I am sick of arguments about privilege. It seems that every conversation I enter, every news channel I watch and every online commenting thread I read includes some quip about privilege. Privilege, essentially a measure of the societal benefits individuals derive from their traits and backgrounds, is an important topic to discuss. But far too often “privilege” is employed more as a politicized weapon than as a humanizing tool for students to better understand each other.

As with most political issues, when people debate privilege, they talk at each other, usually with pre-conceived talking points, as opposed to with one another. Social conservatives rarely deny privilege outright, but whenever privilege comes up they defensively respond that anyone can be successful in modern America, regardless of one’s socioeconomic class, race, gender, religion or sexuality. Liberals usually go on the offensive—“check your privilege” seems to be the mantra of the typical socially adept Duke student.

Frustratingly this rhetoric artificially absolves either side of the burden of understanding the other. Recently on “The Daily Show,” television personalities Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly offered a disappointingly predictable debate. Stewart mocked O’Reilly’s fear of Ebola with hand sanitizer before asking him to confirm the existence of differing levels of privilege. O’Reilly avoided this question by answering one of his own—whether privilege, or a lack thereof, is always a valid excuse for not succeeding in modern America. Ironically, both wealthy, white and straight men were politically correct. Americans must recognize privilege collectively, but a lack of privilege in any part of one’s identity should never be thought of exclusively as a justification for failure.

If you ask a conservative what her problems are with the liberal conception of privilege, she will say that lazy liberals devalue her success by using her privilege against her. If you ask a liberal what his problems are with the conservative conception of privilege, he will say that ignorant conservatives cannot comprehend a world in which privilege helped them get to where they are. Yet amazingly it is as hard to find a conservative denying the existence of privilege as it is to find a liberal blaming others for their privilege.

This is because each extreme is logically incoherent. On one hand, it is impossible to deny that we are at least partially the products of the genetic codes we are born with and the environments we grow up within. On the other, an acknowledgment of privilege as an uncontrollable trait is predicated on the notion that an individual cannot be held directly responsible for his privilege.

Even with these misplaced judgments at rest, debate about privilege remains abrasive. Those with privilege rush to deny its influence, while those without it wear their less-advantageous identities as they would a badge of honor. Each group—those with privilege and those without—has a misconception about the other that must be addressed before there is substantive hope of finding common ground.

To anyone frequently identified as someone with privilege—privilege is not an identity. In other words, it does not define your character, but it cannot—and it should not—be denied. Privilege is a relative fact, not a concrete opinion, which does or does not stem from each trait you possess. If you have an above-average IQ score, you are privileged in your intelligence. If you are white, you are privileged to be in a country crafted by those who shared your race. If you do not have cancer, you are privileged in your health, as is your family. Having privilege in one area does not necessitate privilege in another. In fact, having some privilege often precludes individuals from having another.

This is why it is so common to find people rolling their eyes at “privileged struggles.” A gay student in the South might roll his eyes when his friend complains that her ex won’t leave her alone, simply because relationships are far harder to find for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Parallel hypotheticals are not hard to think of—whites complaining about affirmative action, men feeling judged by feminists and wealthy students lacking enough money to buy a new Lamborghini all seem trivial when stacked up against the struggles of those who have it much worse.

That said, to anyone who self-identifies as lacking privilege—we are all privileged, and we all lack privilege. The least privileged person at Duke has privilege simply in his or her enrollment at one of the best universities in the world. Recognizing privilege in itself is a phenomenon that results from the comfort of living in a developed country.

Of course, there are differing levels of privilege—and at Duke there are clear extremes—but forcing privilege on a group to prove a point is counterproductive. Feminine men are simultaneously privileged due to their sex and psychologically crippled by societal standards of how men should behave. Similarly, while white students at Duke are more privileged than students of any other race, to deny that they could ever be the victims of racism violates the very construction of one’s privilege as a relative and fluid advantage over others. This privilege can be temporary or permanent, inconsequential or monumental.

We live in the best society that humanity has ever conjured up. Practical solutions to discrepancies in privilege do exist--we should end the “War on Drugs,” legalize gay marriage throughout the country and fight for equal pay for everyone regardless of gender. But such practical solutions will only result from a social atmosphere in which partisanship comes second to mutual understanding and respectful debate.

Brendan McCartney is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Tuesday.