site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of August 14, 2023

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

The other side is going to look for a way to escalate until they find one, and then they're going to use it, likely without mercy. Why wouldn't they?

The biggest reason I can see for why they wouldn't do it is that they have already gone even further. How many red states are launching spurious prosecutions of Joe Biden to waste his time and money before the campaign period even starts? I don't think you're wrong per se, but I do think that you're warning about something that has already happened and has been happening for several years.

I don't think you're wrong per se, but I do think that you're warning about something that has already happened and has been happening for several years.

I'm aware of that. I've been saying exactly the above for several years as well. I'm on the record as of years ago that peaceful coexistence isn't possible, that there is no "we" anymore and that the absolute best thing Reds and Blues can do for each other is to move away from each other and each pretend the other doesn't exist.

I wrote the above because it's factual advice that other Reds need to hear, and because maybe when it's framed in terms of a Red advance, Blues will be able to understand that it is a general argument, not a partisan one. A lot of people on both sides act as though the cycle we're in can be won in some sort of clean, survivable fashion, where the right election is secured or the right indictment is conducted or the right person is put in jail. They act as though the Culture War can be resolved through some sort of formal, duly-appointed process that wraps up all the resentments and settles all the accounts. They act as though "ways to hurt the outgroup without getting in too much trouble" is a small, highly constrained set mainly involving saying mean things on twitter.

None of this is an argument for restraint in this instance. Unilateral disarmament is idiotic. So is blindness to the true nature of our conflicts.

Hmm, I don't think that.

I think the cycle gets broken when both sides decide the cycle of violence is just so damn tiresome maybe we should stop, and go back to the messy, sustainable-for-who-knows-how-long? detente that keeps hostile groups from engaging in constant all-out warfare all over the world.

Obviously this fails more often than not. Israel and Palestine, Ireland, the Balkans, all briefly break into peace between periods of all-out-warfare. If you're right, we're coming to the end of one of the longer briefly peaceful periods.

I hope you're wrong, but anyway, I don't have that many more years left. Sucks if you have kids though, I guess.

detente that keeps hostile groups from engaging in constant all-out warfare all over the world.

Here's my take on that: I believe the detente worked in the US when a very shared concept of Christianity was ubiquitous in the first order cultural and institutional hegemony yet a very broad liberalist defection was not just tolerated, but treated as respectable through it's explicit allowance in the Bill of Rights. Eg 60s-2012ish.

During this time, take the 90s, it's was often the case likely that one was surrounded by irreligious liberal indulgence that was tacitly approved in social circles, yet that was socially boxed within a very visible sense of propriety that was more-or-less Christian. I think for example, Seinfeld demonstrates this well equilibrium. A bunch of non-Christian New Yorkers were able to live openly and happily, but a lot of the social-boundaries and humor found by nudging them was in the traditionalist propriety frame (see e.g. The Contest).

The problem is that this was always unsustainable because the liberalism continued to gnaw through the hegemony as if it was it's cage, not it's scaffolding.

There's two possibilities, that I'm unsure about: 1 (my suspicion) is that this was fundamentally untenable because the liberalism was deinstitutionalizing force coupled with modernizing technology and we always would have atrophied here as more people became irreligious and traditional institutions weakened, and communities evaporated into an atomic monoculture.

The other possibility is that this detente could have been held if the liberalizing had been defanged a bit somehow. The (classical) liberal, as I said, loved gnawing the nearest scaffold/boundary as a matter of right, whether that be teaching creationism in schools, public prayer, Blue laws, co-ed dorms, pushing boundaries in media, or whatever. Again, this wasn't one mono-effort, but a million different cuts that each time saw either a local limit on liberalism and uderstandably fought it, or (less understandably) openly rebelled against the yardstick of the hegemony even when they were free to ignore it.

I'll give an example of the latter: living in sin. Even as late as the 90s two unmarried people living together was seen as improprietous in large portions of society, but was widely practiced and pretty much blanketly tolerated. If people wanted the detente to remain, those even taking advantage of the freedom should have supported social disapproval, and not agitated for it's normalization.

Anyway, long story short, the whole culture house fell apart right around Obergerfell, and the traditional hegemony of cultural propriety (Im using this word as a placeholder for a much broader concept) was pretty much over. Was it gay marriage? Was it cellphones and social media? Reverberations of Catholic priest scandal? The end place of a long and steady momentum? Whatever.

The detente cannot exist any more or be returned to because the necessary tension between liberalism and shared cultural restraint snapped and the institutions of the latter fell over.

The most likely way back is for progressives to finish institutionalizing their own illiberal hegemony, and then get enough liberal tension coming from it's dissenters. But the if you want the old detente back, you're not getting it. And if you want to try, I (tongue-in-cheek) suggest all the agnostic liberals here go crypto with that and publically invest in either supporting progressivist takover or rebuilding American Christianity as the hegemonic force so you can start to rebel against it again. In other words, become an accelerationist is one direction away from your libertarian sensibilities or the other.