- That certain people have it easier in the world than others as a consequence of birth.
- That all subsequent success such people have are in fact directly derived from those advantages.
Except where that's wrong. Ultimately, privilege is a motte-and-bailey tactic as described by Nicholas Shackel in his paper, "The Vacuity Of Postmodernist Methodology" (PDF). A motte-and-bailey is a kind of bait-and-switch: the first part is easily defensible (birth can confer unearned advantages), but the second, radical part (all success thereafter is also due to unearned advantages) is not. By shifting definitions, and refusing to look at failures as well as success, we see that "privilege", animated by jealousy, is a toy philosophical theory that has almost no explanatory power.
I encountered (what might well be) a good example of this latter at Medium a number of weeks back in Umar Haque's essay, "The Asshole Factory". The only thing of importance for my purposes here is the first two sentences:
My good friend Mara has not one but two graduate degrees. From fine, storied universities. Surprise, surprise: the only “job” she was able to find was at a retail store.Let that sink in for a bit: this person has two graduate degrees, and is obliged to work retail? It's entirely reasonable to infer a couple things here:
- Her parents have considerable money to put her through multiple postgraduate programs.
- She has never previously had to give much thought to how she was going to make a living.
Update: Just came across David Greenberg's "What In The World Is 'Privilege'?" at The College Conservative, which addresses the matter from its Marxist origins.