danah's always talking about privilege and I've started to think about this more consciously than before. Just about everyone here in Davos is privileged. Some have been born into privilege and some have gained it through their work. Some people carry their privilege well, others don't. There are people who seem to gloat in and flaunt their privilege, constantly bragging and doing the nudge-nudge-wink-wink. Others carry it naturally. Others seem to feel bad or strange having been chosen to be among the privileged. Some seem to guiltily enjoy the privilege.

Some seem to believe that the privilege they have comes with the responsibility to use it to help others, while others seem to think that privilege is something they deserve to use for their own personal gain.

It's interesting to watch. I wish I could do a survey of all of the people here and ask questions like, "Do you think you deserve the privilege you have, and why?" "What do you intend to do with the privilege and do you think you owe it to the world to focus your energies on helping those without privilege?" Then there are deeper questions about whether people are helping underprivileged people to gain more recognition, out of guilt, out of love, out of a sense of responsibility or some other reason.

I haven't attended any of the philanthropy sessions, but maybe that's what they talk about.

I personally think I deserve some of the privilege that I've gained, but that there are many who don't have as much privilege as I do who deserve it more. I think I owe a lot of my privilege to where I was born, the way my mother raised me, the people I've met and an odd combination of networking skills. I do feel extremely responsible for using the privilege that I currently have to solve as many of the world's problems as possible. I continue to remind myself that the particular serious of events that have put me in the position that I am in has more to do with the people around me than anything else and I owe it to them to carry this privilege well.

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a touch off topic, although it might not be as much off as it seems at first. In any case I'm wondering if you could comment on Billmon's comments on this year's Davos [ http://billmon.org/archives/000980.html ]. He's got a pretty jaundiced eye for the world, but its also pretty informed and well thought. Makes for quite a contrast to you your more upbeat outlook and I'd love to hear your take on his take...

Fittingly, I read this post just after having watched "Good Will Hunting" for the third time.

I find it interesting what people consider privilege. Some think of it in terms of pure wealth, others view it in the abstract (i.e. access to a particular intellectual community, being raised on a beautiful island, etc.).

I was born into no money at all, but my family carried themselves with the air of intellectual privilege/wealth, so I didn't really know I grew up poor until I actually grew up and looked back. As far as I knew, my family was almost royalty. I knew our after dinner family debates about history and anthropology were special.

Now, as a well traveled adult, I've mingled with many kinds of privileged (wealthy, intellectual environment, upbringing, etc.) individuals. At this point the only thing I feel I've missed because of a lack of 'wealth' privilege is the availability of enough time to devote myself to the pursuit of knowledge and various growth experiences. Time. For me, time is what wealth buys. Nothing else. Happiness and success are not absolutely connected to wealth/privilege in my view (easy to say since I've never been wealthy).

Of course, when you get into the real halls of privilege, I suspect you're talking about much more than money (but I'll refrain from getting too esoteric). My friends who are privileged tend to be stand up, great people. It's the people who are trying to "elevate" themselves to a privileged status that I often have problems with. Whether it's someone from so called 'new money' or someone chasing that life, often these are the ugliest characters I've met. But, chasing the dream of privilege is what America (my country) is built upon, so I've gotten used to it.

I do think it is brave for Joi to put himself out there by acknowledging that most attendees at Davos are privileged. Funny how after so many thousands of years, not much has really changed. It would be nice to opine that blogs/social soft/digital culture is 'truly' leveling the playing field, but in truth, the egalitarian utopia is as far off as ever.

Joi, I think you're referring to the notion of "noblesse oblige" from the French, the notion that nobility has the obligation to use their privilege, influence and can we use the DIRTY WORD -- power -- to help others who have less.

Another way of putting it "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him, much shall be required" Luke 12:48.

In terms of being an artist and a writer, any compliments or acclaim I might get for my work, I know belongs to God -- not me. It's like a force moving THROUGH me, from God to others who like what I write. If I get into a big ego trip about it and step into the middle of that force, I stop it. You have to learn to sidestep it and especially not take whatever success you've had very seriously. You particularly need to ignore your earlier success, when it's time to move in a whole new direction as an artist, and not get caught up in being the person you used to be. This gets harder and harder according to successful people I know. There's a lot of pressure to keep being the person you were.

Thanks for writing about this Joi. And of course Danah is right, Davos is all about privilege and power, but can also be about changing the world in very fundamentally positive ways.

It's a toughie, Joi, what you're talking about. Life is a bit like backgammon- a weird cocktail of luck and skill. To rely on only one is a big mistake.

But I do think that God's gifts are sweetest when they can be shared.

I wonder sometimes if people who have lived with privilege as an understood part of their lives miss understanding people who don't have it.

I've been reading your blog for about six months now, this is my first comment. But I have very much enjoyed the different directions your ideas flow.

Otherwise, I rather like hugh macleod's thoughts above.

"I wonder sometimes if people who have lived with privilege as an understood part of their lives miss understanding people who don't have it"

Yeah. I think they do.

I grew up poor. My mom was 18 when she had me and there was a lot of struggle. She raised me on her own with little help from anybody. We were poor. It's similar to what many privileged people experience when they are students only it's not ironic when you eat Kraft dinner every night and there's no backpacking around Prague for the summer. Poor isn't staying in a hostel in your $400 dollar sleeping bag. It's also not about living in a low rent area for a few years or dining out in cheap "ethnic" restaurants that have a wonderful kitsch aesthetic. Poor is about not having options. It's about reduced choices. It's about coping with constant difficulty and hardship. But most of all it's about being silenced, avoided, and ignored.

When I went to university I took out a loan that I'll be paying off for the rest of my life. My education is the most valuable thing I have. And my enthusiasm and hard work opened doors I didn't even know about. Many of the people I met in university came from very privileged backgrounds. And they all fit Joi's descriptions. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

One thing that seems to be consistent among almost all of them is a high level of discomfort when it comes to frank discussions about privilege with ones own peers – particularly peers who have lived through poverty. It's one thing to quote "the other" in an essay or go to a rally with your Hi-8 camera and film angry homeless people. But it's quite another to have one of those disenfranchised in your class, at your party, or maybe commenting in your blog. I believe that these discussions become most difficult on a peer to peer level where the assumption is that everyone present is coming from the same place – particularly when that outsider decides to speak on their own behalf (rather than having their position ventriloquized for them).

What I've found is that most privileged people do NOT like hearing what it is like to be poor – particularly from an actual poor person. Their reaction is often one of defensiveness and guilt. Neither of which are productive to any discussion of privilege (save it for your novel).

One of the messages you internalise when you are poor is never bring up your poverty. It alienates people. My grandparents – good working class folks – always seemed to want us to pretend we had more, to "fit in". It's a survival tool. But one can only deal with so much middle (to upper middle) class guilt.

I realise it's hard to talk about poor or even listen to people who have been poor talk about their experience but let me tell you there's nothing harder than actually *being* poor. Yes I'm angry about it! No, I'm not going to "move on" and "forget" about the past. And no, it's not your fault we were poor. If that's what you're thinking then you have work to do. And that's part of what I'm trying to address here.

The buddhists talk about having an "open heart". About not running away from difficulty. Accepting that the discomfort we experience when we're faced with something that is difficult is essentially selfish and self-protecting.

I think the most productive thing any of us here can do is examine what kinds of feelings emerge when we think about being confronted by our privilege (I will include myself in the category of privilege because now that I have an education and the means to express my ideas I occupy a position of privilege)? The only way you will truly understand your privilege is to listen openly to voices unlike your own without defensiveness or guilt.

I grew up poor. My mom was 18 when she had me and there was a lot of struggle. She raised me on her own with little help from anybody. We were poor. It's similar to what many privileged people experience when they are students only it's not ironic when you eat Kraft dinner every night and there's no break for backpacking around Europe. Poor isn't staying in a hostel in your $400 dollar sleeping bag. It's also not about living in a low rent area for a *few* years and eating in "ethnic" restaurants that have a wonderful kitsch aesthetic. Poor is about not having options. It's about reduced choices. It's about coping. But most of all it's about being silenced, avoided, and ignored.

When I went to university I took out a loan that I'll be paying off for the rest of my life. My education is the most valubale thing I have. And my enthusiasm and hard work opened doors I didn't even know about. Many of the people I met in university came from very privileged backgrounds. And they all fit Joi's descriptions. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

One thing that was consistent was a high level of discomfort when it came to frank discussions about privilege. It's one thing to quote "the other" in an essay or go to a rally with your Hi-8 camera and film angry homeless people. But it's quite another to have one of those disenfranchised in your class. On a peer to peer level is where these discussions become most difficult. Where it can become personal. That's where the discussion is scary for some.

The fact is, most privileged people do NOT like hearing about what it is like to be poor - *from* an actual poor person. Their reaction is often one of defensiveness and guilt. Neither of these are productive to any discussion of privilege. Save it for the novel...

One of the messages I learned is to never bring up my childhood poverty. It alienates people. Why? They just can't deal with it. I realise it's hard to talk about poor or even listen to people who have been poor talk about their experience but let me tell you there's nothing harder than actually *being* poor!

So if you're one of those privileged people and you're still reading this and you're not already composing a response in your head I commend you.

The buddhists talk about having an "open heart". About not running away from difficulty. Accepting that the discomfort we experience when we're faced with something that is difficult is essentially selfish and self-protecting. I think the key to an open discussion about privilege is to try to have an open heart.

I think the most productive thing any of us here can do is examine what kinds of feelings emerge when we think about being confronted by our privilege (I will include myself in the category of privilege because now that I have an education and the means to express my ideas I occupy a position of privilege)? The only way you will truly understand your privilege is to listen openly to voices unlike your own without defensiveness or guilt.

* I seem to have posted the same thing twice. Apologies to Joi.

I think privilige is quite relative, because you can be priviliged to walk the earth or priviliged enough to have an internet connection to blog.

And if I get ever famous for posting these Finnish posts, it's because I "hopefully" deserverd to. I have lots of friends who have encouraged me to speak in a way such as this and I'm proud of it; but the thing I'm about to make is that you get priviliged in two ways that 1) you receive respect from your from your peers be that your nation or your mates at the pub 2) you earn it through your knowledge because you know some area better than the other person. Therefore you "build" your privilige in a sence upon your professionality that you have built/learnt.

Is this why there are no more Joi's Stuff updates? I don't feel like you're flaunting your privilege by putting different gadgets you have on a blog. You give lots of information and anybody who's been reading your blog knows you like this kind of stuff.

Assuming privilege = wealth...

Do the privileged "understand" how the other half lives?

No. Not even close. But the reality is its too much to ask. It would be like me trying to understand what its like to be black. Its just not possible.

I'm 23. From 0-12 I was privileged in every way and on a Davos-esque level. Since then not so. My experience is that its just not possible to be privileged and truly get the unprivileged without experiencing a similarly palpable lacking. There is still an odd dichotomy with people and places in my life and I almost never see people from one "world" being able to relate to the other.

And the biggest privilege is the time: there are just fewer things that you have to deal with or worry about.

Also, if you ever get it be careful, be smart, be safe. The contrast between high and low is much worse than just the low.

Joi, a great post.

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