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Bad Chart Thursday: The Skeptic’s Secret

We’ve had a lot of discussions of privilege lately, and I’ve noticed that whenever the topic comes up, whether the focus is on race, gender, sexuality, ability, or any other axis, someone comments along the lines of suggesting we should all focus on simply being human.

Usually, there’s a moral high ground implied in somehow being above all this prejudice nonsense by choosing to be color-blind and gender-blind, that any focus on the reality of race, gender, sexuality, and so forth is itself a form of prejudice.

I was thinking about this idea today while procrastinating on Twitter, that the best way to have equality is to act as if we are already have it. I was trying to put my finger on what this rationale reminded me of.

Then it hit me.

This isn’t rational thinking, despite how often it seems to arise in the community of skeptics, atheists, and freethinkers.

This is, in fact, The Secret.

If you not only wish hard enough but pretend as though your wish has already come true, it will come true.

So today’s Bad Chart illustrates how some of the common statements in support of this rationale float up from reality toward this inevitable delusion conclusion.

Featured image by Totally Severe.

Melanie Mallon

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer living in a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband, two kids, dog, and two cats. When not making fun of bad charts or running the Uncensorship Project, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and putting out random dumpster fires. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

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  1. Ah ha ha. Well done!

    I’m wishing us all equality now. Wait… give me just a moment… one more wish… There we are! All equal now. Glad we worked that out!

    1. It’s so simple, isn’t it? But apparently someone else out there wished the exact opposite. Damn it. I knew there was a hole in this plan.

  2. Melanie, so many great charts recently! What’s next? (Maybe a version of how things should be or how we can best get from here to there?)

    1. See, you haven’t taken the next, very important step. The Secret means not only wishing; it means acting as though your wish has already come true. So start wearing longer pants, for starters.

  3. I too wished I was a little bit taller. Does anyone want this rabbit in a hat with a bat? (I’m keeping the ’64 Impala)

  4. A lot of the denialism that I’ve observed in the skeptic/atheist community when the topic is about privilege could easily be summed up as the just world fallacy (good summary here: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/07/the-just-world-fallacy/ ). Try to get someone who claims that privilege doesn’t exist to explain inequalities in society… in my experience when I’ve had these discussions, it basically leads to a revelation that they assume that person was lazy, didn’t try hard enough, they deserved it somehow etc. Then they proceed to make some sort of bootstraps argument. It’s so predictable.

    1. Funny also in a community that often will call out religious privilege, particularly Christian privilege…but many in the same community will deny the pervasiveness of any other forms of privilege. When you’re inside the bubble, the bubble looks like the entire universe.

      1. When you’re inside the bubble, the bubble looks like the entire universe.

        Yes, this! It’s long past time to burst some bubbles.

    2. I love that site, and yes, this fallacy is perfect to describe this kind of thinking! Especially this part: “You want the world to be fair, so you pretend it is.”

    1. You’re shit, you know that? People have addressed every “argument” from puffed up doodz like Stangroom repeatedly, at length, to no avail. There is no argument to address. There is only obfuscation, elision, and I CANNOT BE WRONG YUR BAD AND HYSTERICAL.

      So, yeah, you’re just plain shit. Have this complimentary Kleenex(TM) to clean yourself off after you exercise yourself over how irrationally I’ve treated you, and how sad it is that I can’t bring a real argument “to the table,” only “ad hominems.”

          1. He can’t even sockpuppet right.
            (protip: if we can tell it’s you, you’re doing it wrong)

    2. And I’d like to see Stangroom address the actual arguments in the first place. Maybe if I wish hard enough, that will come true? Click my heels? Clap my hands?

      His arguments can actually be summarized in this very picture. Here’s what will appear in that cloud: “I don’t understand what people actually mean by privilege. My argument against my misunderstanding proves that privilege isn’t valid.”

      As for trite, I don’t think charts comparing privilege denial to The Secret have become worn and cliche, but perhaps you run in different circles. Or perhaps you just need to develop a close and personal relationship with your dictionary.

      1. trite – lacking originality, synonym banal. That’ll do for me. Perhaps you ought to get a better dictionary.

        So in Stangoom’s piece that I linked to where do you think he’s fundamentally misunderstood things?

        1. “Lacking originality” pretty much means it’s been done before many times. So my criticism of your word choice still stands unless I am wrong and this comparison appears in charts all over the land. But I’m not particularly surprised that you’ll double-down on even the most minor point.

          So in Stangoom’s piece that I linked to where do you think he’s fundamentally misunderstood things?

          His points 1, 2, 3, and 5. Oh, and 4.

          If you’re suggesting that I need to debunk strawman arguments, then I invite you to critique all points made in the comments here.

          1. “Lacking originality” pretty much means it’s been done before many times. So my criticism of your word choice still stands

            No, it doesn’t have to mean that the selfsame chart has been made time and again; but that it’s supposed point is hackneyed and over-familiar. Is English your first language?

            But anyway.

            His points 1, 2, 3, and 5. Oh, and 4

            I see you’re not actually open to a discussion. Fair enough. But Stangroom’s made serious points and your response just goes to underline the real nature of this site.

          2. Fair enough. It doesn’t mean the chart appears time and again. I would love to see all the examples of the comparison of privilege denial to The Secret that make this point overfamiliar. You should be able to do that quickly since there are clearly so many examples.

            Is English your first language?

            This type of comment just goes to underline the real nature of your arguments.

            I see you’re not actually open to a discussion. Fair enough. But Stangroom’s made serious points and your response just goes to underline the real nature of this site.

            If not responding to straw man arguments means I’m not open to discussion, then I again invite you to critique all points made here. Not doing so only proves you’re not open to discussion according to your own standards (i.e., that saying something is relevant means that it is and dismissing it as irrelevant means you’re not open for discussion).

    1. Yes, we’re all striving for that same goal. But to pretend we’ve achieved it, and to define “human beings” as “more like me,” has the opposite effect of ignoring the humanity of many in the process.

  5. I think this is untrue. If you act – and truly do – as if every one is equal, then you are making the world a more equal place. Treating everyone like a human is an action, not wishful thinking.
    I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of privilege too. Sometimes I don’t like it so I sympathize with others who don’t. I now see why its a really useful concept, and I think that in the past I have rebelled against it because it feels rather academic. I tried to explain it to my boyfriend last night, and it took him about 15 minutes to get it, and in the process, he didn’t like the feeling that he was doing something wrong but he couldn’t understand what it was.

    1. I think this is untrue. If you act – and truly do – as if every one is equal, then you are making the world a more equal place. Treating everyone like a human is an action, not wishful thinking.

      Way to completely miss the point and continue doing exactly what Melanie is arguing against. Congratulations.

      Let me give an example of why your way of thinking is flawed. It doesn’t matter if you act like gay and lesbian people are equal. I still can’t go get married. I can still be fired from my job for being gay. I am still subject to health disparities because I’m gay. Treating me “like a human” does nothing to remove the oppression and injustice bestowed upon me by society. And telling me “but I’m truly acting like you’re equal, therefore the world is a more equal place” actually does nothing but make you feel better. It does not, contrary to your assertion, make the world a more equal place.

      This is why “treating everyone like a human,” while a noble idea, actually perpetuates privilege and oppression. It erases the axes of oppression in the lives of marginalized people and pretends that they do not exist or that they are not as important as “being human.”

      I think that in the past I have rebelled against it because it feels rather academic

      What a horribly stupid reason to resist something. This is the height of anti-intellectualism. The fact that something is academic does not make it inherently bad or useless.

    2. “he didn’t like the feeling that he was doing something wrong but he couldn’t understand what it was.”

      I think this really gets at the heart of the issue – people unknowingly participate in and/or benefit from a LOT of unequal treatment, even while actively professing that they treat others equally (Will’s example regarding gay rights is a great example). The most privileged among us would likely claim that we would NEVER be racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, and so on. The problem is when we ARE any of these things (or benefit from any of them), even slightly, without realizing it. And that not-realizing comes about precisely because we’re blinded to injustice by the privilege of not experiencing it. So of course people don’t “like” it when they realize injustice exists, even despite all their very nice personal efforts to “act as if every one is equal.” But the people who have been at the receiving end of the injustice all along (and thus are not privilege-blind to it) probably “like” it even less.

      1. I think the discomfort that comes from first examining your own privilege goes even deeper. At least it did for me. If you do it honestly, it very quickly begins to threaten your entire worldview. You begin to question every assumption you have about how the world works. Everything you think you “know” suddenly gets thrown into question, because the filters through which the information came into your brain are now suspect. The better of a job you do examining your privilege, the more uncomfortable it is likely to be. And for those of us at the top of the privilege food chain (white, male, cis-gender, straight, non-poor, etc), the journey looks pretty damn scary at the beginning. I think it’s beholden upon those of us who have already started the journey down from the lofty heights to try to bring as many of our fellow “privilegarians” along for the ride as possible.

  6. Who are the very least privileged? Just curious if anybody has any thoughts on this, as everyone seems to agree that white American cis males that went to college are the most privileged in society.

    1. That’s a fallacy, that there’s any such thing as the least or most privileged. American cis males that went to college do not necessarily have class privilege, for example, or straight privilege. Some have disabilities.

    1. Please let’s keep this going. Let’s figure out the luckiest son’bitch in the world is, because that’s necessary for this whole silly ideal to be worth working towards.

      Who’s the real enemy here? I think it’s an able-bodied straight white cis males with a lot of money raised by good white parents who gave their son a name that doesn’t get made fun of in school. Also, he was a star on the school football team, majored in law at Harvard, and is the envy of his generation.

      Of course he still has less money than Oprah.

      ? Privilege.

      1. Privilege is an n-dimensional space (where n is quite a large number), with some of the dimensions being more or less continuous (for example, how much money someone’s parents had), and some dimensions being binary or having a small number of discrete values (for example, male, female, other, neither, both, it depends.) So trying to place degree of privilege on a linear scale is as wrong-headed as creationists trying to link all living creatures into a great chain of being.

        The enemy is not “able-bodied straight white cis males with a lot of money”. The enemy is the social structures that grant unearned privileges to some people while simultaneously making them unaware of it.

        It’s not a contest.

  7. Oh, so that’s what this is about? Kids made fun of your name in school? Is that why you’re manufacturing enemies in your basement?

    But why come here to pick a battle when you’re clearly *thisclose* to winning the war against logic?

    1. Really? You’ve lowered yourself to personal attacks?

      I was actually not made fun of for my name in school, or for any other reason for that matter (save the old crap that all children go through). In fact, I was the envy of my generation. I’m simply pointing out that declaring that everyone-who-isn’t-you is privileged is pretty ridiculous when you can’t even identify who the most privileged person in America would be.

      By the way, why do you keep starting new threads?

      1. declaring that everyone-who-isn’t-you is privileged is pretty ridiculous

        It is pretty ridiculous. So why are you the only one making this argument?

        Oh, wait! I get it. You’re using the most absurd possible misunderstanding of privilege to satirize all the privilege denial arguments for the idiocy they are. Well done!

        1. Privilege denial? So you’re saying I can’t deny that something exists? You’re a writer on this blog and what you say has a big impact. You’re telling my opinion is invalid.

          YOU need to check YOUR privilege toots.

          1. LOLOL, you could hold the opinion that squirrels are birds, if you wanted. Who said all opinions are of equal worth? When your opinion contradicts bushels of evidence, when you tell us that squirrels are really birds, yeah, your opinion IS invalid.

          2. Unless said ‘luckiest son’bitch in the world’ kicks me, they are not my enemy. :) Seriously haha! You are missing something here. There are no ‘enemies’. I like to think most people in society are decent people! For me the enemy is a person carrying a gun pointed with ill intent or someone stealing from my family, exc. With that said there are things that come into the social drama of life that affect our daily lives, such as privilege.

            For example, a person may think that they have worked really hard and that alone has earned themself a stellar career. And anyone else that puts their mind to it can do the same thing. (BTW good for them. I admire people that work hard and achieve their goals.) But the above thinking is generally not the case. You must have been able to attend a college or university. Never have anything terrible happen that leaves you financial broken. Be in good health and able bodied. Don’t have some sort of deformity or lisp. Have a support network. Don’t have a natural disaster that wipes out your home and job. Don’t live in a place that is in deep recession. Don’t be LGBTQ. Be charismatic. And a whole host of other things that I am over looking. If said person started accessing these factors and they may start to see that having a financially and self-fulfilling career is something that is a bit of a privilege and a thing that other people can’t ‘just do’. The person has lost sight of their privilege. Combine some of these factors and they are hurdles that may not be possible to overcome. Possibly when the same person sees a homeless person they may assume lazy rather than suffering from PTSD or a person looking for work and can’t find a job. I didn’t even mention being a woman or a racial minority as this seems to be a hot button topic, but now let’s introduce it. For example, a person is watching NASCAR and simply thinks black people and women just aren’t that interested in racing or just not that good at it. (I can’t take full credit for this example. Someone else commenting here on skekptchick said something it before.) Do you see where I am going with this?

            Privilege is a thing that comes into play in all of our lives. I think the whole thing that people are trying to get across is compassion. We are talking in the context of the humanist movement and adding diversity to secularism and skepticism. These are places that it seems to make sense to break down barriers of privilege and make the environment more inviting to all.

  8. Ok so now not all speech is valid? Fucking hell lady. You might want to put that absinthe bottle down for a few days.


    1. Oh, man. I don’t usually tend to get in on these threads, but that is the dumbest thing I’ve read all week, and it is absolutely hilarious. Thank you, whogivesashit. Comedy fucking gold.

  9. This is an interesting discussion. I can see how it is easy to misunderstand the concept of privilege when you try to apply it to individuals. Individuals are not bad people for being lucky to have certain privileges. Having certain privileges doesn’t necessarily make you enemies of those without certain privileges. Just because you have certain privileges, doesn’t mean you haven’t worked hard. The point of examinging your own privileges is to allow you to understand what it is like for other people. You can then hopefully contribute to solutions to change society which often results in improvement for anyone (I am sounding way too optimistic but hopefully people get the point). I think there is also a fear that you can be displaced by someone else if that person is a minority, female, etc. 50 to 60 years a lot of people couldn’t go to college. Now more people can because the system adjusted by creating more colleges. Obviously, the above is a simplistic example. It would be interesting to see how “privilege” has hurt society, including the people who are “privileged.”

  10. I love the comparison of “let’s all be privilege-blind” to The Secret, but in some cases – exemplified on this very thread – it gives way too much credit to those who are well aware they are privileged, don’t want that privilege diminished, and use the pretense of not understanding the concept as an ideological weapon.

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