Some say that it’s a privilege to be intelligent, but genetic studies have shown that it’s actually of more benefit to be around intelligent people than to be intelligent oneself. In a social species such as homo sapiens, the real privilege is to reside in an environment that has intelligent people in it, thereby reaping most of the benefits of intelligence for none of the costs. This essay will argue that a similar scenario exists in the case of being white.
Being intelligent has clear benefits. It’s easier to see patterns that lead to dangers, it’s easier to remember dangerous things that happened in the past, it’s easier to come up with new and creative ideas. These abilities have a massive benefit to the survival prospects of those few who possessed them, creating immense selective pressure in favour of more intelligence.
However, being intelligent also has less obvious drawbacks. It’s much easier to get depression or anxiety if you’re hyperaware of all the dangers out there. It’s also much harder to get over trauma if you have a good memory, which the vast majority of intelligent people have. Many intelligent people are also more sensitive, which makes them more prone to psychological trauma.
So the real benefit to individual intelligence is gleaned by the friends and family of that individual more than by that individual themselves. This is the real privilege of intelligence, and it’s the same with being white. White privilege doesn’t come from being white. It comes from being around white people.
The wealthiest countries are wealthy not because they have high IQs or the right skin colour, but because they are not corrupt. Corruption – not intelligence or skin colour – correlates the most highly with national wealth because in a corrupt environment, intelligence and hard work are not rewarded.
The correlation between wealth and white people can be explained by that white people are less likely to be corrupt. This can be proven by noting that where white people are corrupt (i.e. Russia) they tend to be poor, and where non-white people are not corrupt (i.e. Japan and South Korea) they tend to be wealthy.
An understanding of reciprocal altruism reveals the brutal truth behind all these figures. The reason why white people have it good is because people trust them to reciprocate mutually beneficial acts of social benefit, and one of the results of a high level of mutual trust is wealth. The easiest way to understand all this is to think in terms of investments.
When a person has to decide quickly whether or not to trust a person they don’t know, they will make their judgment based on any recognisable cue. Skin colour (alongside skin health, clothing quality, posture, general grooming, tone of voice, display of status symbols) is one of those cues that tells you what’s likely to happen to your investment.
The point of weighing up these cues is to answer these questions: If you treat a person kindly, will they treat you kindly in exchange? Or will they use your kindness as an excuse to get into a position to exploit you? Because if having white skin correlates with a propensity towards reciprocal altruism, then living around white people is likely to make a person both wealthier and more trusting regardless of their own skin colour.
We could talk about Asian privilege in the same way – after all, it’s fundamentally a matter of investment. Some would argue that investing social capital in an Asian is unwise because it’s less likely to be reciprocated, but most would disagree. The fact is, history shows that when a large number of Asians move into an area the local standard of living either increases or stays the same.
Indeed, we can see that wealthy Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan also rank among the least corrupt, while corrupt Asian countries like China are poor despite their high IQs. All of this is because acts of reciprocated kindness increase trust, which increases wealth. It’s a privilege to be trusted, true, but it’s also a privilege to live around trustworthy people – and it’s the trustworthiness that leads to being trusted, which leads to wealth, not the other way around.
Ultimately, the reason why white people are frequently favoured for certain roles and positions is because the people putting them there have good reason to expect that their largesse will be reciprocated. White privilege, then, can be boiled down to the fact that people have learned to trust individual white people more than individuals of other races on account of historically getting rewarded more for doing so.
This is certainly unfair to two groups of people: low-value whites who get a free ride on the erroneous assumption that they are high-value, and high-value non-whites who get offered worse deals on the erroneous assumption that they are low-value. The best way to combat this unfairness is not by shrieking about how racist and evil white people are, but firstly by rewarding other people’s trust and secondly by learning to make more sophisticated and accurate appraisals of other people’s trustworthiness.
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