11:42 March 25, 2012

The Currency of Privilege

People tend to think of one economy: that of that which can be bought and sold through the medium of money. But of course there are other economies: that of attention, that of information, and that of privilege, to name a few. Privilege is an interest-bearing medium: if you abuse privilege with me [1]_ then this denotes not only a debt of privilege but also the consequence that I am less likely to extend you privilege in the future.

There are those of the classically altruistic mind that would suggest not accruing interest on debts of gratitude. While in the past I would have been sympathetic to such a point of view, it now brings me to a question:

What is the division between being selfish very being altruistic?

People are "supposed" (again, according to this classical model) to strive to be "good" (read: altruistic) or they are selfish. However, I claim that this model is not only unfair but it is also inaccurate, in terms of modeling the behaviour of concious organisms.

I generally want neutral karma, or lack of karmic involvement with other beings. I am not particularly selfish, in that most of my actions are not for the good or well being of my organism. People tend to divide selfishness versus altruism based on the mark of whether (the majority of) one's actions are for the accumulation of advantage towards one's own favor or for the manifestion of actions towards a value system. By this definition, I am non-selfish, as most of my actions are towards the manifestation of a value system. However, the criticism of this is that the overlap of my value system with the socio-centric value system is not necessarily that large. I don't care much about what many people consider important, especially considering the subtext of how they manifest their intent towards such things. For one, I do not consider humans innately privileged beings.

Often, people who are considered selfish are simply less creative or abstract in terms of manifestation of their actions. Those who espouse very abstract value systems are generally not considered selfish, but what is altruism but the manifestation of ideas towards a particular end? People are also considered selfish because they protect their prosperity and do not rely on the benificence of others. I fall into this category. Generally, I have found that I cannot rely on the charity of those around me. I wish I could, most of the time. But I can't.

I owe lots of money (thank you, student loans). I am in poor health and cannot really rely on the American health care system to actually work towards my betterment. I have sacrificed great time and effort towards others and have not received it back. So I have to protect myself. It doesn't do anyone any good if I can't function.

So the interest-bearing nature of privilege can be seen as a natural consequence of my circumstance. When look at as an economy, I can understand how those with freer circumstances and/or who have seen more support from those around them can afford to charge lower or even negative interest rates [2]_ for privilege, I cannot afford to do so and keep myself functional in terms of sustaining myself, projecting my ideas, and generally not being a drain on society. My entire life has seen a slow growth of my interest rate that I am forced to imposed reactively towards my deteriorating circumstances.

But is it logarithmic or leading to an asymptote?


[1] I'll use the first-person singular for convenience, though mostly I mean "one" in this text.

[2] Albeit in terms I cannot, for the moment, define in a numerically rigorous manner