[Editor's Note: Last week, Kotaku republished an essay by author John Scalzi titled "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is." In it, Scalzi put the notion of privilege into a new context: Video game difficulty settings. The response to the post on his own blog was such that he wrote a follow-up to address some of the most common comments and questions. That post, which was written before Kotaku republished the initial article, follows below. One section discussing Scalzi's own blog's commenting policy has been removed.]
It's been a couple of days since I've posted the "Lowest Difficulty Setting" piece, and it's been fun and interesting watching the Intarweebs basically explode over it, especially the subclass of Straight White Males who cannot abide the idea that their lives play out on a fundamentally lower difficulty setting than everyone else's, and have spun themselves up in tight, angry circles because I dared to suggest that they do. Those dudes are cracking me up, and also making me a little sad.
There have been some general classes of statement/questions about the piece both on the site and elsewhere on the Internet, that I would like to address, so I'll do that here. Understand I am paraphrasing the questions/statements. In no particular order:
1. I fundamentally disagree with every single thing you said!
That's fine. It happens.
2. Your metaphor/analogy is good, except for [insert thing that commenter finds not good about the metaphor/analogy]
Well, yes. Metaphors are not perfect; it's why they're metaphors and not the thing the metaphor describes. Likewise analogies break down. I thought the "lowest difficulty setting" description worked well enough for what I wanted to say, but I don't think it's perfect. "Perfect" wasn't what I was aiming for. And of course, if you don't think it's the right metaphor/analogy, that's fine. Please, make a different and better one - the more ways we can make a general point to people who need to understand that general point, the better chance they will listen.
3. Your description should have put wealth/class as part of the difficulty setting.
Nope. Money and class are both hugely important and can definitely compensate for quite a lot, which I have of course noted in the entry itself. But they belong in the stats category because wealth and class are not an inherent part of one's personal nature - and in the US particularly, part of our cultural sorting behavior - in the manner that race, gender and sexuality are (note "inherent" here does not necessarily mean "immutable," but that's a conversation I'm not going to go into great detail about right now). You can disagree, of course. But speaking as someone who has been at both the bottom and the top of the wealth and class spectrum here in the US, I think I have enough personal knowledge on the matter to say it belongs where I put it.
4. I'm a straight white male and my life isn't easy! My life sucks! Your "lowest difficulty setting" doesn't account for that!
That's actually fully accounted for in the entry. Go back and read it again.
This one's a stand-in for all the complaints about the entry that come primarily either from not reading the entry, or not reading what was actually written in the entry in preference to a version of the entry that exists solely in that one person's head, and which is not the entry I wrote. Please, gentlemen, read what is there, not what you think is there, or what you believe must be there because you know you already disagree with what I have to say, no matter what it is I am saying.
5. What about affirmative action (and/or other similar programs)? It just proves SWMs don't have it easy anymore!
Asserting that programs designed to counteract decades of systematic discrimination are proof that Straight White Males are not operating on the lowest difficulty setting in the game of life is not the winning argument you apparently believe it is. I'll let you try to figure out why that is on your own. Likewise, anecdotal examples of a straight white guy getting the short end of the stick in some manner do not suggest that, therefore, it's hard out there for all straight white men all the time.
6. Your piece is racist and sexist.
This particular comment was lobbed at me primarily from aggrieved straight white males. Leaving aside entirely that the piece was neither, let me just say that I think it's delightful that these straight white males are now engaged on issues of racism and sexism. It would be additionally delightful if they were engaged on issues of racism and sexism even when they did not feel it was being applied to them - say, for example,when it's regarding people who historically have most often had to deal with racism and sexism (i.e., not white males). Keep at it, straight white males! You're on the path now!
7. I feel this piece is an attack on straight white men.
You need to re-calibrate your definition of "attack," then, because it's depressingly (or hilariously) out of whack. Suggesting all straight white men should be defenstrated into a courtyard covered with spikes would be an attack. Noting that straight white men operate at the lowest difficulty setting in life is an observation.
Otherwise, in a general sense, when people point out the things straight white men get on credit (or don't have to deal with), the unspoken part of that is not "and that's why we plan to burn all you bastards in a big screaming pile when the revolution comes," it's "hey, just so you know." Because you should know. It's not about blame, it's about knowledge. Stop assuming it's about blame. Paranoid and hypersensitive is no way to go through life.
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).
9. I am never going to buy anything you write ever again.
I don't care.
10. Not every straight white man thinks what you wrote is wrong.
Of course. Noting that some straight white men are having difficulty accepting the idea they operate on the lowest difficulty setting in life doesn't mean that all straight white men do, or that any particular straight white men will experience said difficulties. Alternately, there are a lot of straight white men who think my premise is wrong to a greater or lesser extent, but who can express that disagreement cogently, and even forcefully, without additionally coming across as a five-year-old having a tantrum because he's been told he has to share his toys. Straight white men, like any group, have all sorts of personalities.
11. You wrote the article and pointed out the straight white men live life on the lowest difficulty setting. Okay, fine. What do I/we do next?
Well, that's up to you, isn't it? What I'm doing is pointing out a thing. What you do with that thing is your decision.
That said, here's what I do: recognize it, and work to make it so the more difficult settings in life become closer to the one I get to run through life on - by making those less difficult, mind you, not making mine more so.
John Scalzi writes science fiction and is currently working on a video game with developer Industrial Toys. His new novel Redshirts will be out from Tor Books on June 5. He blogs at Whatever.
Republished with permission.
I've been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word "privilege," to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. More »