This is a somewhat off-the-cuff response but it's what I have time for at the moment, so please forgive me if it is somewhat discombobulated. I read John Scalzi's blog quite regularly. Despite the fact that he and I would probably agree on less than half the political spectrum, I enjoy reading his posts about social themes in spec fiction and society in general. It is always gives me something to think about and I don't mind having my assumptions challenged. In this industry, I don't have a lot of choice; being a conservative (even a pseudo-conservative, as my views have taken a more libertarian bent in the last few years) who writes spec fiction, I either have to don the Gimp outfit from Pulp Fiction and relish the pain – or just accept that I will be challenged and at times, mocked, ignored, and spit on (metaphorically if I am lucky).
So, I read his post yesterday called Guilt, Mine, and Paying It Forward with interest. Essentially Scalzi says he recognizes that he has benefited from being a straight, white male and while he does not feel any guilt at having received any breaks or opportunities from having done so, he looks for ways to "pay it forward" and provide others breaks that he may not have had.
The comments and discussion are lively, to say the least.
I think I know where Scalzi is going with this one and he hits about 80% of the mark. I'm good with the concept of paying it forward, and as one poster put it, "There is a difference between acknowledging the world is unfair and working to keep it that way." I don't think he should feel guilty either. But I wonder how much he overstates his supposed advantages.
I don't deny that being white may be helpful in some situations, as being male or heterosexual might be. I can also think of many situations where being a minority, female, or gay would be helpful too. If the argument is about wider societal views, then I would counter and say in the Western world, wealth class (something he does not touch on) is a far greater arbiter of success than demographic factors. Scalzi is quick to point out that his argument shouldn't be used that all groups face disadvantages (i.e., that maybe being male is of particular disadvantage at times) and that the advantages of others has no bearing on his own personal "guilt". Okay, but then why make the argument in the first place? If he tacitly admits that any distinct group can garner an advantage in a given situation, then what is the point of saying so, Captain Obvious? If he is describing only his own situation, that's fine too; a little navel-gazing never hurt anyone and can be fun to read. But I got the impression his delivery was consistent with an attitude of, "I am going to accept my privilege and use it for the forces of good; anyone who doesn't is evil."
I wonder if Scalzi really wants to be Spider-Man when he grows up.
When Scalzi says he wants to give help share opportunity to those who haven't had them, I wonder what he means exactly. To minorities? To females? That's how the context reads. I grant he did not say so explicitly, so perhaps he'd advocate for a poor white kid from Appalachia who wrote a great sci-fi book and just happened to be born to uneducated hillbillys. Perhaps. His delivery does not come across that way, however. I mean, I have had some breaks in the world. I have had zero breaks in the writing world and have earned every meager check I've received, with a lot of metaphorical welts along the way. That doesn't mean I hold it against those who used some patron, some contact in the publishing world, or whatever other advantage to succeed – and I don't feel they owe me anything or are bad people for not helping me out.
I like to think of myself as an egilitarian; working with mixed genders, sexual orientations, and numerous races has done that, and I have had to rely on too many non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual personnel for too long to discount anything they do. Treating everyone the same is textbook KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid) and that seems to be a more rational way of approaching things than pimping for someone for whom you feel has suffered social injustice.
Maybe I am reading too much into this. Maybe I am just an idiot.
But I still feel no guilt.