Actually, There’s Nothing Wrong With Privilege

There seems to be an increasing trend, especially in the millennial and post millennial generations, to be on the defensive when talking about privilege. It seems that one must be the poorest and most oppressed person in the world to overcome the question on privilege. Hierarchies and inequality are nothing new and are found universally, even in the animal kingdom. There will always be some inequality and the concept of haves and have-nots, except perhaps in the dreams of utopian socialists. 

While discussing the supersedence of State’s recommendation vs. doctor’s recommendation for testing Covid-19 on a national channel, there took place one such incident. A doctor from a private and reputable hospital of Delhi, who was of the opinion that doctors were in a better place to recommend tests for patients than a central authority was face to face with a Delhi Legislator. Both had compelling arguments, though an objective mind would be more inclined to agree with the doctor. The legislator put up a good fight but was overshadowed by the doctor’s logic.

What was the one major fault of the doctor? He spoke eloquently, had an above average vocabulary and a hint of an accent. The legislator proceeded to use this against him and talked about how he was distanced from the realities of life of those who were not going to private hospitals. It was clearly evident that this was a desperate last attempt by the legislator and consisted of no true substance. 

Personally, I feel that the legislator should have thanked the doctor for pursuing his practice domestically, given the fact that over 20 per cent of medical graduates migrate abroad. What was more surprising though was the swing in popular opinion arising from this argument. Speaking eloquently seemed to have diminished the doctor’s contribution to the society and his subject matter expertise. 

In a mock interview with one of the toppers of the Civil Services examination, the candidate was asked to allay the fears of the committee that he belonged to the elite class. The candidate had studied in premier public schools and both his parents were high ranking bureaucrats. It was pretty clear that he was a part of the top 1 per cent, as it were. When the candidate was unable to answer to the satisfaction of the panel, he was advised to make references to his friends in villages, showcase his knowledge on agricultural seasons etc. It was like asking a white man to prove he wasn’t racist by naming his black friends. 

With a country where the immigration rate is a negative number, and the problem of “brain-drain” is being faced every day, we must be careful of not alienating those who have had it better than us. If you are reading this, you are yourself at a position of privilege over those who do not know how to read or don’t have the means to. Is this a good time for you to reflect on the state of the ones who can’t read and make a poignant statement about your gratitude to those who enabled you to acquire this seemingly basic knowledge, yet which is still not possessed by millions?

Instead of justifying all the so-called privileges that are bestowed on one because of the accident of birth at every instance, one should redirect one’s energies into utilising most of what they have. Notice a linguistic flaw in someone’s work, including this one, and be ready to be met with the response “Check your privilege!” because maybe the writer did not have the same educational background as you did. Or maybe, just maybe they were just lazy to proof read their work. Maybe they did have the opportunity to learn the language in question but did not value academics as an important part of their life; but you would already have been called a grammar Nazi enough times that you would not point it out. 

The idiom, Noblesse Oblige comes to mind. If one feels that life has been kind to someone, one might feel the call for charity. But one should be careful not to judge others on the basis of the empathy they extend to others. If there is one thing we know, is that everyone is plagued with their own problems. While some might be called “First World “problems, the psychological research shows that at any given point of time, the poor and the rich claim to experience the same level of satisfaction from life, when surveyed (source: Sapiens- A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Harari, Chapter 19). 

At the same time, one must still recognise one’s position in society’s hierarchy and be cognizant of the fact that this position is to some extent based on the accident of their birth. In an ideal world, those who have access to more resources should have no problem in utilising them and meet all their goals. In the same world, it should still be possible for the underprivileged to come up to the same level, albeit with more sacrifices and work than the former. 

In my opinion, one of the most basic problems in Indian governance and development is that the privileged, meritorious and/or capable are being discouraged to stay in India. This could be due to the social stereotype of a typical business owner as a tax evading, labour exploiting oppressor. This could also be due to the lack of infrastructure in comparison to some of the other countries that are considered necessary for a high quality of life.

Another reason could be the highly competitive tier 1 and Tier II college admissions that encourage the below, the above and the average student to skip the brain dead paper work and apply abroad, where the selection practices are holistic. The issue is that this leaves a largely deprived and mediocre population to run a country with complex socio- economic problems. The result is as expected. An example to illustrate; even after so many years of Independence the core issues for elections have remained largely the same viz. religion, caste, pro- poor policies, and some sense of regional pride. 

While in a representative democracy, elected officials are supposed to represent the voters, I would argue that this representation should be ideological or policy oriented. Currently, we favour those who have had the same exact life experiences as us and marginalise those who get ahead of the curve. One needs to look only at the memes and trolls being created on the board toppers every year. 

We must stop trying to make achievers “humble” by pointing out the various things that worked out for them. This will only lead to disaffection among the middle classes and increase the tendency of candidates to pursue greener pastures abroad. An example here is the speech by one B school professor wherein he told his pupils that they should not feel happy after being admitted to the school. The reason given was that as the entrance test is conducted in English, it automatically makes over 50 per cent graduates ineligible to attempt it. Just imagine all the hard work and sleepless nights of the aspirant, who burnt the midnight oil to reach the coveted college, only to be belittled by his/her own professor. 

We need the educated and exposed youth (all criteria for which are being met by an average middle/ upper-middleclass candidate) to lead the country to glory. If they spend half their time negating their privilege to the media and the public, that seems like a distant dream. To create a fair society, it is not necessary to bring down those who do well, rather engender such opportunities for more people. 

In a free market economy, the accident of birth is something that neither needs to be justified nor balanced either through policy intervention (for example a progressive tax rate) or social justice (making people feel that their achievements are not their own but merely a result of their privilege). 

What one needs is to know that the system isn’t rigged against him/her. That they have a chance to make it to the top, the effort required for which may of course vary. 

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Pika
Pika
2 years ago

Well expressed 👌🏻

deepak
deepak
2 years ago

Very cogent argument forcefully put. All rich people are not thieves nor are all poor divine. Also not every suv owner is in the wrong when an accident occurs with he being at the wheels. However, I would rather that the privileged lot understood their privileged status and made an extra effort to help, not out of guilt but as responsible members of the community.

Aditi
Aditi
2 years ago

Thought provoking.
Interesting take on the privileged lot.

Rajni
Rajni
2 years ago

Very mature thought provoking writing.The author has very aptly chosen the current burning topics and has given justified reasons.We now should choose a pinpointed approach to improve Indian governance and development. I quite agree with author’s point of view about the privileged and achievers.
Kudos to the young author.

R.k.Agarwal
R.k.Agarwal
2 years ago

Arguments are based on factual. It’s a voice of normal student going to face the world and what he is forseeing and encountering during journey .Very genuine query raised .wonderfully way of expression

Rashmi Agarwal
Rashmi Agarwal
2 years ago

प्रेरणादायक दृष्टिकोण! देश में विकसित हो रही विपरीत विचारधारा के चेहरे पर विचारशील मानसिकता का करारा प्रहार !
समाज में व्याप्त वर्गभेद एवं योग्यता और अयोग्यता के मापदंड का जर्जर हो चुका पैमाना !
आज का भारत इसी का परिणाम भुगत रहा है ,चाहे विद्यालयों में प्रवेश हो , नौकरियों में नियुक्ति हों , यात्राओं में विशेष सीट का संरक्षण हो ,जनता द्वारा चयनित राजनेताओं से मिलने का विशेष कारण हो ,हर क्षण यह कटु समस्या इंसान के जीवन को कड़वाहट प्रदान करती है ,मधुरता नहीं ।

Simon
Simon
2 years ago

Very well written. The author has presented his argument in a lucid and succinct manner. In a country like ours where the majority of the masses are less privileged, there is of course an innate sense of envy towards the privileged class. This is natural. The polity fan and whip up this sentiment further as a part of vote bank politics. Playing up caste & religious forms an essential part of their campaign/strategy. While the privileged class need not have to be burdened with any sense of guilt for their well being, it would be prudent for them to smell the coffee and have a fair understanding of the hardships that the less privileged have to go through in their daily lives. We need to strategize on how to retain the best brains and talent, be it better work environment, infrastructure and growth opportunity.

brijesh
brijesh
Reply to  Simon
2 years ago

Well thought of and very well written…

Sanjay Bhattacharjee
Sanjay Bhattacharjee
2 years ago

Neither should a person’s previledged background nor the absence of it , should be a hurdle in him or her reaching for the moon. Meritocracy in tandem with democracy should be the buzz word to take a nation , state , region or community to its rightful place under the sun.

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