Tacit privilege and social order

Nathan Goodman, at the Liberty Minded blog, pulls the Hayekian knowledge problem out of the pricing field and applies it in the field of social relations. Well, technically speaking, Goodman employs just the tacit knowledge elements of Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society” article, but he uses it to make a good point: some of the knowledge needed to promote social interaction is distributed and not readily articulated or transferred; this kind of knowledge comes from personal experience in particular times and places; to the extent that my experiences differ from yours, I may not understand and you may find it difficult or impossible to convey to me the full nature of your experiences or the explain how it shapes your relationships in society.

For Goodman, this means that men listening to women talk about male privilege may not be in a position to understand the breadth and depth of the experiences women have experienced. Women, talking to men about male privilege, may not themselves understand and certainly may not be able to articulate the breadth and depth of their experiences of gender discrimination. Knowledge of social privilege itself will be highly distributed and sometimes tacit. Goodman continues with a discussion of disability and other differences from which privilege can emerge, and how, when government gets involved the problems can easily be made worse.

This isn’t, he said, an argument to silence critics, but an attempt to get people to recognize the limits of their knowledge. Libertarians especially, he said, “should have the humility to check our privilege, to listen to oppressed people who discuss their experiences, and to respect oppressed peoples’ rights to direct their own struggles for liberation.”


3 thoughts on “Tacit privilege and social order

  1. I fail to understand why any employer focused on operating a business for a profit would knowingly hire a graduate of any “studies” program, since he would be hiring someone perpetually disaffected who was now professionally disaffected.

  2. I’d encourage you instead to think of it as an application of (1) Hayekian diffuse private knowledge, as Mike says, and (2) the fusty old Enlightenment virtue of toleration, as embodied in Adam Smith’s and David Hume’s work. Different people have different situations and perspectives, and since each one of us can only accesses those situations and perspectives incompletely and imperfectly, it would be unjust to impose your specific interpretation/perception of a specific situation on someone else.

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