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Stefan Molyneux posted a video the other day where he discusses at length the topics of guilt, shame, empathy and how they interact with the concept of civilization. While he does make a multitude of very relevant points to the topic, I want to discuss only what he said at the end. It struck me because I haven’t really formulated by criticism of ‘white male privilege’ in this manner, even though I have thought along the same lines.

The point Molyneux makes is that guilt(ing) is an important tool in a peaceful society because it can enforce compliance with the values and norms of that society. It excludes coercive force by the State, and merely points out to the delinquent that he has done something wrong. His own guilty feeling and the threat of possible ostracism will then lead him back to compliance. Obviously, this will only have the desired effect if the delinquent himself holds the same values of his society – which is more often than not the case indeed.

But Molyneux points out that guilt(ing) someone has a bad side to it as well, especially if it is married to statism. This brings me to the last part of his video, where he points out the two fundamental ingredients to this kind of ‘bad guilt’. I will refer to this as the quiet ‘violence’ (to use a leftist expression) of accusations of white male privilege. They are:

  • The culpability (and resulting guilt) must be perpetual; and
  • The culpability (and resulting guilt) cannot ever be remedied.

In order to succeed in acquiring for yourself an unlimited supply of guilt (and as a consequence, resources) from others, “you must make it perpetual”, says Molyneux, “so that no amount of resource transfer will ever solve the problem.”

In many Western democracies, including South Africa, this is clearly what is currently happening.

“You must recognize and own your privilege!” is what the typical white social justice warrior, on her apparent moral high ground, would tell you as a white male. We will deal with the topic of whites themselves dominating the ‘white privilege movement’ in a separate, later article. For now it is sufficient to note that there is a lot of hypocrisy going around in this regard. This white individual believes that because she has recognized and owned her privilege, she has remedied the culpability. But this is not at all the case, because when the idea of a ‘white reparations tax’ is discussed, there is no special exemption for persons who have ‘owned’ their privilege. Similarly, when legal measures aimed at transferring wealth from ‘advantaged’ to ‘previously disadvantaged’ persons are on the table, no provision exempting the white social justice warriors is part of the package.

As an unnamed person who I shall not afford the dignity of naming wrote, “white work does not negate white privilege”. This individual then felt comfortable enough to declare that the intention behind the piece is not aimed at driving white guilt, but rather a “plea for empathy”. Indeed, Molyneux talks at length about the relationship between empathy and guilt in his video.

Most notably, he states that when you are dealing with someone who has less empathy for you than you have for them, you will inevitably lose whatever conflict exists between you. Molyneux uses this to justify his assertion that if your ‘opponent’ does not show you the exact same amount of empathy (i.e. the ability to relate to your position) they demand from you, you should refuse to afford them any. But I digress – I simply felt the author of the aforementioned piece’s mentioning of empathy was relevant.

The message underlying the assertion that ‘white work’ cannot negate white privilege is that white privilege is perpetual. No amount of effort, distribution or apologizing can ever make it go away. Indeed, even black individuals with a similarly privileged background are able to escape this distinctively Western phenomenon. Only whites, particularly males, need to suffer from the never ending moral condemnation of being privileged. It has developed to such a level that it is accepted as a matter of fact. Molyneux elaborates on this by saying “it is perpetual because it can’t be proven or disproven, it just becomes an axiom”. So engrained has the idea of ‘white male privilege’ become in our society that it needn’t even be proven in any particular case. If you are white, you are privileged, and your children will be privileged, and their children will be privileged, and nothing anyone ever does will remedy this. “It can’t be changed,” says Molyneux.

There is no greater violation of an individual’s human dignity than to hold him culpable for something he cannot possibly change. This happened on a grand scale during the slave era of our history. If you were born to a slave, you were a slave. However, even the slaves had a way out in many instances, with the ability to ‘buy their freedom’ or to be voluntarily freed by their masters. The slaves had a way out of slavery which white males do not have out of white male privilege! I believe we haven’t seen the worst effect this narrative has on the psyche of white individuals yet. I dread the day when it will come, though; when whites will need Steve Bikos and Frantz Fanons to attempt to salvage any self-worth.

But I plead with you: if you are a well-off white male, close your ears to this narrative. Understand that you are an individual human being with your own experiences, wants and desires. Understand that you may in fact be privileged, but that there is nothing wrong with being privileged. Thank your parents or your benefactor the next time you see them for what they gave you, freely or conditionally. Don’t get confused with the social justice narrative’s mixing of truth and lies – you should be empathetic to those who have less than you do, black and white alike. They, most likely, were not afforded the same opportunities you were; but this is not necessarily an injustice – it is life. Life is infinitely dynamic with billions of individuals making choices which, like it or not, the following generations will need to live with.

In South Africa, the destitution of the majority of people was due to one thing, and one thing alone: the same kind of collectivism which underlies the white privilege narrative. Fearing that whites will be excluded entirely from the economy by the black supermajority, they instituted a system which simply kept black South Africans out entirely. They did not do this cooperatively and voluntarily because they understood such substantive discrimination cannot be effective in that manner. No – they needed the awesome power of the State. What we are left with is a largely black poor community. Yet even by realizing collectivism and statism is what caused this travesty, a substantial amount of people wish to see the same brands of collectivism and statism used against white South Africans. White South Africans who are not culpable.

Individualism has been the cornerstone of Western civilization and was the source of its intellectual and attractive power. Freedom follows logically from individualism. Prosperity follows from freedom. Collectivism has been the undoing of Western civilization: slavery, colonialism, Apartheid, genocide.

But one thing still left from Western civilization is the freedom to choose. We still have a choice on how to view the world. We can decide to regard our fellow man as our enemy because of how he looks or materially how wealthy he is, or we can decide to regard our fellow man according to how he regards us and according to his character. If we go with the former we will expedite the decline of Western society and deliver to the postmodernists exactly what they want: an centralized authoritarian state which polices thought and pursues ‘equality’ in perpetuity. Or we can go with the latter and build a society founded on values proven to work: liberty, the rule of law and respect for individuality.

Martin is the Academic Programs Director for Students For Liberty in Southern Africa (www.studentsforliberty.org/africa/). He is a co-founder and editor of the Rational Standard and the Editor in Chief of Being Libertarian (www.beinglibertarian.com). You can find him on Facebook or contact him via email at [email protected]