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rhetoric of discriminationA boss stands in front of his four employees and says: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to let one of you go.” The black employee says: “Well, I’m a protected minority.” The female employee says: “And I’m a woman.” The elder employee says: “You fire me, sonny, and I’ll hit you with an age discrimination lawsuit so fast it’ll make your head spin.” To which they all turn to look at the helpless young, white, male employee, who thinks a moment, then responds: “Uh … I think I might be gay …”

I remember the first time I heard the term “LGBT.” One of my high school students referenced it. I thought she was talking about a sandwich. Once corrected, I found it hard to believe that gender could be dissected into so many categories.

Then I got a Facebook page. And with it, seventy self-identifying gender options, like “asexual,” “gender fluid,” “polygender,” and “two-spirit person”a veritable gender bender Babel.

It is no surprise, then, that on July 21, 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order protecting LGBT employees at federal contractors and in the federal government from workplace discrimination. “In too many states and in too many workplaces, simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can still be a fire-able offense,” Mr. Obama announced to a group of activists in the East Room of the White House. “I firmly believe that it’s time to address this injustice for every American.”

The executive order is considered highly significant. First, it applies to nearly 30,000 companies that employ nearly thirty million workers, representing twenty percent of the U.S. workforce. But secondly, the order is ambiguous as to how it exempts religious organizations from the mandate, thereby opening the door to possible litigation which could affect adversely religious non-profits such as Catholic Charities and World Vision.

However, I think there is something far more significant going on here. I believe concerns about sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination as well as changing attitudes towards religious liberties involve a fundamental transformation in our politics and society.

Historically, anti-discrimination law goes way beyond the context of employment law and employment relationships, but has been found in criminal law, police practice, judicial review, family law, and property law.[1] Indeed, anti-discrimination is codified even at the constitutional level, such as with the U.S. Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But recently, anti-discrimination laws and concerns have been caught up in what is termed “emancipatory politics.” Emancipatory politics involves utilizing the power of the state to liberate people from traditional social structures and arrangements that are deemed “unjust.” The injustice involves the arbitrary impediments traditional societies impose on the individual who wants to exercise social control over his or her own life circumstances.[2] Because traditional societies tend to impose arbitrarily key identity markers such as gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation on their populations, the extent to which these impositions are overcome and corrected is the measure of what is labeled “justice,” “liberty,” and “equality.”

And it is here, in this emancipatory context, that the rhetoric of discrimination plays such an important role. While discrimination has linguistically and historically a number of applications (we technically discriminate when we choose what to have for dinner), to label a social disadvantage “discrimination” in modern society is by definition to claim that it is unjust and should therefore be eliminated. The significance of the word is so fixed, that if one were to dispute this label, he or she can only do so by denying any affiliation whatsoever with discrimination.[3] But because the accusation of discrimination imports a host of emancipatory assumptions and implications, traditional social arrangements are increasingly excluded from standards of disputation. Appealing to “freedom of conscience,” “sin,” or “biblical norms” as reasons for religious exemptions is like trying to bribe PETA members with KFC. One can only dispute the charge by appealing to state-centered social arrangements and categories that are themselves the conventional foundations of modern discriminatory accusations.

Ghirlandaio,_Domenico_-_Calling_of_the_Apostles_-_1481However, there is a fundamental problem for the success of discrimination rhetoric. In the past, concerns over arbitrary social disadvantage were addressed and rectified within an inherently moral social order. In classical and Christian civilizations, it was believed that the world was governed by moral causes and effects, which meant that every person born into the world was obligated to conform his or her life to the moral order of the universe and thereby enable their humanity to flourish. With the advent of Christianity and the inauguration of a new moral order rooted in self-giving love and forgiveness, social discriminations were newly addressed and rectified. The late first-century church-order called the Didache (“The Teaching”) prohibited Christians from practicing abortion; the fifth-century legal Code of Theodosius II redefined divorce law decidedly in the favor of women; and Justinian’s reforms in the sixth century abolished all laws that prevented the freeing of slaves and made emancipation far less complicated. All these measures reflected initiatives to enable human flourishing from within a new moral order inaugurated in the Christ event.

The problem with emancipatory politics is that it is characterized by inherently amoral processes. The demographic, economic, and institutional dynamics that are dislodging social life away from traditional structures and beliefs are not propelled by moral concerns and considerations. There is simply nothing inherently moral about the technological, industrial, and telecommunicative revolutions that ushered in the modern age. The project of political emancipation is therefore no more than an attempt to impose arbitrarily moral significance on amoral processes. But this is precisely what discrimination rhetoric accuses traditional society of doing. It thus turns out that the justification Obama and others appeal to for emancipating people from the arbitrary impositions of traditional society is itself just another arbitrary tradition; but now with the power of the secular state behind it. This is an arbitrary tradition that will not tolerate nonconformity.

And so the extent to which the rhetoric of discrimination dictates such moral significance, it is, well, inherently discriminatory. If modern discrimination concerns revolve chiefly around impediments to the individual achieving social control over his or her own life circumstances, then subsuming the human person to an arbitrary political meaning system that no person has the right to opt out of is the epitome of discrimination. Modern discrimination claims do not so much describe social injustices as create them. Justice in the modern sense is a mere fabrication, the coercive projection of meaning and purpose upon otherwise meaningless and purposeless processes by those who have the power to do so.

What this means then is that the rhetoric and actions surrounding the executive order are not ultimately about rectifying discrimination and establishing justice, but rather are about dislodging human life away from the traditional structures of church, family, and community and recalibrating social life around the modern structures of industry, technology, and the state. For all of its rhetoric, political emancipation “liberates” us from traditional society only to subsume us into an economy of mass social engineering which, given its mechanistic structures, all too easily slips into new forms of social oppression, coercion, and disadvantage.

The only way to counter this is ultimately mass non-compliance. As cultural anthropologists have observed, the authority inherent in cultural meaning systems is contingent upon its acceptance by those presumably subject to it. The plausibility of the state of affairs that govern a society is directly proportionate to the fidelity invested by the majority of the participating social actors.

Traditionalists, those who esteem the classical social intersection of church, family, and community, need to counter the shrill rhetoric of discrimination with what we might call a “rhetoric of reconciliation.” In the Christian tradition, freedom is not merely negative, as in a freedom from restraint. Rather, freedom is more positive; it is the divinely imparted gift to become what we were created to be, the liberty to fulfill our divine calling and thereby enable our humanity to flourish.

300px-PaulTAnd wherein do we realize such freedom? True freedom is found in Eucharistic equality. As St. Paul taught in his first letter to the Corinthians, the church involves social arrangements that transcend the world’s ethnic, social, and sexual identities with a reconciling unity found only in Christ. By partaking of the Eucharistic meal, the Corinthians become “one body” (1 Cor 10:17). And because the meal involves Christ’s own body and blood, the Corinthians learn to give up their lives for one another, to live a life of self-sacrificial mutuality and fellowship that considers the needs of others as more important than their own. For Paul, this is true freedom, a freedom that breaks down all social hindrances to the Christian gospel.

By living out faithful shared life-worlds that operate not according to the entitlements of the sovereign individual but rather according to self-sacrificial love and mercy, we can expose the inherent arbitrariness and self-centeredness of modernist political projects. In this way, we have the potential to radically relativize economies of social engineering and coercion to societies of grace and gratitude. Perhaps then we will enact a true emancipation, resolving real discriminatory barriers erected by self-centered infatuations and pandering political fads. Perhaps then, we will witness the flourishing freedom of a true humanity.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

Notes:

1. Nicholas Bamforth, “Conceptions of Anti-Discrimination Law,” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 24 (2004): 693-716.

2. Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991), 211.

3. Janet Radcliffe Richards and J.R. Lucas, “Discrimination,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes Vol. 59 (1985): 53-83.

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4 replies to this post
  1. Articles like this are important, true – but often far too mild. I am far more alarmed at was is happening.

    This sentence stuck out as especially true:

    “Justice in the modern sense is a mere fabrication, the coercive projection of meaning and purpose upon otherwise meaningless and purposeless processes by those who have the power to do so.”

    Indeed, we are at a point in time when the debate on this subject has gone from a pleasant debate between ladies and gentleman to a debate between the Lambs and the Wolves -and the gay lobby are the wolves.

    In Poland, where the gay lobby has been sponsored handily by the West and the Polish people have been bombarded with information that they should be ashamed of their culture, we now have a transvestite “activist” who goes around beating people up on the streets and filming it, and using physical violence against her political opponents during television interviews. This is all justified and accepted by the the mainstream media.

    The scenario is simple: Gay activist beats people up, goes on tv to explain why she feels repressed by their words and justified – in the name of “Western Civilization” – to beat up her opponents and then the journalist turns to some timid fellow who opposes her, who timidly tries to explain that beating people up for whatever reason is a CRIME and a moral wrong.

    Then, the journalist turns to the perpetrator of physical violence – the gay – and asks her “opinion” – and the debate goes on, with the gay activist justifying physical violence against her opponents by giving examples from the United Kingdom and the United States.

    That is the level of debate now:

    Can gay people justifiably use violence against their opponents in debate? Yes or No?

    Arguments from the gay lobby are along the following lines: “If I beat someone up, the bruise will heal, but their hate speech will forever scar my psyche.”

    One is, naturally, tempted to contemplate whether or not the psyche of a man dressed as a woman defending violence against political opponents is not already irredeamably scarred, not to mention whether the television producers, politicians and journalists who promote this insanity are not in the grip of some terrible illness.

    President Putin does not tolerate this in Russia and simply bans it – and the Russians do not have to suffer this horror. In Poland, this horror is mandated by the EU and encouraged by President Obama’s unwise support for this revolution.

    This has really gotten out of hand and silly. Now, the gays can use violence against people that they disagree with. If a gay thinks you are “homophobic” – you can be punched in the face and the police will do nothing to protect you, no lawsuits will be filed against the attacker – but YOU, the person who was beaten up – will be forced to explain yourself in the court of public opinion and threatened with an anti-discrimination lawsuit in the court of law.

    The gay lobby, which has always strived to go “one further” in its’ provocative political methods, has now officially crossed the line into sanctioning the use of violence against political opponents. They know that they have the entire USA and EU behind them, they feel that the law, the police, the courts and the culture is with them – and they now use and sanction the use of violence against their opponents, just like the communists did prior to the Russian revolution.

    As I watch the sick development of violent gay activism in Warsaw (sick because it is violent, not because it is homosexual, sick because it combines the intelligence of a Jerry Springer episode with the brute force of a Nazi brown shirt), I am more and more convinced that the Russian law banning homosexual propaganda is correct.

    It is a brutal law – in the traditional Russian fashion – but looking at the brutality of the gay activist movement, it may just be a necessary law. It is a law aimed against a coordinated campaign of hatred propagadated by the gay lobby for Western money against simple, peaceful people.

    When gay activists stop beating people up and claiming that they can do it because “Western Civilization demands an end to discrimination” – I will be open to a calm debate about this subject.

    I fear, however, that the long term plan is the physical elimination of traditional society; just as the Bolsheviks wanted. This is evident now. It is not a coincidence that with each passing year, the gay lobby becomes more and more radicalized – and now is using physical violene to pursue its’ aim of cultural revolution.

    What is disgusting is that mass broadcasting is assisting in this endeavor rather than simply calling not even the police – but the psychiatric services – and locking these utterly insane people up in a mental hospital (not because they are homosexual, but because they see themselves as being the next Martin Luther King Jr. for putting on a dress and pummeling people on the streets).

    I don’t recognize Western Culture any more. What has it become? What does it support? What has it created?

  2. Dear Peter,

    I very much share your concerns and your outrage at the intimidating tactics of what we might term “homofascists.” During the Phil Robertson fiasco with A&E, I wrote a bit more of a scathing commentary on the break down of any intelligible discussion on this: http://www.delawareright.com/guest-post-2/

    So I’m under no illusions on the futility of a fruitful dialogue with same-sex fanatics (I like to call it “sodomania”). Instead, I am addressing those who are concerned yet confused about the nature of this propaganda and how to respond.

    The confusion comes from the fact that civil rights language is very powerful rhetoric in contemporary American culture. Your reference to the media and “new Martin Luther Kings” is key here. So what my article tried to point out was that this rhetoric is very misleading. The rhetoric sees anti-discrimination efforts as a matter of inclusion versus exclusion, equality versus inequality, or liberty versus oppression. However, as you insightful allude, the effect of anti-discrimination laws is always new forms of inclusion and exclusion, equality and inequality, liberty and oppression. So all this talk about equality and inclusivity reminds me of the guy who said that he hoped to die peacefully while asleep like his grandfather, not screaming in terror like the passengers in his grandfather’s car. By focusing on only one side of the equation, we can be guilty of overlooking catastrophic scenarios.

    And so, if it is the case that anti-discrimination laws and orders by their nature create new victims of oppression and exclusion, then the issue at hand is: what is the basis for determining the justice of legally sanctioned discrimination? And as I developed, there is nothing just about the left’s pursuit of justice.

    And while I certainly applaud what Putin has done in one sense, I do think the post-secular church has an extraordinary opportunity to live out true Eucharistic equality, the dynamics of which stand in stark contrast to the hostility and violences that are so characteristic of gay activism. Understanding the fallacies in their rhetoric while developing our own grace-centered vision I think can go a long way to redeeming this tragic situation.

    Blessings,
    Steve

    • “Understanding the fallacies in their rhetoric while developing our own grace-centered vision I think can go a long way to redeeming this tragic situation.”

      True, of course. But one wonders if showing up (for all practical purposes) unarmed to a battle of this magnitude will save our own generation, let alone the next and the next from the impending societal collapse hastened in part by the topic at hand. Many straws have accumulated on the camel’s back — this may well be the one that breaks it, or the one “we” decide to remove from the load. As to the role of rhetoric, even the author succumbs (forgivably by virtue of momentarily) to the use of “gay,” the cynically disarming moniker of the destroyers’ choice, instead of “homosexual,” the accurate and Biblical word that I always use nowadays. Of course, as one whose BMI is closer to the desired pressure in an automobile tire than it is to the waist measurement of a starlet, I continue to refer to my physical self as “taut.” Is that hypocritical? Or does my remarkable play on words give me a pass?

      Of far greater concern to me is the inability of the average denizen of the planet to discern the “fallacies in their rhetoric.” The broader progressive movement of the past century or so has been wildly successful in removing said ability from said denizens. The good doctor, joyfully toiling daily in one of the last bastions of education NOT so altered toward an agenda as to be unrecognizable as education, knows well that “they get away with it” because what is so obvious to we few who retain (even polish) the power of discernment is utterly beyond recognition to most. Thanks to what I call “government schooling (not education),” the Beyonce voters will soon cast the final die (forgive me for that one) making the return to sanity impossible, except by the Hand of the Almighty.

      Or should I say Fist?

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