For Those About to Walk…
“The Spartans weren’t big on amenities.”
“And they eventually got their asses kicked.”
The first quote was a young man, rising in power and seemingly possessed of super human intelligence. The second quote is an older, more powerful man sitting in the back of a Mercedes Benz limousine, dropping the younger man off at his shitty apartment in a poor section of New York City.
“I get it. I totally get it. You feel invincible.”
The third quote is the young man’s main love interest expressing her understanding of a common experience.
These quotes are from a fascinating film about privilege. Privilege is not what the film thinks it is about. The film purports to be about power. Privilege is one of those things not widely accepted to exist. Whether this is about power or privilege primarily depends upon who is watching it, and the context of one’s life experience brought to the moment of watching.
The difference between power and privilege is a bit like the difference between the game of chess, and a chess tournament. Winning at chess takes understanding how power works, and the relative levels of access to interaction. Privilege is a seat at the board, or in the tournament. Power is understanding, and privilege is being allowed to use that which you understand. High levels of power exert leverage to deny access from lower levels. Lower levels of power deny disparities in access.
Racism and privilege have interesting similarities. The first, for me, is how they have been, and continue to be denied. Racism is a slippery concept to attach because it is often discussed as acts of racist oppression, and conditions of the heart or mind of an individual racist. The former involves behavior that a “free society” can not condone, and remain consistent with its principles, and the latter involves thought which can not be banned in a free society hoping to remain consistent with its principles. The concept of racism tends to only be useful to the racist because it is so flexible. Racism is not denied as to its existence. It only tends to be denied as to its acceptance.
Privilege is different. Privilege tends to be denied as to its existence. When it is discussed, the denials take the form of who does or does not have “privileges.” The film, from which the quotes are taken, never contemplates privilege versus privileges. It only shows lack of power, then access to power, and entrenched power. In showing the distinctions in levels of power, a diverse cast can’t be used because the message would become diffuse. The main actors in this cast, literally and figuratively, are white men. Even the gangster is Russian, which uses a level of whiteness not available with other ethnic gangsters.
The older man at the beginning is powerful already. His concern is about the loss of power, and displaying the trappings of power helps to project it. The younger man is pursuing power, and acquiring it, and is criticized by the older man for not displaying the trappings of power. The younger man involves the Spartans as successful power because they were conquerors. The old man sees them as failures because they were ultimately conquered. They are on two separate ends of power…with access (privilege) as the assumption. With a woman, or an man belonging to an ethnic minority, the story becomes about privilege. So, this story is very white, and very male. Privilege is assumed. Just like fish assume water.
Walking in Japan is a privilege that can be assumed by anyone, because it is a relatively safe place. Walking in America is not so much. The safety of walking in America depends upon who you are. That’s the privilege. And who gets access to that privilege is strictly controlled. That’s the power. Ahmaud Arbery was restricted as to where he could run. That privilege was denied to him by those who falsely accused, and then murdered him. In America, external determination as to essence is how privilege-power is exerted by those doing the defining/categorizing. The privilege taking as to defining is the exertion of power…inconsistent with the principles of a free society. Power in a free society is self determination.
America is going to America, and that means focusing on a taxonomy as to essence. And as America functions like that, it can never reach its stated value of freedom. Privilege does not seem to understand itself unless it defines the essence of another. The very expression of self-determination from outside of privilege is said to be “disingenuous.” To be (outside of privilege) is to lie. Ahmaud Arbery could not be jogging. He must be guilty and in flight. That fits the privilege narrative while denying its existence. To deny access to a jogger (a legal activity), a crime must be invented. Ahmaud Arbery publicly declared himself to be a jogger by doing so. For the privileged who sought to deny him that privilege, that declaration had to be taken away. The deniers exercised power. They denied privilege. The deniers also denied Ahmaud Arbery his rights. They are now being prosecuted for denying rights. Their privilege did not extend to denying rights. Racism is easy to deny. Privilege is somewhat easy to deny. Denying rights is complicated. One can be held accountable for denying rights, while the other concepts have enormous loopholes. And as to the film, through which much can be explored about the nuanced differences in these important building blocks of freedom, the film is “Limitless.”
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