Does Privilege Matter?
Press Start for “Does Privilege Matter?” by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more.
Episode 21: Does Privilege Matter? | Jean-Paul Sartre on Privilege and Facticity
Written by: Matt Reichle
Created & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Academic Consultant: Mia Wood
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon
Does Privilege Matter?
Imagine, if you will, that a warrior named Firion is seeking vengeance for losses suffered at the hands of an evil Emperor. But his friend Leon comes from a much wealthier family, can afford much nicer weapons, and can hire out a large army to support his mission. Firion might be tempted to tell Leon, ‘Dude, check your privilege.’
After all, Leon didn’t choose to be born into wealth, why, then, should he apologize for it?
According to existentialist Jean Paul Sartre, we’re thrown into the world as part of a particular culture, religion, language, and socio-economic status without any say in the manner. These are features of what Sartre calls our facticity—the individual parts of ourselves that we’re born with.
And although we have no control over our facticity—we are always free to choose our relation to the world that we live in. This freedom is just part of the human condition. We define our own existence by determining our purpose in life—we make our life our own particular project—things have value only in the frame of the project that we freely create.
In his colossal work Being and Nothingness Sartre uses several examples to illustrate humanity’s radical freedom.
To Sartre, even a prisoner is radically free. He can choose to attempt an escape, he can choose to restructure his purpose in life given his incarceration, or he can choose to end his life—the fact that he’s locked up isn’t what restricts his freedom, rather it’s his choice to believe, given his situation, that he is un-free.
You see, freedom is only ever experienced by each particular person in the context of their own project, their own ends, and their own understanding of the world.
Firion could compare his ragged armor and motley crew versus Leon’s disciplined battalion and shining plate mail but it has nothing to do with Firion’s goal for himself. Each person is their own free project with their own situation—their own personal quest.
Because Leon has more at his disposal than Firion doesn’t mean that Leon is freer—both are free to construct their own ends. As such there is no superior life situation because there is no metric to decide who has the best way to make meaning in their lives. There isn’t a way to determine who has the best life plan.
For Sartre, it means that facticity, or a person’s material situation doesn’t constitute privilege—we are all radically free to create meaning. And that is what matters.
But then again, should we really look to a rich white man to be an authority on privilege?