Why Kyriarchy theory can’t make us equal
By Adam Tatelman, Staff Writer
Kyriarchy theory is the idea that people exist between the extremes of privilege and oppression, much like the Marxist dialectic of the working class and the upper class. Kyriarchy theory differs in that it takes into account race, gender, sexuality, creed, and physical ability in addition to wealth and social status. It also states that in any of these areas a person may be either privileged or oppressed, be both privileged and oppressed simultaneously, and that everyone is either more privileged or more oppressed than someone else.
Those who propound Kyriarchy theory claim to pursue social, political, and economic equality between all people. Bog standard so far as idealist philosophies go. But, after considering what I have read on the subject, I conclude that Kyriarchy theory, by its own design, can’t allow for equality between anyone.
Like all idealist philosophies, Kyriarchy theory wants to represent all individuals equally. Admirable, but this is not possible to achieve when the ideology splits people into diametrically opposed groups and conflates all individuals into those groups: men/women, white/non-white, gay/straight, cis/trans, and so on. Rather than assuming each person’s individuality, we are already making a value judgment on their innate attributes; that’s exactly the kind of thing to avoid in a truly equal society.
Once we have split the population into a million groups, we must now decide who is privileged, who is oppressed, who needs help, and who does not. If being disabled is a sign of oppression, what if I am rich and disabled? Do I still get help or should I get it myself? How can we determine which group needs the most urgent aid if they can be endlessly subdivided in this manner? Who is to decide who deserves the most help? Simply having to decide creates a hierarchy.
Say I’m a half-black, half-aboriginal, blind, deaf, quadriplegic, mentally challenged, transgender lesbian with ADD who was born in a trailer park. Who exactly am I advantaged over in the Kyriarchy scale? It is illogical to assert that everyone is privileged over someone else. If there’s no bottom of the privilege heap, and likewise no top, then what’s the point of making such distinctions in the first place? Are we only equal as far as our attributes allow?
I suck at soccer. Conversely, I’m pretty good at writing and karate. That doesn’t make me linguistically privileged or athletically oppressed. This is the final problem with Kyriarchy theory: failure to take into account the context of so-called privileges and oppressions. The only time my lack of soccer skill may “oppress” me is if I foolishly attempt to compete in a soccer match against Zinedine Zidane—in which case, my karate training may prove useful.
After considering all these logical issues, I can see Kyriarchy theory as nothing more than what the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein calls a “blik,” a pair of goggles with which to see the world. If our individuality is all that matters, then why must we keep score of our own privileges and take care not to accidentally oppress other people by our mere existence? Why must we seek membership in groups defined by privilege and oppression instead of treating one another as equals to begin with? What could be further from equality than that?