North Carolina's Voting Laws Are Conspicuously Suppressing the Vote
26 April 2016
And yet they were just upheld by a Bush-appointed judge.
I keep thinking that all this village chattering about how everyone must come together and back Hillary in the election next November is akin to asking for people who are militantly against supporting certain political positions (seeing them as evil) to dishonor themselves in the service of ideals that can only rank as lesser evilism.
Something that only politicians see as appropriate today.
Trump, Clinton Both Refuse To Explain Why They Share Same Address In Delaware_ _ _ _ _ _ _
Reportedly dozens of Fortune 500 companies — Coca-Cola, Walmart, American Airlines, and Apple, to name a few — use Delaware’s strict corporate secrecy laws and legal tax loopholes by registering the North Orange Street address for official business.
. . . “It’s easy to set up shell companies here, no questions asked.”
. . . While the legitimacy of taxes as a concept may be up to personal interpretation, what matters in Clinton’s use of the so-called Delaware loophole, in particular, is her constant harping on the need for corporations and elite individuals to pay their fair share.
As Rupert Neate explained for the "Guardian," being registered in the tiny state allows “companies to legally shift earnings from other states to Delaware, where they are not taxed on non-physical incomes generated outside of state.”
In fact, some have claimed — all revelations of Panamanian documents aside — the use of tax-friendly locations inside the U.S. makes it the biggest tax haven in the world, with Delaware, alone, costing other states some $9 billion in lost taxes over the past decade.
submitted 3 days ago by turn-trout
Even after Tuesday’s voting debacle, many have assumed that even without election-day mishaps, Hillary Clinton would have won New York. Fairly reasonable, right? After all, it was a decisive sixteen-point win in her home state.
Not so fast; I’m going to present a series of facts that should lead the rational observer to be suspicious of these results. Before we begin, I want you to know that I am a staunch Sanders supporter; therefore, I will do my best to remove my “Bernie bias” from the equation (please join me in keeping a close eye on my personal beliefs, lest they color my analysis or cause me to omit relevant counter-evidence). We’re going to examine the situation using a device called Occam’s razor, which essentially says to choose the simplest theory that covers all of the bases.
Let’s look at what we know.
This is not a Sanders vs. Clinton issue. This is about the sanctity of our democracy.
An election exit poll is a poll of voters taken immediately after they have exited the polling stations. Unlike an opinion poll, which asks for whom the voter plans to vote, or some similar formulation, an exit poll asks for whom the voter actually voted. Pollsters – usually private companies working for newspapers or broadcasters – conduct exit polls to gain an early indication as to how an election has turned out, as in many elections the actual result may take hours or even days to count. Exit polls have historically and throughout the world been used as a check against, and rough indicator of, the degree of election fraud.
After all votes are tabulated, exit polls are “adjusted” to match recorded results. According to NPR, for this election cycle, a firm called Edison Research conducts the polling used by major networks. Exit polling has not been conducted for every contest thus far. Here are the unadjusted exit polls against the final results (significant discrepancy | state flip; data source):
State Sanders Margin of Victory, Actual Results Sanders Margin of Victory, Exit Polls Difference (in Clinton’s favor) Arkansas -38.1 -31.4 6.7 Alabama -60.4 -44.7 15.7 Tennessee -34.2 -25.4 8.8 Virginia -29.3 -24.8 4.5 Georgia -43.4 -31.0 12.4 Texas -32.6 -22.7 9.9 Massachusetts -1.4 6.4 7.8 Oklahoma 11.1 4.3 -6.8 Vermont 72.7 73.6 0.9 Mississippi -66.8 -56.4 10.4 Michigan 1.7 6.2 4.5 North Carolina -14.5 -12.7 1.8 Florida -31.9 -27.9 4.0 Missouri -0.2 3.8 4.0 Ohio -13.9 -3.8 10.1 Illinois -1.8 2.3 4.1 Arizona* -8.2 25.0 33.2 Wisconsin 13.4 27.2 13.8 New York -16.0 -4.0 12.0
Side note: although Edison Research did not conduct exit polling in Arizona, a local newspaper called the Daily Courier did – but only for Yavapai County. Official results have Clinton winning the county 52.9-44.7; however, the Courier’s exit polling had Sanders crushing her 62-37. Possible explanation: heavy early voting advantaged Clinton; nonetheless, Arizona was a quagmire.
Excluding Arizona (because only one county was polled), Sanders has suffered an average 6.92% deviation among all contests with exit polling. In particular, assuming that New York exit polling was conducted correctly, the statistical likelihood of a 12% deviation from exit polling is 1/126,000. Theoretically, the results would be equally likely to deviate in either direction; the probability that the 18 of the 19 exit polls above swung to Hillary’s advantage is 0.000038 (that is, fewer than four in one hundred thousand elections would roll this way due to chance).
Through Occam's Razor
- The exit polls didn’t really reflect public sentiment; something is wrong with their methodology. Possible explanations include:
- (a) Bernie supporters are more enthusiastic; therefore, they’re more prone to tell the pollster all about their selection.
- (b) Exit polls have consistently underestimated the strength and turnout for Clinton strongholds (underweighting).
- (c) Exit polls don’t include early voting, where Clinton excels (I could write a whole article on early voting alone; however, for the purposes of this argument, let’s just assume that everything checks out).
- Election fraud. A few ways this could occur:
- Weighted voting could be coded into tabulation machines; essentially, a Sanders vote counts for 0.7, while a vote for Clinton is normally counted.
- After voting is finished, the machine could just toss out a certain number or percentage of votes for one candidate and award them to their opponent. This happened in Chicago; we will explore this later.
- A certain percentage of votes could simply be changed during processing; anecdotally, one of my New York friends reported that her vote was changed from Sanders to Clinton. The poll worker refused to let her rectify the ballot.
- Curious to learn about even more ways in which the average American could, theoretically, be disenfranchised? Dive down the rabbit hole.
Let’s examine what each hypothesis requires us to assume. Hypothesis 1) only requires accidental fault on behalf of Edison Research in designing polling methodology. At first glance, hypothesis 2) seems far more improbable; after all, a literal conspiracy would have to be taking place. Note that hypothesis 2) need not directly implicate the Clinton campaign; indirectly-hired agents (or even a few rogue Clinton supporters acting outside the law to help her win) would fulfill the necessary conditions.
However, taken alone, slanted exit polls aren’t sufficient to push hypothesis 2) through Occam’s razor. After all, not only did Oklahoma buck the trend by favoring Sanders in a significant way, a few other states are within reasonable deviation (a few percentage points). Furthermore, hypothesis 1a) is supported by Sanders’ stronger performance at caucuses (average: 65.1%; caucuses require you to try to convince your peers and spend a good few hours at the affair) than at primaries (average: 41.3%; primaries just require you to fill out a ballot – much less enthusiasm is required).
The Smoking Gun
If only we had solid evidence – perhaps revealed under sworn affidavit – of the type of conspiracy suggested by hypothesis 2). Guess what – we do. On April 5th, the Chicago Board of Elections allowed citizens to present their results from their 5% audit of the machine count – an effort “to audit the audit.”
What we saw was not an audit. We are really concerned… There was a lot of hiding behavior on behalf of the Board of Elections employees to keep us from seeing the actual votes… What many of us saw was... that the auditors miss votes, correct their tallies, erase their tallies to fit the official results. There’s a lot of pressure that’s pushing them towards complying with the Board of Election’s results… In our packet, we have a bunch of affidavits. In one particularly egregious example… they had to erase 21 Bernie Sanders votes and add 49 Hillary Clinton votes to force the hand-count of the audit to the official results… We would like an independent audit.Numerous affidavits attest that according to the hand-counted results for one Chicago precinct, Bernie Sanders won 56.7% of the vote. However, according to the official machine-tabulated results, he lost with 47.5% of the vote – an 18.4% swing. Remember, Illinois exit polling gave him a 2.3% lead; however, he lost the state by 1.8% (in large part due to Chicago). This confirmed case of election fraud cannot be explained just by hypothesis 1); at least for Illinois, hypothesis 2) is now the simplest theory that fits all of the facts. Furthermore, it would be logical to be more wary of repeat occurrences in other states.
The Empire Strikes Back
With that in mind, let’s examine the New York results. Sanders outperformed his benchmarks upstate, where ES&S (the company that bought Diebold, which was famous for handing George W. Bush the presidency in both 2000 and 2004 and has been charged by federal prosecutors for “a worldwide pattern of criminal conduct”) voting machines are not used. However, he got slaughtered in the Queens, Kings, Nassau, Bronx, Richmond, and New York counties, where those machines are used. Although these counties pose challenges to him demographically, he underperformed his already-low benchmarks for those areas. Correlation is not causation; it’s entirely possible that he actually did underperform.
Also, it’s important to note that not all discrepancies crop up in areas served by ES&S; for example, the aforementioned Yavapai County employed technology by Unisyn Voting Solutions, and we know that Cook County’s results were modified (in at least one precinct) by Sequoia-manufactured machines.
The unadjusted exit poll tells an incredibly different story than do the final results. I recommend reading this exposé on how the exit poll was contorted in an impossible fashion to fit the tallied results:
Apparently, the last 24 respondents to exit polls yesterday were all Latina or black female Clinton voters over 44, and they were all allowed also to count more than double while replacing more than one male Sanders voter under 45.
So, now that it’s entirely plausible that results in New York were modified, what would the race look like if the 52-48 exit poll held up? Easy: Bernie would have incredible momentum right now. But wait a minute… weren’t there more problems in New York (aside from its draconian registration-change deadline: October 9th – 193 days before the primary – which screwed many Bernie-loving independents out of voting for him en masse)? Yes, there were.
125,000 registered Democrats were removed from the voter rolls in Brooklyn alone, rendering them unable to vote. Meanwhile, registration increased in all of the other boroughs. Polls were late in opening, machines were down, and over two hundred unsworn affidavits were filed through Election Justice USA, decrying their wrongful purging (13 of the plaintiffs are named in the filing here).
TWC news reports that over 10,000 provisional ballots were cast in Erie County alone; it’s not unreasonable to infer that hundreds of thousands of voters were forced to cast affidavit or provisional ballots because their registrations had been purged. Note that while Brooklyn was hit hardest, the other boroughs were not left unscathed.
Perhaps these registrations were accidentally removed. OK, but NPR reports that entire city blocks were taken out of the database. Demographically speaking, if the voters were randomly purged from the Brooklyn rolls, Clinton would be the injured party. We have no proof one way or the other, just reasonable suspicion; that’s why independent investigation is required.
I’m a democracy supporter first and a Sanders supporter second; if Clinton lost votes due to the purge, I fully support her gaining the additional delegates. However, given the Chicago incident, we would do well to be suspicious – is it really too hard to imagine that, if some party were willing to modify the votes themselves, they’d also be willing to remove likely Sanders voters from the rolls?
Here is the crux of the matter: if hypothesis 2) is true for New York and election fraud really did occur, and if Sanders' voters were targeted by the voter purge, then Sanders could find enough votes from the hundreds of thousands of uncounted ballots to push him from 52C / 48S to 49.9C / 50.1S. Bernie Sanders could have won New York, and if we don’t demand every vote be counted (by hand), we will never know the truth.
More Trouble Ahead
Mayor de Blasio issued a statement condemning the purge and urging action. Additionally, the comptroller announced an audit of the Board of Elections in a sharply-worded letter. The comptroller is a delegate for Clinton; de Blasio also supports her. To be sure, I’m just pointing out potential conflicts of interest; it’s entirely possible that both men will do everything in their power to impartially resolve the situation.
New York may well be the most heavily suppressed election this cycle, but it’s neither the first – a similar purge raised hell in Arizona, nor is it the last. One month ago, /u/Coelacanth86 warned not just of New York, but of similar incidents occurring in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and California; anecdotal reports of these unauthorized registration switches in New Jersey have also emerged. Despite record-breaking enthusiasm this election cycle, Rhode Island announced they will only open 1/3 of their polling places for their primary on the 26th – a decrease of 18.6% from 2008.
Isn’t it a bit odd that after weeks of being campaigned by both candidates in a heavily-hyped, incredibly important election, New York had the second-lowest percentage of turnout of Democratic primaries this year, coming in just after Louisiana?
That “low turnout” is because hundreds of thousands of provisional and affidavit ballots have yet to be counted.
What if Bernie does better in caucuses not only because his supporters are enthusiastic, but it’s much harder to game the vote? Right now, we only have one verified instance of election fraud and a handful of what could be described as extremely lucky breaks for Clinton. It’s possible that the incident in Chicago was isolated to just that precinct; it’s also possible that a series of such events has decreased Sanders’ delegate count (if the primary results were faithful to their exit polls, Sanders would only be behind by roughly 1.3 million votes – half of Clinton’s current lead).
The only way to put this matter to rest is to audit all primaries to date with the help of an independent firm. I believe this bears repeating: this is about the sanctity of our democracy.
Sanders campaign: please ask for an independent audit.
Edit 1: fixed typos.
Edit 2: looks like a little bias snuck in. Thanks, /u/caryatid23!
Edit 3: thank you for the gold, anonymous redditors!
Edit 4: changed the call-to-action.
Edit 5: tweaked verbiage
Edit 6: now a moderator at the non-partisan /r/CAVDEF (Coalition Against Voter Disenfranchisement and Election Fraud). Please come join us!
Our goal is to document irregularities, fraud, and suppression while providing resources for individuals who have been disenfranchised to find acknowledgement and legal remedies.
25 April 16
ill Bernie Sanders’s supporters rally behind Hillary Clinton if she gets the nomination? Likewise, if Donald Trump is denied the Republican nomination, will his supporters back whoever gets the Republican nod?
If 2008 is any guide, the answer is unambiguously yes to both. About 90 percent of people who backed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries that year ended up supporting Barack Obama in the general election. About the same percent of Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney backers came around to supporting John McCain.
But 2008 may not be a good guide to the 2016 election, whose most conspicuous feature is furious antipathy to the political establishment.
Outsiders and mavericks are often attractive to an American electorate chronically suspicious of political insiders, but the anti-establishment sentiments unleashed this election year of a different magnitude. The Trump and Sanders candidacies are both dramatic repudiations of politics as usual.
If Hillary Clinton is perceived to have won the Democratic primary because of insider “superdelegates” and contests closed to independents, it may confirm for hardcore Bernie supporters the systemic political corruption Sanders has been railing against.
Similarly, if the Republican Party ends up nominating someone other than Trump who hasn’t attracted nearly the votes than he has, it may be viewed as proof of Trump’s argument that the Republican Party is corrupt.
Many Sanders supporters will gravitate to Hillary Clinton nonetheless out of repulsion toward the Republican candidate, especially if it’s Donald Trump. Likewise, if Trump loses his bid for the nomination, many of his supporters will vote Republican in any event, particularly if the Democratic nominee is Hillary Clinton.
But, unlike previous elections, a good number may simply decide to sit out the election because of their even greater repulsion toward politics as usual – and the conviction it’s rigged by the establishment for its own benefit.
That conviction wasn’t present in the 2008 election. It emerged later, starting in the 2008 financial crisis, when the government bailed out the biggest Wall Street banks while letting underwater homeowners drown.
Both the Tea Party movement and Occupy were angry responses – Tea Partiers apoplectic about government’s role, Occupiers furious with Wall Street – two sides of the same coin.
Then came the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in “Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission,” releasing a torrent of big money into American politics. By the 2012 election cycle, forty percent of all campaign contributions came from the richest 0.01 percent of American households.
That was followed by a lopsided economic recovery, most of whose gains have gone to the top. Median family income is still below 2008, adjusted for inflation. And although the official rate of unemployment has fallen dramatically, a smaller percentage of working-age people now have jobs than before the recession.
As a result of all this, many Americans have connected the dots in ways they didn’t in 2008.
They see “crony capitalism” (now a term of opprobrium on both left and the right) in special tax loopholes for the rich, government subsidies and loan guarantees for favored corporations, bankruptcy relief for the wealthy but not for distressed homeowners or student debtors, leniency toward corporations amassing market power but not for workers seeking to increase their bargaining power through unions, and trade deals protecting the intellectual property and assets of American corporations abroad but not the jobs or incomes of American workers.
Last fall, when on book tour in the nation’s heartland, I kept finding people trying to make up their minds in the upcoming election between Sanders and Trump.
They saw one or the other as their champion: Sanders the “political revolutionary” who’d reclaim power from the privileged few; Trump, the authoritarian strongman who’d wrest power back from an establishment that’s usurped it.
The people I encountered told me the moneyed interests couldn’t buy off Sanders because he wouldn’t take their money, and they couldn’t buy off Trump because he didn’t need their money.
Now, six months later, the political establishment has fought back, and Sanders’s prospects for taking the Democratic nomination are dimming. Trump may well win the Republican mantle but not without a brawl.
As I said, I expect most Sanders backers will still support Hillary Clinton if she’s the nominee. And even if Trump doesn’t get the Republican nod, most of his backers will go with whoever the Republican candidate turns out to be.
But anyone who assumes a wholesale transfer of loyalty from Sanders’s supporters to Clinton, or from Trump’s to another Republican standard-bearer, may be in for a surprise.
The anti-establishment fury in the election of 2016 may prove greater than supposed.
April 20, 2016
The last two posts here on "The Archdruid Report," with their focus on America’s class system and the dysfunctional narratives that support it, fielded an intriguing response from readers. I expected a fair number to be uncomfortable with the subject I was discussing; I didn’t expect them to post comments and emails asking me, in so many words, to please talk about something else instead.
Straight talk about uncomfortable subjects has been this blog’s bread and butter since I first started posting just shy of ten years ago, so I’ve had some experience with the way that blog readers squirm. Normally, when I touch on a hot-button issue, readers who find that subject too uncomfortable go out of their way to act as though I haven’t mentioned it at all. I’m thinking here especially, but not only, of the times I’ve noted that the future of the internet depends on whether it can pay for itself, not on whether it’s technically feasible.
Whenever I’ve done this, I’ve gotten comments that rabbited on endlessly about technical feasibility as a way to avoid talking about the economic reasons why the internet won’t be able to cover its own operating costs in the future of resource depletion and environmental blowback we’re busy making for ourselves.
It’s not just hard questions about the future of the internet that attracts that strategy of avoidance, mind you. I’ve learned to expect it whenever some post of mine touches on any topic that contradicts the conventional wisdom of our time. That’s why the different response I got to the last two posts was so fascinating. The fact that people who were made uncomfortable by a frank discussion of class privilege actually admitted that, rather than trying to pretend that no subject so shocking had been mentioned at all, says to me that we may be approaching a historical inflection point of some importance.
Mind you, frank discussion of class privilege still gets plenty of avoidance maneuvers outside the fringe territory where archdruids lurk. I’m thinking here, of course, of the way that affluent liberals right now are responding to Donald Trump’s straightforward talk about class issues by yelling that he and his followers must be motivated by racism and nothing else. That’s partly a standard bit of liberal rhetoric—I’ve discussed the way that the word “racist,” when uttered by the privileged, normally functions as a dog whistle for “wage class”—but it’s also an attempt to drag the conversation away from what policies that benefit the affluent have done to everyone else in this country.
In some parts of the current Neopagan community, that evasive maneuver has acquired a helpful moniker: “Starhawking.” With apologies to those of my readers who may find the behavior of one of America’s smaller minority religious communities uninteresting, I’d like to recount the story behind the label. Here as so often, a small example helps clarify things; the reduced scale of a social microcosm makes it easier to observe patterns that can be harder to see at a glance on the macrocosmic scale.
Those who haven’t had any contact with the Neopagan scene may not know that it isn’t one religion, or even a group of closely related religions; rather, it’s a grab-bag of profoundly diverse faiths, some of which have less in common with one another than Christianity has with Shinto. Their association in a common subculture comes not from shared beliefs or practices, but solely from a shared history of exclusion from the religious and cultural mainstream of American society. These days, something like half of American Neopagans participate in some flavor of eclectic Paganism, which emerged out of the older British traditional witchcraft in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of the rest fall into two broad categories: one consists of older initiatiory traditions such as the British traditional witchcraft just named, while the other consists of recently revived polytheist faiths worshipping the gods and goddesses of various historic pantheons—Norse, Greek, Egyptian, and so on.
There’s a great deal of talk about inclusiveness in the Neopagan scene, but those of my readers who know their way around small American subcultures will have no trouble figuring out that what this means is that eclectic Paganism is the default option almost everywhere, and people from other traditions are welcome to show up and participate, on terms defined by eclectic Paganism, so long as they don’t offend the sensibilities of the eclectic Pagan majority. For a variety of reasons, most of which are more relevant to my other blog than this one, those sensibilities seem to be getting more easily offended of late, and people from the minority traditions have responded in a variety of ways. Some have simply walked away from the Neopagan scene, while others have tried, in an assortment of forums, to start a conversation about what has been awkwardly termed “Wiccanate privilege.”
One such discussion was under way at a large San Francisco-area Neopagan event in 2014 when Starhawk put in a belated appearance. For those who aren’t familiar with her, she’s one of the few genuine celebrities to come out of the US Neopagan scene, the author of The Spiral Dance, one of the two books that basically launched eclectic Paganism—the other is Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon—and a notable political figure over on the leftward end of the spectrum. According to people I know who were there, she proceeded to insist that the conversation should not even be happening, because all Pagans need to unite to save the Earth.
Mind you, there were plenty of other conversations going on at that event that had nothing to do with saving the Earth, and neither she nor anyone else seemed to feel any need to try to silence those conversations — just the conversation about privilege. That’s Starhawking: the rhetorical tactic of insisting that some other issue is so important that the privilege of the speaker must not be discussed. To be fair to Starhawk, she didn’t invent it; it’s all over contemporary discourse in America, quite often in contexts where the stakes are considerably higher than they will ever be in the Neopagan scene.
Madeleine Albright’s recent insistence that every woman in America should vote for Hillary Clinton or fry in hell comes out of exactly the same logic. Issue A in this case is the so-called “glass ceiling,” the habit of excluding women of the privileged classes from the upper reaches of power and wealth. Issue B in this case is the fact that putting Hillary Clinton into the White House will only benefit those women who belong to the top end of America’s class structure, since the policies Clinton has supported throughout her political life have brought impoverishment and immiseration to the vast majority of American women, i.e., those who belong to the wage class and the lower half or so of the salary class.
When Starhawking comes from the leftward end of the affluent class, it’s almost always framed in terms of another kind of bias — racism, sexism, or what have you — which can be used, along the lines detailed last week, to blame the sufferings of one underprivileged group on another underprivileged group. When it takes place on the other end of the political spectrum, as of course it does all the time, other issues are used to drown out any discussion of privilege; among the favorites are crime, Christian moral theology, and the alleged laziness and greed of people on public assistance. The excuse differs but the rhetorical gimmick is the same.
One of the things that makes that gimmick viable is the ambiguous nature of the language that’s used to talk about the various candidates for Issue A. “Crime,” for example, is a nice vague abstraction that everyone can agree to oppose. Once that agreement has been obtained, on the other hand, it descends from the airy realm of abstraction into some very questionable specifics—to note a relevant example, none of the politicians who boast about being “tough on crime” have shown any interest in locking up the kleptomaniacs of Wall Street, whose billion-dollar swindles have done far more damage to the nation than any number of muggings on the mean streets of our inner cities.
In the same way, words like “racism” and “sexism” are abstractions with a great deal of ambiguity built into them. There are at least three things conflated in labels of this kind. I’d like to unpack those for a moment, in the hope of getting a clearer view of the convoluted landscape of American inequality.
The things I want to pull out of these portmanteau words, and others like them, are privilege, prejudice, and acts of injustice. Let’s start with the last. Police officers in America, for example, routinely gun down black teenagers in response to actions that do not get white teenagers shot; a woman who gets hired for a job in the US today can expect to get, on average, roughly three-quarters the pay that a man can expect to get for doing exactly the same job; two people who love each other and want to get married have to run a gauntlet of difficulties if they happen to be the same gender that they would not face if they were different genders. Those are acts of injustice.
Prejudice is a matter of attitudes rather than actions. The word literally means pre-judgments, the judgments we all make about people and situations before we encounter them. Everybody has them, every culture teaches them, but some people are more prejudiced — more committed to their pre-judgments, and less willing to reassess them in the face of disconfirming evidence — and some are less so. Acts of injustice are usually motivated by prejudice, and prejudice very often results in acts of injustice, but neither of these equations are exact. I’ve known people who were profoundly prejudiced but refused to act on their prejudices because some other belief or commitment forbade that; I’ve also known people who participated repeatedly in acts of injustice, who were just following orders or going along with friends, and didn’t care in the least one way or the other.
Then there’s privilege. Where prejudice and acts of injustice are individual, privilege is collective; you have privilege, or don’t have it, because of the categories you belong to, not because of what you do or don’t do. I’ll use myself as a source of examples here. I can walk through the well-to-do neighborhoods of the town where I live, for instance, without being hassled by the police; black people don’t have that privilege. I can publish controversial essays like this one without being bombarded with rape and death threats by trolls; women don’t have that privilege. I can kiss my spouse in public without having some moron yell insults at me out of the window of a passing car; gay people don’t have that privilege.
I could fill the next ten posts on this blog with a listing of similar privileges I have, and not even come close to running out of examples. It’s important, though, to recognize that my condition of privilege isn’t assigned to me for any one reason. It’s not just that I’m white, or male, or heterosexual, or grew up in a family on the lower end of the salary class, or was born able-bodied, or what have you; it’s all of these things and a great many more, taken together, that assign me my place in the hierarchy of privilege. This is equally true of you, dear reader, and of everyone else. What differentiates my position from yours, and yours from everyone else’s, is that every station on the ladder has a different proportion between the number of people above it and the number of people below.There are, for example, plenty of people in today’s America who have more privilege than I do, but there are vastly more people who have much, much less.
Note also that I don’t have to do anything to get the privileges I have, nor can I get rid of them. As a white heterosexual man from a salary class background, and the rest of it, I got assigned nearly all of my privileges the moment I was born, and no matter what I do or don’t do, I’ll keep the vast majority of them until I die. Ths is also true of you, dear reader, and of everyone else: the vast majority of what places you on whatever rung you occupy in the long ladder of privilege is yours simply for being born. Thus you’re not responsible for the fact that you have whatever level of privilege you do—though you are responsible, of course, for what you choose to do with it.
You can, after all, convince yourself that you deserve your privilege, and the people who don’t share your privilege deserve their inferior status — that is to say, you can choose to be prejudiced. You can exploit your privilege to benefit yourself at the expense of the less privileged — that is to say, you can engage in acts of injustice. The more privilege you have, the more your prejudices affect other people’s lives and the more powerful your acts of injustice become. Thus advocates for the less privileged are quite correct to point out that the prejudices and injustices of the privileged matter more than those of the unprivileged.
On the other hand, privilege does not automatically equate to prejudice, or to acts of injustice. It’s entirely possible for the privileged—who, as already noted, did not choose their privilege and can’t get rid of it—to refuse to exploit their privilege in this way. It’s even possible, crashingly unfashionable as the concept is these days, for them to take up the old principle of noblesse oblige: the concept, widely accepted (though not always acted on) in eras where privilege was more openly recognized, that those who are born to privilege also inherit definite responsibilities toward the less privileged. I suppose it’s even possible that they might do this and not expect lavish praise for it, though that’s kind of a stretch, American culture today being what it is.
These days, though, most white heterosexual men from salary class backgrounds don’t think of themselves as privileged, and don’t see the things I enumerated earlier as privileges. This is one of the most crucial points about privilege in today’s America: to the privileged, privilege is invisible. That’s not just a matter of personal cluelessness, or of personal isolation from the less privileged, though these can of course be involved. It’s a matter of enculturation. The mass media and every other aspect of mainstream American culture constantly present the experience of privileged people as normal, and just as constantly feed any departure from that experience through an utterly predictable set of filters.
First, of course, the experience of the unprivileged is erased—“That sort of thing doesn’t actually happen.” When that fails, it’s dismissed as unimportant—”Well, maybe it does happen, but it’s no big deal.” When it becomes clear that it is a big deal to those who have to cope with it, it’s treated as an occasional anomaly—“You can’t generalize from one or two bad examples.” When that breaks down, finally, the experience of the unprivileged is blamed on the unprivileged—“It’s their own fault that they get treated like that.” If you know your way around America’s collective non-conversation about privilege, in the mass media or in everyday conversation, you’ve seen each one of these filters deployed a thousand times or more.
What makes this interesting is that the invisibility of privilege in modern America isn’t shared by that many other human societies. There are plenty of cultures, past and present, in which privilege is right out there in the open, written into laws, and openly discussed by the privileged as well as the unprivileged. The United States used to be like that as recently as the 1950s. It wasn’t just that there were Jim Crow laws in those days formally assigning black Americans the status of second-class citizens, and laws in many states that gave women second-class status when it came to a galaxy of legal and financial rights; it was all over the media and popular culture, too. Open any daily newspaper, and the society pages splashed around the difference in privilege between those people who belonged to the elite and those who didn’t.
For a complex series of reasons rooted in the cultural convulsions of the Sixties, though, frank talk about privilege stopped being socially acceptable in America over the course of the second half of the twentieth century. That didn’t make privilege go away, of course. It did mean that certain formal expressions of privilege, such as the Jim Crow laws just mentioned, had to be scrapped, and in that process, some real injustices did get fixed. The downside was the rise of a culture of double-talk in which the very real disparities in privilege in American society got fed repeatedly through the filters described above, and one of the most important sources of those disparities — class differences — were shoved completely out of the collective conversation of our time.
The habit of Starhawking is one of the major rhetorical tools by which open discussion of privilege, and above all of class privilege, got thrust out of sight. It’s been used with equal verve at all points along the political spectrum from the far left straight across to the far right. Whether it’s affluent liberals insisting that everyone else has to ignore their privilege in order to get on with the task of saving the Earth, affluent conservatives insisting that everyone else has to ignore their privilege in order to get on with the task of returning America to its Christian roots, or — and this is increasingly the standard line — affluent people on both sides insisting that everyone else has to ignore their privilege because fighting those horrible people on the other side of the political spectrum is the only thing that matters, what all these utterances mean in practice is “don’t talk about my privilege.”
That sort of evasion is what I expected to field from readers when I started talking about issues surrounding class privilege earlier this year. I got a certain amount of it, to be sure, but as already mentioned, I also got comments by people who acknowledged that they were uncomfortable with the discussion and wanted me to stop. What this says to me is that the wall of denial and double-talk that has closed down open discussion of privilege in today’s America—and especially of class privilege — may be cracking at last. Granted, "The Archdruid Report" is well out there on the cultural fringes of American society, but it’s very often the fringes that show signs of major social changes well before the mainstream ever hears about them.
If it’s true that the suppression of talk about privilege in general, and class privilege in particular, is in the process of breaking down, it’s not a minute too soon. The United States just now stands in the path of a tidal wave of drastic change, and current patterns of privilege are among the many things that bid fair to be upended once it hits. We’ll talk about that next week.