What is it to occupy a space of privilege? What must or often accompany spaces of privilege?
Responsibility and a pathos of difference are the first two ideas that come to mind, but extended thinking leads me to the metaphysics of human space. So I think I will wander off on a metaphysical tangent today.
Spaces are created by nature. It can in some ways be worth the effort to distinguish between spaces made by humans and natural spaces, but ultimately, the social, the political, the ideological, etc. are parts of nature. They are as natural as anything else in the world. Humans and their constructions and ideas are the products of nature before nature is the product of humans. To say that humans have an effect upon nature is, when taken with sufficient scope, the same as saying nature has an effect upon nature, which of course, is kind of dumb in a way.
This brings to light a potential problem in my conceptualization of nature: my understanding does not hold as meaningful the idea of nature acting upon itself. Acting upon suggests plurality (at least a duality), but I understand nature, as the universe, to be a totality and a unity. So there can be no acting upon itself. And I don’t think it is conscious in the same way that humans are – although I have no way of knowing that for sure. Currently I understand it as an ontogenetic physical system. That is it contains the principle of complexity, or lifeforce (what Bergson called the elan vitale and Nietzsche called the Will to Power, and perhaps not altogether removed from Hegel’s dialectic), but in a different way than plants or animals.
But the notion of totality and a unity doesn’t quite capture it either, because I believe there are likely multiple, innumerable, universes – that the big bang was something like germination or conception. And as here in earth, more universes were hatched than will actually develop to maturity. The universes themselves are difference engines. I wonder whether other universes can interact with our own. If there was such transuniversal interaction, I think it would occur at the most basic level: laws and characteristics of matter and the forces lying beneath matter and energy that cause them to exist as they are and act as they do – and no interaction at a level that would impact us – but that doesn’t really make sense. There is more thinking to be done. I guess that means I am an atomist at the level of the universe. But perhaps I am tricked by language into believing that universes exist as atomic unities, with interactions occurring only in an exterior space (rather than spaces interior to the universe): billiard balls. I therefore have reason to believe these thoughts about the larger cosmos are unduly influenced by preexisting models and examples of interaction among presumed unities. (To be fair, of course, what we already know / have seen is what we always (must?) start with.)
I don’t want to fully dismiss the billiard ball, however. It was based, I think, on the notion of boundary and the creation of interior and exterior spaces. And, as I understand the world, boundaries are real; they are created by nature. The structure of all life includes as part of the early, prestages of individual life (and perhaps life itself) a the development of a self-regulating, porous boundary. The creation of boundaries the define internal and external space is an apparently necessary condition for life. Self-organization and self-regulation are in turn based in the material world, being the result of physical processes, the qualities of matter, and epiphenomenal development of the characteristics of more complex molecules. Selective boundaries that create internal and external space and allow a system to felicitously manage interaction with with the external world are fundamental to life. How far does this metaphor extend? A long ways I think, including social systems, which most often today take the form of the nation-state. For a social system to flourish it needs to be selectively open to the world: allowing inflows and outflows of ideas, resources, people, etc., but if it is to exist as a thing, it can’t allow unregulated flows – or the complex system will cease to function and will rejoin the larger, undifferentiated world. So, privileged spaces, in order to exist, require boundary maintenance or at least functional boundaries. The question of whether they should exist or not is of course a very different question – more on the lines of whether the US should continue to exist (as the US). I think it is good that the egg sandwich I just ate is in the process of being dissolved and is being redefined as nutrition for me rather than as some unity (egg) in the external world… Maybe the US as we know it should cease to exist. Either die and be reborn or experience a sort of phase shift as it becomes something else without really ever dying. Change is of course the norm for living systems – and that’s what boundaries do: regulate the change in order to create a dynamic homeostasis.
So how then does this relate to the notion of white privilege? As noted above, it does not address the question of whether privileged spaces should exist or not but suggests that if they do, the spatial boundary will/should be selective porous, allowing for a beneficial flow of matter, energy, and ideas. More thinking needs to be done if this is to be developed, however, because I have not even considered/discussed how privileged space should be defined or understood.