Power and Privilege: A Freed-Market Anarchist Approach

Before discussing any sort of “answer” to the question of inequality often captured under the term “privilege,” it would be most useful to describe what the concept even means [1].  “Privilege refers to “unearned power conferred systematically” [2], most commonly to “male privilege,” “white privilege,” and “class privilege.” However, privilege is often expanded to include: “ability (health) privilege,” “linguistic privilege,” “educational privilege,” “religious privilege,” and various other forms of “privileges” [3]. Here there is a great deal of rather unproductive conflict between those that deny that privilege exists and those that affirm that it does.

One of the misinformed (and, therefore, unhelpful) criticisms of privilege theory, is to claim that it is a Marxist system. This claim is false. Privilege theory has its origins in Post-Marxist thought that explicitly diverged from the Classical Marxists [4]. Indeed, some socialists [5] oppose privilege theory because of its nature as a post-Marxist movement that they contend “is not a framework that can move the struggles forward” [ibid.].  A further, though distinct, claim against privilege theory is that it is “a shield against reason” [6]. This criticism is not without merit, at times a vulgar form of the privilege theory is used to shut down debate and silence opposition, this discredits the movement that may have good intentions at its core [7]. Furthermore, to correct this criticism one must change the way in which one thinks about privilege. If one thinks of it as a means to silence those that have been historically favored, one is engaged in a circumstantial ad hominem [8]. Whereas, if one thinks of privilege as something which creates psychological biases that can be overcome, one has the opportunity to move the conversation forward by helping clarify thinking. This is why to move forward with discourse in the modern age one must admit, or at least accept that many hold, that privilege does, indeed, exist. However, once people outside the political left admit that privilege exist, the entire conversation can change.

The issue with the intellectual monopoly by (a certain faction of) the left on the concept of privilege is that it becomes merely a political tool to further their own goals [9]. Furthermore, by possessing the total ownership on the concept they can dream up new forms of “privilege” by the day to suit their political needs (e.g. “homonormativity” [10]); often this sort of thing is used to “purge” the movement, once they people it targets have outlived their usefulness to the movement. Thus, it is imperative that other groups stop pretending privilege is entirely a myth and add their approach the concept. Luckily, some libertarians and anarchists have already begun this process; sadly they align themselves, at least in name, with the left (chiefly; Roderick Long, Sheldon Richman, Kevin Carson, and others with the Alliance for the Libertarian Left and the Center for a Stateless Society [11]). These thinkers have decided, rather unfortunately, to call their beliefs “left libertarianism,” or “left-wing market anarchism,” because they oppose things like privilege, imposed hierarchies, and the capitalistic system [12]. This is unfortunate on two counts: (1) it buys into the left’s intellectual monopoly on the concept of privilege and the struggle against imposed power, (2) it explicit claims that market anarchism and libertarianism are functions of either the left or the right (see note 1). However, despite their unfortunate name, many of their insights are interesting [13].

If the definition of privilege is “unearned power conferred systematically” [2] it seems clear that a freed-market anarchist would have a deep interest in the concept [14]. “Unearned power” is always suspect and can often lead to oppression and “conferred systematically” seems to refer to (a) governmental systems (which are suspect), or (b) cultural systems. Given these conditions the answer to the problems of privilege and power seem obvious. However, one most establish that there are problems stemming from privilege and power. Unless this is established in a rational framework, it is impossible to defeat. Often times without establish that the supposed problems do in fact exist; one is left with mere empathy for those they feel have been dealt a bad hand (i.e. the under-privileged). Though empathy is important, in the end reason (and not empathy) will do far more to solve problems [15].

It is difficult under the leftist monopoly on the concept to establish a reasonable basis that affirms that problems stemming from privilege and power exist. This is likely do to the search for evidence is seen as a threat to the concept. However, it is not; nor, do I necessarily demand empirical evidence. Society cannot be reduced to a mathematical formula like some physical reaction, it is constantly changing. Thus, if the definition or premises of the privilege theory offer deductible conclusion that would be enough to at least satisfy the rationalists. Of course there is at least some empirical evidence that privileges exist in all manners [16]. Furthermore, it is clear that the premises that (a) privilege is unearned power conferred systemically, (b) power, especially unearned, power tends to be corrupting, and (c) systemic conference requires a conferrer (namely, government, or society); leads to the conclusion that privilege is a corruption force conferred onto people by some outside force. It is, therefore, changeable. This is one of the areas where most privilege theorists are incorrect: they seem to hold “a very pessimistic and disarming theory—seeing individuals as unable to escape their prejudices or their role in the oppression of others” [5].

Approach from a different way the problems of privilege do not seem as daunting as the “pessimistic” “theory” of inescapable oppression. If, instead of seeing privilege as any inescapable consequence of uncontrolled circumstances (skin-pigmentation, sex, etc.), one views privilege as a mere cultural artifact emboldened by governmental systems and leading to ingrained (but challengeable) cognitive biases, one can see that the problems of privilege can be dealt with. First, one must realize that since the government is systemizing (or at least helping systematize) privilege, it can hardly be expected to end or even help end the problems of privilege power. There are two reasons for this: (1) societal class does exist, but Marx was incorrect in labeling them as he did, instead there exist three main classes in society: the politically elite (those in power), the strong but disconnected (this class threatens those in power, as they are hard to control, they must either be eliminated or incorporated in one of the other classes), and the weak and disconnected (this class is easy to control with the promise of a better life through political solutions  [17]) [18]; and two, as I have previously written:

The issue comes down to this: political solutions to social problems do not work. They replace education with legislation, the book with the bullet, the free mind with the shackled mind. The only way to solve any social issue is to change hearts and minds. Legislation, guns, and silence cannot do this. Force does not win arguments. Might does not make right. [19].

Therefore, the only solutions to the problems of privilege power are social solutions, social meaning non-governmental, educational, and free-speech embracing solutions. To weed out prejudice from the barrel of a gun is not a just solution. However, changing people’s hearts and minds is a (I would add, the only) just and moral solution.

One of the best social solutions to destroy the power of privilege is to put an end to the current neo-Mercantilist system by embracing the freed-market. The free-market is founded primarily upon the principle of private ownership (beginning with ownership of the self), this can take multiple forms under a decentralized system, it may be single individual ownership, partner owner, communal ownership, etc. The point is not the type of private ownership, but that it is completely decentralized and discourages violence. This leads to four more principles. The principle is that of voluntary exchange, this is the principle that people may voluntarily exchange mutually beneficial goods and services without outside interference. The next principles are free competition of firms (this would help decrease and decentralize firm size, thus decreasing hierarchical relationships), and entrepreneurial discovery to compete in the market but also to benefit society through new opportunities both social and economic. The fifth principle is that of spontaneous order, the idea that order emerges out of chaos without a central planning board directing things [20]. The nature of the freed-market is decentralized and non-violent; it is marked by voluntary interaction and social cooperation.  Thus, it would tend to prevent privilege power in a variety of ways.

First, it would disincentivize social bias on the part of both firms and consumers. On the part of the firms, under the condition of decentralized free competition, it would be not be advantageous to systemically discriminate either in employment (it would lead to more economic losses and lower productivity) or in sales (it would lead to less profit and possible social consequences, i.e. boycotts). On the part of consumers, discrimination would lead to less choice and having to pay higher prices for the same goods (or even going without). Second, by its highly decentralized nature the freed-market favors voluntary interaction based on the innate integrity of each person (i.e. on the basis of individual self-ownership); this would lead to limitation of the power of privilege by challenging the paradigms of unearned powers. Indeed, this was the sort of thing the classical liberals fought against: “the inequality of privileged lords and priests who were seen as better than peasants and shopkeepers” [21]. However, under the freed-market there might still be some social privilege and prejudice.

Human differences are a fact of life. Though people are more alike (biologically and genetically) than they are different [22]; everyone is different and that’s a good thing. Biases and prejudices are likely to persist no-matter the prevailing governmental, economic, or societal system. However, a decentralized freed-market anarchism guided by a moral presumption against aggression and injustice (unfairness), would lead to the most amiable society to fairness, openness, and toleration this was the goal of the classical liberals and ought to be the goal of the modern freed-market anarchists. By adapting and (slightly) modifying the theory privilege, freed-market anarchism can offer a solution to the issues of injustice and unfairness, by affirming individual integrity (self-ownership), peaceful exchange, and equality in liberty.

Notes:

[1] There are two risks in writing this article, insofar as being politically slurred can be considered a risk; the first is that people on the political right may accuse me of having taking a “left-turn” or of being a leftists; the second, is that people on the political left may accuse me of being a right-winger. Of course, as these would be political slurs it would be far more likely for someone on the right to call me a “commie,” or a “SJW;” and for someone on the left to call me a “fascist,” or a “bigot.” In the end any such criticism as these would be completely inconsequential to me; however, I will address them by saying this: I believe that what I am here calling “freed-market anarchism” is neither right nor left [1.1]. Indeed, it might be better to term it more fully as “ideological mixed freed-market anarchism,” as this would make clear that this system takes reasonable ideas and insights from a variety of sources, not merely supposed leftist or rightist sources.

[1.1] Chiefly: Block, W. (2010). “Libertarianism is Unique and Belongs Neither to the Right nor Left” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies 22: 127-70. Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/22_1_8.pdf?file=1&type=document. Though Block uses the term “libertarian” (in my opinion, a less precise term, thus I tend not to use it when trying to be precise), I believe that his arguments in this paper apply equally well to “freed-market anarchism.”

[2] McIntosh, P. (1988). “White Privilege and Male Privilege.” Retrieved from http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/diversity/white-privilege-and-male-privilege.pdf .

[3] Media Smarts (n.d.). Forms of Privilege. Retrieved from http://mediasmarts.ca/diversity-media/privilege-media/forms-privilege. Also: Subtirelu, N. (2013). “Language Privilege: What it is and Why it Matters” on Linguistic Pulse. Retrieved from: https://linguisticpulse.com/2013/06/26/language-privilege-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/.

[4] Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Retrieved from http://v3.ellieharrison.com/money/hegemony.pdf.  I feel that it must be made clear that though many post-Marxist leaders still used the term “socialist” and much of the Marxist terminology, they represent a significant philosophical break with traditional Marxism (which might be thought of as modernist Marxism). The Post-Marxist were (are) also, by and large, post-modernists and, therefore, rejected “totalizing” world views [5].

[5] Choonara, E. and Prasad, Y. (2014). “What’s wrong with privilege theory?” in International Socialist. Retrieved from http://isj.org.uk/whats-wrong-with-privilege-theory/#esmeyuri142_11. This is a highly interesting article, though written by socialist and towards a socialist audience it remains a valuable piece for anyone (socialist or not) interested in the history of privilege theory, a left-wing critique of privilege theory, and privilege theory more general.

[6] Campbell, D. G. (2010). “‘White Privilege:’ A Shield Against Reason,” in Academic Questions 23: 497 – 504. DOI: 10.1007/s12129-010-9188-5. Mr. Campbell makes a rather compelling case against privilege analysis and for a return to reason, viz. “We must  speak the truth: that true intellectual diversity within an academic department or any organization cannot be attained by focusing on or exploiting skin color, family origin, or sex.”

[7] Galles, G. (2015). “The Intellectual Intolerance of Behind ‘Check Your Privilege’” in the Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/intellectual-intolerance-behind-%E2%80%9Ccheck-your-privilege%E2%80%9D. Galles makes a highly useful point about the manner in which productive dialogue happens:

It would start by precisely specifying what faulty premises, assumptions, or arguments someone supposedly holds, either included or excluded inappropriately. Then it would explain why it is inappropriate for the issue being considered. It would lay out the correct or appropriate premise that would take its place and articulate the reasons why. Building on that foundation, it would show how the “new and improved” premises would change one’s conclusions. Consequently, it would lay out the appropriate remedy based on the alternative analysis.

Indeed, checking one’s “faulty premise,” especially if they are founded on a psychological bias, is one of the most important tasks in any debate or pursuit of knowledge.

[8] Copi, I. and Cohen, C. (1994). Introduction to Logic (ed. 9).  Macmillan, Inc.: New York.   The circumstantial ad hominem is a logical fallacy whereby one discounts another’s argument on the basis of the other’s circumstances. From Copi and Cohen:

When a circumstantial ad hominem argument explicitly or implicitly charges the opponents with inconsistency … that is clearly one kind of abuse. When a circumstantial ad hominem argument charges the opponent with lack of trustworthiness by virtue of group membership or conviction, that is an accusation of prejudice in defense of self-interest and is clearly also an abuse.

It seems odd that the group general most concerned about group power and dynamics is so wont to use abusive ad hominem attacks, which are tantamount to the very type of prejudice they declare to decry.

[9] Daum, M. (2014). “Using ‘Privilege’ as a weapon” in Las Angles Time. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-daum-privilege-shaming-internet-20141016-column.html. The article is well worth a read, though one line will illustrate the danger of the left’s intellectual monopoly on privilege, viz. “Now what was once a legitimate tool for self-examination is an insufferably smug platform for self-righteousness.”

[10] Kacere, L. (2015). “Homonormativity 101: What It Is and How It’s Hurting Our Movement” in Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/homonormativity-101/.

[11] Alliance of the Libertarian Left website: http://praxeology.net/all-left.htm; Center for a Stateless Society website:  https://c4ss.org/.

[12] It would be apt at this point to example the terms “capitalism,” and “freed-market.” The word capitalism is often used by libertarians, conservatives, conservo-libertarians, and (“right-wing”) market anarchists, in an approving manner that affirms it as a name for the free(d) market. However, there is a deep issue in using the term in this way, namely, that for most people on the left the term has deep negative connotations. True, it is a pointless semantic battle (as Kinsella points out [12.1]), to attempt to stop people from using the term. However, it is far simpler to use the phrase “freed market” or “free market,” rather than “lassiez-faire capitalism” (which is unjustly tied to Hoover, cf. Rothbard, M. America’s Great Depression (ed. 5). Mises Institute: Auburn, Alabama.), or “capitalism, but not what we have today, which is crony-capitalism.” Indeed, there’s the rub: the word capitalism and to some extent the phrase free market have been associated with the Neo-Mercantilist crony capitalist economic system that being used today [12.2]. This is why I prefer to use the term “freed-market,” because (a) it disassociates it form the current economic system, (b) it makes clear that this is a goal not an actuality, and (c) it does not have negative connotations in a wide audience (though it may with certain libertarians and market anarchists).

[12.1] Kinsella, S. (2010). “Capitalism is Libertarian!” on StephanKinsella.com. Retrieved from http://www.stephankinsella.com/2010/05/capitalism-is-libertarian/.

[12.2] Rothbard, M. (1999). “Neo-Mercantilism” in The Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/neo-mercantilism.

[13] NB this article is not about the work of these scholars are any other, this article is purely my approach to the issue of power and privilege. This is why the title says “a freed-market anarchist approach,” and not “the freed-market anarchist approach.” To reiterate this article is purely my approach, any mistakes, ill formed ideas, etc. are purely mine. Furthermore, to be absolutely clear, though there may be similarity between my ideas and those of the left-wing market anarchists, I do not consider myself a “left-wing market anarchist” (see note 1).

[14] Though my interest in these issues also stems from my conviction as an Episcopalian Christian and Hazlittian cooperatist utilitarian.  I believe that it is a Christian duty to do justice in the world, viz. the Most Reverend Bishop Curry:

Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God — like Jesus.  Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it. [14.1].

Therefore, I believe that is the duty of every person to attempt to achieve justice (i.e. anti-oppression) in the world. Furthermore, I can make this case not only on religious grounds, but on humanistic and utilitarian grounds. The humanistic grounds are that oppression is clearly against the goals of humanism (namely, human flourishing); the utilitarian grounds are that justice and anti-oppression  lead to the greatest long-run satisfaction of the greatest number of people [14.2].

[14.1] Curry, M. (2012). We Need Some Crazy Christians. Retrieved from http://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/general-convention-july-7-sermon-bishop-michael-curry.

[14.2] Hazlitt, H. (1998). The Foundations of Morality. Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. Chiefly, page 354, point 2f.

[15] Bloom, P, (2013). “The Baby in the Well,” in The New Yorker. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/05/20/the-baby-in-the-well.

[16] take the disparities in incarnation rates between African-Americans and whites: “Nationwide, African Americans were incarcerated in state prison at 6 times the rate for Whites and in local jails at almost 5 times the rate for Whites” as one example.  Hartney, C. and Vuong, L. (2009). Created Equal. Retrieved from http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/created-equal.pdf.

[17] There is an apt quote attributed to Machiavelli in the film, Poverty Inc.: “The reason there will be no change is that those that stand to gain from change have none of the power, while those that stand to loss for change have all of the power.”

[18] This class analysis is based on Hoppe, H. (1990). “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis,” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies IX (2). Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/9_2_5_0.pdf?file=1&type=document.

[19] Heckner, R. (2016). “Society, Government, Rationality, and Emotion” on Cogita! Retrieved from https://rhecknerlanguageblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/society-government-rationality-and-emotion/.

[20] Chartier, G. and Johnson, C. (eds). (2012). Markets Not Capitalism. Retrieved from: http://www.libertarianismo.org/livros/gccjmnc.pdf

[21] Crider, P. (2016). “Libertarian Social Justice,” in Libertarianism.org. Retrieved from http://www.libertarianism.org/columns/libertarian-social-justice.

[22] Highfield, R. (2002). “DNA survey finds all human are 99.99pc the same,” in The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1416706/DNA-survey-finds-all-humans-are-99.9pc-the-same.html.

Bibliography:

Block, W. (2010). “Libertarianism is Unique and Belongs Neither to the Right nor Left” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies 22: 127-70. Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/22_1_8.pdf?file=1&type=document.

Bloom, P, (2013). “The Baby in the Well,” in The New Yorker. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/05/20/the-baby-in-the-well

Campbell, D. G. (2010). “‘White Privilege:’ A Shield Against Reason,” in Academic Questions 23: 497 – 504. DOI: 10.1007/s12129-010-9188-5.

Chartier, G. and Johnson, C. (eds). (2012). Markets Not Capitalism. Retrieved from: http://www.libertarianismo.org/livros/gccjmnc.pdf

Choonara, E. and Prasad, Y. (2014). “What’s wrong with privilege theory?” in International Socialist. Retrieved from http://isj.org.uk/whats-wrong-with-privilege-theory/#esmeyuri142_11.

Copi, I. and Cohen, C. (1994). Introduction to Logic (ed. 9).  Macmillan, Inc.: New York.

Crider, P. (2016). “Libertarian Social Justice,” in Libertarianism.org. Retrieved from http://www.libertarianism.org/columns/libertarian-social-justice.

Curry, M. (2012). We Need Some Crazy Christians. Retrieved from http://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/general-convention-july-7-sermon-bishop-michael-curry.

Daum, M. (2014). “Using ‘Privilege’ as a weapon” in Las Angles Time. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-daum-privilege-shaming-internet-20141016-column.html.

Galles, G. (2015). “The Intellectual Intolerance of Behind ‘Check Your Privilege’” in the Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/intellectual-intolerance-behind-%E2%80%9Ccheck-your-privilege%E2%80%9D.

Hartney, C. and Vuong, L. (2009). Created Equal. Retrieved from http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/created-equal.pdf.

Hazlitt, H. (1998). The Foundations of Morality. Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington-on-Hudson, New York.

Highfield, R. (2002). “DNA survey finds all human are 99.99pc the same,” in The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1416706/DNA-survey-finds-all-humans-are-99.9pc-the-same.html.

Hoppe, H. (1990). “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis,” in The Journal of Libertarian Studies IX (2). Retrieved from https://mises.org/system/tdf/9_2_5_0.pdf?file=1&type=document.
Heckner, R. (2016). “Society, Government, Rationality, and Emotion” on Cogita! Retrieved from https://rhecknerlanguageblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/society-government-rationality-and-emotion/.

Kacere, L. (2015). “Homonormativity 101: What It Is and How It’s Hurting Our Movement” in Everyday Feminism. Retrieved from http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/homonormativity-101/.

Kinsella, S. (2010). “Capitalism is Libertarian!” on StephanKinsella.com. Retrieved from http://www.stephankinsella.com/2010/05/capitalism-is-libertarian/.

Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Retrieved from http://v3.ellieharrison.com/money/hegemony.pdf.

McIntosh, P. (1988). “White Privilege and Male Privilege.” Retrieved from http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/diversity/white-privilege-and-male-privilege.pdf .

Media Smarts (n.d.). Forms of Privilege. Retrieved from http://mediasmarts.ca/diversity-media/privilege-media/forms-privilege.

Rothbard, M. (1999). “Neo-Mercantilism” in The Mises Daily. Retrieved from https://mises.org/library/neo-mercantilism.

Subtirelu, N. (2013). “Language Privilege: What it is and Why it Matters” on Linguistic Pulse. Retrieved from: https://linguisticpulse.com/2013/06/26/language-privilege-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters/.

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