The conversation took a turn towards how should we handle harassment at our events. During this discussion, a fairly well-known member of the programming community joined the open space. This person, who had not participated in the first half of the open space, quickly took over and steered the conversation. He stated that if put in a similar situation, he would stand up for himself and tell the harasser to leave him alone. Not only did he state that he would do this, but he also felt this was the responsibility of any person being harassed.
At this point, I felt it was relevant to explain that a white male prominent in the programming community is not being put in the same situation as a woman attending the conference. The privilege and power differentials are completely different, and it is bullshit to act like they are the same. I was then yelled at by another man in attendance for “making assumptions” about the speaker. At the time, I apologized to move things along and avoid derailing the conversation, but I find this deeply problematic. Despite popular opinion to the contrary, pointing out someone’s privilege in a situation is not an insult.
It’s privilege that says it’s the victim’s responsibility to make a harasser go away, and that the situation will turn out well if they try to do so. What may be reasonably easy and safe for one person may not be for another. Women are often socialized differently than men to handle conflict, and the harassment they receive does not always take the same form. If you want to get an idea of what women often deal with, try reading @EverydaySexism. It isn’t exaggeration. This is the daily lived experience for many women. The situation is not the same, and claiming so is misguided in the best of cases and harmful in the worst.
There is no reason to accept the doctrines crafted to sustain power and privilege, or to believe that we are constrained by mysterious and unknown social laws. These are simply decisions made within institutions that are subject to human will and that must face the test of legitimacy. And if they do not meet the test, they can be replaced by other institutions that are more free and more just, as has happened often in the past.
I've heard quite a lot of people that talk about post-privacy, and they talk about it in terms of feeling like, you know, it's too late, we're done for, there's just no possibility for privacy left anymore and we just have to get used to it. And this is a pretty fascinating thing, because it seems to me that you never hear a feminist say that we're post-consent because there is rape. And why is that? The reason is that it's bullshit.
We can't have a post-privacy world until we're post-privilege. So when we cave in our autonomy, then we can sort of say, "well, okay, we don't need privacy anymore, in fact we don't have privacy anymore, and I'm okay with that." Realistically though people are not comfortable with that. Because, if you only look at it from a position of privilege, like, say, white man on a stage, then yeah, maybe post-privacy works out okay for those people. But if you have ever not been, or if you are currently not, a white man with a passport from one of the five good nations in the world, it might not really work out well for you, and in fact it might be designed specifically such that it will continue to not work out well for you, because the structures themselves produce these inequalities.
So when you hear someone talk about post-privacy, I think it's really important to engage them about their own privilege in the system and what it is they are actually arguing for.
Those who really have power in this society tolerate democracy only so long as it doesn't infringe on their power. If, through the parliamentary system, we ever began to expropriate industry, then the people who have wealth and power would destroy the parliamentary system. In this respect there probably wouldn't be any way within the system. But any revolutionary I've ever heard of must prefer peaceful non-violent means if these are possible. But it's rarely been possible because of the resistance by those who want to preserve their privileges.
[Q: do you believe that a nation should suffer a detrimental cost in order to compensate for wrongs committed by the governors of that nations, or by segments of that nation in the past?]
Suppose you're living under a dictatorship, and the dictators carry out some horrendous acts. So you're living in Stalinist Russia, let's say, and Stalin carries out horrible crimes. Are the people of Russia responsible for those crimes? Well, to only a very limited extent, because living under a brutal, harsh, terrorist regime, there isn't very much they can do about it. There's something they can do, and to the extent that you can do something, you're responsible for what happens. Suppose you're living in a free, democratic society, with lots of privilege, enormous, incomparable freedoms, and the government carries out violent, brutal acts. Are you responsible for it? Yeah, a lot more responsible, because there's a lot that you can do about it. If you share responsibility in criminal acts, you are liable for the consequences.Interview by Brian Lamb on C-SPAN (June 1, 2003)
Unlimited economic growth has the marvelous quality of stilling discontent while maintaining privilege, a fact that has not gone unnoticed among liberal economists.