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dadt as an example of ruling class ideology?

May 7, 2012

While watching the documentary The Strange History Of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell today, certain events struck me as being potential real-world examples of what Marx meant when he wrote in The German Ideology, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.” For example, the Crittenden Report, an internal military study done in 1957 by the US Navy, concluded that ‘homosexuals’ serving in the military didn’t pose any kind of security risk, with subsequent studies done in the 80s and 90s by various Department of Defense agencies (e.g., PERSEREC) and think tanks (RAND Corp.) concluding that sexual orientation is completely unrelated to, and has no bearing on, job performance. Nevertheless, the dominate view of those in charge (i.e., the ruling material force of society) was that “Homosexuality is wrong, it is evil, and it is to be branded as such” (Crittenden Report), and all such studies were classified and essentially buried, hence the ruling idea was that gays and lesbians should be barred from the military.

President Clinton’s 1993 DADT policy, which was basically a compromise between his progressive campaign rhetoric and the status quo, did little more than legalize this kind of discrimination, and homosexual witch-hunts actually increased with the implementation of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, both scientific and empirical (esp. nations with gays and lesbians already openly serving in the military), the ruling ideas prevailed relatively unchallenged for decades; and it was only through decades of struggle, particularly on the part of the LBGTQ community, that DADT was repealed—not the facts, which were actually covered up by the powers that be because they conflicted with their ideological view of the world and challenged their ideological hegemony (a view personified in the documentary by Senator McCain).

One theory of mine about this is that the ruling class by its very nature fosters divisions within society — as in separate, competing factions à la Madison — in order to prevent a unified challenge to the institution of private property and the dominance of ruling-class ideology; and anything which tends to unite these opposing factions is perceived as a danger to those two things, as well as those it favours (i.e., the propertied and capitalist classes). Here, non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in regard to military service is a uniting force seeking to tear down a socially constructed barrier within society, which will logically help to erode discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the spheres of employment, housing, marriage, etc., thereby limiting its use as a dividing force, much the same way that struggles against discrimination on the basis of things like gender, race, etc. have attempted to do.

Of course, through constant struggle, ideas and social relations change over time; and the ruling class’ ideological positions naturally must shift with them in order to compensate and insure that it maintains its control over the productive base of society, which, according to Marx’s theory of base and superstructure, does a great deal to condition the rising legal and political superstructure of society. So it’s expected that reforms will eventually manifest themselves, such as the allowance of gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military at the same time they’re unable to legally get married in 44 of the 50 states (with none of the marriages in those 6 states being currently recognized by the federal government, by the way), and while still excluding transgendered individuals from service. And I think this particular example can not only be used to illustrate the existence of ruling class ideology, but how combating aspects of it without addressing its underlying foundation (i.e., its material/structural basis) ultimately leads to inadequate compromises and endless battles of social equality instead of truly progressive victories.

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