Tribalism and the cruelly weird idea of zero-sum human rights

Anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera said this recently on a conservative radio show:

All of a sudden Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have turned the United States into a pro-homosexual regime and it’s just despicable.

That’s as clear an expression as you’ll find of the zero-sum notion of human rights that underlies so much of the anti-gay religious right.

The United States is supposed to be a “pro-homosexual” regime. Millions of us Americans are LGBT people and our nation is supposed to have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” For all people. That means a government or “regime” that’s pro-people — pro-heterosexual, pro-LGBT, pro-everybody.

But for LaBarbera et. al., to be “pro-homosexual” must also mean that one is “anti-heterosexual.” They can’t conceive of any other possibility — a failure of imagination that comes, I suspect, from defining oneself primarily in terms of what one is against.

To them, human rights are a finite resource over which various factions must compete. They imagine that if someone else’s rights are recognized, it must therefore mean that some of their own rights must be taken away.

To them, “the people” is never everybody — it’s a roiling pile of factions, interests, clans and tribes constantly at war with one another. Thus the government cannot be “of the people, by the people and for the people.” It can only be of, by and for some people and against others.

I understand how that zero-sum game leads to the sort of high-stakes, fear-driven politics of someone like Peter LaBarbera. But I don’t understand why such folks don’t see that this notion of zero-sum rights is bizarrely stupid and needlessly misery-inducing.

* * * * * * * * *

Ed Brayton looks at the “Anti-Sharia” bill just passed by the state Senate in Kansas.

The bill says:

Any court, arbitration, tribunal or administrative agency ruling or decision shall violate the public policy of this state and be void and unenforceable if the court, arbitration, tribunal or administrative agency bases its rulings or decisions in the matter at issue in whole or in part on any foreign law, legal code or system that would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the same fundamental liberties, rights and privileges granted under the United States and Kansas constitutions, including, but not limited to, equal protection, due process, free exercise of religion, freedom of speech or press, and any right of privacy or marriage.

As Brayton says, it’s not clear “how broadly the language above would apply,” but I would also point out that the Bible is not a domestic, American text. Any legislator or jurist offering a sectarian Christian (or “Judeochristian”) rationale for policy is, unambiguously, appealing to a “foreign law, legal code or system.”

So, in other words, did the Kansas state Senate just accidentally vote in favor of same-sex marriage?

* * * * * * * * *

This is kind of awesome:

Boy, 9, stages own protest of Westboro Baptist protesters

Nine-year-old Josef Miles and his mother were walking around the Washburn University campus Saturday, which was Graduation Day on campus. As they returned to the area where they had parked their car, they couldn’t help but notice the Westboro Baptist Church protesters picketing in an area where they had an audience.

After reading WBC signs proclaiming God’s hatred for homosexuals and other assorted groups, Josef asked Akrouche if he could create his own sign proclaiming his different view of God’s outlook.

His sign, written in pencil on a small sketchpad, read simply, “God Hates No One.”

  • Tara TASW

    Your first item reminds me of the ubiquitous right-wing framing about supporting or opposing “traditional” marriage.   Ridiculous.  Of course I’m in favor of “traditional” (ie, heterosexual) marriage – my parents have had one for 50+ years.  AND I’m in favor of same-sex marriage.  The two are entirely compatible, unless one sees human rights a zero-sum game, where somebody gaining automatically means somebody else losing.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The irony of all this anti-Sharia OMGWTF muchadoaboutnothing?

    The laws and policies thus enacted often have the unintended side effect of banning all religiously-based tribunals.

    I won’t say I was displeased to hear of this unintended-but-welcome effect of Ontario banning sharia-law religious tribunals, only for the Catholic and Jewish religious leaders to find out this also meant their religious courts lost legal status as well.

    Secular law ftw, even if the motivations are wrong.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Of course I’m in favor of “traditional” (ie, heterosexual) marriage –
    my parents have had one for 50+ years.  AND I’m in favor of same-sex
    marriage.  The two are entirely compatible, unless one sees human rights
    a zero-sum game, where somebody gaining automatically means somebody
    else losing.

    Meanwhile, while I am in favor of mixed-sex as well as same-sex marriage, I am virulently opposed to “traditional” marriage with all its rigid gender roles and assumptions of male dominance.

  • rrhersh

    “it’s not clear “how broadly the language above would apply,” but I would
    also point out that the Bible is not a domestic, American text.”

    Neither, for that matter, is English common law.  Come to think of it, isn’t there a wingnut meme claiming the Magna Carta should be the basis for legislation?  Darn furriners!

  • rrhersh

     “I won’t say I was displeased to hear of this unintended-but-welcome
    effect of Ontario banning sharia-law religious tribunals, only for the
    Catholic and Jewish religious leaders to find out this also meant their
    religious courts lost legal status as well.”

    Hmm…  Would this prevent, say, the local Roman Catholic diocese from disciplining its clergy for heresy?  If that isn’t an infringement of freedom of religion, what is?

  • WingedBeast

    It’s important to note that there *is* a right that they would lose with equal rights.  It’s the right to persecute a specific group.

    Under slavery, we had the most blatant persecution of a specific group as a right.  When slavery was abolished, a right of the powerful to own the powerless was lost.  With civil rights legislation, the rights of employers to use their power to persecute based on race, sex, and religion was lost.  In some states but not yet all, their right to persecute based on sexuality is falling away.  Now, under assault right now, is the right to use law to persecute homosexual people with regards to the legal rights attributed to their partnerships.  These are rights that are under assault, but they’re not really “rights” in the sense that they cannot be taken away.

    You see, any right that can be taken away from one person can be taken away from another.  If one person’s marriage isn’t recognized because it’s not religously acceptable, so can another (for instance, an interracial marriage or a second marriage after divorice).  These become priviliges that can be taken away without due-process.

    Freedom isn’t free.  The first price of freedom is that it must be shared with people who will do things with it that you’d rather they not do.

  • http://earcandleproductions.blogspot.com/ J Neo Marvin

    Human evolution is moving past these people, and they don’t like it one bit.

    “You thought you would have your way forever.”

  • Lori

    But for LaBarbera et. al., to be “pro-homosexual” must also mean that one is “anti-heterosexual.” They can’t conceive of any other possibility — a failure of imagination that comes, I suspect, from defining oneself primarily in terms of what one is against. 

    LaBarbera’s issue almost certainly has less to do with defining himself by what he is against, than it does with being  ostentatiously
    against something in order to avoid or hide from reality. “Porno Pete” is pretty much exhibit A for the idea that people who make their living off homophobia are themselves closeted gays. If that man spies on the Folsum Street Fair, various Pride weeks and the party circuit year after year after year after year purely so that he can keep good people informed about the scourge of the Gay Menace then I’m the Queen of England. (I’d be happy to have a couple Corgies but other than that, no.)

  • JonathanPelikan

    I just want to say here in the clearest way possible that I hate anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera and everybody on his side. Conservatism of this flavor, which has over the years become the dominant flavor that may be found in America, dishonors this nation and ridicules the principles upon which it was founded and towards which real American struggle to reach every single motherfucking day.

    I’m angry, yes. But am I hopping-around-angry anymore? Not really, no. I’d reached the point years ago where I started putting together connections and realizing, hey, Conservatives are constantly saying this kind of shit. It’s almost like one could write off large sections of that bloated and treasonous movement without having to sit up and pay attention every time Ann Coulter says women shouldn’t allowed to vote.

    So when the question comes up “can you believe what [Republican X] or [Conservative X] said five seconds ago?!’ my answer is always, sadly enough, ‘yes. of course. it fits with well-established and understood patterns that have been present and identified for decades.’

    I suppose that makes me a tribalist, too. An us-versus-them kind of guy. A partisan. Someone who sure as fuck isn’t going to bother extending a hand of friendship towards anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera, because the only thing a Conservative like him deserves from my hand is the back of it across his face.

    Shorter version: Fuck em, and when it’s Conservatives, a little tribalism might go a long way towards helping us understand and correct the problems with our culture that sees anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera to run his mouth in  this way and get millions of his fellow wastes of oxygen to nod along in agreement.

  • Lori

    I am virulently opposed to “traditional” marriage with all its rigid gender roles and assumptions of male dominance. 

    I’m opposed to people being pushed into those kinds of marriages and to culture that treats them as the norm or the only right way, but if two people both want that kind of marriage then that’s what they should have. Even if it makes my stomach churn. Even if I can’t imagine why an intelligent, well-informed person would want such a thing.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    The laws and policies thus enacted often have the unintended side effect of banning all religiously-based tribunals.

    With the possible exception of mormon ones.

    And, of course, “What you mean ‘all’, Kemosabe?”

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    “but I would also point out that the Bible is not a domestic, American text.”

    Nonsense!  Every real Christian knows that the King James is the only real Bible ever written.  And Britain is just American in utero, after all.  The place where all the Americans who matter came from.

    Now if only our holy Constitution had been written in the same sort of deliberately anachronistic English.  Then everyone would surely know better than to question any of the Great National Fathers like me. 

  • Porlock Junior

    To them, “the people” is never everybody — it’s a roiling pile of
    factions, interests, clans and tribes constantly at war with one
    another.”

    Would this be something like a War of All against All? No wonder life has been getting so nasty, mean, brutish and short lately.

  • P J Evans

    Hmm…  Would this prevent, say, the local Roman Catholic diocese from
    disciplining its clergy for heresy?  If that isn’t an infringement of
    freedom of religion, what is?

    If it’s strictly an internal matter, not a problem. If it involves protecting priests who are secular abusers, it doesn’t infringe on their freedom of religion, because it’s a civil (secular) law that was broken, not a religious rule. (Heresy only exists inside a group with its own internal rules.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    Posting in the right thread this time….

    Last week, after it aired on HDNet Movies prior to its theatrical release (I don’t foresee it opening in a lot of theaters), I watched the movie God Bless America.

    While I do often get very angry about the world – even at many of the same things that enraged the movie’s protagonist – I’m not especially inclined towards violence, or even fantasizing about violence, so I wasn’t able to get the sort of vicarious thrill from watching his homicidal rampage that would have allowed me to enjoy the movie in any fashion.

    Except…well, I have to admit that I smiled – just a little – when he and his sidekick wiped out a protest led by the movie’s version of the WBC…

    (I also liked the shot of the media’s coverage of the event, which included the headline “Victims of Obama Death Squad?”)

  • Tonio

    I suppose that makes me a tribalist, too.

    No, because tribalism is more than us-versus-them. The mindset you rightly slam is about preserving “our” privilege.

    Fred may have erred in assuming LaBarbera meant pro-homosexuals instead of pro-homosexuality. People who use the latter concept seem to believe that not only that orientation is a choice but also that social opporbium is necessary to keep others from making the wrong choice.

    So I’ll turn Fred’s point around to say that the cause of homosexuality is completely irrelevant as far as treating people of all orientations as fully human and full citizens. Society and government should be neutral for all orientations, and an individual’s orientation should not be the concern of the neighbor or community or society.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I can’t imagine why anyone would want a marriage that assumed male dominance. Or that assumes anything, other than “love and cherish.” 

    I can imagine wanting a marriage in which one partner was dominant and the other submissive. In which there are safe words and boundaries and respect and lots and lots of talking. Because some people simply are submissive or dominant (or both), like some people simply are bisexual or left-handed. 

  • ako

     I know what you mean.  If what they mean by “traditional” is a “a man and a woman getting married”, that’s my parents and my brothers.  If they mean “A man and a woman getting married with the intention of having kids”, that’s still my parents and my younger brother.  And I support their marriages!  I want them to be married and remain married and be happy with their marriages and stay together for a very long time.  I don’t want to damage or destroy those marriages.  I want to one day, if I meed the right woman and I so choose, to have the option of having a marriage like that, with the love and the support and the legal advantages that come with official recognition.

    And my parents don’t feel their marriage would be damaged in any way  if I had the same legal rights they did.  My brothers don’t think they’d be less married if I met the right girl and married her.  I don’t think any marriage worth preserving would be damaged by giving me equal rights.

  • Lori

     

    I can’t imagine why anyone would want a marriage that assumed male dominance.  

    I can’t really either, and yet the world does not limit itself to what I’m able to wrap my head around. So unless I’m going to tell actual people of my acquaintance that they don’t know their own minds I just have to accept it.

  • Emcee, cubed

    So, off-topic a bit, and I know some people have issues with Dan Savage, but this…my  Barrowman, this…I have no words, just tears.

    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2012/05/18/sl-letter-of-the-day-show-this-woman-some-love

  • arcseconds

    Could someone explain to me what the point of the Kansas legislature enacting anti-Sharia law laws is? I’m confused.

    I mean, I kind of understand that there’s a section of the US population that supposes there’s some kind of plot at work to have this happen — although of all the ridiculous things the frothing wing of the conservatives believe, I still find this the hardest to understand.  In fact,  I’d have to say I don’t understand it at all, whereas I do feel I have some kind of a grip on birthirism and the facism charges,  etc.

    But following this belief through: so do we imagine that the Kansas state legislature might start passing sharia-inspired bills one day? If they will, won’t they just rescind or ignore this legislation?  Is the fear really that the Federal government or the Supreme Court will start basing their decisions on sharia law?  If so, and in keeping with the paranoid fears of people who believe this stuff, won’t they just brush aside a mere State-level law?   So is it just a matter of principle?

    About the best sense I can make of this is that it’s to reign in Kansas courts, who might otherwise start referring to Islamic jurists at any point rather than Kansas and US law.  But if they’re just going to ignore the law of the land and start applying some other system of law, again, how does enacting a law telling them not to help?

    if I was paranoid enough to believe that the movers and shakers in US politics and law were secretly intent on imposing Sharia law, I think I’d probably conclude that this law must be enacted to lull us into a false sense of security, because I can’t understand how it could meaningfully stop any of the things I was fearing before it passed.

  • Tonio

    You may be overthinking the matter. There’s no rationality behind the anti-Sharia measures, just xenophobia and racism for some supporters and cynical exploitation of that hatred for others. (Some of the lawmakers may belong in both categories.) The Kansas legislature is not much different from the one local council in England that banned Life of Brian even though there were no theaters in its district, engaging in empty posturing.

  • Porlock Junior

    “Is the fear really that the Federal government or the Supreme Court will start basing their decisions on sharia law?”

    In fact, this is the infinitely tenous connection to fact or reason. The Supreme Court has occasionally cited decisions from other civilized countries as providing interpretations of how some novel modern situations and problems are related to principles of law. Not, of course, any kind of binding principle that the court must follow. And perhaps lesser courts have done the same.

    Did I say *other* civilized countries? Well, you know, include or omit the extra word, your choice.

    Therefore, they are subverting our Amurrican Constipation by inserting pieces of FURRIN LAWS. This has caused violent outrage in the usual quarters. And it’s perfectly obvious that what EuroIslamic states really want to do is establish Sharia law. QED.

    BTW, about the Federal law, which guides the Supreme Court, just overriding a conflicting state law as the Consitution explicitly states: Well, that’s good reasoning. Now do you see how irrelevant it is in this context?

  • JonathanPelikan

    You’ve made an absolutely critical, and completely understandable mistake here; you went in assuming that conservatives and their words have inherent meaning and are used more or less in the same manner as the rest of the human race uses words and symbols. You assumed, in other words, that anything in that law contained legitimate human thought and wasn’t just ‘Grrrr furun countries grrrr sand-negroes grrrr libruls’.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Most, I think it’s projection.  The Bombs’n’Jesus crowd think they REALLY want a theocracy, therefore Those People must want one, too.  And what religion scares them the most?


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