The 20th Century political scientist Karl Deutsch said, “Power is the ability not to have to learn.”

I quote this statement often, because I think it’s one of the most important truths ever articulated about privilege, oppression, and social power relations.


When a social system is set up such that one particular group is almost always in a position of social power or privilege over another group, the members of the privileged group never truly need to learn or practice empathy or understanding for the members of the disempowered, oppressed group. Nor do the members of the privileged group need to learn to adapt to the communication style of the oppressed group.

Neurotypical privilege means that neurotypical people interacting with autistic people—particularly when the neurotypical people in question are in positions of professional authority—have the luxury of never having to address or even acknowledge their own empathy deficits or poor communication skills, because they can blame all failures of empathy, understanding, and communication on the alleged deficits of the autistic people.

Power—or privilege, as we now more commonly call the particular kind of power to which Deutsch was referring—is the ability not to have to learn. There’s a phrase, “check your privilege,” that’s often repeated but rarely understood or heeded by those privileged persons at whom it is directed. If we start from Deutsch’s definition of power or privilege as the ability not to have to learn, we can understand “check your privilege” to mean, at least in part, “Learn! Be quiet, pay attention, and learn. Learn, even though the learning process, and the level of profound humility it requires, is going to be uncomfortable. Learn even though, because of your privilege, this sort of learning and humility is a discomfort that you have the luxury of being able to avoid—a luxury that we didn’t have, when we had to learn your ways. Learn even though you don’t have to.”

Unfortunately, as members of all oppressed groups discover, most privileged people just won’t do that. The states of profound mindfulness, humility, openness to correction, and tolerance for uncertainty that such learning demands are too far outside of most people’s comfort zones. Most human beings simply won’t go that far outside of their comfort zones if they don’t have to. And privilege means they don’t have to.


Name the systems of power.

The lens of power can really help us see what’s going on.

Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems.

So just, analyse identity politics through the lens of power, and you’ll be less likely to believe that all pejoratives are equally bad, or that an individual whose story deviates from the norm means the norm doesn’t exist.

Spider-Verse, Identity Politics, Leftist Infighting, and the Oppression Olympics – YouTube
Raise up your ear, I'll drop the style and clear
It's the beats and the lyrics they fear
The rage is relentless
We need a movement with a quickness
You are the witness of change
And to counteract
We gotta take the power back

Yeah, we gotta take the power back
Come on, come on!
We gotta take the power back

Take the Power Back by Rage Against the Machine

The failures of autism science are not random: they reflect systematic power imbalances.

Autism and Scientism

Millions of people use social media to navigate identities too complex for single analytical frames like race, class, gender and sexuality to fully capture. We are messy and complicated and we seem to want our digital tools to reflect that. But, intersectionality was never intended to only describe lived experiences. Intersectionality was to be an account of power as much as it was an account of identities (Crenshaw 1991). Here, the potential of intersectionality to understand the reproduction of unequal power relations have not yet been fully realized.

Black Cyberfeminism: Intersectionality, Institutions and Digital Sociology by Tressie McMillan Cottom :: SSRN

Just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.

Every single one of us has a moral obligation to use whatever resources we have — time, money, knowledge, skills, emotional energy, access to physical resources — … in service of justice, and fighting against injustice and oppression and violence in all of its forms, structural and individual, subtle and overt.

Inclusivity involves looking at a space and seeing all the ways it’s set up to benefit those in power. And then redesigning and resetting that space to support, affirm, and amplify marginalized folks.

You wanna be somebody?
See somebody?
Try and free somebody
Got a list of demands
Written on the palm of my hands
I ball my fist and you're gonna know where I stand
We're living hand to mouth
Hand to mouth

--List of Demands by Saul Williams

All struggles

Are essentially

power struggles.

Who will rule,

Who will lead,

Who will define,




Who will dominate.

All struggles

Are essentially power struggles,

And most are no more intellectual

than two rams

knocking their heads together.


Parable of the Sower (Parable, 1)
Acting on your best behaviour
Turn your back on Mother Nature
Everybody wants to rule the world

So glad we've almost made it
So sad they had to fade it
Everybody wants to rule the world

I can't stand this indecision
Married with a lack of vision
Everybody wants to rule the—
Say that you'll never, never, never, never need it
One headline, why believe it?
Everybody wants to rule the world
All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world

Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears, covered by Sammy Rae & The Friends

The concept is quite serious. It’s about everybody wanting power, about warfare and the misery it causes.

Curt Smith, Tears for Fears

Further reading,