By David Eaton
Does the “Culture War” actually exist or is it purely a myth?
In the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election, Morris P. Fiorina of Stanford University and the Hoover Institution, published his book, Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America, in which he contends that the idea of America being a “deeply divided” nation is a specious claim. Offering copious data, Fiorina makes the case that a high percentage of Americans possess moderate viewpoints regarding social issues and politics, and as such, we are not as “deeply divided” as those on the fringes of the political/cultural spectrum (or news media) would have us believe. According to Fiorina, these fringe elements tend to confer with coteries who reinforce their particular perspectives and as such, do not represent the large, moderate and politically ambivalent demographic that seeks pragmatic solutions to problems.
This is a counter to the views of Pat Buchanan and others who have long held that America is under siege due to the encroachment of non-traditional religious (or anti-religious) influences and not-so-well intentioned multiculturalists. For Buchanan, nothing less than the soul of America is at stake. That said, Fiorina admits that there is something to the “newly emergent” idea of “Two Nations Under God.” He writes:
The culture war metaphor refers to a displacement of the classic economic conflicts that animated twentieth-century politics in the advanced democracies by newly emergent moral and cultural ones… [m]any contemporary observers of American politics believe that old disagreements about economics now pale in comparison to new divisions based on sexuality, morality and religion, divisions so deep as to justify fears of violence and talk of war in describing them.
By characterizing the idea of a culture war as a “myth,” while admitting that cultural concerns have displaced what heretofore had been conflicts born of economic concerns, is Professor Fiorina conceding that the “culture war” is more than just a metaphor?
In spite of the data, his assertions do not take into account how “friendly fire” in the culture war affects the general welfare of the nation. It’s one thing to contend that most Americans are not caught up in culture wars to the same degree as political elites, but it’s quite another to suggest that culture wars don’t exist, or, if they are being fought on the periphery by partisans, that the effects of those battles don’t impact our social condition in significant ways. The passing of the Affordable Care Act, for instance, has been championed and/or denounced by the partisans on both sides of the debate, but the law will affect just about every citizen in one way or another –positively and/or negatively.
Alan Abramowitz’s book, The Disappearing Center, and Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler’s book, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, offer countervailing evidence to Fiorina’s contentions. Abramowitz’s findings indicate the partisan political divide that simmers in the political arena reflects a more significant dichotomy, one that goes beyond the common contention that only political elites and their acolytes are caught up the fray. Hetherington and Weiler offer a perspicacious view that a significant underlying factor in the battle for the hearts and minds of the populace is the degree of structured “authoritarianism” that we want in our lives. Questions about “who controls who and what,” and under what ideological rubric are never far from the surface when social, political and cultural debates occur.
The framers of the American Constitution sought to put limits on the power of government, but over time those limits have been eroded and herein lies the basis for the contentious debates about control and authority. For Hetherington and Weiler, this cultural and ideological dichotomy “is not between two groups with the same psychological disposition who merely disagree,” but are “animated by fundamentally different dispositions” and “dramatically different worldviews.” Abramowitz, Hertherington and Weiler contend that those worldviews are increasingly connected to the issue of morality, and as a result, the issue of religion becomes ever more vexatious. The palpable alignment of political parties in the United States with either religionists or secularists makes its difficult to refute this particular contention. It is not merely a myth, and even Fiorina acknowledges that there is nothing new about “cultural conflict” vis-à-vis the role of religion in the United States.
In what has become a rather heavy assault on religion and “conservative” dogma, merely labeling someone or some idea that is antipodal to a liberal, egalitarian worldview as being “fascist,” now passes as a viable critique. Moreover, on one hand the progressives denounce authoritarian control as being fascist, all the while extolling the virtues of bigger and more intrusive government. In fact, progressives seek government control so long as it is in accord with their vision as opposed to a conservative vision.
Hetherington and Weiler cite the metaphorical social theories of University of California, Berkeley professor of linguistics, George Lakoff, who posits that conservatism is the progeny of what he terms “the strict father” model, while the liberal view is the progeny of a “nurturant parent model.” For Lakoff, a proponent of the Rockridge Institute, a progressive think tank that assists liberal politicians, the “strict father” is preoccupied with tradition, hierarchical order and structure, whereas the “nurturant parent” is concerned with well-being, compassion, justice and equality. Lakoff concedes that both views have value but acknowledges that the proponents of these seemingly antipodal outlooks see each other as being threats to their respective agendas. The opprobrium of the combatants on both sides of the debate extends beyond news bites and strident op-ed pieces, and according to Hetherington and Weiler, these opposing views “go far beyond disagreements over policy choices and even ideology, to conflict about core self-understandings of what it means to be a good person and to the basis of a good society.” (emphasis added).
Debates about values and appropriateness have long been rooted in moral and ethical perspectives — axiology. What we deem to be worthy of our concerns has both a subjective (emotional) aspect and well as an objective (intellectual) aspect, yet judgment in any form has come to be seen as a manifestation of the “strict father” authoritarian model and out of step with progressivism — and decidedly anti-egalitarian — when it can easily be argued that having both authoritarian and nurturing attributes are not mutually exclusive in the development of a more humane society. It’s not an either/or proposition, for both can be beneficial in various contexts.
Prof. Morris Fiorina, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, discusses U.S. politics, polarization and the 2014 midterm elections.
The Unificationist tenet of the two-parent family as the cornerstone of a culture of peace promotes the importance of both fatherly and motherly expressions of love and guidance being in the family modality. Ontologically, this is in accord with the polarity paradigm as articulated in the Principle of Creation. Finding value in both the conservative and liberal perspectives should be our aim. The beauty, truth and goodness ideal as explained in The Exposition of the Divine Principle requires that these three attributes need to be working concomitantly in order for the highest expression of love to be realized. Without a firm understanding of what constitutes godly values, even something as virtuous as compassion can be misconstrued.
Compassion, a hallmark of liberal orthodoxy, is often in short supply when dealing with those whose needs are real and severe. Being empathetic to the plight of “the other” requires sensitive speaking and painful listening. Talking past one another is not the way to strengthen relationships, familial or otherwise. Yet compassion, without the requisite understanding of values, tradition and our cultural patrimony (inheritance) often leads to the erosion, or misreading, of the very principles needed to foster godliness and altruism.
“Headwing” thought is a decidedly Unificationist concept. Though it may yet be a neologism, finding value in “the other,” be it in the family, or in the Oriental-Occidental equation, or in the generational gap, or in the political, religious and cultural spheres, requires a sincere and informed examination of values and motivations if our pursuit of peace is going to get beyond the existing “culture wars” and to a place were these conflicts and antagonisms can be finally ameliorated.
Relegating the culture war to a fictive invention, as Fiorina suggests, makes it easy to dismiss as a spurious, inconsequential issue. However, a deeper review of the 20th century reveals that the “emergent moral and cultural” divide is neither mythic nor metaphoric. Buchanan’s apocalyptic prognosis may be seen as expressions of paranoia and hyperbole (even racism), but few would argue that in the second half of the 20th century, we witnessed cultural convolutions that would have been unthinkable a few decades earlier. Finding solutions to our malaise requires finding common ground and working in a symbiotic fashion in order to ascertain the values that can provide remedies to our problems. This is the essence of “Headwing” thought. Seeking the best of all worlds holds the best hope for creating a culture of peace.♦
David Eaton is Lecturer in Music and Culture at Barrytown College of UTS. He has been Music Director of the New York City Symphony since 1985. In addition to his conducting career, he has been an active composer, arranger and producer with 47 original compositions and over 600 arrangements and transcriptions to his credit.
I enjoy this type of analysis, which is much needed in the world today. In On War, Carl von Clausewitz described war as “politics by other means.” In our political system, Republicans and Democrats are at war over control of government largely for the financial benefit of their contributors and they use cultural rhetoric to aid their respective causes. To try to capture the entire nation, George W. Bush branded his rhetoric as “compassionate conservatism.” A liberal attempt to capture the middle might be called “principled liberalism.”
Compassion and principle are two sides of human development. Compassion to the extreme allows people to do anything they want. Principle to the extreme becomes the strict father, to use Lakoff’s term. When raising a child, if you let a child do whatever they want, without remaining in the bounds of principle, you can call it “compassion” but it is not necessarily good for the child. If the child wants to pick up a poisonous snake and you let it do so out of compassion, you are allowing the death of the child. Yet if the strict father demands you do everything he commands (presumably because he knows everything, not just which snakes are poisonous), you end up with totalitarianism.
We see these dynamics playing out in politics when liberals take money from the government and throw it at “welfare.” Giving money to someone doesn’t teach them which snakes are poisonous, or how to design an automobile. In this way, welfare reflects compassion but not principle. Raising taxes and giving more to the poor without principles that get the poor to learn to support themselves only increases the number of people incapable of creating a rewarding life for themselves. On the other hand, conservatives who argue that the rich should not be taxed because it will harm the principle of economic growth, but then ship jobs overseas after taxes are reduced, are really doing nothing for their “neighbor.” Both sides use appealing rhetoric to get voter support, but if you follow their legislation it is inevitably selfish, exploiting members of the other party through the manipulation of law, which is the use of force by other political means. Nearly every law passed in this fashion is “legal” but not “moral.”
Culture wars are exacerbated today by government, because it is not neutral with respect to factions and justice is not blind to race, religion, and ethnicity. The principles of the U.S. Constitution were designed so that government would not aid the cause of cultural warfare, but today it has become the primary vehicle for that warfare. Restoring a government to neutrality and blind justice is the only way to keep it from aiding the most powerful factions. This would require repealing a lot of the selfish legislation that exists today. It is not an easy thing to do.
I was inspired by one instance when the media was not complicit in this system. CBS News’ “60 Minutes” ran a segment that exposed both John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi for insider trading. They would both buy or sell stock based on information related to laws they would pass that would benefit specific companies. At that time, Congress was exempt from insider trading, much like it exempts itself from other laws. Public pressure from this exposure led to legislation that curbed such abuses of legislative power. It was an unusual example of passing a law that was both legal and moral.
Thanks, Gordon. Rather than being fixated on the red-blue dichotomy, we need to be more “purple.” As you say, “government neutrality” needs to be in greater evidence. Pluralism is important but as Unificationists we understand the need for a Godly perspective to be in the mix.
BTW, the origination of the term “social justice” was coined in the 19th century by a Catholic priest, Father Luigi Taparelli. He asserted that there were two types of justice: “civic justice” that is implemented by the state via the judicial process, and “social justice” that is implemented in families, churches, private institutions, etc., without interference from “the state.” We now see “the state” involved in all sort of social issues. Burke, Hayek, Sowell, and Buckley all believed that there is way too much diversity of circumstances in any given society for a government to ascribe across-the-board remedies to solve social problems without encroaching on individual freedoms to excessive degrees — and herein lies our trial. How do we attain the necessary balance?
Another good reference is Introduction to Social Justice by Father William J. Ferree, first published by the Paulist Press in 1948.
My feeling here is that while David has given us a thoughtful and well-expressed summary of the issues, we are unable to completely solve this within our current scientific model of reality. The best we can do, and again I think both David and Gordon here say it very well, is approach a Headwing perspective – but this will not be enough. Headwing is a political ideology, or a worldview, that brings us to the beginning of finding our way forward. Expressing Headwing clearly is the spiritual foundation for the progress that we need.
Since the early 1900s, scientists have discovered that our picture of the world as a machine made of fundamental building blocks called atoms is very limited, and in fact wrong. Relativity overturned our knowledge of space and time, while quantum physics revolutionized our understanding of the nature of matter. And yet, our worldview has not moved forward beyond the impacts brought about by the application of our new science to technology and communications. Of course, these have been huge and deeply transformative, but still the way of looking at the world has been essentially the same for the vast majority, because most people are totally unaware of the nature of the transformations within science.
The reason for this is not hard to see. These insights of early quantum and relativity pioneers are just not taught in schools, not even in colleges except for the tiny minority who have acquired the mathematical skills to tackle advanced physics courses.
I would suggest that we are communicating an underlying worldview in our schools that first puts an unnatural straightjacket on our children’s minds, and then only allows the very few who can survive that to continue on into the priesthood that has emerged within theoretical physics today. They en masse have tied themselves up with mathematical strings that are so very hard to unravel that they are highly ineffective at offering hopeful visions of highly functioning societies. And yet, they are the ones guarding the keys into a worldview commensurate with our current state of being.
However, while it might sound dire, it’s really not, because there is every reason to believe that the natural way for a child’s mind to perceive reality would be in line with the most sophisticated pictures that have emerged within theoretical and mathematical physics, and therefore all we really have to do is figure out how to communicate this way of thinking without the intervening 20 years of schooling that now exists to put the child into the straightjacket.
Mathematics as we’ve known it can be quite limiting, being taught from a reductionist perspective, step by step, as opposed to a holistic perspective which would resonate with today’s scientific worldview. Students who really love science are going into the biological sciences because these seem to offer the best way to comprehend the nature of a reality that allows for humans. But in doing so, they are sidestepping the problem of physics and the nature of the underlying reality of spacetime and matter. However, the desire to understand is clearly there, and is our way forward.
Once we’ve found the way to liberate our children’s minds from our mindsets, they will naturally create a society that reflects what we could only imagine in our wildest dreams.
Thank you, David, for a meaningful article on the cultural pulse of American society.
A helpful contribution to this discussion is Professor Jonathan Haidt’s recent book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
Haidt tries to decipher the varying value systems that underlie peoples’ views of morality. It was interesting to see how researching this subject dramatically changed his own worldview.
Thanks, David, for a great article! I completely agree that we need to go beyond red and blue and need to start creating “purple.” As you so clearly state, we need to “find value in both the liberal and conservative perspectives.” One emerging example of this has recently gained much publicity. It is called the Coalition for Public Safety and includes groups which normally view each other as enemies such as the ACLU on the left and the Faith and Freedom Coalition on the right. This unusual coalition is working for the reform of our strained, costly and ineffective criminal justice system. If this is successful, hopefully it can pave the way for other coalitions which can take on some of our nation’s most pressing problems. The key is to come up with Principled “Headwing” solutions, which is an undertaking that we as a movement could and must play a significant role in.
I’m not sure I would characterize “Headwing Thought” as primarily “political.” As for its ideological implications, Father often spoke about “Godism.” Within the concept of “Godism” there exists the scientific, cultural and religious archetypes (truth, beauty and goodness) that provide us the framework to establish God-centered perspectives regarding science, art, education, economics, politics, etc. Dr. Mose Durst has written three very insightful books on education, economics and culture in which he explains “principled” models that can serve as the basis for a society predicated on “Godism” and Headwing Thought. Science certainly has a place at the table, but within a proper context.
I definitely agree, David. I’m familiar with Dr. Durst’s books and highly recommend them. My favorite is the book on culture that you mentioned which is entitled Unification Culture and the 21st Century and offers a principled perspective on all aspects of the true society (i.e., CIG). I think this type of work is crucial because I don’t see how it’s possible to create CIG without first having a more concrete and detailed idea of what we are trying to build!
Thank you for all the work you’ve done to explore and explain the “headwing” perspective of music in such a way that even lay people like myself can understand. Also, kudos to the people making this Applied Unificationism Blog a reality which enables us to share our thoughts about how to apply the Principle to every aspect of life. It would be great if we could have these kinds of discussions across the country not only outside but inside every Church center on a daily/weekly basis among our members and guests. This could potentially reignite and unite our Movement as well provide vision to a society which doesn’t seem to have much vision except to legalize more drugs or promote perverse sexual practices, etc. If we along with like-minded individuals don’t provide this vision, who will?
Hi, Jeff. Yes, having a “concrete idea of what we’re trying to build” is essential. It’s one thing to have a philosophy or ideology (content), but the practical means to realize the vision substantially (form) requires another modality altogether. I can imagine a nice piece of music that reflects or embodies the attributes that I deem to be godly, but in the end I have to produce it; in other words, I have to compose it and then find the means to get it performed in front of an actual audience. Only then have I completed the necessary steps to actually manifest my original image and for it to have an actual impact. (We are long on vision, but rather short on production)