The Privilege Program

The Privilege Program

As Sarah Newcomb writes in Loaded:

We all want to believe the world is fair. We are all looking for meaning in the complex and sometimes chaotic world around us, and when we are the beneficiary of privilege due to chance or  a fluke of history, we have a few ways to interpret our situation. We can chalk it all up to random chance, in which case we might be forced to wrestle with feelings of guilt (because equally deserving others do not have the same privileges) or anxiety (because we may become a target for theft, cons, or violence). Second, we can decide that the system is unfair, and face the feelings of guilt and anxiety that accompany being the beneficiary of an unfair advantage. Last, we can decide that the system is fundamentally fair, meaning that somehow we must be deserving of that privilege. That way we can enjoy our situation and not have to feel guilty or anxious.

This the motivation for the ‘privilege program’, the self defence mechanism that runs in every person. The result, however, in our modern world is catastrophic. It means the rich do not care about the poor because they cannot. It would be too big a sacrifice; and it is vital to note that the sacrifice is psychological, a diminishing of their own value and worth, and not financial. The money is a game played in a desperate defence of self esteem, with no winning position in sight. As Newcomb explains, this is not a conscious choice. A series of experiments have shown that everyone does this and does it quite unconsciously. The researchers had people play rigged games of chance, such as Monopoly and simpler games, which gave one person a huge chance of winning. But even when everyone knew the game was rigged, the winners invariably had the sense they ought to have won. So this is the product of standard human neural wiring. We are all like this. We all have unconscious motivations of tremendous strength and power that cause us to see the world in way that makes oneself OK. And this is usually not a bad thing because if it gets out of hand, our friends will usually let us know. But when the individual has huge power and influence, they become cut off from exactly the kind of natural compensations that keep us a functioning part of society. They are isolated because they need to be told what they expect to hear. Again all totally natural. This is the way we all prevent ourselves feeling guilty. But in our modern world this is disastrous. The lack of connection with the results of actions leaves them adrift in the strange attractors of the unplanned implications of their actions. And the impact on humanity at large becomes ever more threatening to very survival. The answer, hopefully, is a full appreciation of interactive destiny.