Science fiction writer John Scalzi wrote a great little post called Straight White Male: the Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is that has generated a lot of controversy in the wingnuttier neighborhoods of the blogosphere. In the essay, Scalzi addresses white male privilege in a way that young males can perhaps best understand: by using a metaphor from gaming.
Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.
This observation seems to me to be just common sense, but then trying to tell white males they enjoy any sort of privilege is like trying to tell rich people that they are rich for any reason other than their own hard work or God’s providence. Scalzi shut down the comments section when it reached 800, and a few day’s later Scalzi wrote a followup post in which he discusses most salient criticisms of the piece. To wit:
8. You did not lay out in exhaustive factual detail, with graphs and charts, your assertion that straight white men operate at the lowest difficulty setting in our culture.
Also generally lobbed at me by aggrieved straight white men. And indeed I did not. Also, when I write about tripping over my shoelaces and falling on my ass, I do not preface the comment with a comprehensive discussion of the theory of gravity. For two reasons: One, it’s not needed because for anyone but committed gravity-deniers, the theory of gravity is obvious and taken as read, and two, that’s not the focus of the entry. In the case of the “lowest difficulty setting” entry, I took what I see as the obvious advantages to being straight, white and male in our culture as read. One may of course argue with that assertion, and some did in the previous comment thread, but I have to say I’ve generally found those arguments to be less than compelling (see point six, above).
One of those taking issue with the post is Dr. Helen Smith over at Pajama’s Media, that electronic rest home for wayward wingnuts. She even coins a new term for John Scalzi and other supposedly self-hating white males, the Uncle Tim. To which: how strange to live in a world where saying out loud an observation that should be starkly self-evident to anyone with eyes somehow qualifies as self hating.
In Dr. Helen Smith’s mind, not only don’t white males enjoy any privilege whatsoever in this society, there is an active War on Men being waged. In fact, judging by her archives she’s made quite a career out of flogging this particular hobby horse. Dr. Helen Smith knows that there’s a War on Men the same way she knows that there’s a War on Christmas and a War on Christians and a War on The Good People Who Occasionally Enjoy a Meal at Applebees and the Cracker Barrel. The one thing that there most definitely is not a war on is women. How do I know that? Because Dr. Helen Smith wrote a piece entitled There is No War on Women.
Hmmm. I wonder if Louis CK has a comedy routine that could pithily wrap this all up in a hilarious little bow?