The Trouble with the Culture Wars


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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55 Responses

  1. Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

    This is one of the reasons why the right is wrong about the culture wars.

    They whine about how they would be oppressed by anti-bullying programs mean-while gay/gay seeming teens are being bullied to the point of suicide. Yeah the stakes are real low.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:


      To be fair to Rufus, I said essentially the same thing on the other thread, and he admitted right away that this was a problem in the original essay.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

        @Jason Kuznicki,

        To apologize to Rufus, I didn’t see the other thread until after I had posted.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          @ThatPirateGuy, That’s no problem- the danged thing is apparently breeding like rabbits!

          Anyway, the issue you raise is actually why I was reluctant to post the thing here last night- I knew there was something about it that struck me as offensive and not what I was trying to say, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I’ve noted that it’s really that sentence- it seems to say something I’m not trying to say.

          David Cronenberg likes to say that an artist creates art in order to find out why he created it. Maybe blogging is the same- you express yourself publicly in order to find out what you were saying.Report

    • Avatar cfpete says:

      The right:

      …..with rapper 50 Cent cited as a prime example.
      The controversial star posted a message on Twitter to his 3.3 million followers on Wednesday claiming that anyone over the age of 25 who wasn’t interested in women should kill themselves, adding ‘the world will be a better place. LOL

      If we could only get 50 cent to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh, then everything would be okay with the world.

      I don’t want to be flippant because this is a serious problem, but you are actively engaging in the the “Culture War” in ways that provide no solution to the actual problem. The world is not so simple as “the right hate gays.”

      P.S. Who is complaining about being oppressed by anti-bullying programs. Honest question?Report

  2. Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

    In addition, if the ‘left’ wins the culture war on a legislative level how bad does the right suffer?

    Ignoring abortion solely because i already know that response you don’t need to bring it up.

    Mostly they just have to put up with people they find annoying and don’t get special tax breaks and access to government money for their churches.

    If the right wins, we have no birth control, the recreation of the closet, children taught blatant lies(creationism), the reversal of gains for women. The stopping of key funding for medical research. People who don’t believe in their religion locked out of public office and teaching positions.

    It is a big deal for me. I didn’t start the culture war it was going on long before I was born and every gain my side has made isn’t permanent it could change back in my lifetime. We have to keep moving forward because we are winning and I simply cannot let what used to happen start back.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      @ThatPirateGuy, Yeah, it’s more reactionary than conservative, isn’t it? Maybe the right is simply more radical now and the left is forced to defend the status quo. And that’s certainly a valid goal. I just think that the status quo ain’t that great, so moving the goalposts wouldn’t be so bad.Report

    • Avatar Katherine says:

      There’s a lot of small community churches without a great deal of financial resources; get rid of tax exemptions and some wouldn’t be able to stay afloat. Force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, they close and you destroy a valuable source of medical care. To me those are serious consequences. I agree with the left on most things, but I strongly object to the outright hostility to religion – and especially to Christianity – displayed by many leftists and liberals.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        @Katherine, I agree Katherine that Liberals go overboard on Christians quite frequently. At the same time, however, there are many instances where religious institutions were hooked into state financial support and wish to continue drawing on that support today while still behaving according to their beliefs in ways that hurt some of the very taxpayers that are indirectly supporting them. I’m absolutely 100% behind independant religious services and organizations calling the shots in their operations. But once you start dipping your beak into government money you need to start treating everyone as equally as government does.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        @Katherine, I have a question about revoking tax status of churches:

        Has any other country done this?

        I mean, is this something that has never been done before by any other country?

        Can we say “we need to be more like *THAT* country *THERE*” and point to a country?

        If we can’t, what does that mean?Report

  3. Avatar neff says:

    Huh, here I thought I saw lots of people who live in cities and in rural areas being concerned about culture war issues too. But no, you gotta do the baby boomer thing of referring to everyone as “suburbanites”.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      @neff, That’s a baby boomer thing? I do think people in the suburbs are a lot more animated about these issues than urbanites. This isn’t just my experience, although it has been my experience; I think voting patterns also bear it out.Report

  4. Avatar MFarmer says:

    There’s a fundamental solution t worrying about conservatives legislating morality and liberals regulating our every action — strictly limit government power — amend the loopholes in the Constitution and stop government from over-reaching.Report

  5. Avatar RTod says:

    My issue with he culture wars -from the right and the left – is that for the most part they seem so manufactured, for the sole purpose of creating social divisions that just aren’t there.

    For example, Rufus, you suggest there’s little at stake with who wins out in the great Right v. Left Christmas Wars. But I cry bullshit – because I don’t think that war really exists. Oh, I’m sure you can find cases of people who are indeed “offended” that Christmas trees are at the airport, just like every city has someone who thinks the local music festival is unconstitutional and shows up at city council meetings to vent about it. But the notion that 50% of the country is conspiring to take away Christmas for the other 50% is absurd. And yet I know, that starting in about 45 days, I’m going be reading/hearing/watching pundits claim that this is in fact the case, and then my facebook page is going to get clogged with people posting “Do you think Americans should be allowed to celebrate Christmas? If so, post this page and tell your friends what you think!”

    How is this anything other than total, useless bullshit, for anyone other than pundits needing to fire up the base?Report

    • Avatar Katherine says:

      I agree. I really don’t think most people care at all whether you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” – and frankly, the kind of people who would get mad at anyone for saying either to them are assholes.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      @RTod, No, I think it is total useless bullshit. I just think there could be a culture war about things that matter in our lives. Culture, as such, is where we struggle over those things- the fighting before the real fighting begins. I’d rather the struggle wasn’t left only to those who are stumping for useless bullshit, while the rest of us hope only to be left alone.Report

  6. Avatar Katherine says:

    Of course plenty of liberals like the culture wars. It gives them someone to demagogue about and look down on. Christians are to them what minorities and gays are to the right.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:


      Christians are to them what minorities and gays are to the right.

      I, for one, fully support the right of Christians to call their domestic partnerships “marriages”. I even support the right of Christians to build a cultural center near Ground Zero in Oklahoma City.Report

  7. Avatar nadezhda says:

    Advance apologies for the length of this comment. But I’m genuinely puzzled by this post by Rufus on a number of levels. For starters, I find the basic assumption doesn’t match my own lived experience.

    Rufus wrote: The mythos about the sixties culture wars is that they resulted inevitably from the conformist fifties culture, and yet it’s hard to see Eisenhower’s America as any more conformist than Obama’s. It’s hard to imagine that the generation that embraced television was somehow more stultified or less inspired than that which embraced the Internet.

    As a female who was a child of the 50s in the Heart-of-America (TM), I can assure you that, by comparison with Eisenhower’s America, Obama’s America is in a different universe when it comes to conformity. That’s not to say that today’s Americans, who may pride themselves on their non-conformity, may not actually be super-conformists to the fashions and mores of their preferred sub-cultures. But the sheer number of lifestyles and sub-cultures available to both (all?) sexes and all age, racial, ethnic and religious groups to pick-and-choose from, and adopt with mix-and-match ecleticism, would have been both astonishing and, perhaps more important, terrifying to a large portion of American adults in the 1950s.

    Rufus continues: As then, the truly important questions are inappropriate for mixed company. To each his own “lifestyle”.

    But that’s the point about the Culture Wars. It wasn’t like that, “as then,” in a mythical Golden Age. The reason why politics, religion and sex weren’t appropriate topics for “mixed company” [please note btw the imposition of gender-conformity in the very term “mixed company”] wasn’t that the topics might produce disagreement that exposed fissures in the cultural consensus or body politic. It’s that the subjects might produce some social embarassment, threaten surface social conformity.

    For the Right, it’s definitely not and never was “to each his own ‘lifestyle’.” In the Golden Age of the 50s, choosing a personal “lifestyle” wasn’t an option on the menu except for insignificantly small and ostentatiously different groups. “Beatniks” or bohemians or jazzmen might have out-sized influence in fields like literature or performing arts, but their influence derived, in part, from their very status as outsiders or aliens.

    The initial politico-cultural explosions in the 60s were from groups who had been forced to be invisible as real, distinctive human beings to the community at large, most notably African-Americans and women. The other more generation-based explosion was from a sizeable portion of us damned boomers who asked why in the world we should trust the same “very serious competent adults” who had gotten the US into a bunch of messes (not exclusively Vietnam) to get us out of those messes. What these disparate and sometimes overlapping groups had in common was being tired of being “stultifed”. So they got “inspired” in various ways to do something about it. To assert themselves. To insist that they weren’t invisible and had aspirations and talents and, yes, moral responsibility every bit as valuable as the dominant culture’s.

    It was in response to those self-assertive manifestations by the marginalized and invisible that the US saw the hyper-politicization of the Culture Wars, which seems to get reinvigorated and further radicalized on the Right as the mythical Golden Age recedes further and further into the mists of (mis)memory. In a decade of assassinations, riots, an unpopular and bloody quagmire of a war, successful challenges to entrenched political elites, major economic dislocations, and a sexual revolution, the GOP exploited the economic fears, military embarassments, cultural anxieties, and ressentiment of the culturally conservative and the less-well-off of the nationalistic white majority by explicitly defining those who didn’t go along with the dominant culture as unAmerican — first with Agnew’s Silent Majority and then Nixon’s Southern Strategy, which was further legitimized and validated by Saint Ronaldus Magnus.

    For most of my professional life I’ve been a pretty button-downed corporate lawyer and banker-type with a non-confrontational lifestyle. My political, economic and foreign policy preferences would probably put me somewhere on the moderate center-right of any European political system. My closest relatives, who share many of my opinions, have made military careers which I honor and respect. Yet, thanks to the Culture Wars, for my entire adult life, my opinions and choices have, in the eyes of the American Right, made me a Dirty F**ing Hippie. An enemy of the people. UnAmerican.

    And believe you me, no matter how idiotic and tedious ideological fantasies like the War on Christmas and Liberal Fascism and Feminazis and “the blame America first crowd” may be, it’s psychologically wearing to be on the receiving end of all that non-stop hate-mongering. The Culture Warriors have been “catapulting the propaganda” for more than four decades.Their agitprop has finally so intimidated the so-called “liberal media” that the MSM has turned into the Movement’s favored distribution channel (see,”enhanced interrogations”, GWOT, Ground Zero Mosque, Breibart/O’Keefe). And the “respectable” leaders of the GOP deliberately, and with malice aforethought, egg on the insanity by sending out a non-stop stream of dog-whistles heard clearly only by the Culture Warriors and their targets — a technique, btw, of which Reagan was a master. The only difference since Obama was elected is that the GOP “leaders” are now so obsessed with regaining power, and their “base” has gone so bonkers, that they don’t have the decency to bother with dogwhistles.

    So Ross Douhat should be just a tad more understanding as to why the Performance Artist Known As Christine O’Donnell has been embraced with such glee by so many of her would-be targets.

    Rufus acknowledged to @ThatPirateGuy that: Yeah, it’s more reactionary than conservative, isn’t it? Maybe the right is simply more radical now and the left is forced to defend the status quo.

    As trite as it sounds today, the Beatles and Martin Luther King and Woodstock Nation won, on the ground, not just in legal ways, but through countless changes in cultural expectations and behavior. And the Right has been fighting an increasingly hysterical rear-guard action, becoming increasingly reactionary as there’s less and less of the (mythical) Golden Age left to conserve.

    I strongly agree with ThatPirateGuy that the status quo needs and deserves ongoing defense from the Culture Warriors. The “status quo” sounds so lame. But it is in so many positive ways different from the pre-Culture Wars era.

    There’s always some bad that comes with the good, and we’ve been doing a lot of “digesting” those enormous changes — coming to terms with, and adjusting our expectations and behavior to those more-positive-than-not cultural earthquakes. But the achievements that the status quo represents deserve our virgorous defense. And we need to keep moving forward so that we include as recognized and valued members of our community more of those who are still excluded — the folks, like our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, whose humanity the Culture Warriors want to deny and who, they insist, must remain invisible if the excluded want to avoid being shunned and persecuted.

    I have what I believe are modest goals when it comes to defending the status quo against the Culture Warriors. I don’t care what church they do or don’t go to, whether they believe the tenets of their religion, or whether their behavior comports with those tenets. I don’t care whether they think it’s important to say Merry Christmas or say grace at meals. But nor do I think certain religious beliefs or behavior should be a political test, or that anyone should be persecuted or socially shunned for not wanting to “get with the program”.

    I don’t care whether their daughters get knocked up when they don’t know about or use contraception, although I do believe the same daughters should have a legally available choice as to whether to bear a child. I certainly don’t care whether their kids take chastity vows that include masturbation on the verboten list. But I also don’t believe information about reproduction and health should be denied to those who don’t share the Culture Warriors’ belief systems. Nor should they be permitted to impose their notions of sexuality (moral and cultural) on others (especially not with taxpayer dollars). I don’t care what they think personally about IVF, but I do believe it should be an available reproductive method, and that embryos which (like a large portion of those implanted naturally in wombs) are going to be rejected at an early stage should be made available for scientific research which could eventually improve the length and quality of life of millions of people for centuries to come. I don’t care if they personally reject divorce as a mortal sin, but I also believe that more flexible divorce laws have made countless parents and children healthier and happier and more secure and have reduced the incidence of domestic violence.

    I don’t care whether their sons get stoned on alcohol or drugs, although I do believe that if we continue to pursue the insanity known as the War on Drugs that there shouldn’t be one set of punishments for “good kids” from the suburbs and another for kids from the inner cities. I don’t care whether they insist on teaching their kids at home, though I do think that there are such things as facts about history that should be relatively immune from theological dispute about their facticity (if not their meaning), and that there are certain things that all kids should be required to be at least exposed to in good faith, like the scientific method, and creationism or “intelligent design” doesn’t count. I don’t care if they stuff their faces with processed junk food or they eat only home-grown fruits and vegetables, but I do care that the enormous taxpayer-financed subsidies we pour into our agro-industrial system make healthy eating much more expensive than consuming the foods that are contributing to an apparent epidemic of obesity.

    In fact, I truly don’t care whether in their heart-of-hearts they love all God’s children or whether they are scared of young black men, resent uppity working women, guard their houses against invading Mexican assassins, think the government’s going to confiscate their guns, are convinced that the Muslims are about to impose Sharia, or find the very thought of gay men disgusting. Just as long as they don’t engage in violent, discriminatory or abusive practices (and I’m not talking “hate crimes” legislation which I find more pernicious than not).

    I encourage the Culture Warriors to openly and proudly express their beliefs and prejudices on their favorite cable channels. And I don’t think they’re unAmerican for doing so, though I would obviously prefer they not confuse their beliefs, prejudices and fantasies with facts. But they should have the simple grace to recognize that I and my ilk are also Real Americans, and it’s just as legitimate for our side to win elections and exercise political power as for their side. That’s why we call it a free country, after all.

    In short, I freely admit I’m biased against Culture Warriors and hope their influence in the public sphere will lessen over time as our society more fully accommodates itself to the huge cultural changes it’s experienced over the past 50 years. I also admit that my defense of the status quo would leave them in a society that has features that make them extremely uncomfortable if not out-and-out fearful. But you know what? They have for decades made, and continue to make me extremely uncomfortable. But I’m not trying to interfere with or delegitimize the exercise of any lawfully acquired political authority by their preferred candidates. Nor do I have any desire to outlaw or demonize their private behavior. Unlike them, I don’t have a political agenda that would impose my cultural preferences on their personal lives or deny them the opporutnities to flourish personally according to their own values and standards. So all I require is that their own prejudices not be used to justify limiting the political and economic opportunities of people in groups they find anxiety-producing or foreclosing lifestyle choices of which they don’t approve.

    Rufus continued: And [defending the status quo] is certainly a valid goal. I just think that the status quo ain’t that great, so moving the goalposts wouldn’t be so bad.

    Here’s where I am well-and-truly lost. “Moving the goalposts” to where? In what direction? For what end? To épater la bourgeoisie? Why?

    I want to defend and make more inclusive the bourgeoisie, in part because I’ve seen up-close societies around the world where bourgeois virtues aren’t embraced. The bourgeoisie and their virtues are under assault from multiple sources on the Right. Culture Warrior ressentiment, and know-nothingism, and smug self-righteousness aren’t bourgeois virtues. But neither are the values of the Masters of the Universe whose arrogance almost blew up the global economy and has produced untolled misery for not only the poor but the bourgeoisie. Nor are the values of the narcissistic Randians, who disdain anything so déclassé as the bourgeoisie. Nor are the values of a Supreme Court that thinks that corporations have “human rights” that trump the interests of citizens in the communal health of their representative bourgeois democracy.

    That’s what’s so ironic about the Culture Warrior non-stop assault on the DFHs. For the great majority of us — even the bloody post-modernists and post-structuralists and post-Marxists and post-colonialists and post-whatevers who are banished to the part of the political spectrum misnamed “the Far Left” — it’s actually those old bourgeois virtues that are quietly (and often unconsciously) embraced. Because as Adam Smith pointed out in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, it’s those virtues that make it possible to rub along together in an uncertain, complex, disagreeable and competitive world, with a modicum of civility, integrity, mutual respect, cooperation and justice. I just want to make the opportunities to participate in such a public sphere available to more of our fellow citizens in ways that allow them to flourish. That’s, in case you haven’t noticed, precisely the core of the case in favor of gay marriage. And that seems to scare the living beejezus out of the Right’s Culture Warriors.

    Sorry to produce such a monstrously long rant. But I’m really taken aback by Rufus’ strange note of apparent nostalgia, though nostalgia for what I’m unclear. And I’m wondering what I’m missing, or whether there’s an age-gender-culture gap here of which I’m totally ignorant. Our current “post-whatevers” era is, I agree, singularly uninspiring in terms of a new project to remake the world, whereas the past few years have certainly shown our system of globalized sort-of-liberal sort-of-capitalism to have some severe flaws and our elites to have feet of clay. In lieu of a new world-making project, defending the bourgeois virtues may not seem as romantic or “inspirational” as manning the barricades in an “authentic” high-stakes culture war. But it seems to me it’s where the real work remains to be done and where I think the goalposts belong.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      @nadezhda, I think this is a pretty fucking great comment, in spite of the length. I will respond at length tomorrow, but it’s 1:00 am here and I’m zonked. The only nit I have to pick is that nobody my age (36) uses the term “mixed company” without irony, and I wasn’t either. It’s one of those terms like saying someone is “top drawer” that requires your tongue to be firmly in your cheek.Report

      • Avatar nadezhda says:

        @Rufus F., for some reason the initial response I left some hours ago has been caught in the “awaiting moderation” trap. So I’ll try reposting it.
        I wrote:
        @Rufus F. and @North, Thanks for the kind remarks, and happy to have you post [my long comment]. btw, Rufus, on the “mixed company.” I didn’t intend to imply you weren’t using it tongue-in-cheek. Rather, I was pointing to its original usage, which was super-gender-conformity-laden, not just in content, but it’s usage itself sent a strong gender-conformity message. Truly, folks born after, say, 1970 can’t fully understand on how many levels of mentalités “women’s lib” has had an impact. So my remark was meant to illustrate my assertion that the amount of positive cultural change which has happened over the past half-century is far more than you appeared to appreciate. And that, accordingly, today’s status quo actually merits a strong defense.
        And now, after several hours of comments on my comment in this thread, you may decide not to bother to move the discussion to the front page. Your call either way.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          @nadezhda, I did move it to the front page, where it seems to be thriving! About “mixed company”- I realized after a good night’s sleep that I’d totally misread that sentence! I see what you meant now.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      @nadezhda, Wow, this is good stuff, maybe this qualifies as a guest post?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        @North, I’m thinking the same thing. It’s been proposed that I handle the guest posts, so nadezhda, if you’d be okay with it, I think it would be a good idea to put this up as a guest post.Report

        • Avatar nadezhda says:

          @Rufus F. and @North, Thanks for the kind remarks, and happy to have you post it.

          btw, Rufus, on the “mixed company.” I didn’t intend to imply you weren’t using it tongue-in-cheek. Rather, I was pointing to its original usage, which was super-gender-conformity-laden, not just in content, but it’s usage itself sent a strong gender-conformity message. Truly, folks born after, say, 1970 can’t fully understand on how many levels of mentalités “women’s lib” has had an impact. So my remark was meant to illustrate my assertion that the amount of positive cultural change which has happened over the past half-century is far more than you appeared to appreciate. And that, accordingly, today’s status quo actually merits a strong defense.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:


      Wow. You are killing me softly with your comment.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      @nadezhda, great post.

      This “Unlike them, I don’t have a political agenda that would impose my cultural preferences on their personal lives or deny them the opportunities to flourish personally according to their own values and standards. ” is a bit off. If you listen to enough CW’s then it is clear for many of them that they don’t see coexistence as truly possible. They need to be in charge and have the world their way. So us DFH’s are at a root level imposing ourselves on them by not living as they wish. The War on Xmas has to be one of the most dumb-as-a-bag-full-of-hammers things i’ve ever heard of, but people buy into it. It is clearly about making other people behave as the CW’s want because they are CORRECT. When people say “they want their country back” that means more then tax rates and spending.Report

      • Avatar nadezhda says:

        @greginak, Agreed. Much of the problem (for and from) the Right comes down to “my way or the highway”, or “My country right or wrong, love it or leave it”. And of course, the millions of Americans who don’t agree with them aren’t going anywhere. So they’re stuck with trying to de-legitimate as alien everyone who doesn’t agree.

        Which is why I noted: I also admit that my defense of the status quo would leave them in a society that has features that make them extremely uncomfortable if not out-and-out fearful.

        But then, as I also noted, they make me quite uncomfortable when they threaten to outlaw the personal choices of others who don’t think like them. And they’d be much more unhappy than they are now if I took a page out of their playbooks and tried to legislate their private lives and outlaw their cultural preferences, not just the rules for how we are expected to treat each other in public.

        It’s the age old problem of can you have a system of liberty that tolerates the intolerant. Can you have a system that relies on free competition for political power when one side views the other as completely illegitimate. People who, when they lose an election, think they have to take “their” country back from a majority of their fellow citizens.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          @nadezhda, “love it or leave it” is one of those arguments used by “both” sides of left and right.

          Do a search on “Somalia” and you can see the “left”‘s version of “love it or leave it”.

          That’s a post that got a lot of blogospheric play recently.

          “Love it or leave it” is the argument used by people with political power against people who do not want that power used against them. Ain’t no left or right about it.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          @nadezhda, Okay, I think all the confusion here stems from the conflation of political goals and cultural goals that originates in my post.

          You talk about right wing efforts to use political power to outlaw or delegitimize personal choices that they don’t agree with, and I agree that such efforts are worth fighting. Actually, I think many of the conservatives who comment here would agree as well.

          The problem I have is that, even in the absence of all such political programs, the right still has a very distinct cultural program, which is much the same. Certain segments of the right hold up as singularly legitimate one “superior” way of life and cast all others as alien, corrupt, or illegitimate. In the post I wrote: “Culture provides us a rough guide to how to live a meaningful life, and most of us will find that, in spite of our free will, numerous existential (possibilities) strike us either as realistic or off-limits due more to culture than our intrinsic nature.”

          But the left wing response, as far as I can tell, is to argue that all lifestyle choices should be seen as equally legitimate. Which, culturally, amounts to opting out of the discussion of which choices would be better than others. It’s left up to the individual, whose guides are a cultural left that is ultimately indifferent to the choices they make to shape their lives; and a right that has a very clear idea of what choices are valid and worth making.

          So it’s not surprising that most people approximate the behaviors, mores, values, virtues, and lifestyles of the dominant culture, and it’s worth noting how closely tied acceptance of outgroups is to their approximation of that lifestyle. American culture is, despite all of the options now available, still very homogeneous. The options won by the Boomers are still there, but those options called superior by the other 50% have an aura of “seriousness” and “realism” to them that, even in the absence of legislation, makes them seem an obvious choice to most people, and renders other options subcultural. A consensus reality forms in the absence of any real opposition to it.

          But what do you do if you still find the bourgeois status quo life to be stultifying and unhappy? The left offers a full menu of options, but makes no claims as to their relative merits, and the right supposedly says “my way or the highway”. In my experience, most people my age simply choose that dominant “American way of life” and blame themselves when they’re unhappy in it. As I understand it, the left once (for about 200 years) offered a cultural critique of bourgeois life, along with the proposal that alternative ways of living could be better- more worthwhile and personally enriching. Was that project abandoned because it was thought to be too coercive?Report

          • Avatar nadezhda says:

            @Rufus F., yes, as I was reading one of your later replies to Jaybird, I came to the same conclusion about what I termed your apparent “nostalgia”, which I didn’t understand. I see now that we’re talking about somewhat different things.

            My focus was definitely on the “political” dimensions of the Culture Wars, where I think defending the status quo is definitely fighting the good fight. And, to the extent that purely “cultural” attacks like the War on Christmas are part of the delegitimation of their enemies by the Culture Warriors, those aspects of the Culture Wars are pure agitprop cultural politics that need to be countered even though they’re total BS.

            On the more fundamental issues you raise, let me give a bit more thought about the apparent exhaustion of the old “new Left” critique of the bourgeoisie in the “meaning of life” department before I respond further. I think there’s probably a bit of the “too coercive” element you mention. But maybe also a recognition that remaking-the-world projects can be pretty disappointing as the “source of meaning”. That cultivating one’s own jardin is actually pretty important and challenging work.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      @nadezhda, I love this comment… but I have a question.

      In the whole process of pointing out what we have and have not accomplished and how much more we still have to do, are there any countries you could point me to and say “we need to be more like them”?

      I ask because if it is the case that there aren’t any others, I wonder if there are reasons that there haven’t been.

      Now, in this particular case, I tend to agree with you 100% on the importance of Liberty for both the individual and for society and the importance of teaching such to everybody.

      I just get somewhat hesitant when folks call for things that, I suspect, haven’t been accomplished by any society thus far (or that the ones that have done so also have things that we don’t tolerate in our own country… e.g., language laws, restrictions on free speech, etc).

      I mean, Liberty carries a huge number of contradictions but this is the largest one with which I struggle: If you aren’t free to be wrong, you aren’t free.

      And I don’t know how to deal with culture while keeping that in mind.

      I mean, it strikes me as obviously wrong for us to colonize other cultures, right? India, Afghanistan, Iraq… To what degree is it also wrong for us to try to change the culture of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan?

      Know what I mean?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        @Jaybird, Right, but she says that everyone should be free to be wrong in the middle section of the comment. There’s a whole section about the choices that she would not make herself, but which she feels people should be free to make, so long as they don’t force any behaviors, mores, values or lifestyle choices on the rest of us. I think it was a fairly clear-cut defense of individual liberty.

        And, that’s sort of my issue. It seems to me that what the left wants is for a myriad of different lifestyle choices to be accepted as equally valid- let the individual decide what’s right for them. And I do agree with that.

        But the right actually has a vision of what choices make for the best life, which they put forth in the public square. They have a vision of a life worth living. The left might as well, but as far as I can tell, what they put forth in the public square is a menu of multiple options with no claims made about what on the menu is worth ordering- while, the right says to order the steak and potatoes.

        The result is that there is a dominant way of life that is bestowed an aura of “seriousness” and “naturalness”- there’s a consensus reality that forms, which is incidentally not much different than it was before- the bourgeois, status quo life is an aspiration we should all peruse- even if we’re minorities!- and anything beyond that is sub-cultural or eccentric. She discusses how that lifestyle has been made accessible to a wider swath of the population and how it’s worth defending those status quo bourgeois virtues so that we don’t return to a past that was miserable for a lot of people.

        But, what if you still find that bourgeois, status quo, button down lifestyle unfulfilling, stifling, and not worth living? Should you become a cultural conservative and be nostalgic for an age that never existed because at least it’s an alternative? I mean, the left actually had, for about 200 years, a cultural critique of precisely that life and alternative visions of how to live one’s life that they put forth in opposition to that dominant culture. Right? We’ve all heard the critique of middle class life: it’s creatively, sexually, spiritually, and intellectually stifling and stultifying, wearying, empty, unfulfilling, full of pointless game playing, and largely devoid of meaning. So, when they espoused free love, communal living, and the rest, it wasn’t just that those things should be options-no-better-than-the-rest: it was that they were preferable options to those offered by the “establishment”. They actually made claims about how best to live one’s life and offered a compelling vision of that.

        Now, as far as I can tell, if you’re not happy with the way of life that most Americans aspire to, liberals can’t help you. Save it for Burning Man. You’re asked to defend that status quo because, after all, what the “other side” wants, or what used to be the norm, is so much worse. Defend the establishment because, at least, it’s increasingly possible for gays, women, and African-Americans to achieve that way of life.

        But, here’s the thing- I’m quickly approaching middle age and pretty much every one of my friends works about 12 hours a day at jobs that aren’t very fulfilling- grateful just to have jobs- for entirely too little money attempting to buy into that lifestyle that is held up as most worthwhile. They’re all stressed out, vaguely dissatisfied, and somewhat “dysfunctional”. They’re tired, guilt-ridden about the wars and environmental destruction, and feel no love for a culture that they find vapid, meaningless, and empty. And they’re facing the serious messes made by Ivy League assholes twenty years older than us. All of the critiques of the dominant way of life are still there. These are criticisms that the left used to make, as opposed to reminding us that things used to be much worse.

        I’m nostalgic for the “new left’s” willingness to debate the questions of how to best live one’s life- which is what culture is for- and to offer alternative visions of a meaningful life in direct opposition to the dominant culture, even if it was just because they didn’t want to live like their parents. (Besides, given how screwed the economy is, living like your parents probably isn’t an option anymore- these questions are now reopened!) People criticize the “narcissism” of the 60s and 70s, the emphasis on personal fulfillment and finding one’s “true self”. But isn’t that a worthwhile goal? Isn’t it worth saying something more than, “Hey, it’s up to you! I’m not going to force any cultural preferences on you; nor am I going to share them with you!” Conformity doesn’t just result from legislation- it results when the big questions of life are seen as being already answered and inappropriate to discuss: as far as I can tell, the right sees them as answered and the left no longer discusses them.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          @Rufus F., I am wondering how she deals with that tension, though. I didn’t see how she addressed the part of that that is creation of insular communities (“So all I require is that their own prejudices not be used to justify limiting the political and economic opportunities of people in groups they find anxiety-producing or foreclosing lifestyle choices of which they don’t approve” doesn’t do that… given my experiences with these groups, anyway). I’ll compare to housing covenants. I, personally, would never never never ever join one of those. I call them “housing nazis” to those of my friends who are unfortunate to have joined one. (No flag flying, no air conditioning units in the front of the house, no satellite dishes, no weeds, well-watered Kentucky Bluegrass despite being in the high-plains during a drought, never have your garage door open for longer than it takes to enter or exit, so on and so forth)

          The friends who defend such things say “but it keeps housing values high” and “if you don’t want to be in a covenant, don’t sign the contract”.

          Which is, of course, right.

          And yet it strikes me as no way to live… if not an out-and-out transparently bureaucratic way to ensure a particular, shall we say, ethnic mix of the neighborhood.

          What if people use their Liberty incorrectly?

          (And that’s without even getting into the whole “Nor are the values of a Supreme Court that thinks that corporations have “human rights” that trump the interests of citizens in the communal health of their representative bourgeois democracy.” sentence that contains a multitude of assumptions that I do not share and certainly do not want a government strong enough to regulate the speech of corporations and am exceptionally frustrated at the culture warriors who daydream about a government good and enlightened enough to be above regulatory capture.)Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            @Jaybird, I think we sort of discussed this back in the authority v. power thread. Certainly I think that people should be free to use their Liberty incorrectly. But, when they do, you tell them. You state your opinion. And, if they disagree, you argue with them. Maybe you find out that your choices are incorrect. This is how we collectively negotiate what it means to create a life worth living. But it means asserting that you think some choices are superior and others are bullshit, even if that sounds “judgmental”.

            Instead, I often hear the left do exactly what you’re talking about- say that they want people to be free to make choices that they, personally, wouldn’t make, without any sort of interference whatsoever. I might personally think that eating nothing but junk food until you get fat and sick is a bullshit lifestyle choice, but I don’t want to interfere with your right to do so, either through legislation or by cultural pressure- but the two are not the same thing!

            And I think this timidity to weigh in on such questions comes from just how power and cultural authority have been conflated. When someone on the left says that eating that way is a bullshit choice, immediately someone on the right says “You just want to pass a law and tell us all what to do!” So, I think, people on the left have learned to express their opinions on such matters only to whatever insular subcultural box they feel most comfortable living in. If you want to live that way, not only will I not seek to pass legislation (or whatever’s most “statist”)- I won’t even tell you that I think you’re using your Liberty incorrectly or make claims about what sort of life would be most worth living. That’s your business. In fact, I’ll remain totally indifferent to the bullshit choices that you’re making, even if your life is hardly worth living as a result. To each his own.

            But, again, the right is willing to make these claims- that some, actually a lot of lifestyle choices we could make are incorrect, perverse, destructive and will, ultimately, turn your life into the end of a Jack Chick comic. Now a lot of them don’t want to legislate behavior either, but they are willing to defend one particular way of life in opposition to the others in the cultural sphere. The left, in contrast, comes off as more indifferent than liberal.

            And so, if you’re say young and confused about how to build your life, the right is willing to tell you what choices would be incorrect and the left is indifferent about what choices you make, so long as they’re all available. Which is fine if people instinctively make the best possible choices for themselves. If not, having figures with cultural authority offering a vision of a good life that can serve as a guide is not such a terrible thing. The right has such figures and visions; and the left once did, but no longer does.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              @Rufus F., well, when we get into discussions of the social fabric and the importance of a social safety net, things sort of morph.

              (I’m sure I’ve said before) I believe that the War on Drugs is a direct outcome of Johnson’s War on Poverty. If you’re living your life and I’m living mine, who gives a crap if you light a jay on the weekend?

              However, all of a sudden, I’m responsible for putting food in your belly and subsidizing your housing?

              Piss in this jar. If it ain’t cloudy, you can have the benefits of the net.

              (I also suspect that Obamacare will turn into more, not fewer, food regulations with regards to obesity, diabetes, and whatnot. It’s one thing if you want to eat poorly… it’s quite another if I’m expected to pay for your insulin.)

              By strengthening the bonds between everybody by force of law, we will necessarily see increased social tinkering that most folks will support.

              The more we are responsible for each other, the less liberty we will want each other to have.Report

  8. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    @Rufus F., Nad, I agree that you are a lost, confused, and f*cked up (probably) dope smokin’ hippie freak. Which means I’m going to have to put up with your confused rants, and left-wing, commie-dem bs here at the LOOG, with all the rest of the confused, dope smokin’ hippie freaks…oh, well!
    I haven’t heard this much whining since Imam Barry (smoke ’em if you got ’em) couldn’t fill up his latest scheduled appearances.
    BTW, Ronaldo Magnus was a ‘moderate’ not a conservative.Report

  9. Avatar JosephFM says:

    I’m shocked that in neither post did anyone mention AIDS, the single biggest driver of sexual conservatism among my generation.Report

    • Avatar Rufus says:

      @JosephFM, It really just didn’t occur to me. It could be because I fall under generation X, or maybe just that I always ran with a fairly slutty crowd, frankly. What sort of conservatism do you mean? I just thought people your age always use condoms now, which I think speaks more to your common intelligence than your conservatism.Report

      • Avatar JosephFM says:

        Really? I would think Gen X had it worse in that regard, actually…you were coming of age when it wasn’t even treatable. And I’d always assumed that the push for gay monogamy represented by gay marriage – the emotional core of Andrew’s argument for it – was based on the disease that nearly killed him (and eventually probably will).

        But I also grew up being taught that sex would kill me, in abstinence-only programs, and I suspect for every sexually adventurous person like me or you, there’s two like my girlfriend who never had sex until her twenties. To say nothing of the bullying mentioned elsewhere.

        Then again, I’ve been fully monogamous myself for three years, so I may in fact be out of touch with my cohort’s sexual habits.Report

        • Avatar Rufus says:

          @JosephFM, I’m probably just out of touch with your generation’s sexual behavior- probably a good policy for an aspiring college instructor! For my generation (man, do I feel old writing that), there was HIV hysteria to be sure, but there was still the belief that only gays got HIV and nobody was out in our local community. I also don’t think we had any sex ed at all, although maybe I’m remembering wrong. But, again, all of my friends were pretty slutty and weird, so I wasn’t really tuned in to sexual mores.

          It seems strange to me that young people would still be particularly conservative sexually. Certainly we all know pretty well how to avoid STDs by now, and I get the feeling that homophobia is diminishing. Besides, when I see long-time survivors like Sullivan, it’s hard not to wonder if HIV isn’t becoming more of a chronic illness than a terminal one.

          On the other hand, I think you’re probably right. I went to university about a decade late and most of my friends there were pretty chaste. I just figured it was because we were at a nerdy school.Report

          • Avatar JosephFM says:

            Actually, conservatism may have been overstating it, though, I really just meant non-radicalism, which seemed to be what you were decrying. (And to be fair there are definitely some subcultures where being “heteroflexible” is the norm…)

            I but also meant that I thought that the AIDS panic did a lot to end that sort of cultural radicalism among your generation (and the late Boomers), at least as one factor out of many.Report