Wednesday, August 27, 2008

FORTY YEARS OF CULTURE WAR

Over on Counterpunch, David Rosen has a piece (“The Culture Wars Are Over”, http://www.counterpunch.com/rosen08232008.html).

Once again this election season, I see that the “culture wars” started not so long ago, “a conservative counter-revolutionary rebellion against the ‘60s”.

He’s got one part of that right, if only by inference: a lot of what went on in those “’60s” (specifically, the post-‘65 era in my schematic) indeed constituted a ‘revolution’. And as I’ve said, a radical politics and a revolutionary politics are not easily – if at all – compatible with a democratic politics.

The way Rosen has it, there was “yet another Christian ‘great awakening’ that propelled the culture wars”, thus “playing a pivotal role in the 2000 and 2004 elections”. Yes, but things didn’t start then. They started a long time before that.

They started when the Democrats – terrified by the twin monsters of angry Southern reaction to the Civil Rights/Voting Rights Acts and then the Watts riots (within a week of LBJ’s signing the Voting Rights Act), and both of those on top of the increasing failure of the Vietnam War, undertaken under Liberal auspices – hastily and uncritically embraced the strategy of raising up new voter blocs, opening the national doors to the feminism of the Second Wave (“2WF”), which was itself half-soused on a combination of social revolution, a massive but not-thought-out and counterintuitive societal and cultural agenda, and a revolutionary praxis (gleaned from Lenin and Mao as well as Goebbels) that required a ‘monster to blame and destroy’, thereby starting a non-shooting civil war here against ‘men’.

So when Rosen asserts that “the ‘60s partially fulfilled a progressive social agenda by promoting a series of major reforms”, he doesn’t quite touch all of the necessary bases. First, ‘progressive’ was not a term used in the ‘60s, but it seems to have been recently adopted to replace ‘liberal’ which suffers nowadays from soooo many baaad associations.

Second, many of those associations stem directly from that “series of major reforms” he talks about. There was “the ground-breaking civil rights legislation”: Yes, about which a large national consensus (excepting the Southerners) existed. There was the movement to force an end to the Vietnam War: Yes, although this was in that post-’65 Sixties, different from the pre-’65 in some fundamental ways.

And, he says, the Sixties “fostered a feminist movement that demanded a woman’s control over her reproductive life”: Well, now, there was no such national consensus about abortion – let’s not mince words here – and on top of that, neither the 2WF nor its Dem sugar-daddies wanted any such discussion and deliberation to take place; instead they opted for a revolutionary politics that did its work precisely by side-stepping or quashing any questioning, dissent, or objection (it was all ‘backlash’ was all it was) and thus sought to create a Fact On The Ground that all the citizenry would simply have to ‘get’ or ‘get used to’.

I’ll add only an observation here: there’s something very ‘American’ about all this: just as the country itself had to commit the great sins of enslaving one race and practically exterminating a second in order to establish itself (kind of a national Original Sin, if you like), the 2WF was fully prepared to countenance the extermination of millions of human futures in order to establish its ‘vision’. But there is something lethally un-American about it: because shrewdly realizing that there was utterly no national consensus on whether such extermination or the contents of its ‘vision’ of how American society should be organized, the 2WF and its sugar-daddies grasped the weapon of an un-democratic – even anti-democratic – politics that side-stepped The People and sought imposition of its vision by government laws and decrees; the ‘oppression’ constituted such a violation of ‘social justice’ that it effectively created an Emergency, and thus We started down the road to government-by-Emergency-decree.

So if then “Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign launched the era of mean-spirited politics” I’d have to say Yes but that’s not all. His campaign also tapped into the huge well of the citizenry’s concerns about what extraordinary and not-altogether-pleasant agendas were being suddenly ‘valorized’ at the highest levels, with no prospect of questioning, discussing, deliberating, let alone doubting and opposing (all of the foregoing were simply lumped together and classifed as ‘backlash’, total-spectrum backlash).

And so when he then says that “the progressive (that anachronism again) movement … was in disarray by the mid-70s”, well – only sorta. The movement (I call it the Revolutions of the Identities) had a) started to suffer from a veritable explosion of Identities – each with its own designated ‘monsters’ and each with its own wide-reaching ‘agenda’ to meet its ‘emergency’ – and then b) started to slide queasily across the surfaces of national life as substantive resistance developed as a hard, almost ice-like layer under the tires of their revolutionary columns trying to occupy the whole territory of national discourse and praxis.

And when he then says in regard to Nixon that “Nothing, including what ultimately turned out to be illegal, was illegitimate in the battle for political power” he is only half correct. Nixon had his weaknesses and no doubt about it. But even then the revolutionary anti-politics of the Identities were equally lethal to the national discourse and to the common weal by their sidestepping of The People (without even getting into the acceptability or value of particular agendas and objectives).

“Three intimately linked developments took place during the ‘70s that framed the culture wars”. Well, first in my view, the Republicans realized that there was indeed this wide and dense (and hardly illegitimate) emotional resistance to the pressure-tactics, and to some of the agenda objectives; and the Republicans tried to take advantage of that. This happened, as Rosen infers, as early as the mid-‘70s; that’s how quickly the Revolutions of the Identities – the 2WF in the vanguard – stirred up public concern.

Secondly and as a clear and direct result of the first, “Christian evangelicals and other fundamentalists re-emerged as a forceful and very sophisticated social movement.” Yes, and this is what happens when public concern is dammed up rather than allowed to flow. And what monsters were loosed: not only the rise to power of the previously-fringe and maturationally regressive Fundamentalisms of the backwoods, but the emotional polarization of public discourse along clear and narrow lines and in a very immature mode: You’re either with us or against us. That mode was always there in the Fundamentalist approach, but that approach had been rightly marginalized as regressive; but then the 2WF with its abortion and ‘equal rights’ agenda (presented to the nation as an ultimatum, not a basis for discussion) re-introduced such either-or conceptual and emotional processing into what had been a somewhat more evolved national capacity for deliberation. Oy.

“And third, there was a significant increase in non-religious conservative organizations (including think tanks, foundations, and lobbying groups) and secular intellectuals challenging what they lambasted as the liberal establishment.”. Well, it’s not hard to see why this time around no Dems want to be associated with the word ‘liberal’. But that’s just playing with words, a POMO gambit that hardly erases four decades of revolutionary and radical anti-politics and the citizenry’s responses to that assault.

Furthermore, Susan Neiman, in the Introduction to her new book “Moral Clarity” sadly notes that while the Democrats opted for “political action” (she’s toooo kind; it was revolutionary manipulation) the Republicans and conservatives were “reading Plato and Aristotle” and thus equipping themselves to appeal to the unquenchable human need for engagement with matters of deepest and ultimate meaning in societal and individual life. In that regard, revolutionary nostrums and agitprop and tactical objectives have proved far too thin a gruel to sustain the height and the width and the depth of human need and possibility.

Thus neglecting so profound and powerful a dimension of people’s lives, the Democratic and liberal decision to focus on politics and tactical objectives has proven fatal (my word; I don’t have the text in front of me right now). And, I’d say, the Democrats and liberals (or whatever they call themselves now) can sense – even if only as through a glass darkly – just what a catastrophe they’ve created for themselves. And for the nation itself: because the horrible confluence of regressive Fundamentalism and sleazy neoconservatism in its second and especially third, political and imperialist phases, has been an unmitigated disaster for Us.

And that’s without factoring in the resurgence of Robber-Barony not only under the Republicans but under the aegis of a Clinton Administration that had already quietly realized that the Party had gone too far and would never again enjoy the trust of ‘the little people’, and thus enwhored itself to the ‘big people’. I mean – can anybody really believe that Bush and Cheney and all their brood of chimps-rampant have pulled off Our present matrix of debacles all by themselves in the space of eight short years?

I suppose now is the place to also observe that ‘Progressivism’ as it existed in the early-20th century actually represented a (sooo temporary) alliance of religious conservatives and evangelicals and blue-stocking activists who well-intentionedly sought to lift-up the lower classes. While Teddy Roosevelt made a bit of common cause with the Muckrakers (whom he tempermentally disdained) and began harnessing the power of the Federal government to impose some regulations on the abominable conditions of food purity, labor laws (child and adult) and even early environmental matters, a number of Progressives went into the tenement neighborhoods and the rural hamlets to help the individuals there to help themselves.

But it’s also true that another outcome of feminist activism, Progressive ‘reformism’, and Fundamentalist religiosity was Prohibition. And that was a disturbing phenomenon merely on constitutional terms, let alone as a grave example of what happens when governments try to legislate ‘ideals’ ahead of and over the citizenry. Although it’s not discussed much nowadays, the Revolutions of the Identities – I think – reflect more a regression to the conceptual and political mistakes of Prohibition than of an ‘uplifting’ of the national tone and the national maturity. And that’s on top of the Revolutions’ lethal infection by the praxis of Leninist and Maoist political ‘change’ and by Goebbelsian propaganda techniques designed not to inform but to manipulate public opinion.

And then Rosen says that “the culture wars were formally launched at the ’92 Republican convention”. I’ve been around long enough to know that he’s not quite on the mark at all, here. The first phase of those ‘wars’ was the anti-democratic assault upon public mores and discourse by the Revolutions and that 2WF, abetted by the Democratic sugar-daddies, back in the late-‘60s and early-‘70s.

He discusses Clinton’s impeachment as an example of “the Christian right’s [sic] efforts to restore the nation to moral purity during the first years of the new century”. Well, in the first place, it shouldn’t be too hard to see where a whole lotta folks were going to be concerned about moral purity by the time of Clinton’s Administration, especially since thorough public discussion and deliberation had not been permitted in the first place. And that gaping omission was actually the result of a deliberate repression of public discourse that was right out of the revolutionary play-book.

But secondly, Clinton’s impeachment seems to me to represent something far more important. It’s a grave symptom warning of the derangement of Our politics: in the absence of any substantive public discourse, or of any Legislative seriousness (the pols thinking: why go to the trouble of being ‘serious’ if you’re never going to be able to satisfy all the demands and could wind up being denounced by some telegenic batch of the somehow ‘oppressed’ and ‘outraged’?), then the only recourse is to totally decapitate the Party ‘in power’ and see what’ll happen. This is no way to run the ship of state.

And the 9-11 attacks? Our debauched politics had resulted in god-knows-what-way the election and re-election of the unripe chimp Bush, G.W., whose choker-chain was held by some seriously and dangerously whacked characters, and all of them were loose at the controls at a historical Moment when there was no longer any countervailing superpower to provide – even if only by default – any sense of limits upon their sleazy, half-adolescent delusions and aspirations to the grandeur of total-power. They were all so focused on a war with Iraq from the very beginning of the Administration that 9-11 sort of snuck in under the radar (I’ll not ‘go’ to the possibility that they allowed 9-11 in order to provide a powerful catalyst to public opinion and a sorta plausible cover for their imperial resource wars in the Middle East).

But they could not have gotten where they did without the derangement, debauchment of Our politics that had corroded and corrupted the whole shooting match for decades.

Rosen adds that “the right’s [sic] efforts to restrict sexual experience were part of a futile attempt to preserve a modern day version of patriarchy.” I believe that there are still enough competent adults among Us who realize that the adolescent dream of total sexual freedom is just that – a dream, but also a delusion. And that to the potentials of a full-spectrum human life un-mastered sexuality constitutes a profound and insidious danger to male and female alike.

It’s anybody’s guess (and I suppose it has to be, given the repression of accurate discussion and factual reporting) just how much of the national sexual brouhaha in its many forms stems not so much from any purported monstrous, insatiably violent sexuality built-into males as much as it is the result of increasing millions of citizens coming into sexual potency with utterly no training in how to master and limit and shape that capacity, and indeed, with the gauzy half-illumination that ‘sex’ is all good and that if ‘sex’ is simply allowed to do what ‘it’ wants the result for the individual will be fun, happiness, achievement and fulfillment … all of which concepts are defined by such heart-breakingly ill-prepared unripes as pretty much the same thing. Oy. Frakkin’ oy, oy, gevalt.

Rosen works toward his conclusion by asserting that “The U.S. is slowly recovering from the culture wars”. I would not agree at all. The stunning and lethal damage to Our politics is surpassed by the insidious unripeness now coloring the life-capacities of several decades’ worth of generations of children – male and female - who have been growing up essentially untrained. And many of the earlier cohorts are now ‘adults’ themselves, and have children – maybe even grandchildren. And the beat goeth on.

He concludes – almost weirdly, but maybe not illogically – on a sexual note: “[T]he culture wars were stopped by the deeper humanity evident among a growing majority of American people. These people know that among consenting adults, shame and guilt have no place in 21st century sexual life. Let’s hope that the next administration listens to these Americans rather than those seeking to preserve a modern patriarchy.”

First, the culture wars have not stopped, and surely their consequences will bethump Us for a hell of a long time to come (if We last that long).

Second, what We desperately need is a deeper ‘maturity’, which is essential to any further humanity; as best I can make out his definitions, ‘humanity’ covers toddlers making steaming piles wherever and whenever the inclination arises. There’s more to human beings than a basic ‘humanity’; there’s the achievement of ‘maturity’, of self-mastery (and I’d better not hear anybody bawl that the very term is too ‘masculine’ and thus ‘oppressive’ – We can’t afford these soap operas any longer).

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2 Comments:

Blogger David said...

Rosen's concluding note on patriarchy is an apposite coda to a disquisition on kulturkampf. Today we see the Episcopal church in schism with Catholics like Walter Kaspar lecturing their English high church cousins on how if you let women priests get their nose in the men's tent, you'll wind-up with self-affirming gay bishops blessing committed queer unions.

Scratch any highly contested "theological" issue in history and you'll reach a question about who is to hold the money and (secular) power.

We are just beginning to see honest exposure of intersecting oppressions of race, gender and class. Hypocritical attempts to paper over these contradictions with appeals to either religious or political "Unity" are doomed.

10:31 AM  
Blogger publion said...

Your point about “scratching any highly-contested theological issue and you’ll reach a question about who is to hold the money and power” is spot on.

My points are that B) There was no national consensus on whether the ‘economic’ and ‘class’ filter or some other type of filter (race, gender, age, physical ability, sexual orientation) were/are the most vital to common weal, to the nation and the people. And it was a huge mistake to try to extend the ‘shield’ of the pre-’65 civil-rights consensus to the late-‘60s Identities and their demands; and then to meet those demands not through even attempting to conduct a national discourse and reach some consensus, but rather to simply repeat the ‘civil-rights-in-the-courts-and-federal-law’ approach in order to get the various demands met; demands which were not grounded in the same pre-65 consensus, and which were not only ‘counterintuitive’ but provided at the very least some verrrry reasonable grounds for wide public hesitation and skepticism.

And A) If the matter indeed is about ‘who is to hold the money and power’, then this is indeed a profoundly critical and key debate for a culture and a society to have; and The People’s right to have that debate should not ever have been abridged, especially on the basis of a far-too-elastic definition of “oppression” which even if demonstrated to be real, did not justify the type of Emergency-Decree solution that so unhinged Our democratic politics and discourse.

Nor, of course, can I approve of the current election season’s Facts On The Ground gambit: let’s just ‘accept’ what’s happened for the sake of unity and thus vote out the (admittedly) monstrous chimpery of the Republicans.

And it would seem that the abortion issue threatens afresh to split the Party faithful; a debate is seeking to be had which has been repressed for decades, and at a most inopportune time, but this was sorta foreseeable and with some political chops could have been avoided if Dem incumbents had exercised the ‘leadership’ courage to allow the debate. Of course, the Advocacies’ entire strategy was to have the demand met, and not to acknowledge that the matter was even open to debate – or could legitimately claim the right to be debated – at all.

And this mess is then heated in the fire by the fact that the 2WF seems also to sense that i) it’s ‘moment’ is passing and that ii) they haven’t nailed down their basic plan after all these decades and iii) they don’t have much longer on the stage themselves.

9:29 AM  

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