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Peter BoghossianPeter BoghossianMay 24, 2016

Privilege: The Left's Original Sin

By James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian

The concepts of Original Sin and privilege are identical except that they operate in different moral universes. In familiar religions, Original Sin is something you're born with. It's something you can't escape. It's something you can't really do anything about - except be ashamed. It's something you should confess and try to cleanse yourself of. It's something that requires forgiveness, atonement, penitence, and work. It's something, if you take it to heart, for which you will browbeat others.

For many contemporary left-situated activists, privilege occupies the same role in a religion of contemporary identity politics. There is no greater sin than having been born an able-bodied, straight, white male who identifies as a man but isn't deeply sorry for this utterly unintentional state of affairs.

Everybody is a sinner; everybody is privileged; and both are the fall of Man. Both are the stain upon everyone who, by virtue of existing, falls short of moral perfection. Both are a kind of disease that threatens society. Neither can be escaped. Both must be abhorred and demand redemption from the guilty.

The concept of privilege, like sin, possesses the virtue that it actually does describe something - something its obsessives rightly describe as "problematic." Whether it's perceived worthiness for a bank loan, being treated a certain way by legal authorities, or demarcating a child's academic potential, accidents of birth can prove a dishearteningly unjust barrier or an unsurprisingly undeserved advantage. Framing these issues in terms of privilege, however, is the wrong way to conceptualize the problem. The real and appalling issue, of course, is discrimination - both outright and subtler, more insidious forms.

Rather than combat discrimination head-on, many left-leaning activists glorify the challenges associated with the misfortunes of individual identity, particularly those related to immutable accidents of birth like race, gender, and sexual orientation. Where the traditionally religious elevate God, then angels, then the saints, and then the rest of us, these identitarians hold sacred a hierarchical order of intrinsic societal advantages and disadvantages - not as they are, but as they are spelled out in the academic language of critical theories of race and gender.

There is, however, one troubling difference between privilege and sin. While we can love the sinner but hate the sin, we seem poorly equipped to love the privileged, unless merely as mascots and objects of envy. Sinners have been born into a struggle against a fatal flaw; the privileged are just born flawed - unwholesomely lucky and blithely ungrateful. The sinner is born flawed and thus writes his own undoing. The sinner, then, in being unable to help it, is a wretch, and behind all contempt for him there is pity. Not so with the privileged. The very word privileged almost makes you find its target contemptible. The privileged don't hinder themselves; they hinder you. A sinner can be redeemed; the privileged must be taken down a notch.

More perspective, kindness, and charity are needed. Sin and privilege aren't empty concepts, and they're not exactly useless. They generate a particular kind of awareness and empathy that motivates certain kinds of behaviors seeking to avoid, minimize, and atone for them, but they're effectively useless for solving any real problems. Wiser people focus more on the positive qualities they'd like to instill in others - temperance, self-control, generosity, fairness, even purity - rather than wallowing in the failures of miscreants and leaving it at that. Those adhering to the religion of identity politics (many of whom already reject the concept of religious sin) should learn from example and turn their attention to what matters, campaigning to create social, political, and economic systems that raise the underdog to genuine equality.

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James A. Lindsay holds a Ph.D. in mathematics and is the author of three books, including Everybody Is Wrong About God. Connect with him on Twitter at @GodDoesnt.

Peter Boghossian is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Portland State University and an affiliated faculty member at Oregon Health Science University in the Division of General Internal Medicine. He is the author of A Manual for Creating Atheists. Connect with him on Twitter at @peterboghossian.

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@rcaugust@rcaugustMay 25, 2016627 views
Privilege: The Left's Original Sin By James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian The concepts of Original Sin and privilege are identical except that they operate in different moral universes. In familiar religions, Original Sin is something you're born with. It's something you can't escape. It's
@1284035 Thank you for expressing this so articulately and intelligently. I have long thought this incessant demand that we should 'check our privilege' before venturing any opinion or daring to criticise the behaviour of someone who may not occupy the same social demographic as us obnoxious. I would describe myself as someone of the left, in principle, but this particular trend I've found exhausting. Let's hope this goes some way to stopping it.
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@machine@machineMay 25, 2016843 views
Privilege: The Left's Original Sin By James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian The concepts of Original Sin and privilege are identical except that they operate in different moral universes. In familiar religions, Original Sin is something you're born with. It's something you can't escape. It's
@1284035 One thing that bothers me about the concept of privilege is that, if you've spent five minutes discussing privilege over the past year, you are almost certainly in the top 1% of most privileged people on the planet. The privilege I have, as a cis-gendered, white male, pales in comparison to the privilege almost everyone in this country shares over 99% of the rest of the world. Our privilege as a nation allows us to talk about privilege. I wonder what a hungry family in a war-torn country would think if they could listen in.
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warrenpeacewarrenpeaceMay 30, 2016446 views
Privilege: The Left's Original Sin By James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian The concepts of Original Sin and privilege are identical except that they operate in different moral universes. In familiar religions, Original Sin is something you're born with. It's something you can't escape. It's
@1294308 They would think "Hey, I'm hungry and there's a war going on. All those privileged mofos in America need to be aware that if I ever save ten years worth of earnings to get a plane ticket, learn English, make it to America, and then try to get a job they will have a higher likelihood of getting hired than me...and they should feel bad about it too."
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@aleprechaunist@aleprechaunistMay 24, 2016833 views
Privilege: The Left's Original Sin By James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian The concepts of Original Sin and privilege are identical except that they operate in different moral universes. In familiar religions, Original Sin is something you're born with. It's something you can't escape. It's
@1284035 Another problem with the concept of privilege is that e.g. equal and fair treatment under the law is seen as a special perk for straight white cis (yada yada) males - they don't deserve it and it should be taken away from them. Wrong! Instead it should be recognized as a universal human right and granted to everyone!
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@fleabine@fleabineJun 7, 2016282 views
Privilege: The Left's Original Sin By James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian The concepts of Original Sin and privilege are identical except that they operate in different moral universes. In familiar religions, Original Sin is something you're born with. It's something you can't escape. It's
@1284035 This seems to imply that there is something flawed with privilege. Everyone is in a hierarchy of have and have not from the time of their birth, i.e. a poor child born in the USA is much better off than a poor child born in a 3rd world country. Therefore, those who hate the privileged are guilty of jealousy as it takes the focus off their own misery. I suppose that, if a privileged person has disdain for the disadvantaged, it is likely because of the contempt that has been shown by them.
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@jdonohue@jdonohueMay 24, 2016589 views
Privilege: The Left's Original Sin By James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian The concepts of Original Sin and privilege are identical except that they operate in different moral universes. In familiar religions, Original Sin is something you're born with. It's something you can't escape. It's
@1284035 The Catholic Church begs to differ: they claim that one's original sin is completely eradicated by the sacrament of Baptism. If a baptized child dies, he/she is considered free of sin, and goes to heaven. It's only by reaching the age of reason that a child can sin, and it's not due to something inherited, but rather to the person willfully and volitionally disobeying God.

Do young humans inherit a tendency to sin? Yes, says the Catholic Church. However, the baptized person is held responsible for willful acts, only.
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@pinzig@pinzigJun 13, 2016230 views
Privilege: The Left's Original Sin By James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian The concepts of Original Sin and privilege are identical except that they operate in different moral universes. In familiar religions, Original Sin is something you're born with. It's something you can't escape. It's
@1284035 Well put, and something I have been thinking on as well. The comparisons can carry on, and I would like to share one here.

After seeing the emphasis placed on 'Listen and Believe' for the lived experiences of individuals who match certain identity tags deemed to be oppressed, I dug a bit into where the terminology and evaluation came from. I found postmodern relativism, which emphasizes subjective experience over objective standards. Furthermore, when evaluating the testimonies of people in 'systems of oppression' the lived experiences of the oppressed are always granted special weight over similar testimony from anyone else.

These chosen testimonies, in the social justice religion, take on the dimension of words from a prophet. If you do not listen and believe, if you doubt or are skeptical about the truth of the chosen lived experiences, you are guilty of a microaggresion(or worse). You are a denier, who denies the validity of the lived experience of the chosen. Or, to use religious terminology, you doubt the word of the prophet.

Casting doubt on the word of their prophets is not taken lightly, we have seen college protestors initiate violent action when faced with the possibility that a speaker might challenge the validity of the chosen's lived experience, might challenge the truth of their prophet.
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