Over at ‘The American Prospect’ Ann Friedman is running a play with which We should all be familiar. (“Don’t Call it a Culture War”, here).
Her specific topic is “LGBT rights”. Specifically, she doesn’t think it’s the right way to proceed – letting the issue be ‘labeled’ as (just another) front in the “culture war”. After all, quoting Peter Beinart’s illumination over at ‘The New Republic’, “culture war no longer sells”.
So what We got Us here is a problem in ‘defining’ and – perhaps in essence – marketing (Goebbels got much of his propaganda theory, We recall, from the ground-breaking American marketing whiz, Edward Bernays). The stuff has since gone to college – or to Academia – where it has been washed, waxed and re-badged as ‘defining the narrative’ or ‘defining the frame’. To maintain control of the narrative is a primary objective of all ‘Advocates’. The product itself – the idea, the agenda, the grounds for the idea, its workability, its costs, its consequences, and – increasingly – its performance over time … all these are secondary, if not utterly irrelevant. Packaging is all. Sort of like how Detroit (a large city in the upper Midwest, known in happier times as the seat and capital of the American and the world auto industry) has been conducting its business for a couple-four decades now.
This has been a major milestone on Our road to serious disconnection from substance and reality and, in consequence, from real, life-giving politics in a democracy. It’s all a matter of defining and keeping-up appearances. After a while, it was theorized, people would ‘get it’, or at least ‘get used to it’, and so – now a familiar piece of the national furniture – nobody would think (or dare) to object. The agenda will have established itself as a ‘fact on the ground’ – that’s worked so well for the Israeli ‘realm’ these past sixty years.
Our own thirty or forty-year experience with the thing, on multiple ‘fronts’, has shown the theory to be somewhat insufficient to account for events. But We aren’t supposed to notice that; consequences are ‘oppressive’ insofar as they ‘limit’ or complicate what should be clear as a bell to any correct-thinking citizen. Vietnam and Iraq – wars that destroyed far more than they accomplished, in the recoil as well as in the projectile – come to mind, by perverse coincidence.
As I’ve said before, the solution to that problem involved the upbringing of numerous cadres of children and youth who don’t remember how democratic politics are supposed to work, and who – worse – have been taught not to think and to analyze but merely to hold the ‘correct’ opinions and direct their still molten emotions only at ‘correct’ targets. And it also involved the importation of far too many immigrants who never knew, whose own original political experiences make anything here look ‘good’, and who are simply happy to be ‘here’ and are willing to let it go at that.
She proposes to her readers that “we’ll continue to lose until we can successfully relabel LGBT rights [as] a civil-rights issue [italics hers] situated firmly within the context of other civil-rights struggles, not an issue mired in the culture-war swamp of moral controversy.” She immediately adds, parenthetically, that “(To a lesser degree, the same goes for abortion rights.)”
She brings out clearly and succinctly the problem that has bethumped Us for lo these many decades since about July 10, 1965. The first-phase of the ‘Negro’ civil-rights movement was significant in two ways. First, there was and had been general national public consensus (the Southrons and the Klan-minded excepted) that “all men are created equal”; the Founders had only grudgingly accepted the continued existence of race-slavery as the price of getting the country Founded at all, Congress had outlawed it in the early 1800s, and then there had been that Civil War thing. In the late 1950s and early 1960s national attention and a long-simmering outrage was focused on effecting the political rights that had been ‘won’ in that Civil War, only to be undermined over the course of the next 90 years.
Ensuring that ‘the Negro’ had full civil rights as had been promised was to bring to fulfillment a long-standing commitment that the country had made, had bled copiously for, and had – with too much moral lassitude – allowed to be undermined by Jim Crow. Just about ‘everybody’ agreed on that.
Second, Martin Luther King’s ‘southern civil rights movement’ (see my immediately previous Post) was a unitive call to all Americans to fulfill a national commitment and in doing so to participate in a restoration, a ‘rebirth’ and ‘rededication’ to what had been the spiritual integrity of the American ideal.
It was a powerful and life-giving national experience.
Indeed, as even Richard Rorty points out in “Achieving Our Country”, the ‘old Left’ of the 1930s and prior appealed to a ‘fraternal’ unity, and the efforts for workers’ rights, as even the Progressive legal struggles for child-labor laws, were unitive (the employers being the only objectors). And King, as noted, appealed to not only a common American-hood but to a spiritual and ideal communion in which all Americans might come together (the Southrons excepting themselves).
This is hell and gone from what has been the standard tone of the post-’65 Revolutions of the Identities. Even where – as Friedman’s article exemplifies – a connection is drawn to ‘civil rights’, it is a tactical ploy, and precisely does not call to any broad and deep American unity, and precisely does not seek to speak-forth its agenda and cause, but rather seeks to clothe them in misleading euphemisms and impose their objectives by ‘spin’ and stampede and end-runs around that American unity which to the Identities does not exist and cannot exist in the first place. This is not a democratic movement in any substantive sense of the word. Some serious rectification is in order here.
That follow-on phase of the civil-rights movement embraced i) a negative, demanding and divisive agenda (not a little redolent of ‘ressentiment’) and ii) a de-facto revolutionary method of getting those demands met, a method which by definition (‘revolutionary’) eschewed the slow consensus-building of a democratic politics for an immediate and imposed submission to their will and program.
Nor did the demands of that program enjoy any wide grounding in public awareness.
Worse, other ‘movements’ – Second Wave Feminism the primary one – embraced the same revolutionary method, seeking also – as the later phase of the black civil-rights movement – to establish without delay their own demands, most of which did not enjoy broad public acceptance. And especially prominent among those ‘demands’ was the right to ‘abortion on demand’ (as it was first known and as, alas, it is now being plumped these many decades later); and this ‘abortion’ was cast as a ‘civil right’, as if it were ‘merely’ a follow-on to the rectification of black civil political rights around which the King movement had coalesced, black and white together, male and female, Americans all.
As Confucius would have advised, one must first accomplish a ‘rectification of names’: the issues have to be correctly identified before any rational assessment could be made as to what might be reasonably accomplished in regard to them. This is akin to Sun-Tzu’s advice and to general military strategy and command principles that you have to know what you’re facing before you engage in any action (Vietnam and Iraq anyone?).
But ‘rational assessment’ and ‘reasonable accomplishment’ through the processes of a democratic politics were not the route selected by the second-phase black civil-rights movement, nor any of the follow-on movements. Instead, imposed-action-from-above was embraced, with a concomitant democracy-dulling ‘valorization’ of political correctness, foregoing public deliberation and debate, out of a fear of being labeled (labeling, again) ‘insensitive’, ‘racist’, and later ‘genderist’ and just plain stupid enough to not ‘get it’.
Rectifying names was not on the menu; ‘real’ liberals didn’t do it, nor did ‘real’ citizens.
Thus the matters of more-than-political equality, matters of just what the government would guarantee and how much the government could guarantee and how far the government could go in enforcing such guarantees – all huge questions worthy of and in need of great, wide, careful deliberation – were simply ‘imposed’, as Lenin had done, by ‘elites’ who very much did ‘get it’. The choice presented to the citizen was ‘you’d better get-it, or you’re going to get it, and if nothing else just shut-up and mind your own business’. It was clearly not a programme designed to enhance or respect democratic process. And how it came to be the standard operating procedure of ‘liberalism’ in this country is a book crying to be written.
Certainly, the phrase and term ‘reproductive justice’ makes no sense on its face, nor the associated mantra of ‘full equality’. They are obviously ‘names’ in dire need of rectification. But that is precisely what the proponents of those phrases don’t want to happen. After all, that could lead to swamps of ‘moral’ controversy – and that’s not only going to slow the revolutionary achievement down, but it’s – did We not know? – useless to mention ‘morality’ because that’s a private thing and the civil-rights of having one’s ‘reproductive justice’ and ‘reproductive freedom’ is a public thing. Anything less or otherwise is simply ‘oppression’. And a ‘denial of civil-rights’, just like – We are meant to unthinkingly infer – slavery and Jim Crow were a denial of the civil rights of America’s black population.
And the fact that forty-years of imposition has not dulled public doubt? And the fact that decades of this and that ‘plan’ being imposed and still not working even unto the present day? And the fact that there appear some very possible unforeseen consequences that have undermined and deranged the very fundaments of Our democratic politics?
Correct-thinking ‘liberals’ do not allow themselves to be distracted or detained by such matters, it would seem.
And in consequence of the ‘liberals’ having become something else indeed – whether they intended to or not – the Republicans and ‘conservatives’ cobbled together a Frankenstein’s monster of a coalition uniting greed-crazed corporate wealth and God-haunted fundamentalists and Southern-besotted militarist ‘patriots’ . The wealthy were allowed to pull all their old tricks to enrich themselves on the backs of the national peasantry and create an oligarchy; the Fundamentalists saw themselves as subjects of King Jesus for whom a ‘democracy’ was merely a polite and traditional form with no substance; and the militarists saw the citizen’s only true role as being to support the military exploits of the nation. Something for everyone: the wealthy controlled the military-corporate complex, the Fundies could baptize and deputize the military into God’s righteous right-arm; and the militarists would be given benefit of cash and clergy by the other members of the axis.
Now I don’t know what LGBT ‘rights’ are at issue here. I can agree with Richard Rorty – but only for a very short distance – that the past decades have gone some way towards making the country less “sadistic” (his term, not mine); it is incumbent upon a Citizen to respect other Citizens. Whether and to what extent ‘rights’ are involved is a legitimate – and pressing – matter for examination.
But Friedman proposes that the label ‘civil rights’ “is less divisive … the very act of involving the term ‘culture war’ signals that we think something is controversial when, in fact, equal rights should be the furthest thing from it.” What this constitutes is an effort not to rectify the name but to use a deceptive name in its place. Just what “equal rights” means is something that has to be explored.
As best can be gleaned from the abortion movement’s dictionary, “equal rights” means that the government is bound and beholden to cancel out the male ‘advantage’ – imposed, as it were, by evolutionary Nature itself – of not having to be ‘stuck’ with the results of having sex. Now that’s quite a bit to digest; is even the U.S. government in a position to be doing such a thing? Is it even wise? But then on top of that, it turns out very quickly that the means of ensuring such “equality” is by letting the female abort the human life she carries if she so decides – which for quite some time was considered a primitive and uncivilized act in most of the world’s advanced civilizations.
I am not taking a position on the matters here; but I think it can be clearly seen that these matters require a huge lot of thought and deliberation. There are monstrous questions here, not excluding Our regressing as a civilization and a society. A little attention must be paid, surely.
Is the denial of ‘civil rights’ worth the wait? Well, I’m not sure We’re dealing with ‘civil rights’ here – certainly I don’t easily equate a black citizen’s right to vote and to be not-lynched with a female’s nullification of evolution’s plan for sustaining the species. I’m open to learn more, but please don’t try to stampede me and to do it under the false-name strategy that it’s not a stampede but rather a long-delayed redress of civil-rights.
So this is not quite so simply a matter of “fundamental civil-rights” as opposed to “a minor culture-war skirmish”, as Friedman sums up. Although her tone reminds me of Justice Scalia’s recent plaint that folks should just forget ‘Bush v. Gore’ and ‘move on’. Surely Mussolini, Goering, and Al Capone sought to make the same sort of case on their own behalf – and Bush, Cheney and a raft of others may do yet. Although not the captain of the ‘Titanic’, who had the decency to accept responsibility for his stunningly fatal frak-up; he, lest it be forgotten, was a ‘male’ and raised as a ‘Victorian male’ at that – such a fuddy-duddy, whose example – some might bray – need not detain Us here. I would disagree.
And I point out – not irrelevantly – that We have yet to experience the full consequences of the damage done to Our integrity and viability as a moral society by indulging in the falsely-labeled invasive war for WMD, and further by subjecting Our troops for so long to a soul-shredding darkling frakfest reeking of failure if not outright defeat. When those troops come home, as they inevitably will, what profound wounds will they bring into Our midst, unseen even more than clearly observable, which will rightfully demand Our attention even as they present profound challenges to Our traditional sense of Ourselves as a decent and civilized society and culture? Our too-easy and too-quick actions, taken on the basis of hugely un-rectified ‘names’, now promise vast and unseen consequences.
I will do everything in my poor power to respect – as fully as possible – LGBT citizens and female citizens. But I’d like the respect of being allowed to find and evaluate the truth, and deliberate as to what is workable. I do not want to see ‘them’ penned up like cattle and treated like sheep; I would expect in return not to be stampeded like cattle nor treated as a ‘dumb’ sheep.
And We all will see what can be done.
Which, nowadays, is a very pressing question on so many levels of Our common life and weal.