I’m tired of the culture war. It’s a massive distraction from important and relevant policy issues and questions that affect everyone in the country. But the reason why we keep coming back to it doesn’t have to do with a media that is incapable of telling the public what is happening. It’s because we’re trying to define who we are. And it’s only going to get more heated as the year(s) goes by.
Nations need to have reasons for their existence. Shared ethnic, cultural, ideological and religious backgrounds are common justifications for states. While the ability to collect taxes and a monopoly on the use of force are prerequisites for a nation, these aren’t enough to allow a country to do more than the day to day functioning of a country. They also need stories. They need myths. They need ideas. And these need to be broad enough to encompass a large portion of the country so that the legitimacy of the nation and it’s direction isn’t in question.
Today we don’t have a common story. There is no frontier to wrest from the natives. Nor do we have a common enemy that we can rally against. Our goals aren’t shared and our purpose is in question. The American dream as imagined in the early 20th century isn’t possible for half the country. We have manifested the shit out of our destiny and found it wanting. And so we fill the void with battles around identity as our infrastructure and institutions, built by people that really believed that government could do great things, crumbles.
Identity, more than any other issue, is the driver of discourse in America today. Issues of class, race, public resources, war and peace, while still in the public consciousness, are not the defining line in the country. For decades the culture war has been fought over myriad issues, expanding to the point where after the end of history, at a time where depressions are again a common feature in capitalist countries, Americans choose to spend their time debating minor points that primarily signal group membership. Extremely rare school shootings in affluent schools and universities, contraception coverage in insurance plans of churches, pot smoking federal employees and welfare recipients, supporting the troops, prayer in schools, boycotting Walmart, (not) watching football, Michael Moore or Rush Limbaugh, organic food, again and again the nation’s precious attention is thrown from exciting issue to exciting issue.
We parade ourselves with an endless stream of self congratulation peppered with outrage at the other half of the country, all the while our nation drifts alternately between a party that is afraid to govern and a party that doesn’t believe in governing. There are no enemies to our right or left as appropriate and the supposedly reasonable middle is mainly concerned with looking reasonable instead of finding good policy. Straw-men are brought out again and again, despite the easy access to the ideas of the other side. Our bubbles are our comfort blankets, allowing us to feel snug and safe knowing that we (or our ideology, or leaders) have all the answers.
This doesn’t mean you have to stop talking about politics. More than anything I’d like people to talk more about politics with people they disagree with. We just need to stop spending quite so much of our limited mental time on bullshit at the exclusion of dealing with running the damn country.