Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Culture What?

One of the strangest things about being an Englishman in America is understanding the so-called "Culture War". It's not the "culture" part that throws me, it's the "war" part. Now I know that American politicians like to throw the "war" word around lightly -- cynics might allege that you can hide a multitude of sins when there's a war on -- but at least the war on terror and the war on drugs involve actual violence and real harm.

My issue with the Culture War is this: in order to have a war, you need to have two sides fighting. Each must be determined to the death to impose its goal on the other. The Culture War doesn't: it has one side fighting, and one side that just wants to be left in peace.

One side -- for the sake of argument let's call them, oh, Conservatives -- disapproves of other people's choices of lifestyle: how they dress, who they date, what movies they want to watch or games they want to play, what opinions they express, how they have sex... In fact, they disapprove of some of these things so strongly that they want to make them illegal or even unconstitutional.

The other side -- let's call them Liberals -- doesn't. It doesn't mind if conservatives wear suits and ties and skirts and stockings (even the men...), but it would like kids who wear baggy pants to be left in peace. It doesn't mind if conservatives watch "The Passion of the Christ" but would like the same freedom to watch "The Last Temptation". It doesn't disapprove of men and women marrying, but it would like men and men or women and women to be allowed to marry too. It doesn't want to deny Conservatives the right to live as they see fit, it just asks for the same freedom for itself. And when it does want to change the law or constitution, it wants to do so to permit things, not forbid things.

(Ronald Reagan is supposed to have once said in reply to Gorbachev's claim that the USSR, just like America, was governed by a constitution: "The difference is, your constitution tells the people what they can do. Our constitution tells the government what it can do." Hmm, to my surprise I find myself wishing that Conservatives paid more attention to what their great hero actually said...)

However, for Conservatives to make a "war" out of this, they can't acknowledge the asymmetry. They have to claim that the other side also wants to impose its values on them. That fundamental deceit is the only way that the leaders of the Culture War can maintain the War Fever necessary to motivate their followers. It's the kind of logical contortion that, for example, leads people to advocate laws and constitutional amendment that forbid some people from getting married, and then label those laws "Defense of Marriage".

What then should we call such a situation, if it isn't a war? Historical examples suggest we could call it the Culture Repression, the Culture Opression, or the Culture Intolerance.

But where my people come from, we know what to call it when other people are unwilling to let you live harmlessly in peace according to your own beliefs and standards, want to discriminate against you, make up lies about you wanting to pervert their traditional and sacred way of life, and are willing to go to extreme lengths to impose their own beliefs and standards on you.

We call it a pogrom.

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