site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of October 10, 2022

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.

I'm firmly in the camp of people who doesn't quite understand what a lot of "non-binary" people are doing with gender, despite being somewhat progressive and happy to exercise pronoun hospitality with such people. (I once heard an acquaintance describe their gender by saying, "if man is black, and woman is white, I'm purple - if you see me in monochrome, I'm more masculine, but really I'm not either of them" - and I was more confused than before I heard the analogy.)

I've seen various mottizens bring up the idea of "gender" being the latest subculture like goth or punk, and recently I stumbled across an interesting Tumblr post that accidentally circles around a similar insight. The whole thing is interesting, but I think you can get the gist from the following:

[...] I think there’s an interesting similarity in the way nonbinary (or genderqueer people in general) talk about the nuances of their gender and how people really big into specific music scenes talk about the nuances of the genres they listen to. Like there’s the description you give other people in your community, and the “normie” description you give to people who aren’t as familiar. And “genre” and “gender” are both constructs in similar ways too. Just my little binary observation tho.


so if someone identifies as a demigirl in some circles but to you they just say they’re nonbinary or even just “female”, they clocked you as a gender normie lol.

Now, I grant that the gender-as-fashion analogy isn't the only possible takeaway from this person's observations. I'm reminded of the "soul-editor" from the SCP Foundation Wiki that had symbols from every major world religion, as well as a few unknown ones. Who's to say that some phenomenological aspects of being human aren't so complex that no one set of vocabulary is capable of describing it all? Perhaps some qualities of human minds/souls/whatever are ineffable, or so unique and subjective that one cannot help but create a new label for oneself in describing one's personality?

But I have my doubts. Mostly, I often feel like people must be mislabeling something that I have in my "mental box" as well. (I've read accounts of genderfluid people who talk about "waking up feeling masc" some days and dressing the part, while suddenly and abruptly "feeling femme" partway through the day and wanting to change outfits - and I couldn't help but speculate if they hadn't attached special significance to what I label "moods" in myself.) I don't discount that there are many real human experiences that aren't in my "mental box." In a very real way, I can't do much more than guess what depression, schizophrenia, OCD or dozens of other seemingly real human experiences are like. If I'm being maximally humble about what a tiny part of the vast terrain of possible human experiences I occupy, I have to concede that I can't know that many people aren't out there experiencing "gender" in ways I never will.

My partner is a binary trans man, and many of my friends and acquaintances are part of the LGBT+ community. I still don't quite understand why someone in that extended friend group suddenly finds it very important to change their name, and let everybody know that their pronouns are "she/they" now - while changing nothing else about their appearance or presentation. I'm happy to use a new name for someone, if they don't make such changes too frequently for me to keep up with, but I often feel baffled by why they find it so important? It's not really a big deal to me, but I would like an explanation. Gender-as-fashion seems so tempting as an explanation, but I worry that it might be a false explanation flattening human experiences into something that's more comfortable to me - the same way, "that person who supposedly has ADHD is just lazy" might flatten a person with ADHD into a form more comfortable for neurotypical people, and not in a way that is very sympathetic to the person with ADHD.

Once you've been through a few youth fad eras, it's hard not to see this sort of thing as just more pleas for attention. "I'm special, there's no one like me, I'm [punk/metal/hippie/anorexic/ADD/neurodivergent etc.]". People are terrified that "Fight Club" might have been right, and we aren't unique or notable in and of ourselves. Look at the language we're using here, where not understanding an arcane and constantly changing gender taxonomy makes one a "normie". As in: "normal". The horror! You can hear the fear.

It's a common adolescent obsession, but extending adolescence has extended the obsession. I cut my mohawk off when I was sixteen, seems to be taking some people a bit longer.

Well, it's good to bash attention-seeking but this sort of competition is constant. So what, should teens just be good boys/good girls and not compete for status and attention? But it's oneupmanship all the way. A quiet nestling won't get fed.

Teens are right to join fads, going through them creates shared experiences, the acting out of various social roles, etc. It's a form of play, even if it feels serious from the inside at the time.

The bigger question is why our broader culture is drifting in a way that the fads are becoming self serving, narcissistic, self referential, navel gazing and misanthropic.

There are many ancient myth story types, killing one's father, the father devouring the sons etc. Is there an archetypal story of the daughter refusing to give birth to the new generation just to spite the tyrannical father? Because I think that's the story our current culture is playing.

I'm perfectly ok with kids acting out (within reason). It's part of testing boundaries, developing a sense of self.

That said, I think it is incumbent on adults to contextualize and police this process. The problem as I see it is not that kids are somehow "worse" now than they used to be. The problem is that adults pretend to believe the little psychos and seem to be incapable of telling them "no". Also, we've extended the zone of acceptable rebellious behavior long past adolescence into the twenties, thirties and forties. The problem is not "kids today", it's kids thirty years ago, who never grew up and refuse to shoulder the responsibility of being the buzzkill adults. Sometimes you have to tell the kids "hey, I know you're nonbinary today, but maybe don't take a bansaw to your genitals until you really think it over and are a legal adult". Yes, they're gonna rage and call you mean names, it's ok. That's what fucked-up kids do. I did the same thing when I was thirteen, but I grew out of it and learned some shit. So now, I'm in a position to contextualize all that anger and silliness. Been there, done that. Most of them will probably be as embarrassed about their antics in twenty years as I am about that mohawk.

We don't have to take the tantrums of hormonal teens (or terminally online/mentally ill adults) as some sort of universal Truth. Disagreement and caution are not "hate", and when we accept that framing, we lose moral authority to do the right thing for people who are incapable of it in the moment.

I agree. Parents think they have to be best friends to their kids. Kids crave the boundary, they search for it and want to find it. As a mature adult you play along and provide it. So they can get the adrenaline of transgression but still without ruining their life.

But setting up expectations, rules and boundaries is apparently too authoritarian. And parents themselves don't want to grow up or feel old, so they don't dare to draw a line and take on the role of "the mean parent" (from the kid's POV). Why people don't want to grow up probably has many reasons. One is the media's obsession with keeping people perpetual adolescents, because those are better consumers. Also for some reason teen culture is somehow elevated to be seen as the "real" culture of the times and if you don't follow it, you're a dinosaur who is out of touch and it's cringe and whatever. An adult should have no time to care about getting called cringe, but here we are.

We pretend that all this is about keeping up with the times, but in fact we collectively froze around the 60s in the role of the rebellious Beatles fan teenager.

I forget where I heard it, but a historian of Rome was asked what he thought accounted for the immense influence and legacy left by that civilization. He said something like "the incredible contempt they had for youth".