Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Culture Wars

I really hate those guys. You know who I’m referring to, and they are running the world into ruin. Those idiots who post the most moronic statements on the internet comments, the fools at those protests, the taking heads that appear on that biased news channel, and the evil that they are teaching kids in school. Thankfully, some people still have a brain and use it. I make it a point to study the trends, read the expert studies, learn the science, and defend my position against this onslaught against the people by the people in power and their propaganda.

You know who I mean. Right? Well, probably not. I was intentionally vague so that you the reader would assume who I was talking about. No matter your position most people would ascribe the above statement as applying to whoever they perceive as “the enemy”. So when I wrote of the biased news channel, did you think MSNBC or Fox News? What evil are children being taught? Is it Creationism or Evolution? We have also redefined the terms idiot, fool, and moron to means anyone who disagrees with us rather than someone with a decreased rational faculty. No matter the debate, there are scientists and other experts ready to provide ammunition to lobe at your enemy. This is the Culture Wars.

The term “culture war” originated in Germany in the 1870’s to describe Bismarck’s vision of Germany against the influence of the Roman Catholics. It emerged again in 1920’s Italy in the rhetoric of the Marxist Antonio Gramsci who viewed the cultural hegemony of the mass media and popular culture as an enemy of the proletariat to be challenged. Also in the 1920’s the term emerged in America to describe the rural and urban split developing in American culture. The common usage of the term today goes back to the 1991 book Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America by sociologist James Davison Hunter.

In the twenty years since its publication the war has heated-up and the primary battle ground is the internet. The culture wars are fought at many levels and on various fronts, the internet is simply the main theatre of war. The saying “man in a crowd is brave and stupid and a man alone is intelligent and cowardly” is often attributed to Machiavelli. We might modernise this to say that a man alone behind a keyboard and internet connection is the bravest of all. He’s Rambo, but he is not necessarily any more intelligent just brasher.

The nature of the conflict is not merely cultural supremacy. It is a crusade, a holy war. This is a moral conflict and I think this fact is often forgotten. The philosophical branch of Ethics in the lynchpin of philosophy and concerns itself with the question of right action. That is, what action will promote flourishing? The answer to that question depends on your concept of Truth as established by Metaphysics and Epistemology and is then enacted through society as Politics.

Take the phrase, “the moral is the rational”. The truth is that every person acts according to their worldview and whatever seems to them to be the rational course of action according to their personal subjective reality. Anyone who chooses a course contrary to your accepted view of reality may seem to you to be irrational, foolish, stupid, and even evil. Why evil? Because if your course of action is moral then any opposing action is deemed immoral. And what do good people do when faced with evil? They rise-up and fight evil by any means necessary. Thus do the righteous justify the most vile, cruel, and appalling behaviour. The Disney villain is a myth. Real life villains think that they are the hero.

This may seem a bit extreme, viewing anyone who disagrees with you as “the evil enemy”. Imagine fighting in the American Civil War for the Union. How far would you get if you said, “Yes, we need to fight to free the slaves, but I think the point concerning state’s rights is a valid one.” At this point your comrades question your dedication and start thinking that perhaps you are a Southern sympathizer at best or a spy at worst. Once you buy into the moral crusade, then it is all or nothing.

This leads to extremism and a blindly followed demonization of the enemy. I remember over-hearing an American girl speaking to some people in a club in Glasgow, Scotland saying, “Do I look like a Republican to you?” It’s an us/them worldview where the enemy are not people but are instead perceived as stereotype manifestations of the enemy ideology.

There is another more insidious creature at work here called the human ego. It clothes itself in righteousness but its main objective is to increase and maintain its innate sense of its own over-estimated self-worth. Any statement contrary to its worldview is felt as a personal attack worthy of the most vitriolic response and escalation ensues spreading hate and fear throughout society. So like the crusades, this holy war also has a more self aggrandising feature as well.

So what is the objective in this crusade? The prize is the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, the culture of our time. This is not simply a conflict of cultures. It is a war to determine the dominant culture and the future.

Two key buzzwords in America over the past few decades have been diversity and tolerance. Diversity is sold as strength and this can be true, but not without Natural Selection. As Charles Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species:

As more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life.

In this passage Darwin is building his argument for Natural Selection where various species are tested against the challenges of reality; those more adapted to reality survive and those ill-equipped perish.

Now suppose we take some doomed, ill-equipped species of animal and put it in a zoo where it is cared for, fed, and bred and eventually flourishes in that protected environment. Does this mean that it is suitable for existence? No, it’s still doomed if ever released into the wild. Without competition, diversity looks like a zoo – or a university.

Once Natural Selection is prevented from working by removing the struggle for existence, then there is no counter to the spread of these nonsensical species. When government takes the role of social architect it creates policies and regulations that preserve nonsensical ideas and they likewise flourish.

Part of this ideological animal preserve is the promotion of tolerance. This is where people are encouraged to tolerate other points of view. The problem with this is that tolerance is not a positive thing. When you tolerate something you are putting-up with it. It’s something you cannot stand, but must be patient and endure. It’s like telling the lion not to eat the gazelle. He may obey, but when he gets hungry enough he will eat it. Tolerance is a temporary measure meant for the short term and not as a way of life. This only leads to pent-up frustrations and eventually extreme behaviour once the damn breaks.

The Culture Wars are a result of a society where various ideologies are protected from the consequences of their actions, so Natural Selection through competition cannot function properly and thus inferior species can thrive unchecked, no specialisation occurs, and no niches are found.

This is compounded by promoting diversity where every ideology is said to have merit in the spirit of cultural relativism. When this is enforced through tolerance and Natural Selection is prevented, then the conflicts take a new form.

I will note that when people use the word tolerance they probably mean acceptance. Tolerance is when you choose not to act against something or someone, but acceptance is where you recognise a difference, but have no problem leaving them to be different. Acceptance is a live and let live attitude.

In our cultural zoo, the only truly dominant ideology is that of the zookeeper. So the various cultures struggle with each other to control the zookeeper, and the way to do that is to procreate your ideology until yours is the dominant species in the park. This is not a struggle against Objective Reality to see which species is fit to survive in reality, but it is a competition -- a competition to gain influence within an artificial context, the zoo.

I’m going to continue with the zoo metaphor for society and the species metaphor for the various cultures in this war. Imagine one group of animals thinks that they should have faux natural habitat pens and another that thinks that we should just have traditional cages because they are cheaper and we do not want the zoo to go bankrupt. Remember that the animals are all in competition, but not for survival. Instead they compete on how the zoo should be run by vying for influence over the zookeeper. This requires a skill set for surviving in the zoo and not the necessary adaptations for surviving in wild, meaning the real world.

There is a third group that wants to scrap the whole zoo idea completely. They prefer a nature preserve. The other animals do not like this one bit, because if all the animals are allowed to run free and interact with each other without restriction and boundaries, then you have reintroduced Natural Selection into the equation and some of these ideologies might not survive.

So the Culture Wars are a crusade fought by building a large enough group recruits for the purpose of controlling government for the purpose of controlling society. The recruiting is done by transmitting the ideology’s narrative (worldview) by controlling the communication of ideas through the media, education, and social outlets. The counter-attack is seen in the form of public resistance to the narrative, usually through pundits, protests, and legal challenges.

The ammunition used is expert opinion. Side A begins with a volley of scientific data, social statistics, and the views of expert economists, then side B responds with its ordinance of the same, but stating the opposite conclusion. Like the battlefields of Valhalla, no harm is actually done as neither side recognizes the legitimacy of the other side’s arguments. What these skirmishes do accomplish is bringing more and more on-lookers into the fray and the battle spills from the media outlets and into the streets where the battles can become very real. I know, because I have fought them.

Now on to the combatants. There are three major ideological blocs in the conflict, the Authoritarian Left, the Authoritarian Right, and the Libertarians. The authoritarians are the two pro-zoo factions and the libertarians are the nature preserve faction.

The bulk of the fighting in the Culture Wars is between the two authoritarian positions. Both reject Natural Selection and instead seek to impose their views on society. For example, one group seeks to legalise gay marriage and the other seeks to ban it. Both are looking for legislation backed by the force of government to impose their moral view onto all of society. Other fronts include Creation vs. Evolution, abortion, Climate Change for and against, degrees of social welfare, and both favour government privileges to certain group, but differ only on which special interest groups to entitle.

Here’s an example of a battle fought in Oregon in the 1990’s. The city of Los Angeles school district found that some students realised/decided that they were gay and committed suicide, so the schools offered an outreach program. This was viewed as promoting homosexuality in schools by some people in Oregon, so they decided that this would never happen here and to pass legislation banning the teaching of homosexuality in public schools.

This action by the extreme Authoritarian Right provoked a response from the extreme Authoritarian Left who demanded that homosexuality must be taught in schools as a viable lifestyle. Until this point, there was never an issue, but it became a very real conflict that divided the people of the state.

The city of Springfield, Oregon had already passed legislation banning gay education in schools. At the time I was promoting a Scottish-American event in the town and wanted a group from the adjoining town of Eugene to participate, but they refused on account that they were boycotting Springfield. The legislation never passed on the state level, but it did pass in the State of Colorado, and many people claimed that they were boycotting the state because of it.

The problem with both the Left and the Right is that by pursuing legislative change they are forced to adopt absolute and final positions backed by government force without any considerations for the diversity desired by the Left or the freedom desired by the Right.

For example, take licensing laws. If someone wants to start a business as a hairdresser, then how do you know if she is qualified and competent to do this? You don’t. So, legislation is passed forcing all would-be hairdressers to get a licence from the government to practice in order to protect the consumer, but who decides if someone is qualified? The obvious answer is other hairdressers. But wait, isn’t there a conflict of interest here? You’ve set-up a situation where a business can crush their competition before they even get started, thus allowing a small cabal to control the entire industry in an area.

On the one hand you desire that people practicing in a profession are competent to protect the consumer. On the other hand, people should be free to start a business without the requirement of getting approval from their competition. The resolution requires an equilibrium that legislation by its nature does not allow for since legislators and regulators cannot conceive every possibility or variable.

This brings us to the third faction in the Culture Wars. The libertarian position is that it should be up the consumer to decide if the hairdresser is competent and not the government. According to Natural Selection in the marketplace the bad hairdressers will fail and the good ones will flourish.

The Authoritarian positions often find this difficult to comprehend. They tend to see people as either Left or Right. A libertarian speaking against war is branded a Leftist combatant by the Right and then when he is against social welfare is branded Right-wing by the Left. As a result, libertarians are often branded crazy because they do not fit the accepted Left/Right dichotomy.

I was watching a program where the villain is just defeated and moans that the world he would have created in his image would have been beautiful. The hero counters, no it would not because you are ugly.

All the blocs, factions, and combatants in the Culture War believe that their vision of the world is the right one and that a world in their image would be utopia, beautiful, fair, just, virtuous, strong, free, or whatever. However, if the people with these visions are themselves ugly, driven by ego, fear, hate, disgust, greed, envy, and venality, then the world that they create will be equally vile.

I have tried to be as unbiased as possible here, but I am biased. I’ve chosen a side in the Culture War. I have fought my battles and fight them still. Regular readers know that I’m on the libertarian side because I believe it to be the most moral side. The danger lies is forgetting that the “enemy” believes the same about their cause.

There is a story I vaguely remember about a war fought between Turkey and Russia where the opposing generals met before the battle and spoke terms in French, the diplomatic language. After the formalities, both generals dropped back into their native Scots accents and one general asked he other, “Who all’s with you from Crief?”

These were the days when war was a gentlemanly affair. The opposition were not moral degenerates, demons, or villains. They were just people who you had to fight. This is what is missing from the Culture Wars. We have lost our civility and our honesty to recognise when our enemy has scored a valid point. Instead we ignore it and keep on shooting. We attack the man and not the ball, so to speak.

We have this situation because objective natural reality is no longer important. It is like the university professor whose research was deemed racists. Amidst the protests and inquiries he asked his colleagues to review his research and find fault. They refused. The truth did not matter so much as the appearances.

Ideologues will not back down even if they are proven wrong. They have too much of themselves invested in the cause. When an enemy will not accept defeat, then the only logical alternative is to utterly crush them. Unfortunately, I fear this is where we find ourselves in the Culture War. I fear we have passed the point of reason and the only recourse may be total war unless we can rediscover a place where truth is more important than winning.