I think about privilege a lot. It’s something that I suspect a lot of children of immigrant parents have to think about, especially when they grow up listening to stories of their family’s poverty. “We worked so hard so that you could live well!” my mother has often told me. “Appreciate the sacrifices we made for you!”
As a result of these constant reminders, I’ve never doubted for a moment that I’m privileged for growing up in Australia. But it has been a lot harder for me to figure out exactly how my privilege affects my life, besides an abstract notion of “having more food and money”. The thing about privilege is that its hand is mostly invisible, and so even if we can detect some of the benefits, we often don’t notice how it seeps into our very way of thinking.
These days, I think of privilege like this: it’s a cushion that gives you less things to take individual responsibility for. Like how “male privilege” insulates men from having to think about protecting themselves from sexual harassment in public places, or how “white privilege” stops white people from having to worry about being arrested when they haven’t committed a crime, the privilege of growing up in a developed nation absolves us from making decisions about our health, education and finances that we’d struggle to navigate if left to our own devices. We benefit from society’s collective knowledge, even when we understand very little of it.
The worst thing a privileged person can do is pretend that the invisible cushion is the result of their own handiwork.
That’s what I think about when I read How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom. It’s the kind of story you’ve probably seen before, about a person from the modern world going back in time or into a fantasy world and advancing their societies using modern knowledge. Somehow, this average shmuck has all the specialist knowledge and administrative expertise to enact sweeping social and economic reforms to immediate success. We all know that things aren’t so simple, but it’s a thought experiment we like to entertain because a part of us thinks that we’re cleverer than the people of long ago.