Tag Archives: zero-sum

Pride Month Musings

June is Pride Month. It wasn’t so long ago that today’s widespread recognition of–and support for– Pride would have been unthinkable. In my adult lifetime, there have been few changes in social attitudes as swift or as welcome as the legal and social acceptance of LGBTQ Americans.

That said, progress inevitably invites blowback. We are particularly seeing it in punitive legislation directed at transgender Americans. But we are also seeing continued opposition to gay equality from the same Christian Nationalists and religious fundamentalists who are determined to ignore America’s history of racism and other bigotries.

The good news is that anti-gay attitudes are far less pervasive among young Americans; in fact, sociologists and scholars of religion attribute much of the exodus by young people from fundamentalist congregations to distaste for their theological homophobia. Among older, conservative, religious Americans, however, LGBTQ citizens still encounter considerable bias–and when sexual orientation is coupled with HIV, no matter how well controlled, considerable stigma.

It’s tempting, during Pride month and especially during the local celebrations and parades, to focus on the considerable progress made by the gay community, and that progress is well worth celebrating. But it’s important to couple the celebration with recognition of remaining challenges.

For that matter, the contemporary lessons to be drawn aren’t  limited to LGBTQ issues.

Over the years, Black Americans, gay Americans, Jewish and Muslim Americans and other minorities have achieved significant legal protections: civil rights and anti-discrimination laws, and (in the case of LGBTQ folks) recognition of same-sex marriage have all gone a long way to level the legal playing field.

Hearts and minds have proved to be a harder nut to crack.

Too many Americans approach issues of inclusion and equality from a “zero-sum” perspective. The fear of “replacement” (more on that in upcoming posts) is an example. The evident calculation is that If “those people” get rights, my rights have been correspondingly diminished. The history of the gay rights struggle provides an excellent example; remember the hue and cry over “special rights”? The argument was that laws requiring equal legal treatment of gay men and lesbians were really an award of “special rights,” and the implication was that straight people didn’t have those “special rights.” 

When the Founders hammered out the U.S. Constitution, one of its most significant breaks with the past was the establishment of a legal system that would evaluate citizens based upon behavior, not social status or identity. Even when America hasn’t lived up to the principles set out in our constituent documents—and we frequently haven’t—the  official American vision has been one of a society in which group identity is legally irrelevant, a society where an individual’s conduct is the only proper concern of government.

In other words, in America, individuals are supposed to be rewarded or punished based upon what they do, not who they are. Race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and similar markers of group affiliation are supposed to be irrelevant to our legal status. No matter how meaningful those affiliations may be to us personally, the government may not award or restrict our rights based upon them.

Although they seem unable to understand or accept it, that basic element of America’s rule of law protects Christian Nationalists as well as members of minority populations.

The larger challenge we face is how to internalize that legal premise. How do we socialize our children into a worldview that sees other human beings as other human beings, and accepts or dismisses them individually, based upon their actions and behaviors–evidence of the content of their characters–not on their skin color, their sexual orientation or their theological preferences.

We have a way to go…

Happy Pride Month.









A Zero-Sum World

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me an email about recent remarks made by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. Deal wants Congress to repeal the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986. That’s the law–approved and signed by President Reagan–that requires hospitals to treat anyone in an emergency, regardless of citizenship or ability to pay.

In other words, if you are shot, giving birth, having a heart attack–whatever–and you make it to the nearest emergency room, they have to stabilize you before they determine whether you can pay and if not, send you elsewhere. They can’t just turn you away to drop the baby on the pavement or die from the heart attack.

To most sane people, this seems pretty reasonable, and by all accounts, the Act has saved many lives since it was enacted. 

I spend a lot of electronic “ink” wondering what’s wrong with people like Governor Deal. Why are they so adamantly opposed to expansion of Medicaid, increased access to health insurance, or a modest raise in the minimum wage? I could understand it if they were arguing about the best way to provide healthcare or alleviate poverty,  if they were offering alternatives, but they clearly aren’t–they are opposed to the goals themselves. And that’s what I’ve had so much trouble understanding.

However, I think I may have figured it out. These people live in a zero-sum reality.

In the zero-sum worldview, every social good exists in a fixed amount. If you get X, I lose X or its equivalent.

Thankfully, the real world doesn’t work that way. In countries with single-payer systems, for example, healthcare costs less, and everyone benefits. Studies have also confirmed that raising the minimum wage puts more money in the economy, and actually increases employment (counter-intuitive as that may seem.)

It must be exhausting to live in a zero-sum reality, where you must constantly on guard to protect your personal fiefdom. I know I need to cultivate some compassion for the denizens of that world, but it’s hard to feel sympathy for mean-spirited people.

On the other hand, maybe there’s a fixed amount of human-kindness, and they didn’t get any?