of luck to our lovely host and those who follow in tidying up. :)

  282. Mal–let! Mal–let! Mal–let! Mal–let! Mal–let! “even if i get it.. the snarcasm involved in a JS malleting is worth the price of admission! Especially the swastikas above, since the weren’t meant in the original “wheel of life” mode that Swastikas originally occupied. As regards other, myself included.. your discretion.. which is usually pretty damn good. :D

  283. @Tess, my argument is basically that there is no real difference between stats and difficulty settings and my premise is that free will doesn’t exist, so everything is in effect a starting condition. See Sam Harris’ lecture on this topic: http://youtu.be/pCofmZlC72g

    I more or less agree with his thesis.

  284. Wesely:
    And as has been pointed out to you – repeatedly, I might add – neither did John. He didn’t weight it as high as you would have. He made that choice because his own personal experience informs him that wealth is an attribute (a stat, if you will) that can be changed far more easily than race, gender, or orientation. Do you dispute this? If so, based on what? (And try to remember that the 99% do not share a common experience wrt wealth. For instance, I avail myself to public assistance for my children’s health insurance, but as a public school teacher, I wouldn’t dare call myself poor.) If not, then why does this invalidate the entire analogy?

    xopher:
    I think the doofus read the Kotaku repost, lost track of what site he was on.

  285. @Wesley, that’s fine that you think that. I don’t, but I don’t actually feel like arguing about it. I study sociology; I highly doubt we’d be able to find a point of agreement.

    @Everyone:

    WTF is it with people who think an appropriate response to “I’m gay and can’t get married” is “but you can move somewhere you can”? Seriously? How the hell is that a solution? And it’s an argument FOR Scalzi’s premise, since straight people don’t generally have to freaking move to have their relationships legally recognized.

    I said it in the original thread and Layla said it in this one… apparently this whole “civil rights don’t matter” argument is a popular one. Just move!

  286. @Tess, and it’s fine if you disagree with me. I don’t expect anyone to agree with the idea, and I expect lots of objections to it, but if you listen to what he has to say, and then think about it, then (at least on a macroscopic scale) it’s hard to make a case for any free will.

  287. On the Wealth thing…

    Being wealthy gets you out of a lot of problems. However, rich black guy in good car in many areas of the country gets pulled over for Driving While Black. A lot. Rich black professor gets arrested for “breaking in” to his own house a lot more often than rich white professor.

    Women don’t have that particular problem, but there are analogies. Same with non-straight, etc.

    It’s nontrivially complicated to address the total problem. Scalzi’s writeup is a simplification. But it’s not inaccurate.

  288. Wow. You just wiped out Mr. D Johnson. Well done sir. Back to your hobnobbing. You have real people to hang out with.

  289. He did give us one thing though. My brother and I like to playfully insult each other all the time. I will likely call him Dingleberry Johnson for the next few days

  290. @ A Meditated Life – “You may have genuinely hit a triple, but the reason you’re even able to play the game is because others fought to make that happen. Don’t assume that your own success means that there isn’t still work to be done to help ensure that everyone else can play the game, too.”

    Thank you for highlighting that. It’s a point that bears repeating, as many times as is necessary, for those of us who don’t have privilege but are tempted to ignore all the work that went into leveling the field (much less getting us onto the field at all) before we even got to play. I’m proud of the success I’ve had in my life – college degree, going to grad school, employed in a good job in my chosen field, living in an awesome neighborhood in a fantastic city – but the pride I have in the efforts I’ve made doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge that my chances of getting to where I am now would likely be much less if it hadn’t been for the people who had fought for my right to even have a job (much less a college education), the right to control my fertility, the right to marry my husband despite him being white and me being decidedly not and so on.

  291. Not to denigrate your comment, George Herbert, just to edit it a little: black women do indeed suffer Driving While Black, x”breaking into” their own homes, and have even been Trayvon Martinned — Google Latasha Harlins, or Rekia Boyd.

  292. Actually, Ron, he left one of Dingle’s posts (the one with a picture of a known racist and anti-Semite). It’s possible this was an oversight; if not, it shows how bad the other ones were. And it was ghost4 who used the N word.

  293. According to Wikipedia, John Scalzi lives in Bradford, Ohio, which is 98.82% White.

    Step up your liberal status seeking game brah. Get like me and move to Detroit so you can really realtalk about how easy swm’s have it.

  294. Yeah Xopher. I actually had to get up from my computer to keep from responding to ghost4 if I remember correctly.

  295. I assume ghost4 is within the Mallet’s sights because wow. Just… wow.

  296. the author has convinced me here. i am interested what his plan to help equalize these difficulties are. how does he personally plan to sacrifice to make up for his easy difficulty setting? i suggest moving to detroit, atlanta, baltimore, camden, newark, or downtown DC, sending his children to public school there, giving his house to a homosexual non-asian minority female, and giving his job to an objectively less qualified minority.

    it’s time for us to quit suggesting other people bear the brunt of the necessary measures that are needed to overcome the disparities we see. only by showing our dedication in this way can we prove we are not hypocrites.

  297. Mac – Ancedotal and statistical evidence is that black women have some significant disadvantage, but statistically black men are the ones who are clearly in the worst trouble from institutionalized distrust (and in seriously institutionally racist areas, hispanic men, etc).

    Black woman crime victimization rates are horrific in a lot of areas, and society as a whole has done them no favors.

    I neither know how to do a fair “Who’s most fucked by the system and circumstances?” cross-comparison, nor do I think that efforts to do so with lots of detail and arguing ultimately help anyone escape from it, as opposed to ending up setting disadvantaged groups against each other in a rhetorical cage fight from which no winners emerge. There are serious problems of different nature for the various groups. Reasonable people should acknowledge and work to combat all of those problems.

  298. Well, Doc, it has an upside (assuming you mean the use of the N word). It’s that rarity: a single word whose mere usage in a single post allows the quite legitimate utter dismissal of any and all comments from the same source.

    …with the possible exception of a post with a true and sincere apology for having used the word, of course. Might be worth looking at that. But I’d be amazed to see such a thing from ghost4, assuming he’s allowed to continue commenting here. But I see no reason to read any of his comments ever again.

  299. I think a lot of people forget that sometimes people have legitimate reasons to get upset about this stuff — even if it isn’t entirely rational of them.

    Imagine you’re a 20something heterosexual, single, white male who is struggling to make ends meet. You have a crappy job and can’t quite get what you want out of life. Then you read a post by some guy who says you’re playing on a easiest difficulty.

    The unintentional message that man is receiving is that they have it pretty fucking easy and they’re still failing. You may not meant to have said that, but when you tell people they’re on the lowest difficulty and they’re struggling, it hurts.

  300. ghost4’s mistake was trying to point out the hypocrisy of Mr. Scalzi. A common mistake because to recognize one’s own hypocrisy, one must possess a modicum of self-awareness and the barest abilities of introspection.

    To paraphrase an Unamused gentleman

    Leftists who wish to avoid terminal brain-breakage are left with four basic responses to information and arguments that don’t mesh with their pre-approved beliefs:

    1) get really angry,
    2) be really sarcastic,
    3) more-or-less literally attack your opponents, and
    4) try to preempt them by getting to the debate first and letting everyone know they can just go home because your opponents are big ol’ racists so there’s no need to listen to anything they have to say.

    And all of them are on display in this comment thread.

  301. I’m going to address the ‘wealth is more important’ argument that so very many are putting forward.

    A Rich Straight Black Man is statistically more likely to be pulled over by police while driving an expensive car through a predominately white neighborhood than A Rich Straight White Man will be pulled over for driving the same car through a black neighborhood. This is an Apples to Apples statement.

    A Rich Straight Black Man has an easier time of purchasing those things that make life easier and in providing for his family than a Poor Straight White Man. This is an Apples to Oranges statement. It disregards all difficulties except material ones. It ignores the way a minority is looked at with suspicion, distrust, and on occasion hatred. It ignores that study after study shows that Straight White Men make more money for the same job than any other combination. It ignores the fact that over 30 states have passed laws forbidding non-straight couples from marrying.

    Being rich does not make one immune to racism. Being rich does not make one immune to sexism. Being rich does not make one immune to harassment and judgement due to sexual orientation. The only things it provides, on it’s own, is access to more resources and tools to make life a little more comfortable and more opportunity to generate more of itself. It does little for the attitudes faced by non-SWM and the difficulties that are born from those attitudes.

  302. cant decide if doc rocketscience’s post was:
    2) be really sarcastic,

    or

    3) more-or-less literally attack your opponents

    im going to go with both. by the way, what have you personally done to equalize your easy difficulty? it’s far too easy to preen and posture and expect others to fit the bill so you can show how tolerant and enlightened you are, so what have you done to show your commitment?

  303. It appears that the astroturf sockpuppets had staged a resurgency, and are preparing to fade back into the woodwork now that the righteous MoLC has made the scene. I can count at least half a dozen one-offs who have seagulled (flitted in to deposit … stuff… then departed, never to be seen again.)

  304. “anyone who disagrees with me hasn’t read the post or is astroturfing!”

    who could argue with that logic?

  305. “De-Nazi’d the thread.”

    Holy shit. Was not expecting that when I decided to wade through the comments from today. I’m happy and sad I missed that.

  306. Oh, ghost4. How’s only reading one set of research data working out for you? I can find research that says the exact opposite of everything you are positing, but that’s neither here nor there. You seem to firmly believe it, so I won’t disavow you. Wouldn’t want to start a more detailed Internet Argument ™.

    As for my usage of anecdotal quotations a LONG time ago, as that was not at all my point but somehow became the focus of that post, I’m just going to let it go. No one’s going back to that.

    My real post? Just to add this. Only one post that I saw (I may have missed some) seems to understand Affirmative Action. Executive Order 10925 by Kennedy stated that hiring must be done without regard to race religion or national origin. Johnson came out with Executive Order 11246 to firm up non-discriminatory practices in hiring. Everything else is attempted implementation of affirmative action, not the idea of AA itself. The goal of AA is to make hiring policies non-discriminatory, not add another layer of restrictions on how many of what kind of people can hold certain positions.

    I’m one of those people who is awful at arguing on the Internet, so hopefully I can just bow out again. *shrug*

  307. There we go. Vaporized a couple of people for being racist fuckheads. Since I was away for so long, it was easier than standard malleting.

    I’m all caught up now.

  308. @autonomousdesire: You’re still not making any points, but you’re not using the OED as a human shield to disguise that. I guess that’s an improvement.

    @inertpenguin: You’re half right. Because your struggling guy is choosing to receive that message as “you have it easy”, rather than “you know how things are for you? they are worse for a lot of people for totally unfair reasons”.

    As long as we’re talking about ‘hurt’, by the way, we had people on the previous thread screaming at rape victims that women get to choose whenever they have sex and get whatever they like by flashing a little cleavage.

  309. @mythago

    It isn’t harmless, because it creates the false dichotomy that for people of colour/gays/women to be lifted up straight white men must be pushed down. That quite effectively distracts poor white men from working with people of colour/women/whatever to get a fair share for everyone. It’s hardly the first time in American history this has happened, but Howard Zinn can explain it far better than I can.

    @Doc RocketScience

    I do know who’s blog this is, and that Scalzi has written about being poor. That he’s not now may give him a distorted perspective on social mobility. Some people do escape poverty, but some people win the lottery, too.

  310. @MIchael: how does it create this false dichotomy? (Which is indeed a false dichotomy.) Your post suggests that people won’t be affected by it at all, either because they agree or they ignore it. I’m not sure how that ends up creating anything. Are poor white men really so easily enraged that we mustn’t discuss racism or sexism around them, and must tippy-toe around issues of privilege?

    Certainly, there are formerly-poor people who distance themselves from their circumstances with “I made it, they can too.” What leads you to believe this dynamic is present in Scalzi’s view, or the post in question?

  311. To me, # 10 says it all. Too often people say things contrary to their actual beliefs with the sole purpose of elevating themselves in the eyes of others, with politicians being the prime example. If more people, especially those who have any kind of influence, chose to speak heartfelt truths with the intent of initiating constructive dialog and improving humankind, we would be better off all around. I found this site last year and am truly upset that I missed out on the first 13 years. Keep it coming John! If anything, maybe this site will become the crowbar that pries open the minds of the asshats that keep us from moving forward.

  312. John, You obviously have a lot on your plate, and I really appreciate your willingness to spend your time writing such an thought provoking, entertaining piece and then sticking around to manage the gigantic splash it made. From the road. (!) Wow. Thanks for being hilarious AND rigorous.

  313. But John… we didn’t get to see THE Mallet swung with the cold hearted presicion it is known for. Where is the splattered E-Gore? Did you not think of the women and children viewing this fest, and how they wished for the entertainment of your pithy responses after the Malletings?

    As and aside, you may want to apply some ice to your malleting elbow after the last couple days. I can also offer some post malleting rub-down after the swinging… just saying… I know that after a while that has to be a pain. No need in tearing your UCL for that that.

  314. Scalzi you’re badass. Serious respect! I feel like baking you an honest to god batch of feminist cookies and mailing them. Thanks for writing this so awesomely and thanks for fielding all the flak from it — it feels like just that much less that the rest of us have to do on top of what we already do. Thanks!

  315. inertpenguin @ 8:09

    “The unintentional message that man is receiving is that they have it pretty fucking easy and they’re still failing.”

    As a twenty something straight male who spent the majority of his last decade struggling to make ends meet, I didn’t read it that way at all. And as hard as it was, I can still see parts of it were clearly tempered by my being a SWM. Didn’t make the struggle any less of a struggle for me, but it sure helped it to not be more of a struggle. So, I don’t think the intent of the original post was to devalue my personal gaming trophies.

    Mostly, I think: “good christ, people do that on higher difficulty levels? That’s not right. That was *hard*.”

  316. Assertion number three is flat-out wrong by any scientific measure. Class is an invisible wall; that you haven’t personally run into it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Class is a much stronger determinant of social status than race or sex, and I’d refer you to Bourdieu’s book Distinction to support my claim. Class is inherent inasmuch as the values and attitudes are taught to children at a very young age and are discernible within months of birth. Any sociologist will tell you this.

  317. @Andy

    Cool it with the anti-semitic remarks! Jews have no advantages in life and saying anything to contrary evokes NSDAP Germany.

  318. This whole article is disgustingly racist from the very first paragraph. I didn’t bother to read it, because it’s clearly written by a very bitter and angry person.

    All I really have to say is that if a supposedly “priveleged” straight white male wrote this or the previous article (obviously, in favor of straight white males instead of against them) they would never have been published and he would have lost his job immediately.

  319. Doc: “1) “Privilege” isn’t the metaphor. “Difficulty level” is the metaphor for privilege. I’m not even sure what you think privilege is a metaphor for.”

    Privilege is a metaphor to take statistical data about systemic racism and apply it to individuals as if it means something about the individuals.

    “White people are statistically less likely to be pulled over. Steven (who?) is white. e is therefore statistically less likely to get pulled over.”

    Like that.

    It is a good way to run a Role Playing Game. It doesn’t tell you anything about Steve in real life. (Steve William Munchausen==>SWM, i.e. the statistically generic Straight White Male made into a individualistic identity.)

    From an earlier post you said “Greg: a shorter, more succinct answer is simply, “It’s not about you“. Because that’s what the Type 4 respondents are doing: trying to make it about them, individually.” And I said the problem with either metaphor is that people make it about the individual.

    Lets take some statistics so we have something specific to talk about:

    The GAO found that women as a whole and on average get paid 75 cents for every dollar a man makes.

    http://usgovinfo.about.com/cs/censusstatistic/a/womenspay.htm

    Deniers take their personal experience of life and say it disproves the statistics. A man will say “I make less than my wife” and argue that this somehow disproves the statistics. No. That’s not how statistics work.

    On the other hand, some Accusers might take the statistic and try to apply it to an individual. Men make more money than women, you’re a man, you as an individual male have an advantage over women in wage scales. Even if you make less, you have the potential to make more, and that’s not fair. You, specifically you man you, have wage privilege. No. That isn’t how it works either.

    “Privilege” might be a good way to get people to talk about systemic discrimination that shows up in the form of male/female wage differences, but the moment someone says “you’ve got privilege” the systemic statistics are being applied individually, and it doesn’t work that way. If a guy’s wages are below women’s average wage for the same job, you can NOT say he has male wage “privilege”. No. Sorry. You don’t get to abuse the statistics that way.

    A Mediated Life: “Greg: You seem to be wanting every situation to come with a tally sheet, wherein the two opposing candidates list all the alphabet soup they have to come up with a bottom line of who, really, is more oppressed than the other. ”

    I’m not sure if this was directed at me, or what specifically you were responding to because this seems somewhat out of the blue based on what I said. But, no, I don’t want a tally sheet from the individuals.

    You can look at statistical data and fairly easily extract whether there is some kind of discrimination going on within the population. It is a whole lot harder to pinpoint whether any particular individual incident is due to discrimination. Individual tally sheets are not enough to tell if individual discrimination is going on. Population wide statistics however can.

    You can look at data on police stops and tell whether there is racial profiling going on somewhere in the precinct. The data alone can be enough to tell you that racial profiling is occurring. Data alone will never be enough to tell if any one specific stop was racially motivated or not.

    The statistics can tell you if systemic police discrimination exists. It won’t tell you anything about any particular police stop. If the systemic data says 30% more stops were people of color than white people, that doesn’t mean you can pull any indiviudal police stop out of the records and say it was 30% racially motivated. It might not have been racially motivated at all. It might be completely racially motivated. The thing is it is impossible to tell with just systemic level data.

    But this is sort of what people do if they are the sort of people to misuse the privilege metaphor. If the statistics say women earn 75 cents for every dollar a man earns, they might look at a specific individual male and assert that he has wage privilge and ignore the fact that he makes less money than the average woman for the same job. If the statistics say that police stops were 80% people of color, they might try to say that all cops are 80% racist. That every individual cop is 80% racist.

    have you ever read through “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”? It is the paper that created the term “privilege” and it is chock full of taking statistical data and turning it on its head into individual attack.

    The author, McIntosh, describes how people “in Women’s Studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power” as the only means to achieve gender equality. But she says that men “can’t or wont support the idea of lessening men’s” power, meaning that men oppose gender equality, because on some level, men realize that they have to give up their unearned power to achieve equality.

    In the very first paper about privilege, the problem of discrimination is presented in a completely one-sided view: active discrimination positively benefits all members of the dominant group, and therefore all members of the dominant group OPPOSE equality because it means they would have to GIVE UP the benefits. This is complete rubbish. What do I have to give up to stop the police from racially profiling people of color? Nothing. There is no “power” I get from the police profiling black people. I get no benefit, no perk, no power, from the police profiling blacks. If I *want* the police to profile black people, its because I’m a racist. Not because it gives me power.

    The idea of “privilege” came out of a notion that anyone with privilege is resisting equality because of the secret perks they get from someone else discriminating on their behalf.

    That is insulting.

    A Mediated Life: “Anyone who needs some sort of proof that a given person really does have it worse than they do before they’ll defer to that person’s needs is being a pedant who wants to subtitute bean counting for compassion.”

    You think we should make national policies without any proof? I’ve seen that before. Iraq, March, 2003. Didn’t work out so well.

  320. so are africans playing the game on easy in africa? are asians playing the game on easy in asia? why don’t we talk some about this african and asian privilege that is hampering these countries?

  321. @mythago

    I didn’t say they wouldn’t be effected, I said they’d stop listening. If the goal is to get people to be more empathetic, that’s going to be counterproductive. As to the latter point, I’ll simply note all the Mjölnir swinging Scalzi’s having to do.

    It’s pretty useful if your goal is to get the poor to fight amongst themselves, otherwise not so much.

  322. @Tony

    If you didn’t read the article, how would you 1) know that it is “disgustingly racist” and 2) know that it was written by a “bitter and angry person”? Obviously, you know nothing about who’s site you are posting on and who you are slandering. Try doing a little research. Mallet-by-proxy to you bitter and angry person.

  323. Talking with some people about this, the general consensus seemed to be that efforts to repair economic inequality would encompass efforts to repair minority based inequality, not all of them, but that fixing economic inequality would help the most people.

    I was curious as to your thoughts on this.

  324. As a member of The Lowest Difficulty Setting, I think this has been a hilariously awesome exercise in the power of communicating ideas through the written word, and also the basis for a comic strip/television situation comedy pitch.

  325. @Michael, why assume all the be-Malleted are poor? I’d think that the way to divide and conquer the poor is exactly the opposite: rather than “you have it bad, and others have it worse”, to tell them “those others who say they have it worse? They have it BETTER, and they want YOURS.” Which is precisely what screeds about how SWM are the most oppressed of all are about.

    @BillC, fixing economic inequality is a fine thing. The problem is that as you phrase it, it assumes that efforts are an either/or (we can fix economic inequality OR dismantle racial privilege, but not both, and we can do one and kinda hope it helps with the other); it also does not take into account that fixing economic inequality necessitates looking at the reasons for that inequality. It’s certainly part of the solution, but not the whole solution. More pointedly, we can’t use it as a dodge to avoid talking about uncomfortable issues. (“Aw man, do I have to talk about how there’s only one black guy at my company? Can’t we talk about fixing the 99% instead?”)

  326. For the folks suggesting that the angry responses means the article is not reaching its intended audience:

    There have been a couple dozen or so especially foamy commenters on the site in the last couple of days. The articles in question have been read by (roughly) half a million people via this site alone. assuming the foamy people on the comment threads are representative of everyone reading the entry is not exactly a safe bet.

  327. “For the folks suggesting that the angry responses means the article is not reaching its intended audience:

    There have been a couple dozen or so especially foamy commenters on the site in the last couple of days. The articles in question have been read by (roughly) half a million people via this site alone. assuming the foamy people on the comment threads are representative of everyone reading the entry is not exactly a safe bet.”

    Wait… are you saying that just because a group is louder that they do not represent the majority?

    Someone call the tea party! They got it all wrong! :)

  328. An observation that denigrates what we straight white males have accomplished through our not so easy lives.

    Like noting Helen Keller was blind and deaf denigrates what straight white males have accomplished.

  329. @ John Scalzi

    I’m thinking about developing a tool, I’m leaning toward calling it Asshat-o-matic, that analyzes text input and auto-Mallets it based on criteria that is blatantly counterproductive. For example, if someone says something like “I didn’t read the article, but…”, or “An observation I have is that I believe…”, or “…because of this I will never buy any of your stuff again”, it could be replaced with random, humorous reason-for-Malleting text. The exceptions are endless of course, but it would be worth it to just for the random reasoning generator.

  330. Greg: seriously man, all I can parse out of what you’re saying is “Don’t call me privileged just because I’m a member of a privileged group.” That or “Statistics are meaningless.” But mostly the former.

    Look I just don’t have the energy to go around in another circle. All I can tell you is this: you’re not making as compelling an argument as you think you are. i suppose you can chalk that up as a win if you like, but I really hope you don’t. Rather, I hope you take my response as a data point in deciding if this interpretation makes any sense to the rest of the world.

  331. @mythago Some of them will be. Others will feel vulnerable and just want to protect what they have (these are the ones frothing at the mouth). A few will be happy to see us squabbling over who has it worse instead of marching on Wall Street.

    You can’t appeal to people’s better nature by making them feel threatened and vulnerable.

  332. I agree with Scalzi’s arguments, with a couple of quibbles about emphasis.

    Wealth. While I understand the argument about the economic argument being used to dodge the issues of race, gender, and sexuality, the converse is also true: focusing on aspects of people they can’t change (race, gender*, sexuality) is often used to sidestep serious class issues. The idea is to change the attitudes of straight white men by giving some fodder for self reflection, I get it.

    But since economics (and power) is the paramount stat in society, and is something that actually involves choices, I consider wealth more important than the other stats besides the “big three” in ways that are substantial and relevant.

    Eurocentrism. The line about the article discussing only Western society moors the “straight white men” focus, I got that. I just think that in a global, highly interconnected society if one is going to make sweeping generalizations it’s time to go global with these sorts of discussions. Because race is such a prominent factor internally to any society, the fact that racial issues differ in different societies seems undermining to such arguments. Saying that straight Han Chinese males are playing on the lowest difficulty setting in the PRC makes people question how hard they have it here (harder than the white ones).

    But to me going there strengthens the argument because it isn’t the specific traits of whiteness and straightness and maleness per-se that are the issue. It’s that in this society being those things causes one to be perceived in ways that afford greater advantage than others. In other societies, how the dominant people look may be different. But the result is the same. Reinforcing that makes it less focused on those specific people and more about the necessity for contextual understanding and responsibility on the part of any inherently privileged people. (I used the word. Oh well.).

    And to me that’s the most important part of the argument: assessing and understanding your own situation in order to be empathetic to others’ (and, preferably, work towards making things more equal by putting that empathy into action).

  333. @bulletpeople: Have you read the article? It states that all other things being equal a straight white male will have it easier than someone who is not straight, or white, or male.
    Oh, I’m sorry- wasn’t it WHO that said that the greatest cause of death in developed countries for adolescent girls is pregnancy-related malaises? And you object to ” ushering of underage boys into the gay lifestyle by adult men”? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC411126/
    Being gay is a sexuality- not a lifestyle. A boy who is gay is always gay. How he chooses to express it is none of your business.
    White women earn 77% of a white man’s dollar. Black men earn less. Black women earn even less.
    QUILTBAG people cannot get married. They face housing discrimination. They cannot adopt as a couple. Often even as single parents they are not allowed to adopt.
    This once I am giving you (and everyone else here who is asking for it) the tools to educate yourself. The following websites are a beginning. If you choose not to read them and be wilfully blind then at least stop trolling.
    http://filipspagnoli.wordpress.com/stats-on-human-rights/statistics-on-discrimination/statistics-on-discrimination-of-women/
    http://racerelations.about.com/b/2011/05/25/study-reveals-whites-feel-more-discriminated-against-than-blacks.htm
    http://www.publiceye.org/defendingjustice/pdfs/factsheets/10-Fact%20Sheet%20-%20System%20as%20Racist.pdf
    Do you really need websites to show you how trans*gender, gender non-binary, gender fluid and non-straight people are discriminated against?

  334. @Xopher

    I was gonna say something to that effect, but you said it better. I’d invite him to kiss my gay ass too but I don’t want him anywhere near me.

    (And while we’re at it, what about all the adult men ushering underage women into the hetero lifestyle? BECAUSE THERE’S ONLY ONE.)

  335. I think this and the other article referenced are a capable exercise of humor. Mr. Scalzi himself accepts that he is no philosopher, perhaps it would have been helpful to remind everyone of that in this particular post.

    From perusing this site for two or three minutes, I was able to glean that this blog is not seeking logical or rational argument, and I think none of us should seek to apply such standards thereto.

    The logical argument presented is nothing more than the false paradox “All horses are the same color.”

    I personally found the premise of the humor to be amusing, though I felt the execution was flawed. This is only my opinion though, I am certain than many people found the original post and this to be hysterical.

    There are many places rational discourse can be had; even blogs exist that afford the possibility of highly intelligent, logical argument. This blog neither seeks to be nor achieves such status, and should be treated accordingly.

  336. Liberal Dan said way, way back up the thread: (May 17, 2012 at 11:32 am, paraphrased)
    the label of being privileged gets used often as a pejorative. … typically done when one of the privileged cannot understand the argument

    IME it’s all too often done when the privileged are attacking the less so, and refuse to acknowledge that. It’s commonly the last step before shunning someone, after running through every other argument that the arguer has. So it’s often not just made in an angry way, it’s made by someone who has run out of patience and tolerance. Which is especially unacceptable coming from someone underprivileged.

    One thing that us privileged sympathisers can do is step in before that point and take on the mansplaining role. Politely saying “you seem unhappy, can I have a go at explaining this and when I get it wrong you can step in again? That way you don’t have to do all the work”. Sometimes that offer works, sometime it doesn’t. Not arguing if you’re told no (or to fuck off) is important. But if accepted it means that the problem is being explained by someone who’s automatically more credible and knowledgeable, since that’s what privilege *is*. And also what it’s for. Forget training the offender to accept correction from inferiors, for now focus on trying to get them to understand that their behaviour is not just offensive, it’s unacceptable. And how. From the perspective of someone who is also privileged.

  337. Edward, just so you know, doing the stiff-and-formal thing doesn’t actually make you sound smarter or better than the rest of us. I can do that too, if I want, but I like sounding like a generally pleasant human being. If you just want to communicate scorn, you can probably find a better way to do that.

    Most of the people I’ve heard going on about “you’re not logical or rational!” have been remarkably bad conversationalists, apparently believing that a conversation is a series of points argued and nothing more. They also overemphasize inductive reasoning, which, while valuable, presupposes an infallible major premise. It doesn’t work well in the real world, which is messy.

    I’m a fan of reasoned discussion myself. A huge fan! Only you and I mean different things when we say that, and the kind I mean takes place here pretty regularly.

    (Okay, I just revitalized a wordpress account so I can hang out with Xopher and mythago more.)

  338. One thing that bemuses me living in Australia is that we’re both a nice white first world country and a third world primary producer. There’s nonsense here like aboriginal life expectancy being 10 years less than white while the big mining companies are (fairly successfully!) telling our government how much tax they’re willing to pay and where to stick our environmental regulations. But on the first world side we’re overwhelmingly european, survived the GFC better than just about anyone and our “crisis” is that the small carbon tax might make giant televisions more expensive. Oh, poor us.

    Privilege here does come quite cleanly down on the SWM side, but there are some shadings around how out groups rank[1]. One big difference is that I don’t think the USA has any actual living former slaves, but we have a lot of people here who were part of the flora and fauna when they were born. Many of them are both unhappy about that, and can be triggered into real pain and anger by rude people. Which makes some of the arguments about privilege very unpleasant to be around, because your White Australian bigot often has no hesitation in saying some variation on “but they’re not really people”. I find that hard to deal with, and I’m not aboriginal. For people that are it gets a bit wearing after a while. Simple example: the Melbourne Immigration Museum is run by the government for our edification. There’s a display showing the population of Australia over time that completely ignores aboriginals in that entire section of the museum. They have literally been erased from the picture. And you wonder why some people find it hard to calmly and politely explain for the thousandth time that actually they’d really prefer that you treated them as a human being even if they are black.

    [1] We have more words for other “races” than anywhere else I’ve been or read about – wogs are different from dagos, for example, but they’re both southern europeans (I think Italian and Greek, respectively, but I might be wrong). And neither are white, except compared to arabs and africans. The rule seems to be that after immigrating a distinct national group needs to wait a generation before they get to be “real australians” and can start whining about later groups of immigrants. And the Chinese and Afgani migrants in the 1700’s and 1800’s are the exception that proves the (White Australian) rule. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Australia_policy

  339. Writing an article like this gives people an excuse to not take responsibility for the condition of their lives. I’m not saying everyone has complete control, but making people feel doomed from the start isn’t exactly constructive.

    I would like to see a list of all the difficulties in order (easiest to hardest), based on the gender/sex formula you’ve come up with.

  340. “It would be additionally delightful if they were engaged on issues of racism and sexism even when they did not feel it was being applied to them — say, for example,when it’s regarding people who historically have most often had to deal with racism and sexism (i.e., not white males).”

    Translation: Let me lobby unfounded accusations at you to distract you.

    “Asserting that programs designed to counteract decades of systematic discrimination are proof that Straight White Males are not operating on the lowest difficulty setting in the game of life is not the winning argument you apparently believe it is. I’ll let you try to figure out why that is on your own”

    Translation: You’re wrong but I’m not going to say why because you’re stupid.

    Great arguments, and I love the straw men that some people think SWM is the highest “difficulty setting”.

    Look there were anecdotes from the original piece where SWMs talk about being screwed out of financial aides and other services because they’re a straight SWM, so not every interaction they have is privilege.

    P.S. AA is systematic discrimination, so to use that to counteract systematic discrimination is hypocritical.

  341. Having been everything from sickly skinny, ripped with muscles, to my current 100lbs overweight, I can say that being attractive is the absolute easiest setting.

  342. Oh sorry I misread lowest as highest but the point remains, you have no counter argument just “I’m right but I won’t tell you why”

  343. @tessuraea

    I am a generally pleasant human being, but I think you will find that personal attacks at myself, including and especially due to my usage of good vocabulary and grammar, will swiftly change that disposition.

    Also, personal attacks such as the one you have just affected are in violation of the spirit of Mr. Scalzi’s comment policy, I would ask him to delete your comment certainly if he did not make it clear on that same page that this is his website and he takes cues from none on how to run it. I respect that and so I will not ask as such.

    I think it would greatly behoove you to read much more carefully the articles in question, and this page: http://whatever.scalzi.com/about/site-disclaimer-and-comment-policy/

    I meant no scorn initially, although I certainly direct some in your direction presently; indeed I feel it is safe to say that the kind of stupidity that breeds insulting good grammar and vocabulary is perhaps deserving of an iron pipe to the skull.

    I was simply pointing out to those who would or could be offended by this post and the one relating to it that this is a site of opinions, by a blogger for god’s sake.

    A generalization is a generalization is a generalization. Get it into your head because it is a fact that no two people in any particular group are the same, and no valid conclusions can be drawn about one necessarily from the other, once again, the false paradox “All horses are the same color.”

    Furthermore and once again, the two articles are definitely not meant to be taken as a cogent argument, the intent is clearly humorous, and if that escapes you I suggest keeping your mouth shut.

    My apologies to Mr. Scalzi if he believes I am out of line in this post, however I feel I have the right to defend myself.

  344. Hey John I want you to address Doc Seuss specifically in the comments because his life story basically proves

    “This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.”

    Isn’t always true.

    Oh and about wealth, well how much wealth your family had when you were born is important, out of your control and really should be in the difficulty setting. You as a kid have basically no control over how much wealth your parents obtain.

    Hey John you ever going to address the fact that you were pretty patronizing in that article (you basically said you had to talk down to your audience because they don’t get it ). Also don’t tell them it’s the easiest difficulty setting, because that’s always easy mode and there are a lot of SWM’s whose life isn’t easy because of something they can’t control.

    I’ll make this simple, you seemed to imply that race/class/sexuality is the biggest deciding factor in how difficult life is. If that’s not what you meant than you failed to clarify that. Either way that idea is a load of crap, and that’s what everyone’s taking issue with.

    Oh and P.S. there were some non straight white men who took issue with this so acting like the other side is nothing but a torrent of SWMs pissed off that you were criticizing them makes you look like a douche.

  345. [White supremacist making an effort to sound reasonable is still a white supremacist — JS]

  346. I think your original post has to be one of the most cogent and accessible explanations about privilege I’ve ever read. As a bisexual white female, (certainly not an easy setting, but by far not the hardest), on behalf of only myself, thank you. I also want to say that I think it’s hard for people in general at accept critique gracefully. It’s a learned skill to listen to observations such as the one you presented us and not take it personally. That is not meant as an excuse, but my own observation. Your metaphor, which I’ve shared with some stubborn folk in my life, has done a lot to help further their understanding while still acknowledging the individual’s role in this whole mess.

  347. The difficulty setting in most games controls how easy or hard it is to die in the game. This may be accomplished by various factors that you mention. However, all of the advantages and disadvantages are DESIGNED to determine how hard it is to die in the game. However, in the game of life, men die at a higher rate than women. So, using gaming as an analogy is flawed. If you’re just talking about quality of gameplay/life, well that’s one thing. But, if you are actually trying to win/survive in the game, presumably you would pick the class that lived the longest. In life, that’s women. But hey, winning isn’t everything.

  348. Father-Time:

    I took most of your multiple posts and compiled them into one, basically because multiple sequential posts from the same person annoy me.

    You wrote quite a lot for someone who simply doesn’t appear to have read either article particularly closely, as most of the things you complain about are addressed in one or both. The only somewhat new complaint you have is the “I don’t like your tone” one, to which my my response is, oh, well. I’m sure that no matter how some straight white men were told they have unearned advantages, they’d still not like it, so I don’t think tone really is the issue here.

    Matt Little:

    “Writing an article like this gives people an excuse to not take responsibility for the condition of their lives.”

    If someone reads this as an excuse for doing such, I’m inclined to believe that they had no ambition to take any responsibility for their lives in any event. Otherwise, I doubt the entry moves the needle for most people.

    Edward:

    “Mr. Scalzi himself accepts that he is no philosopher”

    Actually, I have a degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago.

    You also appear to be of the opinion that something that is amusing may not also be rational, which is not an especially defensible argument.

    It possible you do not find logic in either entry, but it does not follow that there is none, or that other people have not been able to discern it.

  349. I would like to point out that, even if it were true that Straight White Males [*] were responsible for everything good that ever happened, were responsible for nothing bad that had ever happened, AND had promised to buy everyone Ben & Jerry [*] today–we are all equally their heirs and a current SWM [*] can’t take credit for their historic accomplishments or be blamed for their failures any more than a Gay Brown Transwoman [*] can.

    [* or local equivalent]

  350. What was it Harry Tuttle said in Brazil? “We’re all in it together.”

    So yeah, help others reduce their difficulty.

  351. Several problems with listing social and economic status apart from race, gender, and sexuality.

    One, like economic status and social standing, sexuality is not inherent or immutable. It is possible to argue that preference is immutable, hard to support but possible, but in practice that amounts to nothing. If one is going to argue that ‘straight’ is talking about genetic preference, an individual’s genetic sexual preference is currently an unknown factor on the overwhelming majority of interaction. I don’t know my own genetic preference, but given history and the rise in statistical experimentation when genders are completely segregated long term, I would say the bulk of the evidence points to a human default, outside of social pressures, of sexual opportunism which amounts to bisexuality.

    If we define sexuality as the genders involved in the sex an individual chooses to have, then sexuality is more free flowing then social and economic standing. It is far easier to experiment with sexuality then to experiment with an individual’s level of economic privilege.

    That alone pretty much invalidates the basic premise of this essay, as it concedes that white male privilege can be erased by a mutable factor like sexual preference.

    Two, the concept of ‘white’ is mutable and has evolved over time. One need only point to what is defined as the ‘right kind of European’ (I.E Irish need not apply) in American history to prove this concept. Even today the government would classify me as mixed race as I am Hispanic, Native American, German and Scottish. I can even get land grants because I am ‘sufficiently Native American’ in the eyes of the American government. Despite this in practice I am currently ‘white’ because I hide from the sun sufficiently to be a bright pink color. In my youth however when I spent a lot of time working outdoors everyone assumed I was a Mexican adopted by my blond haired blue eyed mother so she would get a bigger welfare check.

    It took nothing more then a change of lifestyle (a love of reading, video games, and the opportunity to work from a chair rather then outside) for me to become ‘white’ in the eyes of society. Granted, this option isn’t open to everyone, but that doesn’t mean ‘white’ is an immutable concept.

    Three, sexuality is a matter of perception. In my professional life most people assume I am straight because I keep my personal life to myself, and I am extremely geeky. I do not correct people when they ask questions like ‘do you have a girlfriend?’ because I do not think sexuality is an appropriate topic for a professional setting, and I make few friends at the office. Thus I benefit from the perceived ‘faction bonus’ for heterosexuals despite the fact that I have zero interest in heterosexual sex. Heck, I hardly have an interest in guys these days.

    Four, perception also factors into gender. While an individual can not stop being genetically male, they can forsake all ‘faction bonuses’ attributed to being genetically male by being transgendered and it is quite possible to be transgendered and straight. Transgendered males are not perceived as the kind of ‘male’ outlined in this essay, and thus do not benefit from the privilege in question despite the fact that they remain in possession of a Y chromosome, and are not gay.

    The privilege granted to males is defined by perception, not genetics. The privilege granted to heterosexuals is defined by perception, not genetics. The privilege granted to whites is defined by perception, not genetics. Perception is the constant here, and perception is mutable. Thus the justification for categorizing these things separate from social and economic standing falls apart.

    Finally, the privilege being discussed is social and economic standing. Ignoring individual social and economic standing in favor of statical trends is asinine. Someone who was raised by a single parent who depended upon government assistance as their primary income enjoyed no ‘faction bonuses’ because of their perceived race, gender, and sexual preference. They were completely erased by their parents social and economic standing. Attributing these bonuses to them based upon statistics is no less asinine and insensitive then Newt Gingrich’s attempt ‘teach blacks the value of hard work’.

    To the author: Your heart is in the right place, but you are white knighting and it is counter productive. Linking wildly inaccurate and ever evolving perceptions of what I am to immutable characteristics I possess is horribly insensitive and condescending. It is my ardent hope that you simply rushed to defend your position without actually considering the implications of your statements, or giving them any thought.

  352. Let me summarize the comment thread: Scalzi’s metaphor does not fix the World. Should Scalzi be dipped in delicious and flaming olive oil to atone for that shortcoming? Consensus (probably): No.

  353. This is pretty typical Scalzi, poorly thought out clown-nose-on, clown-nose-off fluff that desperately wants to be taken more seriously than it deserves.

    No, it is not easier being a white male. That’s why boys are getting into college less often than girls. That’s why Liz “Fauxcahontas” Warren pretended to be a Native American, not a white man. Blacks can get into Harvard with much lower scores than whites. Whites are the victims of violent crime by blacks at about ten times the rate of the reverse — and if you defend yourself and your neighborhood, the media may assume you are a racist and you could end up on trial for 2nd-degree murder, even if you’re from a multiracial family and have a history of helping blacks. Etc. Being straight is probably easier than being gay, but do note that gays actually have higher average incomes than heteros, society goes to some lengths to prevent discrimination against them, and they are only around one percent of the population according to the census.

    The reasons why whites generally have better lives has virtually nothing to do with the color of their skin or any alleged advantage thereto (and in fact Asians, Arabs and Jews also all have higher average incomes) and much more to do with the CULTURE that whites tend to belong to — a culture of responsibility, trust, and reason. This isn’t a racially restricted culture; anyone can join and in fact as noted above we actually go to some effort to make it easier. As a result, for a given level of character and talent, it is hardest to be an Asian male, and next a white male.

    Culture dominates. Some writers, notably Neal Stephenson, get this. Others do not, and its reflected in the shallowness of how they treat race and culture in their writings.

  354. OH! I thought of another metaphor for all the people who think a SWM who suffers a run of bad luck invalidates the whole premise.

    In The Hunger Games, on your 12th birthday, your name is entered into a lottery and if it comes up, something ghastly will happen to you (you have to compete in the Hunger Games). It’s in there at least once. But another bit of paper with your name on it is added every year until you’re 18, adding to your chance of being chosen. So a 13-year-old is already somewhat worse off. AND, if you’re poor, you may be driven to put your name in additional times in exchange for food.

    So, at the beginning of the book, we have two sisters, a 12-year-old, who has one chance in thousands of being picked, and a 16-year-old, who has taken on the additional risk for her by trading safety for food, has twenty chances of being picked for nearly-certain death.

    The 12-year-old’s chances are better than her sister’s. She is, within this ghastly system, privileged. (Not within the social context of the book, at all, purely within the rules of the lottery).

    But the privilege isn’t a guarantee the individual will be safe: that one-in-thousand chance comes up and the 12-year-old is picked after all, while the sister running with much worse odds, isn’t, (but then volunteers so that we have a story).

    This doesn’t change the fact that the older sister had more reason to worry for herself going in, or that 12-year-olds with only one entry in the Ghastly Things Happening To You lottery are, as a group better off than 16-year-olds with many entries. The set of people who end up at the games are almost wholly, not 12-year-olds who only had one entry.

    OBVIOUSLY THIS METAPHOR IS NOT PERFECT. Because in life, it isn’t a matter of a single moment where privilege either protects you or bad luck strikes you down. You can be safe and successful in all sorts of ways as, say, a black straight woman or a gay white man –but still suffer disadvantages your straight white male colleague doesn’t. (Street harrassment, not being able to marry not only whom you what but WHERE you want, etc). You can be a poor white straight man with many disadvantages you’ll maybe never be able to overcome, but still not suffer the same additional shittinesses flung at the poor queer black woman who lives down the street (who is poor, labouring under all your disadvantages, AND gets street harassment and can’t marry whom and where she wants).

  355. I’m thinking I must have been on Mars for the past week, because I missed all the discussion. Must have been the ‘real World’. Seriously, this is one of the best posts I’ve ever read, after years of blogging. Still, I’m writing from the lowest difficulty setting – though from the UK and not the US. Two memories come to mind. The first is ‘Cry Freedom’. I’m paraphrasing, but in the film in responset to criticism, James Woods asks Steve Biko, ‘What kind of white liberal would you make?’. The second was a frustrating conversation at college. Can a man be a feminist I asked my feminist friend. She responded in the negative.

    I agree, it is easier to be a white, able-bodied, middle class male from a 1st World nation. But if that happens to be us, how shall we live? A little humility would be a start. I think though, that seeing someone else as a person and not a label is a challenge for all of us, whatever our ‘difficulty setting’: http://radref.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/prison-of-ism-towards-life-without.html

  356. Brilliant! I actually had this very idea for a book almost ten years ago, but life was too difficult for me then, so I didn’t write it (I also had an idea in which each of us is required to be a prostitute for one week, but there were too many flaws). The concept can’t be unproven because, well, it’s a concept, a mere conjecture.

    For the record, I’m a straight white male born with a brain chemical imbalance, several learning disabilities, and raised by an abusive mother who suffered from psychosis. I still agree with the article since, in theory, I would face fewer challenges in attempting to transcend my circumstances than would, say, a lesbian of a different race.

    It’s true, we have only two choices: to either play the hand we’re dealt, or not to play it. But take heart; self-determination is always out there as an option, and at our core selves we’re all wise, sentient beings regardless of things like sex, race, or gender,

  357. I’m not really impressed that the answer to point 8 is an ad hominem attack on straight white men, because I do think any discussion about the privileged status (aka easy mode) of straight white men needs to have the parameters of their inherent advantages well-defined. There have been plenty of articles on the internet decrying male privilege, but very few attempts to really, clearly define what they are.

    I would like to know, as they are not so obvious that they should be self-evident — which is why there is a lot of negative backlash. It’s sad that in this follow-up FAQ piece, the author does not endeavor to enlighten, only to inflame.

    I also think that without defining these privileges, encouraging straight white men (SWM, hereafter) to just except their status and the guilt that is associated with it is an attempt to disenfranchise this privileged class instead of an attempt to foster understanding and progress of race/gender/sexuality status.

    Our goal should be to improve understanding of fundamental issues to help move forward to a more just society. Not to oppress everyone equally, either through biases or guilt.

    So, to that end, I would like to be more informed:

    First of all, how is a favorable bias towards SWM being propagated today? Certainly, white men have had a privileged place in history, but today we’ve have in place all kinds systemic programs to curb racism and sexism (although, in places, we are lacking adequate LGBT rights/protections in North America.)

    I was personally raised at school and at home to treat everyone with respect, and that I am not better than anyone else by some kind of default. While I don’t deny that I do have my own biases, I try hard not to let them affect my objective decisions or my day-to-day interactions with other people (which, since I live in a diverse community, means a lot of interaction with different racial, religious and sexually-oriented groups.)

    Among the educated, I find little evidence of any systemic or tolerated hostility toward any particular group. Educated people are privileged in our society as well, and often hold key leadership positions in business and government. I find that my education of respect is the norm at most school boards, particularly secular ones, and this message is being taught to North American children every day for the last twenty years at the very least.

    So how is this SWM-bias propagated? Have school board efforts to promote equality failed? Why or why not?

    Secondly, how does SWM-bias manifest itself in our society? Since most forms of discrimination are banned with the force of law, I have been lead to believe by Gender Studies specialists that this bias has been forced to become more subtle and underground. But how?

    Is it through media that this bias manifests (and, to my earlier point, propagates)? For every negative depiction of any minority group on television in the last decade, I can probably find one with a negative depiction of a SWM. The leading men of comedy television have been SWM who are also stupid, fat and lazy for at least the last two decades.

    We see also that men are falling behind women in terms of educational achievement, have higher rates of drug/alcohol abuse and are more prone to mental illness. How does this square away with SWM-bias?

  358. td:

    “Culture dominates.”

    This is where I again make the notation that I suspect the reason some folks want to insist it’s all about culture is because insisting so means they don’t have to talk about race/gender/sexuality, which appears to make them deeply uncomfortable.

    Foltbolt:

    “I do think any discussion about the privileged status (aka easy mode) of straight white men needs to have the parameters of their inherent advantages well-defined.”

    And yet, this discussion that has come out of these posts has gone all around the Internet and back again; hundreds of thousands of people have read the posts and thousands have commented about them online.

    So it appears that what you think is contradicted by what’s actually happened. Part of the reason that’s happened, may I suggest, is that the parameters of the inherent advantages of the white straight male are generally well understood by many if not most people, including some but clearly not all straight white men.

    So, no, you’re wrong.

  359. @Michael, you can’t appeal to people’s better nature if they choose not to have one. Or, more charitably, you can’t show them that there’s a problem if you are afraid to tell them there’s a problem.

    Any time you tell people “Things are not fair”, those who benefit from that unfairness may react defensively. That’s an argument for trying to phrase one’s message in a way that it’s most likely to be heard, but you can’t get around the fact that a) at some point, you have to suck it up and tell them things aren’t fair, and b) no matter how gentle or reassuring your tone, some people are going to have a problem with your message simply because they don’t WANNA give up the extra scoop of ice ceram.

  360. “This is where I again make the notation that I suspect the reason some folks want to insist it’s all about culture is because insisting so means they don’t have to talk about race/gender/sexuality, which appears to make them deeply uncomfortable.”

    Far from it, bring up racial crime statistics or net wealth transfers and see how quickly the oikophobes try to change the subject. A strange argument from the guy deleting posts he deems excessively racist.

    I’ve given numerous examples of how being nonwhite and nonmale has advantages (and there are more, such as the ability to form approved racist groups, the massive net wealth transfers from men to women, the same for “disadvantaged” nonwhites, explicitly racist/sexist scholarships, etc). What advantages obtain to white (and Asian!) men at birth, by virtue of skin color and sex, that are independent of their circumstances and character, that supposedly explain their success? Is there some vast white-male conspiracy at work? If so, why does it help Asians, too? Why are there massive wealth transfers to women in this white-male-rigged system?

    The notion race matters is a confusion brought about by the rough racial correlations with responsible behavior. The problem is not that the game of life favors “disadvantaged” nonwhites, it’s that “disadvantaged” nonwhites behave in ways that negatively their outcomes.

    Take it from someone who married a penniless Third World woman who became an American one percenter in one generation — in the American meritocratic system character is what matters, and culture breeds character, hence culture dominates. This is why American blacks are by and large the richest, freest blacks in the world, they have had the advantage of absorbing Western culture rather than trying to imitate its successes on their own.

  361. After reading both articles and the comments threads I’m left with one question.

    So what?

    I’m gathering this is about being a SWM in the US and not anywhere else on earth. (Asia, Africa, etc) Given that concession I’m still baffled as to why someone is supposed to care?

    ‘Power structure’ ‘systemic discrimination’ etc. I didn’t sign up for white male at birth. I didn’t sign up for black female either. What I got was the luck of the draw. Standing on a soap box screaming ‘you had it easier than me!’ is a pathetic way to go through life. It’s no different than bi*ching that someone was dealt a full house while you had a measly pair of three’s. Or complaining that someone with more intellectual heft is simply cheating because he’s using tools (more brain power) you don’t have.

    I don’t care what obstacles are in your way. I’m not concerned with your inability to deal with the unfairness of life. Who the hell ever taught you that life was supposed to be fair? Ever? Anywhere?

    I don’t care if the only three people qualified for a job happen to be three black transsexuals from Papua New Guinea. If they are the best three for the job, they get it. I don’t care about the power structure of the life they led. Or the ‘inherent privilege’ they might have been given. What matters is simply their ability to do the work necessary and complete the task at hand. If they happen to be Albino and Swedish the same would hold true.

    Racial preferences are poison. In either direction.

    When it comes to race I try my best to live by the words of our current chief justice.

    ‘The best way to stop discrimination based on race is to stop discriminating based on race.”
    -Chief Justice John Roberts

  362. @Tigger Assuming you are American, you demonstrate so little idea of your own nation’s history & current culture that I weep for our schools.

  363. Doc, a common math fail is to take statistics about police profiling and try to say that means something about ever every cop. It is as bad as the math fail that takes one incident of police profiling and generalize to all police. You cant pick a random cop and say he/she is racist. if statistics could tell you that 30% of the police force is racist, then you could pick a random cop and at most say there is a thirty percent chance that this particular cop is racist. but you cant just say based on the statistics that a particular cop is racist.

    You can point to systemic discrimination that says women on average earn 75 cents for every dollar a man makes. You can say that systemically speaking men have wage privilege over women. You cant pick a random male out of the crowd and say he has eage privilege.

  364. Well, Tigger, make up your mind. Either life isn’t fair, so we don’t give a shit about discrimination, or it IS fair, which is why your ultratalented New Guineans get the job with no problem whatsoever.

    td, arguing that the system is meritocratic because it is, plus, white people, is not really much of a convincing argument. It’s also pretty hilarious to argue about “American blacks being the freest” – well, yeah, now that we got rid of actual slavery and government-condoned terrorism, I imagine things are a bit better.

  365. td:

    “A strange argument from the guy deleting posts he deems excessively racist.”

    Not really. And I don’t delete all the posts that are patently racist. Yours, for example, still remain.

    Tigger:

    “I didn’t sign up for white male at birth. I didn’t sign up for black female either. What I got was the luck of the draw.”

    Interesting that you feel compelled to make this point when you say you read the entries.

  366. @David, can you elaborate? I’m genuinely interested in what areas of my country’s history I’m ignorant of. Please show your work.

    @mythago

    I should have been more clear. I’m a firm believer in a meritocracy. I think racism, on any level, is asinine in the extreme. Whether it is being practiced by neo-nazi’s or by black panthers. That was my fault for not being clear.

    That was my point about the people from New Guinea. I don’t care where you’re from or what you’ve been through. Show me what you’ve got. Show me what you can do. I don’t care about your ‘life story’. I don’t care about ‘the unbearable lightness of being you and walking a mile in your shoes’

    I care only about what you can do when you set your mind to it. Nothing more, nothing less.

    I personally believe that the world will be a much better place when peoples abilities are valued more than whether or not they have the right skin pigmentation.

  367. TD, I’m afraid your post requires some [Citation Needed] tags.

    “No, it is not easier being a white male.” – False, for the following reasons:

    “That’s why boys are getting into college less often than girls.” – False, more women apply to college, but fewer get in. There’s a real and identifiable bias towards accepting men. If you’re applying to college as a male, you’re running on a lower difficulty setting. (http://www.browndailyherald.com/female-applicants-face-lower-acceptance-rates-1.2736161#.T7ZYT3lYuW8)

    “That’s why Liz “Fauxcahontas” Warren pretended to be a Native American, not a white man.” – False. Pretending to have native american blood doesn’t harm her position with white voters, who often make similar clames. So often, in fact, that it’s on the “I’m not racist” bingo card (http://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhenry/3185596306/). If she’d put herself forward as a male candidate and later been proven to be born biologically female, it WOULD have harmed her positon, because she would’ve been outed as trans, making it impossible for her to get elected. Trans is hard mode.

    “Blacks can get into Harvard with much lower scores than whites.” – False. There is no evidence of this claim. Please provide an actual source, such as a double-blind study or a Harvard publication.

    “Whites are the victims of violent crime by blacks at about ten times the rate of the reverse” – Partially true. The number is closer to 7, not ten. But I find myself echoing the largest chorus of detractors in this comment thread: Class/Wealth IS a factor. Poverty creates desperation, and desperation creates crime. Poor neighborhoods have massively higher crime rates, and african americans are STILL disproportionately poor in the US. The median income of a white person is 22% higher than that of an African American. The gap gets even bigger when you include other minorities. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_income_in_the_United_States#Race).

    Additionally, I’d point out that African Americans only make up 10 percent of the population. Even if we weren’t dealing with massive power and wealth disparities, the opportunity for a white man to attack an African American is quite simply lower than the reverse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States).

    “and if you defend yourself and your neighborhood, the media may assume you are a racist and you could end up on trial for 2nd-degree murder, ” – False. False. False. It doesn’t take a leap to know that you’re talking about the Trevon Martin case. Zimmerman has admitted to stalking Martin. Martin was unarmed. Evidence (including the cell call Martin was on at the time) proves that Zimmerman shot Martin in cold blood. Martin was on foot, Zimmerman was in a car. Zimmerman called 911 while he stalked Martin, and the dispatcher ORDERED him to stop following Martin. Zimmerman ignored that order. Martin didn’t attack Zimmerman.
    (http://www.examiner.com/article/would-trayvon-martin-case-be-national-story-if-911-calls-not-released-videos)

    “even if you’re from a multiracial family and have a history of helping blacks. Etc.” – Zimmerman is a racist. He uses racial slurs on the call. Listen to the recordings of the 911 call and stop spreading false rumors.

    “Being straight is probably easier than being gay,” – True. I’m glad we agree on something.

    “but do note that gays actually have higher average incomes than heteros,” – False. The higher income stat (here:http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-11-02-census-gay-couples_N.htm) applies to gay couples who have adopted children, and compares them to everyone else. Adoption is expensive and time consuming. It’s not surprising that such couples would have more income, to adopt, they’d need it.

    When compared to other couples with children, the stat levels back out. (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-11-02-census-gay-couples_N.htm)

    “society goes to some lengths to prevent discrimination against them,” – False. What society do you liv