Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Can the culture war end in anything but scorched earth?

Digby has a scary take (these posts are from November, 2004, but are linked to a recent post of his; follow my link and scroll down to the posts headed "More Culture War" dated November 10 and "It Won't Work" dated November 9) on the origin and nature of the "culture war". It's not just a reaction to the sexual and pharmaceutical excesses of my generation in the 1960's. It's not, as one Ralph Keyes argued in his book, published in the 1970's, Is There Life After High School?, about whether we were "innies" or "outies" (in the social, not the navel, sense) in our teens. It's not even, as I've suspected, mostly about parents fearing baleful cultural influnces that will lead their children to grow up (in the words of the Austin Lounge Lizards) "stoned, left-leaning and gay."

No, according to Digby, its origins are pre-Revolutionary and rooted in slavery and race. It began with prickly defensiveness on the part of Southerners, that led to bellicose defiance and secession, and, following defeat on the battlefield, morphed into resentful vengefulness that "metastasized" throughout middle America. It can't be mollified, he argues, by any concessions on the issues of the day (abortion, school prayer, gay marriage and so on), because it can only be satisfied by a total victory that would entail trashing the Bill of Rights and instituting a theocracy.

But this won't happen, he argues, because the real (as opposed to the liberal, intellectual, academic and media) elite, which Digby identifies with "the church, the government and the corporations" will, much as Tom Frank contends, use these issues to manipulate the electorate for its own ends (presumably ever-lower taxes, leading to more money in collection plates, re-election for incumbents, and free rein for usurers, polluters and purveyors of unsafe products).

I think that, like many over-arching explanations, this has some truth to it, but fails to explain everything. I have my own overly-ambitious theory, which I'll set out in a later post. For now, as Samuel Pepys was wont to say, "and so to bed."