This quote from the poem “Little Gidding” has always been inspiring to me. But in recent years, some shade has been cast on it. Stick with me as I back up a step or two to make the point.
If you’re reading this, you’re privileged.
Now, just calm down for a minute and hear me out. No matter the race, gender, or vaccination status you identify with; you can afford access to media, you can read English and you have time to do so.
Pick your own label
But no one wants to be labeled “privileged” because we imagine that privilege can only be obtained at the expense of a victim. “Privileged” and “Victim” are the only two posts available to Americans. A zero-sum game. Given the choice between these two (false though it may be) we now compete to gain victim status because being “Privileged” is synonymous with “Villain” and “Victim” is the new position of power.
It’s everywhere. We are daily (and ironically) subjected to the cries and written screeds of “Victims” who have been silenced, censored or marginalized in the media. School boards are alternately cowed by the power of “Victims” of mask mandates and the power of “Victims” of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Management is the “Victim” of unions, the working man is the “Victim” of the immigrant, billionaires are “Victims” of the media, boomers of millennials and millennials of boomers. Even Donald Trump…is the “Victim” of…well, take your pick. He has identified just about every imaginable group and demographic as his persecutor.
This begs the question, why would a man like Trump pursue victimhood? Because he pursues power. Why do social justice groups and churches pull themselves apart to the point of ineffectiveness? Because one faction flops to the ground in front of the referee like a professional soccer star, hoping their victimhood will be rewarded with power over another faction.
We have returned to where we began.
Eliot was right. We thought we progressed into some new way of living but we’ve simply returned to the old way which defined tribalism, feudalism, imperialism colonialism and communism: Power. Granted, the role of victim-as-powerful is an interesting plot twist, but it’s the same old script.
I haven’t calculated the implications of this to their full extent, but I can say we are losing our dignity: beauty and nobility emerge if we choose to heal from our victimhood and put it aside as an identity. We are losing the ability to think objectively: every single one of us could legitimately claim victim status in some way. So, who does that leave for all the perpetrators? We are losing touch with actual victims: their voices are being drown out by the wails of those simply seeking power, crying “Wolf!”.
Check it. Then share it.
I can’t believe I’m writing these words but, check your privilege. Then embrace it. Then share it rather than pawn it for pity to buy undeserved power.
Originally published in The Daily Herald