Statism as Privilege

The concept of privilege is one of those rare concepts that is inherently political. Like ‘micro-aggression’ and ‘othering’, it refers to a process that depends upon being invisible. If you acknowledge – I mean really acknowledge, not just pay lip service to – your privilege, it to some extent ceases to function. All these little manifestations of power function best under a cloak of silence; they are instances of bad faith, of doing what you know deep down is wrong, the kind of action you can only perform while some part of you looks the other way.

This is all very basic theory. I’d like to argue, though, that if you live in a first-world country you cannot properly recognize your privilege without being in some sense an anarchist. I believe that everybody knows that their government – American, Australian, British, whatever – does truly horrible things, is ruled by truly horrible people. We joke about the untrustworthiness of politicians all the time, as if we could laugh away the fact. I believe that if you try to imagine the daily suffering of people in the countries we have invaded, the detritus of the wars that are “over” but still exercise ruinous power over people’s lives, people like us – if, through a titanic effort of empathy, you put yourself in the position of the workers in the countries we dominate economically, or even of the people degraded, starved, raped in our prisons, many of them in there for crimes which should not be crimes – you must acknowledge the fundamental harm of government.

And yes, of course government does good things, of course it assists people who are not privileged along many important axes of oppression. I do not want to obscure the fact that government aid is literally keeping many sick and disabled people alive day-to-day, and that thoughtlessly crying “smash the State!” is an expression of privilege too.

I am making a basic utilitarian estimate here, as well as an analysis. My tentative estimate is that the suffering caused by the State overseas is numerically far worse than the suffering it prevents domestically. I am not married to this conclusion. The analysis, which I am committed to, is that governmental aid programs are not dependent on foreign wars or harmful economic policies. The purpose of foreign empire-building is not to help the unprivileged citizens over Here; the purpose of domestic aid is to placate the citizens so we can get on with the important process of empire-building over There.

In short, being born in a first-world State is an enormous privilege. An intersectional analysis cannot simply reduce it to a manifestation of class. What this privilege consists of is not being subject to foreign violence, whether military or economic. Seen in this light, all the cheerleading about our wonderful countries and governments is a little grotesque. It has the flavour of a Klan rally or a Men’s Rights march.


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