Obama, Heterosexism, and Capitalism:

Yesterday's Investors Business Daily reports on the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, a group with trains and pays stipends to community organizers and other youthful volunteers. According to IBD, "Barack Obama was a founding member of the board of Public Allies in 1992, resigning before his wife became executive director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies in 1993." IBD also describes the diversity training in Chicago; it is not clear from the article whether this particular training took place while either Obama was involved in the group. IBD states that in the Chicago training, "heterosexism" is explained as "a negative byproduct of 'capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and male-dominated privilege.'"

Here is my bleg: do VC readers know of any serious research about a link between heterosexism and capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and male-dominated privilege? My initial impression is the cause and effect theory of heterosexism is quite wrong. Communist dictatorships, for example, are often quite hostile to homosexuals; yet Communist states are not capitalist, generally have legal equality of men and women, and (outside Europe) are run by non-whites. Conversely, ancient Greece was relatively tolerant of some forms of homosexuality, and yet was patriarchal, dominated by whites, and had a primitive free market.

So, is there a serious intellectual argument for the Public Allies theory of the causes of heterosexism?

Deoxy (mail):
You're not really asking this in earnest, are you? I mean, does there ever come a point where we can just scoff as PC BS and be done with it?

"The impending death of the world due to the sun going supernova is the fault of white, male capitalists."

Does it have to get that absurd before we can ignore them?
9.5.2008 5:44pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
What is the source of IBD's information? They have lost some credibility with me by giving Saul Alinsky a pejorative nickname that I have never seen associated with him: "The Red."
9.5.2008 5:49pm
alkali (mail):
@David Kipel: [I]t is not clear from the article whether this particular training [which is apparently described on a web site in 2008] took place while either Obama was involved in the group [in 1992, 16 years earlier]. ... [D] do VC readers know of any serious research ...

I don't know, but it seems that the demand for rigorous argumentation ought to begin at home.
9.5.2008 5:51pm
alkali (mail):
Erratum: "Kopel", of course
9.5.2008 5:52pm
There may not be causality, but there are certainly similarity between "heterosexism" (not a term I was previously familiar with), and racism and sexism. It also seems logical that a belief that it is ok to discriminate based on color or gender might lead to similar beliefs regarding sexual orientation. I don't see how capitalism has anything to do with it though.
9.5.2008 5:56pm
They forgot "Neocolonialist arpartheid Zionism" as contributing to heterosexism. The former also causes borealcentrism and logocentrism.
9.5.2008 6:00pm
Thomas Traina (mail) (www):
I've been trying to find something for a few years that resembles a good argument for these claims. Unfortunately, what I've gathered so far resembles theology more than social science. Unless you take their underlying assumptions about the way the world (and more importantly the human brain) works on faith, it's drivel.
9.5.2008 6:06pm
tgb1000 (mail):
Clearly the answer is that all liberals hate America and are anxious for Obama to impose sharia law.
9.5.2008 6:07pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
You're so full of it, Kopel. Cuba isn't in Europe and the Castro bros are white! :)
9.5.2008 6:10pm
Anonymous #000:

I think capitalism is used an an excuse because a zero-sum economical theory leads to the generation of wealth necessarily equating to a process of theft. Since the economy is supposed to be a fixed size, and because people require some resources to survive, theft of wealth changes the balance of power in favor of the rich.

Because of traditional roles, I suppose it's claimed they retain the wealth and power in a household. Traditionally, and biologically, women tend to be the parent to raise the children while men earn money. Thus they do not have direct control over the men's wealth, and thus are disadvantaged. And so we get to something approximating "heterosexism".

I also want to add that starting from the mind-meltingly absurd premise of zero-sum economies, one can reason through to some modern political causes which one would have outherwise rightly thought unjustifiable. Perhaps knocking them down is as simple as finally killing that premise (though it's a doozy).
9.5.2008 6:11pm
paul lukasiak (mail):
I'd like to suggest that there is a link of sorts, having to do with inheritence and the privileges/advantages available to the children of "capitalists" are are not available to "the workers". (i.e. capitalism would be much less sustainable were people not motivated in part by a desire for financial "immortality" through their children.)

It should also be noted that racism and sexism still existed under communitism, monarchism, etc., even when not officially sanctioned. The question isn't whether hetosexism is unique to capitalism, rather whether heterosexism is a "byproduct" of capitalism....
9.5.2008 6:14pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
Oh, I got a sense of IBD's objectivity before they even mentioned Alinsky; let's try:

" Obama . . . . . . calls his Orwellian program, "Universal Voluntary Public Service." Big Brother had nothing on the Obamas. They plan to herd American youth into government-funded reeducation camps where they'll be brainwashed into thinking America is a racist, oppressive place in need of 'social change.'"

I then kept looking for an actual copy, or citation by IBD of the text of the secret 'diversity seminar'; nowhere to be found. Can't tell who said it or wrote it, when, addressed to who.

At least I can point, with some clicking through, to exactly which right-wing Christian nut-jobs say in public that we should elect McCain/Palin because of Palin's relationship with God, and then pray to God that he either brings McCain into line with true Christianity, or ahem, "removes" him. (This bit of nut-jobbery being the origin of Doc Volokh's earlier post inquiring whether or not prayer could constitute attempted murder...)
9.5.2008 6:19pm
Julius23 (mail):
Depends what you mean by serious. Here's the beginning of a discussion thread on the topic by academic, with references:
9.5.2008 6:27pm
SenatorX (mail):
Because of traditional roles, I suppose it's claimed they retain the wealth and power in a household. Traditionally, and biologically, women tend to be the parent to raise the children while men earn money. Thus they do not have direct control over the men's wealth, and thus are disadvantaged. And so we get to something approximating "heterosexism".

They must really be against Islam too then...
9.5.2008 6:54pm
nicestrategy (mail):
I can't believe there aren't some common psychological roots. I am not familiar with the research, but macho posturing, a desire to appear strong, to be strong, to have power over others, to dominate, these things conceptually connect to an ingrained mindset that leads to sexist and heterosexist behaviors, and maybe racism as well (in a small man wanting to have power and superiority over others kind of way). Maybe there are subconscious connections between a power lust and a sexual one -- what Perry Farrell sang of "Sex Is Violence! Sex is Violence! in _Ted, Just Admit It_. How that could be ever proved scientifically is beyond me.

However, the capitalism connection is weak sauce; strikes me as a backhanded way of labeling capitalism as inherently unjust. Bogus boilerplate from the silly victim side of PC, and obviously not a theory to which Obama subscribes.
9.5.2008 6:56pm
nicestrategy (mail):

They must really be against Islam too then...

I take it this was sarcastic. There is a ton of PC hypocrisy on this score. I wish I could paste in a great cartoon I have about this.

That being said, there are plenty of people who believe in tolerance and sensitivity who don't apologize for Islam any more than they apologize for fundamentalist Christians. Unfortunately, so many critics of Islam have been transparently intolerant or had theological motives that the debate has/had been lost. It would help if conservatives would call out the true haters in their midst.
9.5.2008 7:02pm
Anonymous #000:
They must really be against Islam too then...

You'd think so. But if you approach it from the power angle, apparently Muslims in the US, mostly immigrants from the last half-century, are underrepresented in positions of power and subjected to discrimination. From that people have made the characterization "a liberal always roots for the under dog".

Perhaps more shakey: the incongruity may be explained by a nebulous desire for "change" in power, or even some sort of political revolution (which is anarchy in means, not in goal). To the extent that Islam is a political force, it could stand as an agent of major disruption, following which power (and, by fiat, wealth) can be consolidated in a new place.
9.5.2008 7:17pm
fishbane (mail):
Unfortunately, so many critics of Islam have been transparently intolerant or had theological motives that the debate has/had been lost. It would help if conservatives would call out the true haters in their midst.

Jesus, yes.

I'm waiting for more than a very few conservatives to do just that. Unfortunately, too many of the honest ones seem to find fellow travelers easier to agree with than their consciences. Hosts here are exceptions, mostly. Would that I could say that about commenters.
9.5.2008 7:20pm
hey (mail):
I'm really shocked at the policies of Public Allies. If the were truly progressive and part of the movement, they'd know that the proper term is "heteronormativism". Heterosexist is just plain incomprehensible and nonsense. In this Revolution we will have grammatically comprehensible rhetoric! Don't make me stop this Revolution until you get your terms straight young man!

It is nice to see that there shall be no questioning of Sharia until all error has been driven out of the conservative movement. Since the mere fact of being conservative is evidence of racism (see Clarence "House Negro" Thomas, and the racism of refusing to vote for Obama), we might be waiting a while.
9.5.2008 8:12pm
Jerry F:
How is it that Obama was associated with this kind of ultra-loony organization and no one even knows about it? (Well, the real question is, how did Obama even get to any elected office with these kind of associations.) The equivalent on the right of this kind of lunacy would be, at best, the John Birch Society or the Christian Reconstructionist movement, and at worst, pro-white groups. Could any conservative be elected even to a state senate (let alone the U.S. Senate) with these credentials on his resume?
9.5.2008 9:22pm
As I have no clue what "heterosexism" is, I can't offer anything. A number of people do automatically associate things like sexism, racism, etc. with capitalism, and assume that this means they are correlated, although the association exists mainly in their minds (I believe it is entirely in their minds, but I could be wrong!).

Another example of loose and imprecise thinking, I believe.
9.5.2008 9:32pm
Hey, man, it isn't capitalism. It's agriculture! We'd all be living in egalitarian hunter-gatherer bands if some jerk hadn't decided to put some useful plants right outside the door and pen up a few goats. Or rather, a small number of us would be living that way and a lot of us would be dead. I would have bought it at 14, if I had been born at all, and of course most of the people who lived over the past few thousand years wouldn't have even been conceived.

Be careful what you wish for. I'll take agriculture, capitalism, and the European Enlightenment despite the byproducts. That doesn't mean we should accept bigotry, but rather that we should be trying to improve on previous innovations rather than chucking them out because the first round wasn't perfect.
9.5.2008 9:34pm
Not directly responsive to Dave's bleg, but it's rather ironic that today the Washington Post (never a bastion of hetersexism) had a serious and sympathetic piece reviewing a new documentary on Islamic persecution of gays.

Most ironic line in the Post piece when one considers "Public Allies'" creed: "The conflict between homosexuality and Islam is often depicted by Muslims as a conflict between Western decadence and authentic religion." Must be the fault of all those weatern decadent, capitalist, white supremacists oppressing otherwise happy places like Iran...
9.5.2008 9:37pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):
9.5.2008 10:12pm
Could any conservative be elected even to a state senate (let alone the U.S. Senate) with these credentials on his resume?
A conservative, I don't know, but there's always Kleagle
Robert Byrd.
9.5.2008 10:20pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I don't know about all that research. All I know is that the cause of my "heterosexism" are women like Keely Hazell and Grace Park.
9.5.2008 11:07pm
Houston Lawyer:
Is heterosexism related to heteronormative?
9.6.2008 1:04am
Barry Youngerman (mail):
Males have had a near monopoly of public or political power in every system I've ever heard of. But many male homosexuals have had no problem slipping into roles of power in this context. Among the many historical male leaders who were probably homosexual are the monstrous warmonger Alexander the "Great," various militarist European and African monarchs and military leaders, Asian and Middle Eastern eunuch regents and viziers in the ancient, medieval, and early modern period, and plenty of closeted politicians in the modern democratic era, including, rumor has it, various important prime ministers in several western countries.

Judging by credible rumors, a proportionate number of top leaders in the business world are gay as well, as are prominent leaders in the non-profit sector, in the US and abroad.

If males are indeed "privileged" in our society then gay men fully participate in that privilege. Remember, only a small percentage of any group are "leaders;" surely gay men produce the same percentage. Among women, I believe lesbians are over-represented in leadership; this includes a number of fairly prominent politicians.

The plain reality is that gay liberation, however defined, has triumphed only in capitalist countries, and generally in the most capitalist periods in those countries. The 1920s was an era of relative liberation for gays, in real life and in literature and the arts. The thirties through the fifties saw some regression, at least in the public sphere. The biggest changes have occurred in the post-1969 era, when capitalist values have become triumphant throughout the world.

It may be ironic, but the Stonewall Era has been congruent with the Reagan/Thatcher era, and it's hard to believe that's an accident.

So- male privilege and capitalism have nothing to do with "homophobia."

As far as the varieties of racism, there's one huge difference with homophobia: gays come in all colors and religions. As gay people come out openly and with confidence, people of all races and religions have come to understand that they are "one of us," which inevitably reduces homophobia. There is a dramatic generational shift toward acceptance or at least tolerance, even among evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, soldiers, and other unfriendly groups.

One can easily imagine a United States without much homophobia. Honestly, I can't imagine a world without "racism," which is really another word for "in group--out group" or "we-them." E.g., many self-identified opponents of racism have no problem propagating the ugliest, most ignorant prejudices against religious or racial groups they don't like-- e.g., white people, Jews, evangelicals, Americans, yada yada.

So-- bottom line, homophobia has no relation whatsoever to capitalism, sexism, or racism.

Next question?
9.6.2008 9:24am
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
So, is there a serious intellectual argument for the Public Allies theory of the causes of heterosexism?
So, Dave, how did you manage to write "serious intellectual argument" and "Public Allies" in the same sentence without your head keyboard exploding? ;-p
9.6.2008 12:11pm
Shannon Love (mail) (www):
From my own research I would say that the more militaristic a society, the more likely they are to embrace homosexuality because they use it as bonding mechanism in their military units. Societies that leave the individual little choice in matters of marriage, such a traditional Japanese culture, usually treat homosexuality as mere sexual quirk because it never impacts an individuals family obligations.

Homophobia in the west springs from two sources: individual freedom especially in marriage and ethical universalism i.e. same rules for everyone. In a time when families formed the political, economic and military base unit of society. A homosexual posed major problem for a family in an environment where individuals could choose when and who they married.
9.6.2008 1:48pm
DensityDuck (mail):
Does capitalism cause homophobia? No.

Capitalism allows a freer and more widespread exchange of information, which makes homophobia more obvious. It's like when you turn on the lights and see a bunch of roaches. The roaches were not created by the act of flipping the switch; they were always present, you just didn't know it.
9.6.2008 2:40pm
All of this makes sense (including Obama using the phrase equal pay for equal work) if you realize that in his early twenties, Obama was a die-hard Marxist. (I personally still think he is, though not as extreme as he was in his his early twenties.)
9.6.2008 9:38pm
GatoRat: "Obama was a die-hard Marxist"

Now do you mean that Obama followed Marxism as developed by Marx and Engles, or as modified by his followers? Was he closer to the interpretation of Lenin, or other Marxists such as Georg Luk√°cs, Antonio Gramsci or Eduard Bernstein? Maybe he professed Trotskyism.

I'm sure you are correct, but we need just a little more information to really pin him down.
9.8.2008 1:15am
submandave (mail) (www):
It's agitprop, plain and simple. "We all know 'heterosexism' is bad, so let's associate it with these other bad things, like capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and male-dominated privilege."

The two-minute hate today will focus on the evil causes of heterosexism and how we want to destroy these causes to bring about our grand and glorious future of freedom and equality.
9.8.2008 12:43pm
Well, I'm way late on this, but anyway:
I don't really know the arguments about this, so I can't defend the claim very well, but I think DK's objections are misguided. The claim (at least, as usually made) isn't that all heterosexism is always associated with white supremacy, capitalism, etc., but rather that heterosexism as it currently exists in our society historically arose as part of the same ideological system as those other things. So Ancient Greece, whose ideas about markets, sex, and race were all very different from ours, isn't really relevant: their views about sexuality, even where they happen to agree with modern ones, don't come from all the same sources, and thus won't necessarily be connected in the same way with those other things.
Communist dictatorships might be more helpful as examples: but you'd still have to work out the difference between ideas about sexuality that arise as part of Communism, and ones that are part of the pre-existing capitalist system, and that Communism doesn't entirely change.
9.8.2008 2:25pm