“In the beginning war looks and feels like love. But unlike love it gives nothing in return but an ever-deepening dependence, like all narcotics, on the road to self-destruction. It does not affirm but places upon us greater and greater demands. It destroys the outside world until it is hard to live outside war’s grip. It takes a higher and higher dose to achieve any thrill. Finally, one ingests war only to remain numb.”
― Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Culture war is the crack cocaine of American politics.
Everybody’s smoking it, smoking it makes us crave more, and we’ll sell our grandmother’s good china to get a few more hits of that sweet, sweet political division.
War on Terror. War on the flag. War on women. War on cops. War on guns. War on Christmas. War on immigrants. War on science. War on whistleblowers. War on coal. War on free speech. War on civility. War on facts. ALl kinds of war except War on war.
There’s no kicking the habit. Like a narcotic, we crave culture war now because real war is unthinkable.
How culture war works is obvious. It weaponizes beliefs. It’s about not thinking too much. It’s about staking claims on complex issues as if our own lived and immediate experiences were enough. Culture war doesn’t have or need a reading list. It can’t be complex. The simpler the better. Thus we’re all culture warriors because we’re all pissed off about something, and being pissed off now is its own kind of deep, unshakable truth.
Conversations with people who disagree with us don’t matter. Data shows those people aren’t part of our lives anyway.
Why culture war works is far more interesting as a symptom of relentless, incompatible forces.
One is the increasing speed of social, cultural and technological change. It’s exhilarating for some and threatening for others. Another is a broken political system where money from a few matters much more than the desires of the many. The third is a fractured media landscape. We’re all publishers now, but there’s no price to be paid for publishing irresponsibly. Lastly, the gap between the daily information deluge and how well we process and understand it has never been so vast.
4. War’s Grip
The wars we’re waging (on each other) numb us to a larger war waged on us all since the mid-70s.
The good jobs aren’t coming back. We’re manufacturing more now than we ever have before, but we’re doing it stagnant productivity and fewer workers. In the future we’ll have fewer still while making even more.
We actually need immigration—even if it pushes wages downward—because U.S. native birth rates are barely at replacement level. Without foreign-born workers there won’t be enough hands on deck to support an expanding aging population.
Globalization has been a massive wealth transfer from the American middle class to the Chinese lower class and American upper class. But it’s the only game in town at this postindustrial stage of capitalism.
Yes, America was founded on protectionist trade policies, but they won’t work now. Prices for things are headed downward while prices of ideas, data, network effects, and talent are headed upward. The former can be controlled with borders. The latter can’t.
(And don’t get me started on premature deindustrialization.)
Nationalism and populism aren’t really ideologies as much as they’re the wet dreams of demagogues and the asshole at the end of the bar.
From here prospects get dreadful. Few things rise without eventually falling. Nations, ideologies, and ways of life are no different.
A numb America can’t be great again because we had the greatest run a nation or empire has ever had, and right at its crescendo we squandered winning the Cold War by extending ourselves too far, spending too much, killing and jailing too many, and deciding for everyone else in the world that our way is the only way to do things.
A similar addiction to winning and the power that comes with it overtook the British and Roman empires. Culture war destroyed them, too.
Reading List: Culture War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning (Sources)
Image Source: revolution-protest-insurrection-30590