Inquiring Into The Concept of Privilege And The Green Meme


A good concept to inquire into more would be that of “privilege” or of “feeling or being privileged.” Such an inquiry would, in time, make plain to us that it functions within what Ken Wilber has called the green meme. One blog seeks to describe the sundry attributes of those inhabiting a green worldview:

6. Green: The Sensitive Self. Communitarian, human bonding, ecological sensitivity, networking. The human spirit must be freed from greed, dogma, and divisiveness; feelings and caring supersede cold rationality; cherishing of the earth, Gaia, life. Against hierarchy; establishes lateral bonding and linking. Permeable self, relational self, group intermeshing. Emphasis on dialogue, relationships. Basis of value communities (i.e., freely chosen affiliations based on shared sentiments). Reaches decisions through reconciliation and consensus (downside: interminable “processing” and incapacity to reach decisions). Refresh spirituality, bring harmony, enrich human potential. Strongly egalitarian, anti-hierarchy, pluralistic values, social construction of reality, diversity, multiculturalism, relativistic value systems; this worldview is often called pluralistic relativism . Subjective, nonlinear thinking; shows a greater degree of affective warmth, sensitivity, and caring, for earth and all its inhabitants.

Looking at Google’s etymology of “privilege,” we find the following idiom: “check your privilege–used to suggest that someone should recognize that their attitudes or views reflect the fact that they are in an inherently privileged or advantageous position because of the particular social category or categories to which they belong.”

The assumption here is that the social, political, and economic world consists of a continuum of people ranked according to the degree to which they are privileged, somewhat privileged, less privileged, underprivileged, or not privileged at all. And this ranking is, as Google offers, based on some “social category or categories to which they belong.” Typically, that is in actual practice, the continuum collapses into a binary: it’s said that one is either is privileged, relative to some other (to whom one’s interlocutor points), or not privileged at all.


Let’s investigate the matter of privilege further by asking some questions:

  • Is it true that the entire social world is divided up into the privileged and the unprivileged, or is this sometimes an appropriate, even correct way of looking at the world while in other cases other maps or models may be called for? Are there times, for instance, when it makes sense to view a scene in terms of how beautiful someone is dancing? We do not say that she is a privileged dancer. We say that she dances beautifully.
  • While considering justice, fairness, and equality is a worthwhile endeavor, are these the concepts that exhaust our understanding of human beings as social beings? Or might there be other questions we’d like to consider related, for instance, to wisdom and truth? A truly wise person knows when and how to act justly, yet wisdom is not identical with justice. At other times, the wise person acts courageously or compassionately or lovingly.
  • When does this worldview “sour” into resentment and ingratitude? When, and where, is it spawned from wounds unhealed? How is trust, once it becomes dubious or a matter of suspicion, continually severed? How is intimacy lost?
  • Which wonderful and very pregnant questions are crowded out and delegitimated by this worldview? In what particular ways might it, if it’s the only way we view the world, narrow our focus and hem us in?
  • How, implicitly, does this worldview deny that there is something beyond the many (i.e., the many cultural differences)? That is, how does it occlude the vital philosophical question of the One and the Many? Is there, we might ask, room for unity-in-diversity?
  • Where, in this picture, shall we–can we–find love, peace, joy, and beauty?
  • And if one is a nondualist (as I am), then in what ways do entrenched individual and social identities debar an inquiry into who, beyond a set of social categories, one really and truly is? Is it even possible, from within this worldview, to go beyond thought to be inherent social categories in an effort to ask about metaphysics?


While we may not and need not do without critiques of injustice or rampant inequality where appropriate, it seems to me that we’re now entering a time when we need to widen and widen the inquiry so that it can encircle more and more of who, and what, we care about. What we really need, I submit, is living wisdom and ever more capacious love.