Once upon a time a friend posted this article — which I like but I have issues with.
In order to talk about some things I have loosely planned o talk about, I need to reference this article, and explain my issues with it. I think the author had a number of very good points but misses the grander point (in my mind).
Inner vs. Outer Resources
Consider these two lists (not exhaustive, just for the sake of illustration):
Its telling to me that the author did not include: “safe shelter” in their list of outer resources.
That there are differences in the access to and efficacy of various resources that different humans have access to is something folk tend to be aware of these days. Currently I feel our societal dialogue about privilege doesn’t adequately discuss the interweaving of privilege and disadvantages that comprises real life. This is the kyriarchy. Where each of our position in life depends on exchange with the people above us and below us where our position is upheld by the people below us and thus upholds the people above us. Many things dictate our position and access to external resources is unbelievably helpful in advancing one’s position.
Our North American society and financial system DOES NOT WORK without unemployment. A class of people out of work is necessary to keep wages down so that companies can make money and keep employees compliant. And yet the unemployed are painted as simply lazy, worst regarded by the people struggling to get by and can’t conceive of why someone wouldn’t be able to get and keep a job.
When someone talks about privilege there’s a risk that the person hearing someone talk about privileges that they lacked will feel personally attacked as if they believe the person talking of privilege so negatively believes that no one should have privileges they didn’t have.
They are not saying you shouldn’t have a privilege. They are saying that everyone should have access to it. For example: one shouldn’t need a parent able to pay for University to go and better their life. But lo and behold the student loan system doesn’t help people get ahead really unless their parents were able to give them the skills with which to use student loans properly and then there’s this class of people whose parents pay for or assist with the completion of university in other ways and those people start out with less debt and more freedom.
Almost like it’s actually impossible to get ahead. And the ones that make it; for whatever reason they do, are used to uphold the system. That doesn’t work for all.
What else is privilege but an unequal access to resources?
I don’t like the author’s adoring lavishly written love letter to inner resources.
Because of their strong advantages, I think it’s more important to build inner resources than outer resources, especially during your 20s. If you find yourself at age 30 to be someone who’s driven, disciplined, ambitious, and skillful but completely broke, you’ll be in far better shape to lead a fulfilling life than someone who’s wealthy but lazy and unfocused.
When you build your inner resources, even at the expense of your outer resources, you’ll enjoy more freedom in the long run. But if you do the opposite and focus on building outer resources first, you’ll create a cage for yourself, becoming dependent on unstable assets.
If forced to make a choice, I’d rather give up all my outer resources than my inner ones.
The article author seems to have written this article to illustrate their points and glorify inner resources as a shining beacon of light that allows people to overcome a lack of outer resources… indeed, the author engages in a really strange thought experiment and decides they would rather lose all his outer resources than his inner resources.
Why do these need to be pitted against each other? … is… the author saying I am deficient in the inner resources I have in abundance because I am still lacking in outer resources? It feels that way.
I disagree most strongly with the conclusions the author draws from their personal investigation into resources.
- Depletion. Inner resources aren’t depleted when spent. In fact, the more you exercise them, the stronger they become. Outer resources are usually diminished from use, or there’s an additional resource drain to use them. For example, to use technology, you need electricity, which you can pay for with money, and the value of the technology depreciates while you use it, eventually becoming obsolete.
- Conversion. It’s easier to use inner resources to create outer resources than vice versa. If you’re very disciplined, you can earn plenty of money, but if you’re rich, you can’t readily buy a more disciplined mind.
- Security. Inner resources are more secure than outer resources. It’s more likely you’ll lose your money than your knowledge. Outer resources are subject to greater risk of loss.
- Transferability. Outer resources can be transferred from one person to another. Inner resources are tied to the individual.
- Depletion: Inner resources aren’t depleted when spent, and are strengthened by being used. But do not make up for a persistant lack of outer resources. A consistent lack of outer resources like money, safe housing and friends can and does induce depression and mental illness in many people. Depression kills creativity better than anything I’ve ever found. The very act of constantly existing on your cleverness, resourcefulness (despite having no resources) and NEVER getting ahead is in itself a depleting act.
- Conversion: This offended me most. Because if you’re rich you can pay someone who has an organized mind and needs those external resources. I will agree that inner resources do not necessarily convert well to outer resources and outer resources do not convert well to inner. But that wasn’t the point that was made.
- Security: I agree. But what the author misses is that a lack of outer resources can detrimentally affect your personal safety and a traumatic lack of personal safety might easily affect your ability to refine your inner resources.
- Transferability: Yes. Outer resources can be transferred. So can inner resources. Where else did I learn my determination, reasoning and empathy if not my mother? I disaggree MOST with this. I think that we can help our friends and family with their inner resources and doing so helps us with our inner resources.
- I argue that the author missed the most important point: Mobilization. Without being properly mobilized, resources cannot help us. The ability to allocate our resources and time effectively is one of the best skills to have and it is impossible to foster in a society that REFUSES to talk about resources let alone differential access to them. How can you teach your children how to mobilize their resources if you have very few? What if your resources are flawed and you don’t want to teach your children to live the way you do?
I don’t know what kind of life the author expects they’d lead without “all their external resources” but I can’t see a situation where it would be helpful having to chose between a living on the street and finding a partner to move in with because you got evicted and could get a weekly hotel for a while with the remaining not enough money to do a damage deposit and first month’s rent on a new place but then you’ll be back having exhausted your couch surfing options and having had your car break down on the side of the road and had to abandon it so there’s no car even to sleep in anymore….
Perhaps the author figures that their surplus of inner resources would prevent them from ever being in that situation.
Perhaps they’re right.
Perhaps they’re not.
Sometimes we have a surplus of resources because we are capitalizing on privilege. Sometimes we have privilege because we have a surplus of resources. Sometimes we have privilege because we are able to get by without resources.
But I think the next step in our discourse about privilege is talking about resources and resource mobilization in a realistic way.