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

Tribalism and the cruelly weird idea of zero-sum human rights May 19, 2012

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.

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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?

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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.”

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