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.