Exploring the Kyriarchy: A Morality Based in Power

For many, morality is based in fairness, justice, compassion for others, spiritual concepts, or duty to others. But for those at the top of the so-called food chain of society morality is often based in power: the power of wealth, of religion (Christianity), of race (whiteness), of gender (manhood). Rich, white, straight, Christian men have traditionally held the power to control others, and they are entitled to do so because it is divined; it is the way things are supposed to be.

Christianity Superiority

Christian superiority holds that there is one right way to live, and it involves heterosexual relationships, marriage, and children. It also includes a strict set of rules defining how a man should behave and how a woman should behave. The power of Christianity is in numbers, yes, but also in a sense of morality that defines all other ways to live as morally repugnant. Same sex relationships, gender queerness, women’s control over their own bodies, and polyamory are all deemed against nature. Abortion and same sex marriage are against nature but viagra and sky scrapers are fine; and they are so because of who benefits: rich men. Christian superiority is a sense of morality that is based in tradition, and it uses cherry-picked Christian scripture to justify it’s continued power.

Some Christians believe that their morals are greater than government; Christian law is greater than man’s laws. For example, two Christian groups in Texas recently filed lawsuits to allow them to refuse to hire LGBTQ individuals. They believe that their Christian values should be prioritized over civil rights law that protects the employment rights of citizens who have been marginalized. God has ordained them the right to control others’ lives, or at least their employment. Some right-wing Christians even believe that God uses extreme weather, like hurricanes, to exact vengeance on the country for liberal laws like legal abortion and same sex marriage. Donald Trump, a twice divorced man who has been recorded bragging about sexual assault, is still in the favor of evangelical Christians. His adultery and lying can be justified by his Supreme Court picks and by scripture. These aren’t contradictions when one’s morality is based in Christian superiority.

The Morality of the Patriarchy

Even those who have in the past expressed more liberal ideas have been emboldened by Donald Trump’s misogyny. During a recent White House visit, Kanye West stated “There was something about putting this hat on that made me feel like Superman.” He said that he wasn’t moved by Hillary Clinton’s slogan ‘I’m with her,’ suggesting that it made him feel emasculated.

As women fight for equality and against an administration that would seek to overturn legislation protecting women, the idea that men are not responsible for rape has surfaced again. A Republican congressional candidate in Virginia suggested during a debate in October that preventing rape depends on “educating females.” This statement comes on the heels of a number of senators suggesting that Christine Blasey Ford - who accused Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape when they were both in high school - of being confused about what happened to her. They discredited her account and refused to take her claims seriously, suggesting that doing so was just a delay tactic by the Democrats. Their patronizing language has been experienced by many sexual assault survivors. The idea that we shouldn’t ‘ruin someone’s life’ with an accusation that cannot be proven is one we’ve heard repeatedly, such as in the Stanford University rape case or in Steubenville, Ohio. Trump himself is quoted in a recently released book saying that a man should never admit to any accusation brought by a woman. He also publicly stated that "it is a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of,” putting the focus on men who have been accused, rather than on the far more common reality of rape and sexual assault in the US.

The idea that men and boys should get a pass simply because their behavior is common and isn’t a big deal suggests to women and girls that their experiences of trauma are not valid. When morality is based in the power of the patriarchy, which should not be impeached, assaults will continue, and more people will be traumatized.

Law and Order

Often this morality is described in terms of law and order. But it matters who has been accused of violating the law and order of society. For example, in the Stanford rape case, the white male judge who sentenced the white male Stanford student to three months in jail also went to Stanford. The judge was more able to see himself in the defendant, and treated him accordingly.

According to those already in power, the power structures that exist are right - ordained even - and should not be changed. This is often an example of ‘know your place.’ It is in this vein that white people call police on people of color for doing nothing more than being near them.

The Supreme Court has upheld the argument that police can use deadly force when a subject is running away, as long as they believe that the person poses a threat to the community. In practice, this means that officers are often not charged with murder if they shoot someone running away. This suggests that the badge and uniform are more important than the lives of citizens. Police departments continue to justify force, even when their own rules are violated. Earlier this year, a mother asked someone to call police because her sons were in a heated argument and she was worried they would hurt each other. According to her account, the two had calmed down by the time police arrived, but the officers arrived with tasters drawn and used force to arrest both sons. Rather than deescalating the situation, the officers used force in way that violates taser protocol.  The police chief claims that his officers did nothing wrong, and that they had to take control of the family. The determination of a situation being under control is the officer’s alone.

Just this month a law enforcement officer arrested a Democratic campaign worker after he delivered a letter regarding voter suppression to the county clerk’s office. The fact that the campaign worker was arrested only after being asked which party he was working for indicates that his arrest was an attempt at intimidating the campaign. The officer had no other probable cause to arrest the campaign worker.

Police departments will also justify attempts at controlling populations. An investigative report in Tampa found that officers have been ticketing black bicyclists at far higher rates, often in majority black neighborhoods. While evidence shows that racial profiling is ineffective and erodes trust, officers and their departments justify trends of ticketing and arresting black citizens at higher rates, in an effort to control people of color. When morality is based in power - in these cases, the power of the badge - officers and their departments, and sometimes even the Supreme Court, will justify their power to control in the name of law and order.

The Power of the Elite

The power to control goes far beyond the badge. Political leaders wield a similar sense of control over others, both political and Christian. Vice President Mike Pence has said “Throughout the world, no people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than followers of Christ.” He and his supporters agree that Christians are facing persecution, even in the United States where they outnumber people of other religions. Many evangelical Christians support laws that would control the lives of other people, such as banning same sex marriage and abortion. One Republican city councilman recently mocked women who would seek abortions, writing “Better get you’re coathangers ready liberals (sic).”

Others in political power suggest that their power is enough to bar any questioning. Recently Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that if Democrats win the house and pursue allegations of ethical and legal violations by Donald Trump, it would amount to “presidential harassment." But congress is supposed to hold the executive branch accountable, as part of the checks and balances that are built into the US Constitution. Similarly, the outrage that Republicans showed in the face questions about Brett Kavanaugh’s integrity denies that youth of color rarely get the same benefit of the doubt. Trump himself has repeatedly touted his “good genes,” seemingly taking credit for his whiteness and his family’s wealth. Those who have power will seek to keep it, even if their arguments to do so defy science or the US Constitution that they swore to support and defend.

Additionally, Trump supporters have fallen in line in questioning the integrity of Democrats, as part of an ideology that prioritizes men over women, Christianity over anything else, and whiteness over people of color. The election of Donald Trump has emboldened those who would enact violence against others out of a sense of entitlement. A man recently argued that Trump said it was okay to touch women without consent as he was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman on a plane. Hate crimes have been increasing in the years since Trump’s campaign and subsequent election. A couple have even run over protesters with their cars.

The concept of Make America Great Again is a call for things to return to a time before Democrats and liberals had achieved some success working for greater equality and access to resources for all people. It represents a prioritization of power for those who’ve traditionally held it: white, straight, cis, Christian men. Men in this group have experienced a perceived loss of control as others have gained greater equality. Christian superiority, the patriarchy, law and order, and the privilege of current office holders are all versions of a morality that is based in power, that should not be questioned. This morality places those with privilege over those without, and justifies itself based only on the fact that it already has power and has historically held it. But it is a morality that does not serve us as a collective society. Rather, it limits us from truly being great.