Progressive Discourse: A Sports Analogy
That contemporary progressive discourse exists to pathologize normalcy is a major premise for me. This is an accurate description of the purpose of contemporary progressive discourse because its terms and concepts were developed as part of a sustained critique of Western civilization as embodied by 20th century Europe and America—which were bourgeois, Christian, and—let’s be honest—pretty normal. They were basically vanilla. You could even say they were whitebread. Capable of producing citizens who maintained presentable front lawns and dispensed of trash in the appropriate receptacles, who distrusted drugs and drinking to excess, who preferred one single heterosexual marriage per lifetime, who paid taxes and raised well-socialized children and committed all sorts of similar crimes of intolerable blandness. Someone had to stop them. From the Authoritarian Personality on down, therefore, the cultural Left began to elaborate increasingly subtle and sophisticated vocabularies for taking these perfectly sane and sanguine attitudes and rendering them isms or phobias.
But my point here isn’t diagnosis; here I just want to draw upon my own deep reserves of male privilege and make a sports analogy that illustrates the abovementioned major premise. I want to show how the term ‘privilege’ doesn’t do much other than vilify people for maintaining standards and recruiting accordingly. And judging by the touchy-feely, Oprah 2.0 shitshow that ESPN has devolved into, sports are the new social justice frontier anyway. So let’s damn the trigger warnings and talk about American football.
Privilege, broadly speaking, is the advantages one enjoys in life based on ‘accidents of birth’, i.e. qualities that you’re either born with or without. The quintessential privilege is ‘White privilege’ (see above etiology of contemporary progressivism), which points out that White people are more likely than their Black, Mexican, etc. counterparts to run lucrative companies, to hold political offices, to achieve all sorts of public triumphs. The argument goes that they experience these outcomes because the system is set up in their favor and thus the fair thing to do would be to dismantle that system in order to let Blacks and browns participate in greater numbers. There are other sorts of privileges, too: male privilege, thin privilege, tall, neurotypical, hetero privilege, cis privilege. You name it. The Tumblr clique isn’t about to give up on a victimhood generation formula just because it’s passing the point of ‘gently used’ these days. No way! Keep em’ coming.
My point is that professional football is a hotbed of able-bodied privilege, aka ability privilege. Our society holds pro football players in extremely high regard. We lavish millions upon them, public acclaim, beautiful women (Michael Sam will coyly refuse his), advertising contracts, the works. These are significant advantages that athletes enjoy, but they’re certainly not available for everyone. And yes of course professional athletes work extremely hard (so do a lot of White, male politicians), but you’d have to be crazy to insist that the sheer capacity to grow to be six foot five inches and two hundred sixty pounds of lean muscle mass doesn’t have a genetic component. These guys won the natal lottery. They have the opportunity to compete at the highest level simply because they were born with massive physical potential. Pure unearned privilege. You’re not going to see time on the gridiron if you’re born blind, or without a limb, or with a serious musculoskeletal condition, or just plain old topping out at five feet even. Sorry, buddy. Better luck next reincarnation.
The NFL privileges able-bodied athletes just as much as the political scene privileges White dudes. Probably even more so, considering it’s not unheard of for a woman or a minority to hold office, whereas there’s nary a gimp or a little fella to found on the Astroturf. So while we’re disabling exclusionary and hegemonic systems, let’s start instituting some controls on our sports hierarchies as well. I for one dream of the day that our society will be forward-thinking enough to stand up and cheer for as a wheelchair-bound running back breaks the tackle of a Down’s-Syndrome lineman and a quadriplegic free safety for Super Bowl glory.
Now your response, of course, is that we maintain certain recruitment standards in the NFL because we want to see high quality, spectacular football—not the Special Olympics. And you’d be right. We want our professional athletes to play their game at a high level. But my response is that this defense is adequate for basically all of the situations in which the ‘check their privilege’ card is played. This perfectly normal preference for people who seem inherently suited for a position is the very normalcy that anti-‘privilege’ leftists want to pathologize.
There’s a reason why Western nations have until very recently favored the employment of White males in their positions of public authority: it’s smart recruitment. We want intelligent, cooperative public servants who are capable of both identifying with the people they govern and making the tough decisions nevertheless. The boring old White male, that Gentile schmuck, with his unsophisticated old notions of honor and patriotism and objectivity and personal responsibility, is a safer bet here than his feminine counterpart or his swarthier-hued cousins. And that’s why the ‘system’ privileges them. Because the folks doing the ‘hiring’ there are doing the same sorts of scouting and recruitment calculations that happen countrywide at high-school and college football games. We’re doing our best to make smart decisions in an information-limited world. And this is where the “privilege! privilege! privilege!” accusation starts to ring hollow. This is a normal practice. Why are you so worked up about it? We need a certain type of guy in our uniform here.
Now of course this analysis is a bit of a simplification. In reality you get into spoils systems and backroom dealings and dirty politics and nepotism and all that. Granted. But the point is that in principle, from a basic Bayesian standpoint even, it makes perfect sense to prioritize the involvement of White males. And our tendency to do just that was an adaptive response that occurred during our culture’s upwards trajectory, not some heinous conspiracy initiated after the fact in order to keep the ‘Other’ excluded.
The mistake comes when you begin to conceive of politics as some inert, static quantity of ‘power and influence’ that ought to be redistributed, rather than as something much more akin to a football team, a coalition of people gathered together to win a game. Only in this case, the game is maintaining the rule of law within the state, protecting it from threats internal and external, making and executing long-term geopolitical strategies. It’s a difficult game, of course, and one that everyone loses on a long enough timeline. But it’s silly to think that you shouldn’t put your best folks on the field, whether they won the ‘genetic lottery’ of athletic ability or of tendencies towards bland, vanilla, whitebread, Saltine modes of social organization like cooperation and honesty and of thedish identification with the people they serve.
There’s no mystery here. There’s no mystery to ‘racism'; people want to see their own thrive. There’s no mystery to ‘sexism'; men and women are different. And there’s no mystery behind ‘White male privilege’ either (or any of its other variants); we prioritize the recruitment of people who are likely to excel at that activity we’re recruiting them for. You only need to start worrying when wide-eyed fanatics within your particular polity start imagining this recruitment strategy to be some sort of Satanic conspiracy against the ‘historically marginalized’ among you and attempt to reinvent the political wheel in order to rectify it.