Pranav Jeevan P
There is an argument that is put forth often by people of privilege that not everyone who is privileged is naturally intelligent enough to be “woke” from reading and understanding the issues of discrimination and atrocities in the name of caste or class. So, the argument goes on to say that whatever they ignore conveniently and often enforce oppressively should not be used as an accusation against them because they are stupid and ignorant of the effects of what they do and it is not the personal fault of the accused, but a reflection of the society.
The idea of crimes being a reflection of the social environment of the accused is used to incarcerate the underprivileged, often without evidence. When the same argument is used to pardon or overlook the criminal behaviour of the ruling class, it should also be used to acquit almost every single underprivileged person languishing in jails now. But they never use it for the underprivileged.
These people who justify the atrocities or even casteist behaviour of the “stupid”, “ignorant” upper caste, or the ruling class forget that this justification can be used by anyone to safeguard and defend the oppression of people. It is like telling “I was born into a family of slave owners and was told that slavery is natural and these Africans deserved to be ruled and we are helping them as we are more cultured.” Even “the white man’s burden” can be justified using this logic that they were stupid to know any better and it’s the environment which these people grow up in and the values their parents and society inculcated in them that led them to consider other humans as slaves.
Also, there is another question of the lack of awareness of the lower class/caste majority that makes them vulnerable to blindly fed propaganda by media which has clear vested interests to reinforce the hierarchy of power that is already existing in the society. They are taught to hate each other and divide among themselves into groups by giving them a common enemy which is their cause of misery. The funny thing is that these people club these two classes of “ignorance” together and equate them and come to the conclusion that it is the lack of intelligence and critical thinking among all classes and castes that is the problem that creates hierarchies in society, and it not the issue of the upper classes and castes.
My first argument is that these two are not the same, the willful ignorance of the privileged cannot be equated with the forced ignorance of the poor. The privileged lives in leisure and have all the resources they need to find information if they choose to. They have access to all the literature and mediums needed to understand the issues or even basic ideas of human rights which don’t need special powers to understand, it doesn’t even require basic education as the sense of justice is so innate in humans. It just needs to be found by willful effort. Also, most of the people who believe in the equality of humans and social justice are not super-intelligent beings or protégées. The argument of stupidity was just created to justify the atrocities and protect their privilege. In an era of information, those who have the privilege to access information and still chose not to, just want to reinforce their privilege at the expense of the lower class.
Another reason for the difference between the two kinds of “ignorance” is that the poor don’t have the time or resources to think and read like the privileged. They only get to listen to the paid propaganda machines which distort everything for the establishment and maintenance of the hierarchical social order to give all the power to the privileged. They are not being ignorant by choice unlike the privileged who have access.
Even with the sea of propaganda around, pockets of understanding and learning emerge out of these under-privileged classes against all odds. It has been studied that the working class of London during the industrial revolution found time to read and organize meetings to discuss books and ideas (Rose, 2010). The ones who were illiterate gained information about socialism and worker rights in these meetings and they engaged actively in such debates and discussions. Similarly, anyone who has visited the Shivaji Park in Mumbai during December 6th knows the lakhs of poor Bahujans clustering to buy books on social justice, constitutional rights, and labour movements at discounted prices available there. Most of these people are agricultural laborers including urban and rural poor. Why do they come walking hundreds of kilometers every year to this place to celebrate Ambedkar Mahaparinirvan Divas and gain knowledge about their rights? For these people, knowledge is the only path to their freedom from oppression. Regardless of their backward background they have found the need to seek and enlighten themselves by any means available to fight for their rights. So, the argument that privileged people can be let free of accusations of their atrocities because of their environment and stupidity is a farce. They are not doing the work needed to read and understand social justice because they don’t have to. Their privilege protects them from the necessity of putting effort, which the poor don’t have.
So, any argument that uses ignorance and inherent stupidity as an excuse by the privileged to justify their atrocities is just an escapist argument which denies confronting their privilege and accepting the responsibility of actions.
Then comes the argument that these ignorant privileged people need to be given time and effort by the ones who understand social justice so that they can learn and behave better. What they need to know is that everything they need is within their fingertips and they should stop whining about being ignorant and learn to work for once to understand their privileged existence. They should know that not everything in this world revolves around them and other people are not here to fulfill their whims are fantasies and play accordingly. They shouldn’t expect knowledge to be shoved down their throat too. It is their duty to learn and be aware of what social justice means as they live in a society, especially because they gain so much from it than they give.
Power and stupidity cannot be used together. If you are feigning stupidity, then give away the power and the privileges that come with it because not taking responsibility for actions cannot be justified from a person sitting at the top of the hierarchy, who monopolizes agency and dominates others.
Rose, J. (2010). The Intellectual Life of British Working Classes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Pranav Jeevan P is currently a PhD candidate in Artificial Intelligence at IIT Bombay. He had earlier studied Quantum Computing in IIT Madras and Robotics at IIT Kanpur.