Flipping the Bird of Power Dynamics

MRH recites a productive argument 14 comments into my previous post (emphasis his):

I understand that no one wants to be called a bigot, but it’s really dancing right on the edge of offensive when a white guy claims that being accused of bigotry is like a black man being called a “nigger” by a white man. Here’s one important consideration that might help to explicate why they’re so different: think about the power dynamics involved. When a member of a privileged class insults a member of a disadvantaged class based solely on their membership in that class, it’s not the same as a member of the privileged class being insulted because of their behavior.

One first must dispense with the additional consideration that Matt layers on the central one: In the context of the same-sex marriage debate, the distinction between discrimination based on group membership and based on behavior is precisely that which makes it invidious to categorize support for traditional marriage as inherently bigoted. Forming a lifelong sexual bond with somebody of the same sex is manifestly a different behavior than doing the same with somebody of the opposite sex. Biology and cultural and legal history both support that assertion. Therefore, declaring arguments against same-sex marriage to be inapplicable (because bigoted) to the formation of the laws that govern a citizenry is precisely discrimination against people based solely on their membership in a class — in this case, the class of those who believe it important that their government to continue to set opposite-sex marriages (that is “marriages”) apart.
Now to Matt’s central assertion, pared down to its substance:

When a member of a privileged class insults a member of a disadvantaged class, it’s not the same as a member of the privileged class being insulted.

Let’s trace advantages and power with respect to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts:

  • The state’s elites — its judicial and other governmental elites, its media elites, i.e., folks who individually and collectively have more than the average amount of power — have inserted their worldview into the marriage laws of Massachusetts.
  • They have done so in the name of protecting people who are born (to my knowledge) with equal distribution across the society and who have higher than average levels of wealth and education.

It looks to me as if the “privileged class” is still the one doing the insulting. That, I propose, is the genius of identity politics: The heterosexual white (esp. Christian) male is by definition the “privileged class,” so applying an assertion of bigotry, a group of disproportionately powerful people (largely white, too, as it happens), can diminish “his” ability to work through democratic processes for the society that he views as best and can isolate him from all of those folks between who either stand to gain privilege via their minority status or want nothing so much as to avoid being accused of harboring deep and irrational hatred that they, for the most part, do not feel.

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Rhody
Rhody
13 years ago

Oh jeez, Edith, they’re talking about elites again there.
That’ll be the next word of the day, after “bigot” and “nigger.”
The word “elites,” to me, has become anyone that dares hold a position opposite to that of Bill O’Reilly. These poor, poor, pitiful foes of gay marriage – I’d feel powerless, too, if I had only the White House, the Supreme Court, high-ranking members of both major political parties and powerful Christian leaders and the black churches who allow themselves to be dictated to (in hopes it’ll get them a seat at the powerful white man’s table) in my corner.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

We’re talking about Massachusetts, Rhody. Of course, that’s a nifty trick that the folks who pull liberal strings around here have learned very well: point to some other level of society or government in order to frighten your apathetic brethren into giving you even further time to play the oligarchy locally. It seems to have worked in the previous election, putting Rhode Island further in the hands of thugs and self-interested lawyers and such with no compunction about digging the state’s hole deeper.

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

Gee,
Aren’t those of us residents of The State Rhode Island and Providence Plantations who labor in the private sector de facto “niggers” pressed into involuntarily servitude (via taxation) to the public sector plantation … for the enrichment of the Democrat plantation bosses and their “union brothers and sisters”?

mrh
mrh
13 years ago

Justin, you are all over the place here. I have to get some work done today, but I’ll try to respond later. Man oh man, though: you are one angry white guy.

Bobby Oliveira
13 years ago

Dear Tom W,
Once again, buy trying to compare anything to slavery, you make it easy for the rest of us to feel no compassion for your position.
In a Democracy, that somewhat ensures losing. Thankfully, you do it well.
Thank you once again for the bulletin board material.

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

Can’t talk now Missuh Bobby. Massuh Montanaro say dat da pension bin near empty an’ he sayz I gotta work hardah an’ pay mo’ fair share ta keep da Plantation runnin!
Dunno if I can take much mo. Some a the boyz has already ‘scaped an runoff ta Florida an’ New Hampsire, an’ Massuh Montanaro sayz those a us left gotta pick for them too!
I sure is getting’ weary a this payin’ mah fair share stuff!

Rhody
Rhody
13 years ago

It’s supposed to rain the next few days. Damned unions!

Andrew
13 years ago

(Tongue firmly planted in cheek).
Rhody,
You left out the intermediate steps…

  • It’s supposed to rain for the next few days.
  • Obviously, illegal immigrants and low-income workers will be hit hardest by this rain.
  • The only way to protect them from suffering disproportionately bad effects from the rain is to increase subsidies paid to urban areas.
  • Therefore, we need to raise taxes.

Thus, you quite logically arrive at the classic Democratic party position of “it’s raining, therefore we need to raise taxes”.

msteven
msteven
13 years ago

Just to make sure I understand this: You are saying that members of the privileged class (the elites, judiciary, congress) are insulting the members of another class (of people heterosexual, white, Christians not belonging to above class) by applying the “bigotry” description and this results in diminishing their ability to work through the democratic process to achieve their world view because they want to avoid being called “bigot”. Of course comparing “elites” to the derogatory words “bigot” and “nigger” is not exactly analogous. And I think Rhody is correct in that the use of “elites” has become a tool rather than a meaningful word. Sort of like how the word “wealthy” (in, for example, “tax cuts for the wealthy” is now used) has been used as a tool in the class warfare arena. But I think it is safe to say that this cuts both ways in that a part of persuasion today – especially in the political arena – is the unfortunate yet effective use of simplistic and exaggerated terms like ‘bigot’, ‘unpatriotic’, ‘murderer’, ‘rich’, ‘hate’, ‘war monger’, ‘values’, etc, etc. in debate. I don’t agree with the Goodridge ruling nor do I generally believe that those who oppose gay marriage are all bigots — anymore than those who oppose criminalizing abortion are all supporting murder. I do want to address this : “Forming a lifelong sexual bond with somebody of the same sex is manifestly a different behavior than doing the same with somebody of the opposite sex. Biology and cultural and legal history both support that assertion.” This is your assertion – and, in many ways, the crux of the debate in the pursuit of normalizing of gay relationships. Biologically, there is clearly a difference in the ways opposite sex and same-sex couples manifest their ‘sexual attraction’.… Read more »

mrh
mrh
13 years ago

I’m quite puzzled by the angst over “elites.” Who, exactly, are the “elites” in question, and what makes them “elite”? Justin specifically mentions “judicial and other governmental elites” and so I’m led to ask the following questions: Are there judicial non-elites? Who would they be, and what would they do? Is it the fact that they’re elite that’s the problem? Or is it the fact that the made a decision Justin disagrees with? For instance, SCOTUS has handed down a number of rulings that I disagree strongly with, and that I think some people on the other side might support. And yet, is there any more elite judiciary than the Supreme Court? What makes, in Justin’s particular example, the judges on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts “elites”? Is it their education and experience? Aren’t these the qualifications that we want in the highest judges in the state? I wouldn’t feel that our democracy would be better served by having less-educated and less-experienced judges on the bench. No, I suspect that deriding the “elites” is a faux-populist maneuver. It’s a way of trying to ally oneself with the “common man” against “them,” whoever “they” are. We don’t live in a direct democracy. Our form of government is (small-r) republican, which means that we elect representatives to govern on our behalf. If we don’t like the behavior of our representatives, we can vote them out of office. In most states (and at the federal level) judges aren’t directly elected (to insulate them, one presumes, from partiality) but we do vote for the people who nominate and approve them. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the one we have. They have done so in the name of protecting people who are born (to my knowledge) with equal distribution across the society… Read more »

Justin Katz
13 years ago

I haven’t been accomplishing things that have to get done, so my participation in these comments debates may have to give. A quick response, though: I’m not a particularly angry man (even if I am white), and having reread this post with as self-skeptical an eye as I can muster, I don’t see any evidence of anger in the writing. I do understand, though, that assuming the dementia of anger is among the strategies whereby those of a liberal bent manage to avoid coming to understand views with which they disagree. For one thing, I didn’t use “elites” with any angst, rather I intended it as essentially a synonym for “privileged people.” (That’s what the post addressed, if you’ll recall.) Whether they agree with me or not, judges are elites. Those with privileged access to media outlets are elites whether they are on my side or on yours. And when the topic at hand is power dynamics (which you thought it important to raise), drawing a distinction between such elites and the people who are not elite is not “a faux-populist maneuver.” (Interesting phrase, “faux-populist.” I haven’t managed to discern your background, career, or current circumstances, but I’m a carpenter who can barely afford his mortgage in a working-class neighborhood. What is “faux” about my populism? Is it because I’m not a liberal law student?) I’m also not so paranoid as to believe that homosexuals represent an uberclass in Massachusetts. (Boy, Matt, you sure do give your ideological opponents a lot of benefit of the doubt!) Again, you raised the notion of privileged classes, and I pointed out that homosexuals are not born into either privileged or underprivileged demographic circumstances and that they are certainly not underprivileged in their wealth and education. As for the rest, I’m growing weary of… Read more »

Justin Katz
13 years ago

Oh, and: I suppose we’ll have to leave it up to the individuals to decide whether a “legal decision” is “called democracy.” Now, that’s a declaration that I’d like to see proven out when the decision goes the other way!

mrh
mrh
13 years ago

Now, that’s a declaration that I’d like to see proven out when the decision goes the other way!
Well, liberals tend to bitch and moan about the courts less than conservatives do, so… draw your own conclusions.
That, you’ll notice, is the first time I’ve used the term “liberal” or “conservative” in my commenting here, in contrast to Mr. Katz, who uses sweeping generalizations about liberals the way I use punctuation.
And on that note: so long, Anchor Rising.

mrh
mrh
13 years ago

Now, that’s a declaration that I’d like to see proven out when the decision goes the other way!
Well, liberals tend to bitch and moan about the courts less than conservatives do, so… draw your own conclusions.
That, you’ll notice, is the first time I’ve used the term “liberal” or “conservative” in my commenting here, in contrast to Mr. Katz, who uses sweeping generalizations about liberals the way I use punctuation.
And on that note: so long, Anchor Rising.

Rhody
Rhody
13 years ago

mrh, you cannot abandon this forum – you’ve gotta stay and fight the power. Conservatives do not abandon liberal forums because they disagree with them – rather, they try to dominate them.
Do not kowtow to the bullies. Dissenting voices must be heard. Taking a stand against the prevailing sentiment in a room isn’t always easy, but if you know you’re right, you can walk with your head held high.

Chairm
Chairm
13 years ago

Rhody, no one has been bullied here which means that you are just namecalling. That’s your privilege, I guess.
And yet, according to you, now Justin is “the power” and mrh is the banner bearer for the “stand against the prevailing sentiment”?
Justin has offered much more than sentiment.
Whether or not his opinions and analysies prevail here depends on the quality of challenges to the content of what has been written. Justin posts and then often follows-up with interactions in the comment section. That’s all the invite that mrh really needs to add his thoughts here.
On the other hand, your urging of mrh is all about placing the emotivism of identity politics high above substantive discussion. This is just another stage for the vogueing, it would seem.

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