Is privilege profitable?

Why do people maintain their bigoted beliefs even when it works against their own immediate interests? Bakers and hotel owners not selling to gay people or atheists for example.

In a recent blog post entitled “Why Are People Bigoted, Even When It Costs Them Money?” Greta Christina proposes that people act this way because it is of overall benefit to maintain their white/straight/male privilege than it is to reap the immediate benefit.

According to the theory, maintaining privilege is profitable, even when factoring in the short-term loses.

Unfortunately, I believe the blog post is short on both evidence or further explanation.

Presumably, a secret cabal designed to maintain each privilege is not being suggested. Especially as she herself would presumably be included in the while cabal, but not the male cabal, and therefore be able to see both sides of the situation. If that is not the case though, it is difficult to explain why such a system does not fall foul of the tragedy of the commons.

More importantly, though, there is a lack of evidence for the hypothesis while far simpler explanations can easily fill the gap. Occam’s razor must come slicing in.

Firstly, there is an assumption that people do things for rational reasons. We know that people don’t. Arguably, people never do.

Why won’t a baker sell a wedding cake to a gay people? Because he irrationally believes that there is a giant man in the sky who hates gay people.

When it comes to perpetuating male privilege, perhaps it is because we subconsciously favour people similar to ourselves, as Steven Pinker and Noreena Hurtz both point out. In the hunter-gather tribe environment that our brains evolved in, it probably did pay to be a racist. Even if things have changed, and I think they have, evolution has not had time to catch up.

That is not to say that these things are good things of course. That would be the naturalistic fallacy. But if we want to address issues such as gender discrimination in academia, we need to be able to tackle the root cause of the issue and for that we need evidence-based solutions.



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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 15th, 2015 at 11:27 am and is filed under Religion & Politics, Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.