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celebratedrecluse wrote

that's an interesting point, it is basically impossible to give up the privileges of your upbringing, it inherently happens at a time when you have little practical agency, and it shapes the rest of our lives so dramatically that even in choosing to give up wealth afterwards, it's still going to shape your future and the whole context in which you live.


indi wrote

Yes, but I don't think it's just about privilege you were born with.

Consider someone who lived in abject poverty their entire life, then suddenly became ultra-rich. (Doesn't really matter how; you can assume they "pulled themselves up by their bootstraps" if you believe that myth, or you can just assume they won the lottery.) I think a poor person could consider them just as distasteful as a rich person who was born into their wealth.

And I don't think it matters whether they were trying to get rich, or it happened without their choice (like, say, they lived in poverty their whole life, but then some rich uncle they never knew they had bequeathed them a massive inheritance). They're rich; that's all that matters. They have that privilege. The poor person does not.

And I don't think that giving away all their wealth will "fix" anything. Once you have privilege... you have privilege. That's the beginning, middle, and end of it. I don't see that it matters if they weren't born with it - I don't think a person who lived in poverty most of their life, got ultra-rich, then gave it all away is any less a fraud than a person who was born ultra-rich and gave it all away. To person who never had the privilege of being rich, both had that privilege, and both used that privilege to choose to be poor - a choice that a person without that privilege could never have.

In summary:

  • Once you have the privilege of being rich - no matter whether you were born with it, you worked to get it, or it just fell into your lap - you are tainted by that privilege for life. You can't give it away.
  • You can give away your wealth - either by choice or because someone/something forced you to - but you can't give away the fact that you had the privilege of that wealth.
  • Sure, we can probably have more sympathy for the ultra-rich person who lost their wealth because it was stolen or taken away from them in some way than for one who lost it all because of foolishness or bad actions. And we can probably have more sympathy for both of them than for a rich person who just chooses to give it all away. But the bottom line is... they all had it - they all had the privilege, no matter how they got it, and no matter long or brief a time they had it, no matter how they lost it (if they did) - they all had the privilege. Someone who never had it can justifiably begrudge that.

The only thing you can do with privilege is use it. If you want to atone for privilege, the only thing you can do use that privilege ethically.