Tuesday, October 29, 2013

If Life was a Blog in 2013

Patient: What are the chances my cancer is gone and doesn't come back?

Doctor: First, I have to qualify my prognosis by saying I’m Cancer-Free Privileged.  I don’t have cancer and every single day that fact benefits me in tangible and intangible ways.  In our society, it’s just better not to have cancer, and even though I didn't choose to be cancer-free, I still come out ahead because of it.

Patient:  ...okay, but why would that impact your ability to answer my question?

Doctor: Oh it won’t.  Well, it kind of does since it’s part of who I am and it impacts everything.  I mean, if I had cancer my experiences would be different, I’d be able to better relate to you. 

Patient:  Doc, just tell me your conclusion and your confidence level, I don’t want to sound cruel, but I don’t care what your medical history is, we’re discussing my future.  And of course your experience could be different, but since we don’t know how that would impact your conclusion, why don’t you lay out what you think and why you think it, and we’ll let that stand on its own. 

Doctor: Okay, but just to be clear I’m not apologizing for my cancer-free privilege, just qualifying my opinion.

Patient: Please just give me the prognosis and describe how you arrived at it.

Doctor: Also, I should mention that I’m cisgendered… 


  1. Let's try a similar example:

    Cancer patient: "Having cancer sucks"

    Non-Cancer Patient: "Its not that bad. Cancer patients complain so much, its not like the rest of us have it easy. If cancer patients just tried a little harder they would be just as well off as the rest of us"

    CP: "I'm not saying you have it easy, but cancer still sucks. Chemo, drugs, constant appointments, medical bills and you have to live your life completely differently from everyone else."

    NCP: "No, no, no, that stuff is all in your head. Sure there are SOME cancers that would do that to you, but we live in 2013. Most cancers aren't that bad. I would know."

    CP: "Do you have cancer?"

    NCP: "No."

    CP: "How can you say cancer doesn't suck if you've never been a cancer patient?"

    NCP: "I have friends

    CP: "Have you ever talked to them about their cancer?"

    NCP: "No, but I don't need to. You just need to stop whining. Also, why does health insurance pay for your medical bills? You don't see insurance companies just giving ME money right no!"


    1. In your example, a privilege disclaimer wouldn't save the person's claims, and mentioning privilege to this buffoon wouldn't help at all. How is this a use-of-privilege-disclaimers counterexample at all?

      If the person said "I don't have cancer, but it seems like cancer patients complain too much/too little" again, the claim they're making might be stupid, but now we see that the "I don't have cancer" disclaimer is just an invitation to respond ad hominem rather than asking for clarification or questioning the conclusion.

    2. It's a relevant counterexample because it's pointing out that you don't need to have cancer to test whether someone else does, but it's plausible to think that you might need to have cancer in order to fully understand how someone that does feels. Using the same logic, if one is writing a post on what life is like for, say, black people, it seems entirely relevant for an author to point out if they are not, in fact, black, and maybe what they are about to say is coloured by this.

    3. The problem is that the posts are often not about "what life is like for black people" for obvious reasons, but rather are just articles about policy issues that impact black people. The impact of the proposed policies doesn't change by virtue of the privilege of the person who proposes them.

    4. Value judgments of those impacts do. If I am very rich I am probably going to have a different view about whether making the tax system more progressive is worthwhile than if I am very poor. It's true that the facts (who pays and how much under each scenario) don't change with the characteristics of the commentator (although: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2319992), but I would suggest that the typical blogger is long on value judgments and short on facts, making a disclaimer relevant.

    5. At the end of the day, if the person is wrong it isn't because of their privilege. If we use their privilege as shorthand for validity of their policy proposal, we end up dismissing all their proposals without considering them. If their opinion is based on value judgments that don't hold true over other people's differing values, the correct response is to point out those underlying value differences ("you claim that liberty has value regardless of where it leads, many people disagree" is better than "you're rich, and your value judgments reflect it"). A privilege disclaimer doesn't save the policy or change which response is best. In other words it doesn't aid the discourse much. Where the policy is not based on such faulty value judgments, but rather facts, the disclaimer is clearly a net negative as it encourages and reinforces responses along the lines of bias and privilege where factual rebuttals could be attempted instead.

    6. One could use an identical argument to justify journalists and scientists not disclosing financial ties to the subjects they are writing about (after all, it's the underlying arguments that matter! Any criticism to the contrary is just ad hominem!). Is this something you support?

    7. That's fair. I don't think membership in a privileged group creates the same moral hazard, and we don't require journalists to disclose all sources of bias, just the most clearly problematic, but I do get your point.

  2. A clever display of irony. Very avant garde.

  3. I can't believe you didn't post this article in braille.
    Ableist weenie scum.