Yesterday and (for the very patriotic) for the rest of the week, Americans will be celebrating the founding of this great country.

American has the benefit of geography, with the best navigable rivers for commerce and two oceans to protect us from invaders. We have the most powerful military and the most productive economy. We invented most of the modern world (the personal computer, the internet, the air conditioner, the airplane, the light bulb, harnessed electricity, the telephone, and pretty much all the greatest things since sliced bread, including sliced bread). Our brilliant founding documents also give us a heritage of human rights and democracy the envy of desperate souls around the world.

You could say it is a great privilege to live here in these United States. But while many of us enjoy this and many other privileges, we don’t necessarily feel good about it. We suffer from “privilege guilt.” To demonstrate our uncomfortable and contradictory relationship to the many privileges we enjoy, we can let two comedians lay out the opposing visions — since comedians often say the most obvious things nobody else will articulate.

We don’t deserve it, so burn it all down

To present the first perspective — that we should be ashamed of all these ill-gotten gains we have and should do our best to bring them to an end — is Louis CK. While discussing immigration on Joe Rogan’s popular podcast, CK — likely not entirely seriously since he’s a comedian — said we should open the border, let everybody “pour in,” and then accept the problems, because “there should be” more problems here in the United States.

“It shouldn’t be so great here, is what I’m saying,” CK said. “It’s a weird thing to sequester a group of people and try to keep upping their life span and their lifestyle.”

He also asserted (without evidence) that our success makes it worse for other people around the world. “That’s not a system that’s working,” CK said, comparing it to a gated community.

In defense of privilege

Giving a very different view, fellow comedian Jerry Seinfeld, during a commencement address here in North Carolina at Duke University, said “Privilege today seems like the worse thing you can have. I would like to take a moment to defend it.”

In his famous witty style, Seinfeld talked about how for an aspiring comedian, growing up a Jewish boy in New York was a privilege and gave him the skills he needed to succeed.

Seinfeld told the Blue Devil grads to likewise “use your privilege,” saying attending Duke, where he also attended, is a great privilege. He said, if it comes up, don’t be ashamed. Don’t tell people about your great education under your breath while looking at your feet.

In his most memorable line of the speech, he said, “My point is: We’re embarrassed of things we should be proud of and proud of things we should be embarrassed about.”

He’s right. There are so many privileges that I had growing up that I should have been proud of but that I was a little embarrassed about. It wasn’t quite as edgy to have a stable, loving household where all your needs were met. But I should have been grateful for all the generations of small sacrifices necessary to make that a reality.

Sure, there are privileges that are received at someone else’s expense, like during Jim Crow or due to other forms of discrimination. But that isn’t inherent to privilege in general.

If your parents spend hours teaching you how to read, there’s no shame in using that to get ahead academically (even if some claim it disadvantages the other students). If you have a God-given talent, there’s no shame in using it. If many thousands of people died to secure a safe and just order for you to thrive in, there’s no shame in celebrating it. In fact, it’d be a shame not to.

As Americans, part of what has made us great is that we have not been ashamed of our well-earned success and have developed a culture of using our competitive advantages. Merit isn’t just about individual effort but about which values and states we want to encourage overall.

Admittedly, when someone else has far more of these privileges than we do, this can be irksome. When I lived at the Gulf Coast for a while, a friend asserted that hard work and talent, not privilege, was where success came from in America. Out of curiosity, I asked him how he got his plush insurance sales job, because I knew his family was very well connected. He sheepishly admitted that the owner of the company was his dad’s best friend and had hired him right out of college.

That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something to be acknowledged. The paradox of privilege is that we should be aware of these privileges, and that others may not have them, all while using them. Unearned privileges (again, unless they were derived unjustly) should inspire humility and gratitude, not shame and embarrassment.

Of course, someone like Louis CK would say all privileges, traced back far enough, are ill gotten. There’s some truth to that, as all nations are guilty of advantaging themselves over others. But a lot of the privileges we have are simply due to people building good things for their families and communities to set them up for success. And we’d be dishonoring their efforts by trampling on what they’ve handed us. Instead, as Seinfeld advised, let’s celebrate the privileges granted to us by using them to their full effect.