Friday, March 1, 2013

Privilege Is Not A Game, But We Can Win

Elizabeth J. Grace
www.tinygracenotes.com

There are zero-sum games in which there’s a winner and a loser because basically there’s only so much to go around, and there are non-zero-sum games which are not like that. In non-zero-sum games there are other outcomes, like everyone winning, because various real-life things can happen, like solidarity producing more goods to go around. A large-scale change in understanding of these things would have an immediate impact and far-reaching implications, especially concerning Autistics and parents of kids who are Autistic or have autism, whether the parents are on the spectrum or Autistic or not.

In game theory studies such as the famous Prisoner's Dilemma (which has actually gone through a lot of empirical runs with live participants) it has been shown that people are willing to act against their best interest in the whole story in order to make sure their “opponent” cannot possibly “do better” than them. In essence, they fail to see the bigger picture, and therefore lose out bigger than they would have done, had they risked less by trusting more and playing smarter.

Privilege is not a game, but thinking about game theory might help, in case we are worried about winning and losing, because we have a lot to lose, and also, we can win.

Here is how to win.

First of all, one of the issues with the concept of privilege is that it is very difficult to maneuver, being that there are so many dimensions, that it is such a fluid thing, so contextual. I have heard it being compared to math. That is a valid comparison in many ways.

If privilege were a besting, one-upsmanship game, in which the rules were You Are More Privileged Than Me So Shut Up I Win, No You Are So You Shut Up, as I have heard it characterized, it would indeed be a terrible sort of math problem, and moreover, you’d need people’s FBI files or something.

Fortunately, this is not the case at all. To know this is to begin to win.

Privilege is a frame for a person oneself -- let’s say that person is me -- to look through, whereby I gain more compassion and understanding. It is an elusive, magic frame, and I cannot even find it unless someone else, someone with less privilege than I have on any given axis, invokes it for me. Once they have done so, I can see and hear new things, become a better person, a better ally, and a stronger citizen of the world. Someone says: Privilege! You are Racist! You are Cis! Do I say, “ACK no I am Disabled! I am Gay!” or do I think to myself, “well being Autistic and Gay I at least know what it is to be the underdog, so let’s hear what’s going on, let’s learn why this is coming up now even though I thought I was doing OK, because the speakers are neither white nor Cis so really who should know more about that then them”? Logically, and this is actually in the best interest of myself, I will do the second, and use my own other-context lack of privilege as a means for understanding...

What do I win?

I win more humanity for myself, and maybe I win some trust from the person who invoked the invisible lens.

How do I know when to do this? Generally, I should always do it, by default, because if there is an invisible thing that other people who are not me are more aware of, it seems to me I need their help finding it. But I know for sure I should do it double-time STAT if I feel a resistance, if my need to not listen to the call is embedded and furious. Because under what circumstances really do I not want to learn? Suspect circumstances, times when I feel threatened, but why? New knowledge is not, has never been, will never be, my enemy. I have to remind myself of this, because at times, it is not obvious. At times, I feel beleaguered, and scared. I feel that way this exact moment, which is why I am writing this thing real quick.

What does my corner of the world, the Autism/ASD/Autistic Communities (Potentially Consolidated) win? Together, we win a chance at more understanding, kindness, trust, and solidarity.

Why does this matter?

Because there’s a reason people call it “in-fighting.” The rest of the world sees us as though we should be working together. Historically, groups of people in our respective positions have worked together and only thus been successful. (For examples, see the histories of other civil rights movements, and how multitudes of caring, ethical people who both were and were not in the targeted group respected each other and worked together to achieve new heights of social justice.)

We are the ones who care about the things we care about and other people don’t have as much of a reason to care. This has been true in all of the civil rights movements and it was greatly helped by the joint concerted efforts of [people with more privilege in the particular axis] (such as whites, or PFLAG members) that other people who had no dog in the fight started to pay more attention, because of the signal boost of people they could relate to better, as well as the simple fact of there being strength in numbers. But again: other people do not have the relevant information or motivation to care about what we know to care about, and we do, all of us. Back to our situations related to autism spectrum life ways.

Quick example: A lot of people walking around think respite is the exact same thing as “glorified baby-sitting” and why should their hard earned taxes pay for “expensive welfare queen stuff” like that? (People said this right in front of me before I explained it to ‘em.) I don’t think any of that, because I know better (Yes I did explain in Graphic Detail). A lot of people walking around think it is no big deal that Autistic adults are statistically shown to be way less employed than even people with other disabilities. If most parents of Autistic kids agree with that tidbit being fair, you can knock me over with a feather.

We win by winning together. We increase the sum by working together. If “piece of the pie” were a real pie, we would literally be able to make the pie bigger this way.

Privilege: it is not a game, but we can all win by checking our own and not trying to do illogical ignorant math about it in respect (or disrespect) to others.

Remember: we care about things other people do not give two whatevers about. We care about our real lives. I think we care about each other’s real lives. We are not natural enemies so for the love of love, let’s make a note of that. And, having made that note, we can take it into action.