Before Privilege: Cats, Spaghetti, and Ice Cream

By Outis Philalithopoulos, a ghost haunted by the mystery of the origins of modern political ideas.

For part 1 of this series, see here.

Peggy McIntosh how she stumbled upon the reality of her white privilege. She began to brainstorm about what privileges she had that her black colleagues did not, but encountered fierce resistance from her unconscious mind.

I repeatedly forgot each of the realizations on this list until I wrote it down. For me, white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own.

McIntosh was thus reluctant to see herself as having unearned advantages relative to her black colleagues, and this reluctance stemmed from a more fundamental commitment to believing that one’s life is “what one makes it” and that doors open for people due to their “virtues.”

She persevered, however, and understanding finally came. She was unable to keep silent about what she had learned, and her talk in essay form was soon being eagerly read by others; in ,

[…] “white privilege,” was popularized by the feverish, largely grassroots, pre-World-Wide-Web circulation of a now famous essay by my now-equally-famous friend and colleague, Peggy McIntosh.

Readers followed in McIntosh’s footsteps, coming to grips with previously hidden and painful truths about their own privilege, and the rest is history.

But what actually happened cannot have been this simple.

A problem of chronology

Three years earlier, McIntosh had given a talk about how decent people often perceive “fraudulence” in

the myths of self-realization which go this way: “I came up from nothing, rags to riches, from pink booties to briefcase on Wall Street. I did it all myself. I knew what I wanted and I was self-reliant. You can be, too, if you set your sights high and don’t let anything interfere; you can do anything you want.” Now it seems only honest to acknowledge that that is a myth.

Did she at that time believe racial disparities were a thing of the past?

Women and lower caste or minority men are especially few in the tops of the hierarchies of money, decision making, opinion making, and public authority, in the worlds of praise and press and prizes, the worlds of the so-called geniuses, leaders, media giants, “forces” in the culture.

Let’s summarize.

In 1985, McIntosh proclaimed that meritocracy consisted of clearly “fraudulent” claims, noted how it was in conflict with racial and gender equality, and urged undermining belief in meritocracy as essential for the survival of humanity; in 1988, she said that she had been fiercely reluctant to accept that she was unfairly advantaged by being white because it entailed “giv[ing] up the myth of meritocracy.”

We could try to rescue this chronology by postulating, for example, that McIntosh composed her privilege lists and acknowledged her white privilege before 1985. She then… kept silent about it for years, perhaps because she was still embarrassed about white privilege? But wasn’t embarrassed about her opposition to meritocracy, which she shouted from the rooftops? This seems a bit… strained.

Or we could conclude, with , that she is full of shit.

I will propose a more charitable alternative, which I think is also more likely.

Suppose McIntosh did experience a sort of epiphany in 1988, which involved new ideas and the renunciation of important previous commitments. If sufficiently traumatic, this experience could have played havoc with her sense of time, and of her past self – a development which has been amply .

To see whether this is at all plausible, we should look at what the pre-1988 McIntosh believed. For this, we do not have to rely on what McIntosh says she believed. There is in fact extant one piece of writing by McIntosh from prior to 1988. Maybe only one, although it is a difficult to be sure; according to Frost, McIntosh is “incredibly protective of her intellectual property.”

It is a talk from 1985, about a dozen pages long in text form, entitled Feeling Like a Fraud. It is, to say the least, fascinating.

Note: I would have liked to include a link to Feeling Like a Fraud so that readers could read it in integral form, but although I have a copy of the text, it has as far as I know completely disappeared from the Internet.

The vertical world and its hidden adversary

Central to McIntosh’s conception was an image of the modern world as broken into two halves.

I see both our individual psyches and the whole society as having the shape of a broken pyramid, with a kind of geological fault running more or less horizontally through the center and dividing the top part from the lower part. The public and competitive functions of our psyches are contained in the top part of the pyramid, and the most ordinary, lateral, everyday business of simply getting along “without accomplishing anything” is, in my view, at the base of the psyche, and of civilization, and of the pyramid which I am drawing here.

At the tops of the pyramids are concentrated money, power, and decision-making functions, and in the very much wider base are the more ordinary functions which have either no visibility at all in most of what we read and do and think and are told, or very little visibility, and have seldom been named and identified.

McIntosh thus subdivides society into a “vertical world” and a less visible “lateral world.” The lateral world, though not valued highly, is the real substance of things, while the vertical world, in all its glory, is vain and twisted. The evident injustice by which a small number of people at the top of the pyramid have throughout history monopolized power, luxury, and public esteem, is therefore to some extent reversed: all along, the real glory was that of the ordinary people who did the little things necessary to make things keep going. We who share the values of the lateral world need to acquire a “dual vision” by which, yes, to some extent we manage to hold our own in the vertical world, but not at the cost of compromising our fidelity to the lateral world. “Imposter syndrome” – “feeling like a fraud” when being successful in the vertical world – should be taken as something at least partly positive: it can signify an unarticulated reluctance to lose our lateral selves in the vertical world. McIntosh says:

[…] the feeling of fraudulence is the critique of the vertical from those lateral parts of the personality, objecting both that the vertical behavior is partial and misrepresents us and that the lateral realities which are the ground of our humanity are not honored in the culture’s value system […]

The comforting warmth of the lateral world

McIntosh reflected on the boundary between the two worlds:

[…] I notice as I think through feelings of fraudulance [sic] that they seem to me not to occur in some areas of life. I pat our cat and the cat purrs. I don’t feel like a fraud. It’s not the same as getting an A on a paper. When I bring home chocolate chip mint ice cream, the kids’ appreciation doesn’t throw me into a panic about who I am. I think that being praised for a good spaghetti sauce or for finding a bargain is not so unnerving as being praised for giving a speech.

Whereas scholastic papers and speeches belong to the vertical world, purring cats, chocolate chip mint ice cream, and a good spaghetti sauce belong to the lateral world – hence McIntosh’s instinctive comfort with them.

McIntosh’s dualism aims at revalorizing the ordinary: she describes the lateral world as

the ordinary work of upkeep, maintenance, and making and mending of the social fabric

speaking concretely of

patting the cat, and having talks with one’s friends, and earning enough money to put the bread on the table, and getting the bread on the table, and washing the dishes, and loving those who cannot help us “get anywhere.” […] answering the phone, of driving home at night

of the secretaries that “keep everything going,” of “the woolgatherer, the conversationalists, the imaginer,” and of people who would rather to be told “You are good to talk to” than hear gushing praise of their academic production.

Scorning the vertical world

Unsurprisingly, McIntosh was unimpressed with success in the vertical world:

[…] we know that usually those who happen to get the high titles and the acclaim and the imagery going with them are not “the best and the brightest” […]

[This] suggest[s] that most leaders are poseurs, and that the “top” is not the top. I think Alice in Wonderland was right when she said to the Court, “You are nothing but a pack of cards!” Wise people go behind the screen and perceive the Wizard of Oz as the little shriveled man.

Elements of these sentiments are broadly shared, and so it is worth emphasizing how thoroughgoing McIntosh’s stance is. Her repudiation of

the worlds of worth, distinctiveness, excellence, authority, creativity, opinion, or forceful expressiveness

is radical and comprehensive. She rejects not only the corporate world and mainstream politics, but also academia and the realm of intellectual debate. It is in fact in these last spheres that her critique is most detailed.

Conversations versus speeches

According to McIntosh, the intellectual world is driven by a focus on authoritativeness and genius, and so there are considerable incentives to present oneself as such. She feels like a better way is indicated by speakers who preface their remarks with a disclaimer like “You may not agree with this, but…” The reason is that this opening explicitly acknowledges the existence of another person:

This opening not only acknowledges the presence of the Other, it also […] as they say in literature, it postulates reader response […] it creates a tentative tone […] a sense of give and take. As I see it, this opening acknowledges and strengthens the social fabric before it can be torn by rhetoric.

What does she mean by rhetoric, and how does it tear things? According to McIntosh, in the academic world success means the ability to speak as if others were unable to respond. Doing so causes one “to appear to be an authority figure, an expert, “the best.” “ The setup presupposes others who would like to be the best, and would like to respond, but are instead suppressed:

[The assumption that writing is] the marking of a case against the fancied attacker, permeates our teaching of writing from the expository courses through the graduate student’s defense of the thesis, which is a kind of king-on-the-mountain in which you take on all attackers of your small piece of territory. […] the paper must make a “watertight,” “unimpeachable” argument, must make “points”, and be like the world of boxing or dueling, holding off imagined attackers.

If we were to follow McIntosh’s preferred practice, we would instead be

creating an atmosphere of detente, […] negotiation-making tentativeness, rather than using the podium for the violent act of bringing everyone over to our side.

We would implicitly be saying to others:

I am not taking the floor from you. I recognize you are there. I am trying to make this more like a conversation than like a speech.

McIntosh sees the production of the characteristically authoritative academic image as not only aggressive but deceptive, and she praises people who “show us not a finished theory, but a process of reaching a theory,” in which

one is likely to begin with a complex of myriad ideas that constitute what William James called “a buzzing, blooming confusion.”

The “dishonest” roles associated with success place us upon “pedestals”

which separate us from others like ourselves and which imply that we are self-sufficient or independent loners

thereby destroying our “own rich sense of connection” and our “ability to listen […].”

She concludes that

it is constructive for the whole society if we question why there must be a podium

proposing that we

invent a form of podium behind which honest people don’t have to apologize for their connectedness to others.

The lateral world and minorities

McIntosh remarks:

The oppression – and the misunderstanding – come when these parts [i.e., the lateral world] are devalued and then projected on to women and lower caste people only.

The point here appears to be that when a basic error of valuing (preferring the vertical world to the lateral world) is fused with additional unfairness (preferring upper class white males to everyone else), the result is general obfuscation about both problems.

While McIntosh condemns the correlation between vertical status and categories into which one is born, for her the primacy of the vertical world is at the core of what is wrong. If women and minorities value the vertical world too highly, they will simply internalize “systems of seeing which say that most people are not valid,” and remain unable to draw strength from the importance of the lateral world throughout history.

The lateral world should be thought of, not as a consolation prize for the marginalized, but as a way of being that could be good for everyone. While many people forced by society into lateral roles are unhappy,

Much research is now showing that […] men [are also not so happy] with the projection onto them of the [vertical] world of winning versus losing […]

She therefore holds out the hope that groups like men, ostensibly favored by the current system, will nevertheless be able to join her in trying to create a better society. The reason is that even though society presents their roles as superior, they are in reality one-sided and dehumanizing. So everyone might have something to gain from a renewal of the lateral world:

It’s important for all of us, female and male, to fulfill ourselves in the lateral parts of our personalities.

Female predilection for the lateral world

But other times, the lateral/vertical distinction is projected more straightforwardly onto a female/male axis. During the Q&A period, she asserted:

I’ve found that for a great many women [success in the present world] isn’t enough. They know that there are other parts of themselves, parts which the major institutions of the world […] do not recognize as existing and valid.

She immediately says that “it is important to recognize these [lateral] parts and their importance for all people,” but we are left with the impression that it is women who have a particularly intimate sense of their value. A similar notion of virtuous intuition is present in the phrase “deeply wise,” which McIntosh uses three times, always to refer to (primarily women’s) feelings of instinctive anxiety when trying to conform to the dictates of the vertical world. She comments:

For women, especially, this absoluteness, and those metaphors of pathbreaking and being expert don’t correspond to our complex sense of the web of circumstances in which we are born […]

Is this “complex sense” of appreciation for the lateral world, this aversion to “absoluteness” innate? Maybe – McIntosh reports with pride that

Research has indicated that girls in playgrounds often break up a game rather than having it disintegrate into conflicts over rules.

Reactions

McIntosh’s plea for the disadvantaged to hold firmly to the best parts of their worldview, and not simply to integrate into the mainstream culture, had some points of with contemporary voices; compare these famous 1984 remarks by :

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.

But not all of McIntosh’s women’s studies colleagues were sympathetic to her stance, and the first question posed to McIntosh when she gave the Fraud talk was a blunt

Don’t you think it’s more important for women to try to build their self-confidence by learning to be competent in the way the world does operate at this time?

Another commenter was still more critical, calling McIntosh’s discourse “dangerous;” she averred that what McIntosh “romanticize[d]” as the “lateral parts of life” was merely “what oppression has done to us.” McIntosh’s response was steadfast:

[…] I don’t see these lateral parts of life only as those phenomena produced by oppression. I’m describing functions – the differing kinds of sustaining functions that are needed in all societies but also within everyone’s life and personality; I’m saying that we would all be better off if we recognized the crucial validity of these functions of making and mending the personal and social fabric. They do not result simply from being victimized.

Buying space to be ideologically flexible

During the 2016 election season, commented:

[…] in a highly partisan environment, voters on one side are looking for signals that their guy hates the bad guys on the other side. Candidates can give them that reassurance either by 1) being rigidly dogmatic on party ideology. That’s Cruz. or 2) being so obviously attitudinally hostile and offensive that he buys space to be ideologically flexible. That’s Trump.

McIntosh, who could have anticipated being under fire for some her views, was rather constrained by her “lateral” commitment to avoid “tearing the social fabric” with her colleagues. What are some ways she could attempt to buy space for herself?

She could try to appeal to her audience by identifying the positive (lateral) pole of her dualism with women. At times, this identification may have worked in the opposite direction; take her praise of those of us who realize how often

our lives do not have trajectories and goals, but are, rather, threads in the fabric of circumstance, only partly of our own social and emotional weaving.

This quote might be easier to explain in terms of societal ideas about women lacking volition, rather than McIntosh’s own lateral system.

She could also make clear to her audience more directly that her message was intended for women. When summarizing manifestations of imposter syndrome, she mentions

[…] a student who works on a committee may be praised by the Dean for her organizational skill, and think guiltily of the mess on the desk which the Dean hasn’t seen. Analogously, a person feeling like a fraud when told that someone likes her will feel “Then, he must be a jerk.” Or, if told she is beautiful, will think only of her faults.

Later:

“If this is ‘one of the best colleges in the country,’ then I don’t belong here.” “He thinks I am wonderful? Then he must be a loser.” “She said I argued brilliantly? Then I fooled her.”

Consider: organizational skill, getting good grades, making a persuasive argument, being found wonderful by a romantic interest – one of these is not like the others. In fact, being unsure about one’s romantic prospects is more or less uncorrelated with the other phenomena McIntosh describes. Its inclusion makes sense, though, as an attempt to appeal to a familiar Cinderella archetype: a woman who is often told she is beautiful, but is so little taken with herself that she cannot consider any of the praise she is showered with seriously.

Another option for McIntosh was to throw in “attitudinally hostile” anecdotes about certain men, in hopes that by tearing the social fabric with imaginary absent men, she could strengthen the threads tying her to her audience. For an example of this, see the next section.

McIntosh’s views inherently put her in a tight spot. She was surrounded by people who thought that women who rose to prominence within the “vertical world” were trailblazers. Yet that world appalled her, and she was not interested in softening her radical critique of it.

A solution: acknowledgement

With some excitement, McIntosh shares the following story:

[A large United States research university] was holding a faculty-wide debate on whether affirmative action guidelines for hiring should also be followed for decisions about tenure and promotion. […] one after another, white male faculty members stood up to say […] when it came to promotion and tenuring, the university had to be on its guard against mediocrity, and not let down its high standards, and that when it came to giving people a lifetime vote of confidence, one couldn’t just take “any old person” […] [A certain] woman psychologist […] stood up and said, “I am hearing a lot of talk about excellence. But then I look around me and I see a lot of mediocre men. For me the real test of affirmative action will be whether or not I can stand up here in 20 years and see equal numbers of mediocre women and mediocre men.”

On the other hand, she praises a woman who began a talk with “I really don’t know what I’m saying, but here goes!” because while she

inspires neither confidence nor respect in the boardrooms of corporate America; […] she is not pretending […] I want to make the case for [these sorts of statements] as refusals to pretend, refusals to be a fraud […]

She also has favorable things to say about a group of female professors:

One woman, in examining her past, put her distinguished present down mostly to the circumstance that she had been rich. Another, examining her past, put her distinguished present down mostly to the circumstance that she had been poor. And a third put her success down to the fact that she entered the library and the books that interested her more or less fell down on her head. None of the women acknowledged her own competence or excellence or enjoyment of the field.

McIntosh’s reactions can be summarized as opposition to those who attribute meaningfulness to the vertical world or agency to those who rise in it, but warmth towards those who are reluctant to do so, and instead stress the roles of chaos and fate in life outcomes. For McIntosh, what, besides their gender, distinguishes the lauded female professors and corporate executives from the clueless, boorish male professors? Not a less intense participation in the vertical world, or a refusal to accept its financial and social rewards, but a willingness to acknowledge the hidden sovereignty of the lateral world.

The expedient required a certain suspension of disbelief. McIntosh saw “I really don’t know what I’m saying, but here goes!” as “not pretending,” while projecting an air of expertise was “fraud.” But in both cases, we are dealing with rhetorical conventions, and remarks like “but here goes!” are learned behavior acquired after years of acculturation in how to be likeable.

Yet this fig-leaf allowed McIntosh to square her circle. By blurring distinctions between her own lateral values and elements of the stereotypical “feminine ethos” (downplaying agency, dislike of sharp distinctions, etc.), she could see virtually all women, regardless of their roles in the world and merely by being “essentially feminine,” as bearing witness to the value of the lateral world.

Interlude

Let us pause for a moment and take stock.

McIntosh began with an ideal involving images of familial and neighborhood happiness, with people talking to one another and being less obsessed with prestige and material success. Her ideas were most developed on rhetoric: here, she thought conversations provided a model for communication that would avoid the sort of constantly insincere self-presentations seen especially in academia.

Perhaps partly due to stress about the kind of reception she might encounter from her colleagues, a series of confusions were woven into her system. The lateral/vertical distinction was blended with the feminine/masculine axis; this imprecision in turn spilled over into general confusion with (her concept of) femininity, uncertain hints about natural gender differences, and disproportionate stress placed on symbolic affirmations of the lateral world. The resulting synthesis was not very graceful, and left many of her ultimate aims ambiguous.

Nevertheless, with all of her imprecision and lapses into tribalism, the early McIntosh was willing to dream, and dream ambitiously. When criticizing norms of rhetoric, she was moving into territory that was comparatively neglected, and some of her points are entirely reasonable. At her best, she was trying to articulate a vision that could work out for everyone. Even if one is at a loss to see how her ideas could work in practice, they still make one think about the way society operates, and what is actually important in life.

This post is the second in a series, which will conclude tomorrow.

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56 comments

    1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

      Thanks – this is however a “preview”: a condensed version of the talk, not the whole thing which is significantly longer.

      Reply
      1. Oregoncharles

        There’s a lot to be said for condensed versions; they’re often better.

        For instance, I remember being shocked to discover that the abridged version of a Dickens novel was a lot better than the full version – and I’ve disliked Dickens ever since. There are other famous writers, like Kant, that also are improved by abridgment. One entire page could be condensed to a single sentence, because it was entirely circular. The verbiage served to obscure the real meaning – or lack thereof. (Both of these are old pet peeves from college years, but I think relevant.)

        In this case, your subtext is that Macintosh is using a lot of obfuscation; that usually disappears when it’s condensed.

        Reply
        1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

          Oh, nice work. I have pages 1-11 of that (part 1) and will not have time to read the rest carefully before the series airs, but this is exactly the right document.

          Reply
  1. Loneprotester

    Thank you for taking the time to parse this ancient chestnut of a paper so expertly. It appears to this historian’s jaded eye to be a reimagining of the “separate spheres” argument of gender in western society: that women and men have inhabited largely distinct, but slightly overlapping environments. One contains the ordinary, domestic world, while the other operates at a higher level, interacting with all the real levers of power that have been hidden from women. Now we have a pyramid, with most women operating and feeling comfortable at the base, while men ascend to the top easily, claiming skills and (yes) privileges that women and others do not possess.

    How might this enhance our understanding of McIntosh’s privilege theory? Well, the fact that she seeks to undermine the rhetorical and practical distinction between the base and apex (attacking her own colleagues as “mediocrities” rather than the self-made successes of their own imagining). There is actually some value in this. But it turns out that having undermined the values on which the vertical world rests, she and her colleagues undermined the mutually agreed upon definitions of success, accomplishment, and “truth.”

    I have only recently paid close attention to the concept of privilege as it has done a victory lap around academia (which I left decades ago) and emerges into the “real world.” It looks to me as though “privilege” is a concept that transfers power from that which is identified as possessing it, to the person or people or group invoking it. If it were a magic spell it could not do so more effectively. “You have it, I now claim it, and defend it with the collective force of my skin color/gender identity/political affiliation.”

    This is clever, but it begs the childish schoolyard challenge of “can you back it up/you and whose army?” Under the Obama administration, the army consisted of some powerful players indeed: from the AG through the DOJ and the Dep. of Education. Under Trump, that army has vanished. Is this why the street brawls over privilege have gotten so much nastier? Or is it just the phase of the cycle we currently occupy (somewhere between breakout and open warfare or capitulation)?

    Reply
    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      ^^”Under Trump, that army has vanished”^^
      I don’t think it’s vanished, at all.
      I think that “they” met something from outside their bubble that played by different rules.
      I see a similarity in the times when republicans were expecting a permanent majority, Rove feeling like they had “won”…premature, at best.
      It’s maybe the End of History Mind Disease..wherein the Truly Privileged inadvertently lock themselves in Blake’s cavern, “seeing all things thro’ narrow chinks….”.
      as is my wont, an anecdote.
      after reading and ruminating on Outis’ first offering, my eldest son comes home(16) and has been arguing with his mom. Wants me to back him.
      Him and a female friend were discussing who was more sensitive…better listener, etc…men or women.
      He began well, but it became clear quickly that he and his friend had fallen into the usual tropes…that women are more sensitive and better listeners and more compassionate and “in tune with their feelings”>
      With the image of my grandfather weeping openly upon us finding a dead Asian man shot in the head in a car at his business one morning(gang related)..I challenged the veracity of such generalisations.
      It’s simply not an accurate picture of the world we live in.
      Sufficient time in the world interacting with various people(with a sufficiently open mind) should easily dispel such generalisations…there are mean, uncaring women…and there are weeping compassionate men…and every mixture thereof.
      Margaret Thatcher was a woman(and Ben Carson and Alan Keyes are black men), if I remember rightly, Peter Thiel is gay…such distinctions alone do not impart virtue or merit.
      All of these overlarge brushes excuse our unwillingness to examine our numerous unexamined assumptions about various features in the world around us.
      Such examination is hard work…and never “finished”…which is in itself a hard thing.
      People long for Certainty, when none is to be found…it looks to me like McIntosh…while searching for a way to get past large useless brushes, has inadvertently constructed yet another large brush.
      …and an overly complex one, at that.

      Reply
      1. JBird

        People long for Certainty, when none is to be found…it looks to me like McIntosh…while searching for a way to get past large useless brushes, has inadvertently constructed yet another large brush.
        …and an overly complex one, at that.

        Isn’t that what she is complaining about? The up/down, black/white, simplified into stupidity view of life that too many have? The strength of her thesis is the very messiness of it.

        Reply
        1. Amfortas the Hippie

          I don’t know.
          So far, I agree with Outis…she may have been shooting for a simple framework, but…due to avoiding other modes of privilege(like class)…she caught herself in her own framework.
          I don’t think there IS a generalised framework for this…”all men”, “all women” “all republicans”, and on and on.
          such schema undoes both free will and individual experience with the world.
          …and ignores MLK’s “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”, which is what I would prefer that we all aim for.

          we’re looking for simple markers to make it easier to interact with complex humans. I just don’t believe that there is a workable system for that.
          Hell, I had to interact with an owner of a welding shop yesterday who was the worst example of an unapologetic racist, misogynist, homophobic, islamophobic(etcetcetc) nutter one could imagine. He made no secret of any of these features of himself…indeed, he seemed eager to make all that as plain as day.
          I’ll never darken his door again…but should I expect all welders to have those same attributes?
          It’s case by case, I’m afraid….and I think civilisation necessitates giving the benefit of the doubt, until the mouth is open and all doubt is removed.

          Reply
          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            Deng Xiaoping: Black cat or white cat, as long as it catches mice.

            Here, an ideal shop owner says: black customer or white customer, as long as he/she pays.

            And the customer: misogynist or not, I take the cat that can weld???? And maybe the guy you ran into moves to Deng’s China.

            Reply
  2. Jamie

    having undermined the values on which the vertical world rests

    Is it not interesting that one can challenge the current structure and yet seek, in some way to “lead” people, and that very act re-instates that very structure?

    Reply
  3. Wukchumni

    Spaghetti & ice cream strikes me as a forbidden food combo if eaten together, though not as egregious as say trout ala mode.

    Reply
  4. John M

    Nicely done Outis!

    You have me riveted, and going back and forth, considering many different aspects of McIntosh’s work – especially as it relates to repairing the social fabric in the lateral world, her attack on the vertical world’s myth of meritocracy and the utility of applying her work in our current political culture. Bravo.

    Again, I think the merit here is your analysis on the progression/history of McIntosh and the organic conversations that arise from her provocations. I am sure you have more and I am looking forward to my coffee tomorrow morning. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. John

    Upon pain of death, Americans are evidently forbidden to talk about class. If you exclude the biggest privilege of all, discussion of the lesser privileges seems pointless except as a diversionary tactic by those on top.

    Reply
    1. Wukchumni

      It’s a bit dated now, but Paul Fussell’s “Class: A Guide Through The American Status System” from the early 1980’s, was as good of a Baedeker as one could hope for.

      To this day, I deduct 17 IQ points from anybody wearing a baseball cap backwards on their noggin, lest they be in the capacity of a catcher in the midst of a game.

      Reply
        1. Wukchumni

          There’s a really irritating movie “Wild”, with Reese Witherspoon, and she walks a couple hundred miles through the Mojave desert sans headgear, and somehow remains pasty white, grrrrrrr.

          Reply
        1. Wukchumni

          Academics oftentimes runs herd on conciseness, preferring 14 words when 1 would suffice, not that there’s anything write with it.

          Reply
      1. Oregoncharles

        They’re trying not to be a redneck. Personal theory: people are “rednecks” because they wear ball caps and t-shirts, and work outside. The term is literal.

        Personally, I work outside, but always wear fishing hats with a brim all the way around. I have to wear something, having very little hair, except on my chin. There are people who don’t recognize me without a hat.

        Reply
        1. Michael Fiorillo

          I too always thought the term “redneck” referred to (otherwise fair-skinned) people who worked outdoors in the sun, but in fact it refers to the red bandannas that miners wore around their necks during the Appalachian coal wars of the 1920’s, in particular the Battle of Blair Mountain.

          Reply
      2. Scott1

        Paul FUssell also wrote the book “Uniforms” and “How I Came to Love the Bomb”. I started reading his books with “The First World War & Modern Memory” for which he had won the Pulitzer Prize. He had the most influence on my respect for Pulitzer Prize winners.
        Raised by a feminist who had divorced my bi father I was inculcated with the idea that women had some sort of superiority.
        Majorities oppress minorities is my judgement and when men and women function together to advance a family unit, outcomes for their children are generally seen as factually superior.
        It is very much harder to eclectically deal with and create systems than it is to function as if there is an inflexible human endowment.
        I am not much familiar with the use of “Lateral” in this context, though it appears to be a stratus of status. Men and women are more laterally composing Academia than they are in say the job of pouring steel or building skyscrapers.
        Paul FuSSell posits that the writer is working class because they have to work and produce something to get paid. As a group Academics are on one hand, men and women regardless of orientations, all Academics and all Working Class because of how closely their lives mimic those of factory workers.
        The attempt within Academia and then the general population is to acknowledge the feminine advantages of points of view and values in comparison to masculine aspects dominate and equal so all are “In Touch” with both natures.

        Reply
        1. Jamie

          There are many way to analyze class. By one definition everyone is “working class” except those who live on inherited wealth. But that is not very useful for thinking about what divides society and what different interests different groups of people in society have.

          One can analyze based on the degree of physical exertion and the toll on the body of the work performed. One can analyze based on the differential rewards offered for the labor offered. One can analyze based on working conditions or living conditions or some combination of these things. I have seen analyses based on autonomy and self direction versus supervision and obedience, and on creativity versus routine.

          One of the most important analyses, in my opinion, is based on the admittedly vague notion of social status. How does one dress? How does one talk? Where does one eat? What does one eat? What does one read? How is one treated by state officials? Do you go to the opera or to the zoo? Do you vacation in resorts or in campgrounds? If you go to the opera or resort, how are you treated there?

          Writers can be of any class. I would rather ponder the class individual writers belong to than lump all writers into a “class” because “they all produce”. It would be a grievous error, for instance, to think that John Steinbeck shared the same class, and had the same class interest, as the people he most wrote about. I would suggest that writers as a group, and in particular academic writers, are not “working class” based on working conditions, differential rewards and social status, but most of all because they have distinct class interests. Which is not to say they can’t express sympathy and solidarity with the working class, as did the aforementioned Steinbeck.

          Reply
      3. Jeremy Grimm

        You should cut a little slack for those of us who have to bend to ground to pull weeds or tend our plants. I wear a bandanna to cover my neck and I wear my baseball hat backwards to ward the sun off the back of my head and neck.

        Reply
        1. Wukchumni

          p.s.

          I can’t recommend a Henschel broad-rimmed hat enough when working in the yard. They have a wide variety of styles, and all made here in the USA, since 1947.

          I’ve been wearing one when dayhiking or backpacking for about a decade now.

          Reply
  6. tokyodamage

    That’s it. I’m not sending my kids within a mile of a university. $40,000 in student debt to learn about vertical pyramids?

    Regular women fighting the power: “Here are the names of some politicians running in your area, and why you should vote or not vote for them. Here are their donors. Here’s a list of their advisors and who the advisors have previously worked for. Here are some companies to boycott. Here’s some women striking in Bangladesh and how to help them.”

    Academics fighting the power: “You know what’s better than straight white men? Pyramids! Pyramids that don’t tear the fabric horizontally. Cathexis! Oppression! Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious! Qeueri akastind kasdfgkasdnaisedtniasdtgksadtkasdnktasditn.”

    It’s like they’re forbidden to ever do anything useful, so they wind up overcompensating by seeing who can bash strightwhitemen the most.

    Reply
  7. Watt4Bob

    My first impression is that the writer has not been ‘fair’ in his assessment of, or perhaps really understood either the point, or the purpose of McIntosh’ writing.

    At her best, she was trying to articulate a vision that could work out for everyone. Even if one is at a loss to see how her ideas could work in practice, they still make one think about the way society operates, and what is actually important in life.

    I disagree, I would say at her best she explains an important, possibly the most important reason that the world, as it is, does not conform in any important sense to the expectations of the masses, and what they consider cultural norms, but instead conforms more and more over time to the mythical picture painted by the rich and powerful.

    The masses, whose lives are mostly experienced in the ‘lateral world‘ increasingly struggle to maintain a reasonably comfortable life in a world where their ability to do so bumps up against the rules imposed by those who nurture the dominance of the ‘vertical world’.

    In short, the old aphorism; “The world is not fair” , while ‘true’, ignores the fact that the world is not fair for the most part because our rulers have long ago abandoned the lateral world, its mythology, and related norms of behavior, and embraced the vertical world and its mythology, and norms of behavior.

    The worlds collective wealth has been steadily drained from the realm of the lateral world over the last few centuries, and deposited in the accounts of those who inhabit the ruling class of the vertical world.

    In much the same way that we have to keep explaining the fact that MMT is not a dream, but a description of our economy as it actually functions, I believe what McIntosh is writing about is not a dream, but a description of the world as it is, a world divided into two realms, one of which is mined for the profit of the other.

    This situation is not natural, there is no sensible reason that 1% of the population owns most of the worlds wealth, this is only possible because the 1%, have consciously worked to supplant the norms of the lateral culture with those of the vertical.

    The norms of the lateral world evolved over many thousands of years, and we should be excused for considering them to be ‘natural’, while those of the vertical world have come to be rather more recently, and I think it fair to believe them to be both synthetic, and the result of the efforts of a relatively small number of very smart, but ultimately greedy, and short-sighted men.

    I believe McIntosh’s writings are an attempt to explain that it is ultimately self-defeating for most of us to believe in the mythology presented by the vertical world, and that doing so has resulted in the systematic destruction of the well being of the lateral world, the world where most of us actually ‘live’.

    I also believe her version of reality nicely coincides with our dawning understanding of the miss-leadership class, the 10% of us who no longer adhere to the cultural norms of the lateral world, but have chosen to pledge allegiance to the norms of the vertical world.

    Gaining stature in the vertical world requires acceptance of its phony mythologies, and active collusion in the looting of the lateral world.

    We’re living in the times when this situation is beginning to be understood, I think McIntosh’s writings, on the whole could help that process.

    Reply
    1. Oregoncharles

      ” a description of the world as it is, a world divided into two realms, one of which is mined for the profit of the other.”
      I think you’re right about McIntosh’s intentions; the problem is that the world is not in reality so divided. Even the rich and powerful, or academics, live mostly in the “lateral” world. The vertical one is an aspiration. Of course, a pyramid of power is very real, and a problem we have to deal with; but I’m not convinced McIntosh’s intriguing distinction heps with that.

      The whole discussion reminds me more and more of Plato’s Cave, and why Plato was so very wrong – and so very dangerous.

      Reply
    2. Kurt Sperry

      I too am more sympathetic to her arguments. Class is, however probably being underestimated; the version of white privilege is something an uncredentialed, poor, white male experiences is nothing like the privilege of one from a “good family”.

      I don’t really get the chronological objections as being important to her argument, that’s more in the realm of ad hom than refutative to me.

      Reply
      1. flora

        If she could talk directly about class, if the subject of class were not taboo ….

        This old gilded age cartoon about class shows both vertical and lateral structures in a pyramid, instantly recognizable without the need for lots of explanation or redefinition of words, for example.

        Reply
      2. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

        You don’t consider it significant that the reason she says that her acknowledgement of privilege was painful was something that wasn’t painful to her at all? My reaction to noticing it was, “Oh, interesting, maybe something not entirely obvious is going on here,” not “moving on, nothing to see here.”

        I’m surprised that you thought that the discrepancy was presented as a “refutation” of her ideas. Really?! Reread the passage and the subsequent discussion. If my intention had been to use the chronological issue as a reason to dismiss her ideas unexamined, do you really think I would have written the way I did?

        Reply
    3. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

      If you were to put McIntosh’s norms into practice in your comment, what would it have looked like?

      You would have begun with a disclaimer like, “You may not agree with this but…” You would have tried to “create an atmosphere of detente,” of “negotiation-making tentativeness.” You would have tried to communicate that “I am not taking the floor from you. I recognize that you are there. I am trying to make this more like a conversation than like a speech.”

      You would then have tried to dialogue with the ideas in the piece.

      What you actually did was to begin with two dismissive, unsupported statements. You even referred to me in the third person, despite the fact that the two of us have actually interacted before! You then went on to give a speech in which sometimes the ideas are McIntosh’s and sometimes they are your own.

      The fact that your actions don’t really conform to McIntosh’s proposals for how to interact with another human being without “tearing the social fabric” doesn’t indicate that you are a bad person. It shows that her ideals are difficult to put in practice. Which doesn’t make them bad ideals, it just complicates matters.

      I’m sympathetic to her critique of meritocracy, but I’m not sure where the limits to it are – for example, a future better world will need people to make sure bridges are safe and bones are set, and these do require some sort of “skill” beyond what (e.g.) I possess.

      A future world might give a more prominent role to lateral functions. Will it eliminate the vertical world? If so, McIntosh gives no guidance on how to do so. Will it eliminate punishment?

      If it will not eliminate the vertical world or punishment, how will the balancing operate? Again, McIntosh does not say anything.

      This is why I said that her ultimate aims are in some respects ambiguous.

      At the end, you say that McIntosh’s “writings” can help the process of understanding the lateral/vertical distinction better. A major point of the series is that McIntosh herself stopped talking about the lateral/vertical distinction. To my knowledge, it is only mentioned in the pre-Privilege period. This installment of the series is partly about appreciating the merits (as well as the difficulties) in her earlier system, and partly about describing that system so we can see what changed in her later work – which has become far, far more popular.

      Reply
      1. John M

        Exchanges like this one between Watt4Bob and Outis are the reason I love this place so much. After each post, I felt some attachment to the ideas presented, but the responses to each other and the kind of analysis here is so helpful for us to get beyond the melange of possibilities into the meat of this conversation.

        And time and time again, we seem to keep bumping into class. Very interesting.

        One last comment we need to commend our friend here Outis upon, is how close attention is being paid to process. This was McIntosh’s wish as well — clearly explained in each of these posts on privilege.

        But also, in his responses to Watt4Bob and myself, one can see how those who might be most driven by McIntosh’s work seem not to be able to replicate philosophical process of including “other” in the conversation. Downright fascinating that.

        Is this because of any specific reason, like could a more pro-McIntoshy implement this kind of dialogue into the debate better than Watt and I? Probably, but no guarantee.

        Is this because it is possible that we have internalized so much of the vertical world view that we in the lateral structure find ourselves slipping “upwards” unconsciously — a bit like Phyllis Camara Jones’ critique on racism – it being embedded in the person/family/institutions/culture — so its bound to come out in overt/covert forms like leaking toxins from our ecology?

        Or are there “other” reasons why this is so messy? :)

        Reply
      2. Watt4Bob

        Sorry Outis, my style is less than top-notch this morning because I’m dealing with network and phone outages at one of my locations due to an errant back-hoe operator damaging our copper T1s while installing fiber.

        So I’m writing in the midst of emergency.

        So, you may not agree with my take, but I see McIntosh’s analysis as a useful description of our situation, but not prescriptive of solution.

        Which is why I mentioned the issue with MMT, that being that many people think MMT is a solution being offered by unrealistic lefties, when it is actually a more precise description of the way our economy actually works right now.

        So, the solution if you accept that fact, is to change the priorities, the things that we decide to print money for.

        Instead of printing money in support of prioritizing war and corporate welfare to profit the 1%, we could decide to print money to provide universal material benefits for the 90% without changing anything about the underlying system accept priorities.

        It is in that sense that I understand McIntosh’s work, and I see her analysis as useful.

        When I look at our predicament through McIntosh’s filter, or more importantly when I try to explain to folks like my Mom, that ‘we’ have a predicament, and that it hasn’t just accidentally happened, it helps to have a description that fits the circumstances more accurately than the last time we talked.

        IOW, in our world, there is more than one set of rules, and associated norms of behavior, one of which is widely accepted as the way to be a good human being, and the other is more narrowly focused on what is necessary to be an economic success.

        My Mom, like most has always thought the lateral view sacred, but the vertical world’s view was to be respected too if one wanted a good job and etc…though she wouldn’t have understood them as separate from each other.

        These two world views have come to overlap less and less over time, with one continuing to explain how to be a good human being, but the other more and more insisting on the rights of the privileged to lie, cheat and steal from the rest of us.

        And now that situation has resulted in the widespread misery we see.

        Reply
        1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

          Sorry to hear that you are dealing with a crazy situation this morning and hope things start going better.

          I actually disagree with very little of this. I think, for example, that the “lateral/vertical” distinction is a pretty thought-provoking one, although the way it can play out (as some other commenters have noted) is a little less clear-cut than McIntosh appears to suggest. In this installment, one thing I tried to do was show how there are undercurrents in McIntosh’s thought, already in 1985, that are not entirely consistent with her general vertical/lateral framework. In these cases, my sympathy tends to be more with the fundamental aspects of her system (which is also what you have focused on in your responses), and less with the other elements (e.g. the way she genders the lateral world).

          Reply
        2. Oregoncharles

          “many people think MMT is a solution being offered by unrealistic lefties, when it is actually a more precise description of the way our economy actually works right now.”
          No, importantly, it’s both, and they’re almost independent. The THEORY is descriptive, and convincing, though I might quibble around the edges (not that anyone cares). It gives fiscal policy a great degree of freedom – which could be used in many ways. As others have pointed out, military spending is very MMT indeed; fiscal limits are invoked against policies the PTB don’t like.

          So at the least, it’s important to distinguish clearly between description and policy. Just judging by Outis’s quotes and description, I don’t see McIntosh as a source of clarity – that’s why I brought up Kant. But I’m very curious to see where Outis is going with this.

          Reply
    4. Seamus Padraig

      Except that McIntosh’s concept of ‘white privilege’ is now being used by her ‘vertical’ element to further police/oppress those ‘laterals’ down below. Or doesn’t all their virtue-signalling and corporate diversity management strike you as just more posing?

      Reply
      1. Watt4Bob

        Except that McIntosh’s concept of ‘white privilege’ is now being used by her ‘vertical’ element to further police/oppress those ‘laterals’ down below.

        Of course it is, what would you expect?

        But I think we have to admit the depravity of our betters has become more obvious, and harder to deny as time goes by.

        Or doesn’t all their virtue-signalling and corporate diversity management strike you as just more posing?

        How else could it possibly be understood?

        It’s foolish to attempt to not know what you know.

        Reply
    5. Jamie

      The norms of the lateral world evolved over many thousands of years, and we should be excused for considering them to be ‘natural’, while those of the vertical world have come to be rather more recently

      One of the intractable problems of fighting power is its ability to obscure history. I remember feeling in 1970 that, “now we are beginning to understand”, and things can finally change. Much later I learned that moment was just one iteration of a continuing struggle stretching back to the beginning of history. The “norms” of the vertical world have been with us since the first proto-chieftain clubbed down (either literally or metaphorically) the first dissenter to impose command over the first proto-tribe. The notion that this is some new kind of phenomena is disconcerting, disconnecting and disempowering.

      Yes, the mythology of the vertical world is destructive and abhorrent. But the mythology of the lateral world also includes a large portion of “keep your head down and don’t make trouble”, of obedience and conformity “evolved over many thousands of years”, of “mind your own business and let the rulers mind theirs”. Let’s not champion one mythology over the other. “The truth shall set you free.”

      Reply
    6. LifelongLib

      We’ll, the world has been “vertical” for millennia, at least since the advent of settled agriculture. But for most of that time your place in it was fixed at birth, you could not even aspire to rising in it. And the vertical part looted the lateral without shame, and rarely any pushback.

      Reply
  8. Tomonthebeach

    Part 2 left me feeling that what McIntosh was doing was adding sugar to sour grape juice. She ignored, likely due to not having lived near the top of the pyramid, that many in the vertical world struggle to do the most good while harming the fewest people. She ignored that many top leaders lead by listening, not by pontificating. She ignored than for many valid leaders, they are not frauds, but humbled by the responsibility for their followers.

    Lesson #1 for all humans is that we do not live in a just world. Consequently we have to make the best hand of the cards life deals us. When my major professors would refer to me in public as their top student, I did not take it as a valid assessment of my potential nor an assertion of my privileged path; but merely encouraging greater effort on my part to measure up. Confusing what people say with what people mean strikes me as dishonest – creating a paper tiger to slay.

    Growing up in the white-flight burbs of Chicago, was a privilege, convincing my parents to let me go to school 20 miles away downtown Chicago was what McIntosh might consider a lateral move at 13. It was also a privilege to be able to help ghetto kids with their homework after school rather than earn coin for mowing neighbor lawns. It was also a privilege to spend summers in the Projects running recreational activities as an alternative to gang membership. It was a privilege to march in solidarity with minorities (mostly adults) in equal rights and anti-war protests while back home peers were waxing their hotrods. All that was privilege, it just did no fit neatly with McIntosh’s image of it.

    Duty is part of privilege. It is a part McIntosh repeatedly overlooks.
    It was a privilege when drafted, to share the burden of a war I protested as pointless rather than to grow bone spurs. Duty highlights the subtle distinction between privilege that “enables” upward mobility, and privilege that “ensures” it. The former requires sacrifice and hard work. The latter requires inherited wealth and power that entitles your appointment to power. In light of recent history, Donald Trump exemplifies the later example of ensured privilege, whereas … well, you get my point.

    Reply
  9. flora

    Thanks for the Frost/Jacobin link: A fine take-down of a fuzzy idea used for bad purposed by many. I recall a Wellesley grad who in the 90’s called young black men “super predators”, but then more recently called white working class men “deplorables”. Is she an ‘equal opportunist’? Is there an intersectional category that includes ‘equal opportunists’? ;)

    Snark aside: I can understand that in the 1980s a woman of a certain age and achievement might want to square the circle of the importance of intimacy and domesticity, which are ignored as not belonging directly to the world of power, with the world of power itself. This is not a new thing. ( See ancient Greek play Lysistrata – written as a comedy by a man where the point of the importance of the domestic and intimate world was the subject. ) I cannot say she succeeded any better than earlier attempts, but she did give a new language to ‘equal opportunists’ – language used to silence critics by appeals to ‘authority’ in too many cases – though that may not have been her goal. my 2 cents.

    Reply
  10. False Solace

    […] a student who works on a committee may be praised by the Dean for her organizational skill, and think guiltily of the mess on the desk which the Dean hasn’t seen. Analogously, a person feeling like a fraud when told that someone likes her will feel “Then, he must be a jerk.” Or, if told she is beautiful, will think only of her faults.

    This sounds like someone suffering from depression.

    There are that say depressed people have fewer delusions than happy people, which means people in the “vertical world” are either better at lying to others or merely lying to themselves about their superiority. But that’s certainly not where McIntosh headed….

    Reply
  11. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Gender privileges transcend national borders.

    Not so with race. A white person may not do so well in Pakistan as an Asian from, say, China.

    Reply
  12. Seamus Padraig

    While McIntosh condemns the correlation between vertical status and categories into which one is born, for her the primacy of the vertical world is at the core of what is wrong.

    Interestingly enough, it seems that McIntosh was not only born into that vertical world, but then chose to spend her whole life there. Quillette just recently did a brilliant write-up on her called . Excerpt:

    Peggy McIntosh was born Elisabeth Vance Means in 1934. She grew up in Summit, New Jersey where the median income is quadruple the American national average—that is to say that half the incomes there are more than four times the national average, some of them substantially so. McIntosh’s father was Winthrop J. Means, the head of Bell Laboratories electronic switching department during the late 1950s. At that time, Bell Labs were the world leaders in the nascent digital computing revolution. Means personally held—and sold patents on—many very lucrative technologies, including early magnetic Gyro-compass equipment (U.S. Patent #US2615961A) which now helps to guide nuclear missiles and commercial jets, and which keeps satellites in place so you can navigate with your phone and communicate with your Uber driver. Means is also recorded as the inventor of a patent held by Nokia Bell in 1959 known as the Information Storage Arrangement. This device is the direct progenitor of ROM computer memory, and is cited in the latter’s patent filed in 1965 for IBM. So, long before Peggy McIntosh wrote her paper, her family was already having an outsized effect on Western culture.

    Elizabeth Vance Means then attended Radcliffe, a renowned finishing school for the daughters of America’s patrician elites, and continued her private education at the University of London (ranked in the top 50 by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings), before completing her English Doctorate at Harvard. Her engagement to Dr. Kenneth McIntosh was announced in the New York Times‘s social register on the same page as the wedding of Chicago’s Mayor Daley. McIntosh’s father, Dr. Rustin McIntosh, was Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at Columbia University. His mother was President Emeritus of Barnard College, an institution in the opulent Morningside Heights district of Manhattan, famous since 1889 for providing the daughters of the wealthiest Americans with liberal arts degrees. This was once the stomping ground of American cultural luminaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cecil B. DeMille, and several Supreme Court Justices. Kenneth McIntosh was himself a graduate of the Phillips Exeter Academy, which boasted alumni including Daniel Webster, the sons of Presidents Lincoln and Grant, and a number of Rockefeller scions. He later completed his elite education at Harvard College and the Harvard Medical School. By the time of his marriage to Elizabeth, Kenneth McIntosh was a senior resident at the prestigious Brigham Hospital in Boston, founded by millionaire Peter Bent.

    In other words, Peggy McIntosh was born into the very cream of America’s aristocratic elite, and has remained ensconced there ever since. Her ‘experiential’ list enumerating the ways in which she benefits from being born with white skin simply confuses racial privilege with the financial advantages she has always been fortunate enough to enjoy. Many of her points are demonstrably economic.

    Reply
    1. flora

      This is interesting because it ties in with a hunch I have about her writing as presented in this series: That McIntosh was/is a member of the first class, but as a woman is regarded as a second-class citizen within that first class. And that irritated, I suspect, which could lead to a dilemma. If one objects to one’s second-class status within one’s first-class class, but still likes being in the first-class class, how does one proceed? Does one attack the larger class structure in general? That seems out if one approves of one’s general class position relative to other classes, or if one is innocent of the state of other classes. Does thinking about the larger world of class system seem to diminish or even undermine the objection to second-class status within one’s larger first- class, as if it were a special class pleading for it’s own advancement that can’t find a firm footing?

      I’m looking forward to the next installment in the series.

      Reply
    2. John M

      Frankly Seamus, I think her background makes her understanding of the vertical structure all the more valid. This has not been very difficult for her at all pointing to the faux meritocracy in the rise of corporatism. And she does begin to discuss ‘unearned’ privilege (probably a bit of her own work in that).

      McIntosh is struggling with finding viable, clear messages for the lateral culture that simultaneously validates their instincts about rising in the vertical sphere (including other voices) without using a frame of shame, ignorance or a lack of awareness for those who have internalized the vertical structure so much, fused to replicate the system. This is a bind.

      While it is interesting where she comes from and her educational background, I tend to believe people need a great deal of latitude from judgment from afar when looking at an incomplete profile of a person some of us have never met. Not willing to play the quickest to the information game — whereby assumptions are made and have no way of being substantiated by the person writing it (Seamus). This is not what these articles are about.

      Reply
  13. Off The Street

    The discussion of privilege leaves the experience of the average person out. It is hard to think about privilege in the precariat era, with student loans, medical premia and, frankly, other more pressing issues. There isn’t much privilege on display when in the queue for anything, beyond having any means to pay for whatever is needed. Something that is needed is a way to bridge the various gaps, to de-escalate the evocative or provocative nature of choice of words, to neutralize in a way to elicit engagement instead of a shrug. With inflation, my three cents.

    Reply
  14. Stephen Gardner

    The very mention of “white privilege” is an insult to the downwardly mobile white precariate. They may not have Harvard sociology PhDs but they are clever enough to know it’s a scam to keep them on the way down the social hierarchy. It’s this kind of talk that leads directly to people like Trump and Alex Jones being popular among those whose only mark of privilege is the pallor of their flesh. But of course that’s the plan isn’t it? Divide underprivileged Whites from underprivileged Blacks and Latinos and the wealthy can keep what they have stolen without fear of the sort of solidarity that could bring them down.

    Reply
  15. The Rev Kev

    McIntosh may have been excited about that female professor that stood up in a meeting and said: “I am hearing a lot of talk about excellence. But then I look around me and I see a lot of mediocre men. For me the real test of affirmative action will be whether or not I can stand up here in 20 years and see equal numbers of mediocre women and mediocre men.” but I thought that the height of idiocy.
    It burnt any bridges with her colleagues while denigrating any future women professors. At the same time it implied that the institute that she worked at was a lost cause. Would have been better if she said that they should aim to have better professors – male and female – in 20 years time. What can you do with someone like this? If it was me, I would have had all her colleagues each buy her a copy of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” as a message but I think that she would miss the point.

    Reply
  16. Jeremy Grimm

    Outis Philalithopoulos — I am confused. In your first post I thought you reduced McIntosh’s arguments to a point of the absurd: “Isn’t the aim of all of this [the “invisible knapsacks of advantages”] more heightening of moral sensitivity than carrying out careful sociology?” Clinton felt our pain. What more is there to say about McIntosh? If McIntosh is aged and you felt the need to give her a little reprise that is very thoughtful but matters little to me. Why not give that reprise to Chomsky instead. He seems a far more worthy object of review and consideration, especially some of his most recent writings in the origins of language and their implications.

    Reply
    1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

      McIntosh’s earlier views (as described here) are very different from her later views and so are not covered by the discussion in part 1. There are some issues with her earlier views as well (see above), but we are still dealing with what feels like an earnest (and somewhat unpopular) effort to understand and reimagine the world. Her later system feels sleeker, much more schematic in comparison, and has spread like wildfire. I find this metamorphosis a striking one.

      Reply

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