Acknowledging privileges

Privilege - A special advantage that people enjoy over others. It is this elusive idea , hard to understand for a lot of people. Why is it so? Why do so many people carry on with their lives completely oblivious to the privileges they enjoy by virtue of their very existence? How can so many people miss such an obvious thing as one that pervades all your life? Is it the extraordinary levels of insulation that people can enjoy in this society? Or is it merely an inability to think beyond their little ponds? Can people be pathologically incapable of recognising privileges that they enjoy and the others so cruelly denied?

It is not hard to find people like this. People who rant about having to pay taxes, or people who rant about reservation system or people who in general think that the society is unfair to them because they do not always get their way.

Don't get me wrong. People are well within their rights to question high taxes or nepotism or inordinate majoritarianism in cornering resources in name of reservation. But a little acknowledgement might not be out of place. The transactional attitude to life, where everything is evaluated in individual terms of profit or loss, is simply being wilfully deaf to cries for empathy and basic human decency.

People need to realise that they are all cogs in a huge machinery called society, and they no matter how extraordinarily talented they are and no matter how isolated they think their actions are, others still contribute to their success / gain. It may be hard to see, but it is because there are certain sections of the society who in so many subtle ways, sacrifice things that are valuable to me, I get to enjoy those privileges. I get to enjoy flexible timings at work, and I can jolly well proclaim that I deserve it because I line the pockets of my 'company' and that it is a fair compensation for the talent I bring in. But is it really? Isn't the rest of the society toiling away enabling me to enjoy this? I recognise that this is a slippery slope. The society is not toiling away for me in particular - they toil because that's what masses do - in absence of war or famine, people just work their asses off. But some people in the society enjoy a disproportionate fruit of the society's labour. While a significant portion of the population needs to run on time or risk getting penalised, a small portion gets to strut around oblivious to constraints of time. I get to enjoy food anytime I want because someone chooses to be away from the warmth of family and shelter to deliver my food. And it is not my case that they are not being compensated for it - they very well might be - but it is no one's case that these people are not missing out on some of the most basic things humans want to secure in their life. It is important to acknowledge that privilege I enjoy.

Yes, people get paid - but as the Indian privileged class is fond of claiming - money isn't everything. Acknowledging that certain people - people who work in the so called white collar industries are able to enjoy their privileges only because the society operates in a way which incentivises unequal rewards for equitable efforts and to recognise that we are not some unfeeling variables in an equation of a zero sum game is important.

But why is this acknowledgement so important? What is so wrong in being oblivious to your privilege as long it is not causing anybody any harm?

It is important because of the flippant attitude people have. People seem to think it is okay to behave in certain manner or mete out some treatment because they can somehow morally justify it to themselves, usually in terms of money. 'I pay more in taxes, than he earns / than the state gives me back'. Everyone must have heard a variation of this statement in their lifetime. What does this mean? This actually points to a deep ingrained denial of the value that the society adds to one's life. It is a particularly sociopathic justification of cruelty in terms of flimsy logic. It is refusal to acknowledge the privilege that one enjoys - by way of being able to reside in a peaceful country, enjoying a lawful state apparatus (for the most part at least), and relying on the society for everything from the very basic needs - from milk to manual scavengers on hire. Somehow everything is looked through a lens of efficiency and the humanity is scorched out, especially when it suits the person uttering these words.

There is a price that everyone pays for being in a society that adheres to / compelled to adhere to certain norms that resemble order and civility - some pay it more than others. Some have to make greater sacrifices than the others to enjoy the same things - not because of their talent or ability - but seemingly because they did not possess a special advantage a crucial juncture in their life. A privilege.


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