John Scalzi, science fiction author, president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, film critic and frequent blogger, hefted a post out there this morning and inadvertently splashed the Manosphere.
I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.
So, the challenge: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?
Being a white guy who likes women, here’s how I would do it:
Then Scalzi goes on to make an actually quite compelling metaphor in which being Straight, White, and Male is the lowest difficulty setting on the game The Real World . . . because, apparently, that's the only metaphorical system we stupid dudes are left with any more. Fair enough. Now that we're not going to college or getting married or getting jobs like we used to (back when Straight White Males were being castigated for there being too many of us in college, in "bad" marriages where we oppress our wives, and in positions of authority in the workplace), perhaps video games are about all we have left.
He did manage to pull back on the throttle of disdain towards the end of the piece where he conceded that, yes, Straight White Males didn't have any more control over the game settings than anyone else. But then he stopped there, and ended (a little patronizingly):
So that’s “Straight White Male” for you in The Real World (and also, in the real world): The lowest difficulty setting there is. All things being equal, and even when they are not, if the computer — or life — assigns you the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, then brother, you’ve caught a break.
Well, maybe so. If you look at it from one perspective. I mean, despite his somewhat snide tone, Scalzi's point is well-taken -- but it looks at the nature of straight white male privilege without looking at its attendant deficits, and automatically posits that the "advantages" of straight white privilege always outweigh those disadvantages. Sometimes "catching a break" is the fastest way to the bottom. But far beyond that, it misses the reason why we dislike the term "privilege" when it is applied to us. Here, slightly expanded, is what I replied:
It’s not that we (straight, white, male) nerds can’t understand the concept of privilege (Latin, essentially, for “private law”) and how we’re benefiting from it, I believe. It’s the fact that yes, we didn’t have any more say in the "character" we were issued by the computer than anyone else, and we get tired of other players grousing like we did. No matter how good or how bad we do, our character class/race is used as a justification for why we are, somehow, inherently at fault for our stats, and therefore should shoulder the blame of most of the rest of what is wrong in the world. I’ll cop to straight white male privilege and how I’ve exploited it as much as anyone else would in my position, but I didn’t cheat to get that stat, and having people constantly act like I did and use it as an excuse for their own deficiencies is tiresome and intellectually dishonest. Being Straight, White, and Male doesn’t make me an inherently evil, unjust, selfish or immoral person any more than any other sociographic racial stereotype would.
Thanks to our ancestors building Western Civilization and all, we get to deal with all of the great guilt associated with being Straight White Males -- the Conquest, the Crusades, the Trail of Tears, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all of these are laid at our feet as the price of our "lowest difficulty setting", yet few of the perks associated with Straight White Male privilege make it down to the rank and file in ways that make up for the negatives in a big way. Oh, it's nice not being stopped by the cops or shot by the cops for my race, don't get me wrong -- but when you get your pink slip at work and everyone expects you to go home and load your guns instead of filing for unemployment because you're another angry, privileged Straight White Male, well, it's a bit of a bummer.
Psychologically, that leaves you with two options: acceptance of your status, and developing some method of dealing with the guilt that being socially privileged forces upon you, like philanthropy or serial monogamy, OR check out of the cultural matrix that imposes both the privilege and the guilt upon you. A movement known as Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), is advocating Straight White Males abandoning those roles of ever-increasing social and financial expectation/privilege/guilt here in the West and pursue more fulfilling interests off the grid or in exotic foreign lands where you are merely one of many minority populations. And as game strategies go, it ain't a bad one.
I mean, when you’re stuck with the lowest default setting and you have no way to correct it, why not abandon the Big Quest and indulge in little side-quests off in the hinterlands? You have just as much fun . . . and no one can call you a loser if you aren’t playing the Big Game. The women are pretty, feminine, and don't leap to divorce except in extreme cases. A reasonably well-educated Straight White Male can make a decent living doing all sorts of things in a third world country -- and have a lot of fun while he's there. Why go tromping off to Mordor when you can hang out in a distant village with exotic barmaids, intriguing ales, and the potential for adventures beyond the Divorce Court and Weekend Dad modules? You're still racking up experience points, you're just on a different server. One where being a Straight White Male is seen as a good thing, not grounds for Reasonable Suspicion of Oppression.
Hey, it beats enduring the ‘privilege’ of socio-racial guilt — what else are we supposed to do?
And hell . . . why should we put up with that? If we're just players, too, then we play for our own amusement and benefit, pursuing our own interests. Here I thought we were the heirs and caretakers of a five thousand year old civilization our ancestors created . . .
So here's a new strategy for the "players" in the "party" of the Straight White Male, when confronted with these assumptions of privilege and ignorance of the weaknesses of the class in our fellow players: walk away. Log off. Do not engage. If other players aren't willing to extend your character the same basic respect they'd give a passing half-troll because of your difficulty setting, then they aren't worth playing with . . . or supporting. Walk away, go away, go your own way, and log on to a more productive server. The players you leave behind will likely be unhappy, but . . . well, it's your freakin' account.
And if you aren't having fun while you play, why play?
Someone pointed out to me that Scalzi's new book is called Redshirts, which I find kind of ironic. His condescension towards Straight White Males, who seem to be the majority of those who buy his books and the related videogame products, seems a little counterintuitive under the circumstances. He basically seems to be saying:
"HEY! STRAIGHT WHITE NERDS! You've got it easy and you need to quitchyerbitchin and being assholes because even though I wouldn't have an internet to hawk my books over if it wasn't for two generations of you doing what you do, you should feel properly ashamed of who you are and what you get out of life because compared to everyone else you have had it all handed to you on a silver platter! Adopt the proper servile role AT ONCE or risk the displeasure of the collective!"
It's not that I take issue with his analogy -- it's a fine one. Or even his assertion, that being straight, white, and male gives some of us some inherent advantages in some situations -- I get that. I also get that just being born in the US gives you ENORMOUS advantage towards being born in most of the rest of the world -- yet it was only toward the Straight White Males that Scalzi leveled his verbal blunderbuss. He didn't ask for all Americans to admit that they had it easier Difficulty Level than everyone else in the world. He focused on the easiest portion of the population to bash and get away with it: Straight White Males. His base, in other words.
So that begs the question: just how does John Scalzi see the bulk of his audience? He seems insistent that SWMs aren't doing enough to admit that they have some advantages, and persistent in his assertion that they are, as a class, too limited in scope to even realize the dreadful damage that they are doing by not actively working to undermine their own self-interest -- essentially his entire post is a admonition for Straight White Males to do their utmost to selflessly reduce what little advantages that might linger from their ancestors' long, evil plot to build Western Civilization.
But the problem with Scalzi's piece isn't his metaphor or his condescension: it's their implication. SWMs must be properly silent and guilty for who they are, or they're assholes. Expendable. If you're straight, male, and white, then if you don't make a big show about how you being straight male and white gives you goodies that no one else gets but you feel just terrible about it . . . you're an asshole. Expendable. That's the gist. Work for the greater good against your self-interest. Sacrifice what you have and all your ancestors gave you in the interests of a fairness that never gets achieved and a population who only increases how much they despise you with every concession that's made. Over 50 years of systematic attacks on "Straight White Male Privilege", and you'd think the number of calls for us to give up for the greater good would have produced more respect and less noise about how evil teh Mens were. In the perfect Blue Pill world, Straight White Men are the lowest of the lower in the social sense. Utterly replaceable, utterly indefensible, utterly expendable on the alter of social justice.
Redshirts, in other words. John Scalzi seems to be saying that if you don't take a fist full of Blue Pills every morning and begin your day by obsequiously kissing the world's collective ass, then you're just a redshirt. The dude who beams down (usually a Straight White Male named Johnson or Conway, or Peters or something very White -- Ensign Zuniga usually makes it to the end of the episode) who ends up getting eaten by the monster or killed by Klingons or blown up by the reactor explosion or is otherwise . . . expendable.
And Redshirts don't get any respect. They barely get a name. They're there to look strong and tough and then die gallantly so the rest of the multiethnic pangendered landing party can escape.
There's a message there.