In honor of Mr. Obama’s most recent attempt to gaslight us, I thought a repost of this July 2021 Word Nerd Wednesday post was in order.
Our entire culture has been upended using ambiguous language and sleight of hand. Sadly, most of us have fallen for the ruse in one way or another. Rather than list all of the lies that have been re-framed as truth to great effect, I want to focus on one particular phrase and how our misunderstanding of it has been used to exploit us in a bid for power.
There is a tendency in our country among media, academic, and politically elite institutions to rail against conservatives engaging in an endless “culture war” while ignoring the greater threats of climate change, economic inequality, and lack of affordable health care.
These are straw man arguments, designed to keep Americans from thinking about the reality of what it means to wage war, what it means to wage a culture war, and who is really waging said war. I’ll start with an example.
Let’s assume I have a next door neighbor named Larry, whom I dislike. Larry has never actually done anything to me personally. He lives a different lifestyle from me. He believes different things than me, and his likes and dislikes differ from mine. In fact, he disagrees with much of what I hold dear. He’s never mean, though. He always waves hello, and he even picks up the newspaper off my driveway every morning when my family is on vacation so that it’s not obvious that our home is unoccupied for the week. We’re never going to be besties; that much is clear, but overall, we coexist well enough.
One day, I decide that I can’t stand Larry’s smug politeness nor his disagreement with my beliefs. So…I take a brick and throw it through his windshield. I want him to pay attention to me, to engage with my beliefs and ideas. I know that if I throw a brick though his windshield, we can no longer play this game of polite coexistence. He has to confront me, because I broke his windshield!
When Larry comes out of his house to confront me about the brick in his driver’s seat and broken windshield, imagine if I said to him, “Why are you so upset about a broken windshield when I just heard that the guy in the house on the corner is selling marijuana out of his garage? Isn’t shielding your kids from a potential drug dealer more important than a stupid broken piece of glass that your insurance company can take care of before the day is out?”
My response to Larry sounds ridiculous on its face, and most people would readily say as much. However, many of these same people will screech and howl that conservatives are waging a culture war, simply by noticing something absurdly inappropriate, and noting that said thing is absurdly inappropriate. The issue of course, is that we have a large swath of people who are offended by the very idea of appropriateness. We have reached a place in our culture where standards, which all societies have, are considered evil. Hegemony, they say (ooh! there’s another good word), must be resisted at all costs. I just decided to take a detour to discuss hegemony in its purest form, rather than get stuck with Antonio Gramsci’s interpretation of it:
noun: hegemony; plural noun: hegemonies
- leadership or dominance, especially by one country or social group over others.”Germany was united under Prussian hegemony after 1871
mid 16th century: from Greek hēgemonia, from hēgemōn ‘leader’, from hēgeisthai ‘to lead’.
I have a minor quibble with this definition, because it indicates that a dominant cultural standard, even one that flows from the top down, necessarily undermines self-government. Any Christian can tell you that isn’t true. Any wife in a traditional marriage can tell you that. Any child can tell you that having family rules doesn’t negate the necessity of each person to exercise self-government.
For what it’s worth, I’m not particularly enthralled with top down control any more than the next American. Free markets are good, the ability to move up in socioeconomic status is good. This of course, makes our current wholesale embrace of Gramsci and his understanding of hegemony even more ironic. But that’s a topic for another day. We’re trying to decide what a culture war is and how we have come to misunderstand who is waging one in our current cultural moment.
I have a question: Who started the war between me and my hypothetical neighbor, Larry? Was it him, or was it me? The answer should be obvious. Now who started the culture war? Is it the people who push boundaries and rebel against everything that mankind has known (and largely agreed) to be good, true and beautiful since the dawn of civilization? Or is it the people throwing the bricks through the window of created order and natural law for the sake of destroying cultural cohesiveness?
Someone suggests, “Disregarding the necessity sexual self-control in favor of unchecked desire is the road to freedom“, handing men and (mostly) women all manner of options to sever the tether between sexual behavior and reproduction, including killing babies in the womb. “Larry” objects that this diminishes the value of both mothers and children, and the retort is always some version of, “You just want to infringe on women’s freedom!” Who started the battle?
Someone suggests, “Marriage should be available to anyone who wants to marry no matter their sex“, and not based on the natural law that under girded it since the beginning of mankind. Larry objects, “Once we do that, we shatter the foundation which has proven to provide the best outcomes for children”. The retort is, “Love is love, you bigot. Nothing about this is going to lead to worse outcomes for children.” Did Larry throw the brick?
Someone asserts, “Men and women are interchangeable; so much so we can simply do away with the concepts, and let people choose their sex.” Larry objects, “But wait. We’re supposed to be living in the age of science. Biology is clear. Male and female are concrete, biological reality. Doing this will create utter chaos. Especially for children.” The retort is more ranting about bigotry and marginalization, along with the idea that the slippery slope thing is just a fallacy. Larry, with his wheelbarrow of bricks!
Time for the next frontier. “In order to acclimate children to this new, more tolerant and loving reality, they need to be taught from an early age that two mommies are natural, two daddies are natural, men as women are natural, and women turning into men is natural. The best way to do that is through exposing children to these sexual realities from a very young age; in school, at the library, even via television programming for preschoolers“. Larry, growing increasingly concerned, objects more strenuously. He is treated to invective and ridicule from all corners of the media, academia, and on social media. He is called a bigot. He is threatened with the loss of his job. He is told to shut up or else.
Instead of choosing to start a culture war based in bigotry, discrimination and cultural hegemony, Larry would have been better off trying to save the planet, which is about to be destroyed by climate change.
He hasn’t even figured out yet that the teacher at school has been teaching his son Justin that he is an evil oppressor, and that his son’s best friend from church, Michael, is being taught that he is the victim of Justin’s evil oppression. When he objects, he’ll be accused of selfishness for complaining that I set his house on fire when people in Guatemala are suffering under a corrupt and oppressive regime.
Larry needs to get his priorities straight instead of being distracted by stupid culture wars, our former President says to the parents whose daughter was violently assaulted by a “gender fluid” boy wearing a dress for admittance to the girl’s bathroom.