Saturday, May 19, 2012

Straight white males

A friend asked me to comment on this:

1) It’s not clear what Scalzi is trying to prove. Is this an argument for affirmative action for women, minorities, and homosexuals?

The problem is that his comparison bundles three independent variables, and there are different ways of combining the same variables. Therefore, that makes it difficult to draw sweeping generalizations.

Suppose we recombine the variables. Take three different combinations:

i) Straight white male

ii) Queer white male

iii) Queer Latino male

Is he saying (i) is privileged compared to (ii) while (ii) is privileged compared to (iii)?

If so, how should society adjust for that disparity? Should we give you some extra points for being homosexual, but knock off some points for being white and/or male? So do you end up with more or fewer points than before?

2) Likewise, what’s the scope of the comparison? Is it advantageous to be straight in San Francisco? Is it advantageous to be white in Berkeley, CA?

Compare a Cuban aristocrat in Batista-era Cuba with a working class white American. Which one enjoys the privileged status? 

3) There’s also a sense in which Bible-believing Christians could agree with Scalzi, but draw a different conclusion. For instance, Christians agree with him that it’s disadvantageous to be homosexual. That’s because the homosexual lifestyle is physically and psychologically self-destructive in this life, not to mention spiritually self-destructive in the afterlife.

It’s because heterosexuality is advantageous that we discourage homosexuality.

4) So there’s a suppressed premise to his argument. Indeed, he spells that out in a follow-up post when he says:

Nope. Money and class are both hugely important and can definitely compensate for quite a lot, which I have of course noted in the entry itself. But they belong in the stats category because wealth and class are not an inherent part of one’s personal nature — and in the US particularly, part of our cultural sorting behavior — in the manner that race, gender and sexuality are (note “inherent” here does not necessarily mean “immutable,” but that’s a conversation I’m not going to go into great detail about right now). You can disagree, of course. But speaking as someone who has been at both the bottom and the top of the wealth and class spectrum here in the US, I think I have enough personal knowledge on the matter to say it belongs where I put it.

But to stipulate that homosexuality is “an inherent part of one’s personal nature” begs the question.

5) Apropos (4), it’s counterintuitive to say people should be penalized for being normal. For instance, it’s normal for males to be male. If you’re biologically male, that’s “an inherent part of your personal nature.” Likewise, it’s normal for whites to be white.

Yet Scalzi also thinks it’s unfair to be a man. That’s a privileged status. Therefore, he seems to think we need social policies that compensate for that unfair advantage.

But if it’s permissible or even obligatory to discriminate against men for being men, why is it impermissible to discriminate against homosexuals (or minorities or females) for being homosexual? Assuming (arguendo) that both masculinity and homosexuality are natural, then why not treat both alike? Either it’s permissible to discriminate against both or impermissible to discriminate against both. Same thing with race.

6) Also, if he sincerely believes that his acquired wealth confers an unfair advantage, then we should tax him down to the point of the mean per capita income. Not just that we should tax him at a higher rate, but tax him to the point where he doesn’t have greater wealth than the average American.

7) Finally, suppose, for the sake of argument, that homosexuality is an “an inherent part of one’s personal nature.” Is that an argument for equal rights?

Suppose pedophilia is an “an inherent part of one’s personal nature.” Suppose pedophiles have a naturally irrepressible predisposition to molest little boys and girls.

Does that mean we shouldn’t discriminate against pedophiles? Or is that all the more reason to discriminate against pedophiles? All the more reason to take extra precautions in their case? 


  1. Perhaps instead of "straight white males" we could swap in "beautiful thin females." Why aren't beautiful thin females "privileged"? Why aren't beautiful thin females the lowest difficulty setting in the World of Scalcraft?

  2. John Scalzi said:

    "Your goal is to win the game, not make it difficult."

    So what's the goal of the game of life then? What does it mean to "win"? Given Scalzi's worldview, what's the point of life?

    On atheism, why can't someone edit or choose their own victory settings in the game of life? Such that "privilege" can be variable depending on what the victory settings are for that player or character.

    If so, then Scalzi's analogy fails on its own terms since the definition of privilege itself can be variable, and so "straight white males" may or may not be the most privileged or the lowest difficulty setting depending on what the goal of life is for that person.

  3. Well said Steve,

    Any comments on this latest from Spitzer?