Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Why the culture war is a lousy idea

Fighting for what you believe isn’t a bad idea. Standing up for yourself is not even close to awful. But what has begun to scare me lately is the way the Religious Right and even progressives like myself have come to rely on the term “Culture War.”

The problem is the implication of the words.

In war, the goal is for my side to defeat, annihilate, conquer and/or occupy your side. Meanwhile, your side is trying to squash me, grind me under your heel or, at the very least, force me to do whatever you want.

There are no half measures in war. All’s fair in war. While sometimes there may be an armed truce, the implication is that one side wins and the other side loses. It’s a fight to the death.

But the Religious Right; progressives; feminists; proud lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered Americans; homophobes; the KKK, moderate people of faith and liberal church members; not to mention Democrats, Republicans and Independents all live in the same country.

What will our home become if we fight this Culture War the way all wars are fought? Will we tear the United States apart? Or will we simply become fascists and use force to impose our will on others?

We can’t get away from the fact that we live in a multicultural soup in this country. Many of us disagree, and these disagreements aren’t simple intellectual debates. We disagree vehemently and with passion. We disagree about the things that make up our core identities. We disagree about things that make up our souls. For you to give in or for me to give in would feel like committing a form of suicide.

If we can’t give in, though, and turn the United States into a homogeneous culture, then how do we learn to get along?

The first step has to be to stop using the term “Culture War.” We have to realize that we aren’t in a struggle to the death, that I’m not trying to destroy you, and you’re not trying to destroy me. I am willing to bet, or at least I hope, that all any of us really wants is the chance to live the way we want to live and to have our choices respected.

That’s why I think it’s long past time for us to let go of the term “Culture War.” I’ve been as guilty as anyone else of using it. I called a 1997 book The New Civil War. I used the term in this blog in a calculated effort to gain attention.

I have to admit that I haven’t found another term that I want to use instead. Maybe it will take a while to find the right one. We could say that we’re in a “cultural struggle” because we certainly are. Perhaps, though, it would make more sense to talk very calmly about a “cultural controversy.”

Whatever term we eventually use to describe this situation, I think one thing is certain. If we keep talking as if we’re in a war, we’re going to act as if we are. There will be no compromise. There will be no peace. There will only be violence and hatred, and in the end, no one will win. There will be only blood.

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