Culture Wars: The Struggle To Control The Family, Art, Education, Law, And Politics In America
a book by James Davidson Hunter
(our site's book review)
James Davidson Hunter, the author, defines the crux of the Culture Wars as being the chasm between the thinking being done by those of orthodox (authoritarian) beliefs and that being done by those of progressive/compassionate/humanistic/rationalistic/therapeutic beliefs.
Philip Slater sees the authoritarian problem as the country losing some of its democratic perspectives, ideas and habits because of the pressures from authoritarian sources, so with him it’s a case of authority versus democracy.
George Lakoff sees it as authoritarian conservatives who have a Strict Father mindset up against nonauthoritarian liberals who have a Nurturant Parent mindset.
Fromm sees it as regressive appeal to the negative, autocratic power-centric, authoritarian mindset as opposed to progressive appeal to positive, democracy-centric, humanitarian mindset.
David Riesman sees it as having a locus of control that relates to someone extrinsic to self (such as other-directed people guided by peer approval or inner-directed people guided by authorities and parental approval via a mechanism called the superego or conscience) versus a locus of control that relates to one’s own self (autonomy).
Others who also see it as authority versus autonomy are Louise Hart, Thomas Gordon, Jerry Minchinton, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, to name but a few of our best and brightest thinkers in this area.
For example, Hunter cites the war between the progressive and regressive factions in religion. Jewish, Protestant, Baptist and Catholic religions have both liberal and conservative sectors. The conservatives hate the liberals for “selling out morally to the sins of modern Western culture,” while the liberals hate the conservatives for “being stuck in the past and regressively trying to pull us back into the Dark Ages, and being so stuck on literal meanings in scriptures that their minds are virtually closed to anything else.”
Head in the sand: obsessing over literal meanings in scriptures
The Tofflers (futurists) see the regressive, Dark Ages pulls as one of the biggest sources of danger in the 21st century. Carl Sagan, Robert Ingersoll, Maynard Shipley, Isaac Asimov, and countless others have echoed this sentiment.
Anthropologist Ronald P. Rohner sees the texts of scriptures being taken too literally as authoritarian forces holding back human progress; it would help if they were more like the oral traditions handed down from generation to generation, because these would get updated to fit the needs of the culture as it changed; but in the absence of a return to this convention, it would help if cultures would obsess less about literal meanings and instead concentrate on the spiritual messages in scriptures. “Authority” isn’t the problem; extremist authoritarian positions are. See Good News and Bad News.
Philip Slater sees the authoritarians versus the democrats (lower case d) as something that can be defined in terms of negative power and positive power. Negative power is the power to threaten, bribe, kill, harm, bully or scare others—to exert authority over others by either coercion or the threat of coercion. It relates to negative reinforcement. Positive power is the power to influence, inspire, nurture, understand, empower, empathize with, love, or benefit another. It relates to positive reinforcement.
Negative power is the power to threaten, bribe, kill, harm, bully or scare others
Since knowledge is the major resource used to guide and empower influencing others in a positive manner, and power of the highest quality comes from knowledge (this is Tofflerian wisdom) whereas the other two major forms (force and wealth) are of lower quality, and since high-quality power implies efficiency (where the least amount of resources are utilized to have the biggest impact), then knowledge is high quality power that can empower one to exert positive power most effectively. In other words, knowledge is what best empowers you to empower others, so therefore it is win-win and it gives power. Authoritarianism via coercion is win-lose and it takes power. Democracy, humanism, progress, compassion and autonomy are mostly win-win and they directly or indirectly give power.
True spirituality can never be the product of conformity and respect for/fear of authority—if it isn’t a product of finding oneself, it isn’t real. Is religion a dictatorship’s edict or a democracy’s spiritual opportunity?
“…in the final analysis, whatever else may be involved, cultural conflict is about power—a struggle to achieve or maintain the power to define reality. . . . cultural conflict is ultimately about the struggle for domination,” says Hunter. And the candidates that wish to prevail in the Culture War are authoritarianism versus progressivism, lower quality power versus higher quality power. Do we view the wisdom in our scriptures as an opportunity to guide behavior benevolently and righteously or is it a weapon for believers to use to cram down the throats of either nonbelievers or those whose beliefs differ from theirs? (See The New Know-Nothings: The Political Foes of the Scientific Study of Human Nature.) Is religion a dictatorship’s edict or a democracy’s spiritual opportunity? Do we want right-wing extremists to preach such hatred of those who believe differently from them that they pontificate in ways that they know will cause the least stable and most psychologically damaged and traumatized (mostly by authoritarian excesses in childhood) to take action and start “killing abortion supporters for God”?
Fundamentalist terrorists killing abortion supporters 'for God' (?)
Or would we prefer that women choose when to have and nurture kids and if God doesn’t like the methods they employ in making their choices, then He can deal with them in the afterlife? Do we really need extremists to be God’s stand-ins, as if God might mess up His justice later so we’d better get it done now? And do we really want women to be forced to have kids they don’t want and can’t or won’t nurture or bond with so that they can grow up as serial killers and practice “instant” birth control on the rest of us? We like to hope that these are merely rhetorical questions but since Trump is fixing to overturn Roe-v-Wade, we know they are not.
It’s time the right-wing extremists realize that we (most of us—the exception being other right-wing extremists) simply do not buy their claim of extraordinary concern and compassion toward embryos and fetuses. The way they treat or attempt to treat women and children—and their oppressive attitudes towards same—expose not concern and compassion but lack of concern and compassion towards their fellow humans.
The right-wing extremists pretend human compassion but their actions say otherwise
Evolution seems to be going in reverse lately, with billions of brains that have dumped science, embraced religion, and stopped thinking completely since they believe religions will tell them all they need to know; but, unfortunately, all this disuse of human brains can have only one eventual effect on human evolution
To Hunter, the important politically relevant divisions in our country aren’t about whether one is Jewish or Christian, Baptist or Protestant, Catholic or Methodist. They’re about how you stand relative to the Enlightenment of the 18th century. They’re about whether you subscribe to the progressive beliefs in science and social evolution and humanity and rationality or whether you subscribe to the regressive beliefs that God is running everything and our humanitarian efforts to gain abundant knowledge and then improve society with it are in vain because we’re just sinful little puppets so run by supernatural forces that our efforts are ludicrous.
Are we sinful little puppets?
Very few truly educated people hold this latter belief. Perhaps there’s a very very obvious reason for that! Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the less educated people are less tolerant and more bigoted and more vulnerable to hysterical demagoguery from the religious Right. Perhaps knowledge really is the major factor empowering people as well as cultural evolution, and ignorance really is the biggest danger of all. The evidence all points to this fact: We’ve never needed the Tofflerian powershift (Powershift) more than we need it now. Because if we don’t ensure that wisdom leads, we do ensure that ignorance does.
Hunter is the swinging banjo in the movie Deliverance, forewarning us of grave repercussions should we continue on the wrongheaded path we're on in which political and religious authority undermine truth and science
Hunter’s book indirectly suggests to us that what’s needed is a synthesis in which high morality and compassion is suddenly practiced by the progressives so that the regressive authoritarians no longer find it necessary to be so dogmatic, sin-obsessed, and hateful to them, and then the regressives will see that progressives can act moral without Bible-thumping extremists coercing them with threats and lectures, so they back off. One can imagine a dialectical synthesis with morality as thesis and democratic freedoms as antithesis and moral democrats (small d) as synthesis. One can imagine extremists beginning to believe in democratic rights, as progressives start seeing the immoral behavior that was aggravating the regressives and they change it. [Of course, all this is just a pipe dream without the MC movement to actualize it. There is great polarization and this can only be reversed with great unification of purpose. See Why Register for an MC?.]
A pipe dream
Hunter points out the way media sound bites help polarize the discussions and turn them into scream-fests high in drama and low in facts, content, or understanding—by emphasizing differences the two sides in conflict can never examine common ground so as to engender understanding, empathy or resolution of differences
He points out the way media sound bites help polarize the discussions and turn them into scream-fests high in drama and low in facts, content, or understanding. By emphasizing differences the two sides in conflict can never examine common ground so as to engender understanding, empathy or resolution of differences. It’s as though the media has turned the entire nation into a stage and media consultants are directors while spin doctors are media critics; the Culture War’s officers and representatives are forced to engage in sensationalistic drama to appease the economic appetites of sponsors and networks, regardless of the fact that all players and handlers—the cast and crew and the directors and producers, as it were—can clearly see that the opposite of all this is what our country needs most. It needs for the sides to discover the humanness in one another and take the devil out of the equation. It needs good conflict resolution, as in P.E.T. It needs a win-win perspective reflecting the belief that we’re all in this together and “united we stand, divided we fall.”
To discover the humanness in one another take the devil out of the equation
He discusses multiculturalism, and how the two sides of this issue are, like with most everything these days, unnecessarily polarized. It’s obvious that we don’t want to throw out the contributions of white males and install in the education of our young the contributions of only ethnic and racial minorities instead, but neither do we want to overlook contributions of nonwhites and nonmales. But each side, as usual, goes too far, to the detriment of all.
Interestingly enough, the steep-gradient nurturance that is mostly a white, male, patriarchic invention precipitated by industrialization and its aftereffects has been performing poorly for many decades. Consider the multicultural fact that nurturing has been flat-gradient for most of history (and it still is in most nonwhite cultures, even patriarchic ones), and this form did and still is performing much better than steep-gradient nurturing is performing or ever has performed. Had this fact been available—along with its implications—in the education of baby boomers, then perhaps the country would not be experiencing the polarization and other win-lose-obsessed symptoms it now is steeped in, since flat-gradient nurturance produces win-win, cooperative individuals and steep-gradient nurturance produces win-lose, uncooperative individuals (which is also why schools and businesses have so much trouble getting people working together cooperatively in teams in this country—the dominant value is the individualist hero who is alienated from others but somehow saves the day.
The heroic individualist saving the day
Many cultures find this value very distasteful. We needn’t. There is a way to maximize individualism as well as cooperation. [This way is the MC movement. See Why Register for an MC?.]
Registering for MC search and match
Anyway, all this shows that there is definitely much to be gained by studying other cultures’ methods and ideas, but let us not overdo it and fail to teach either young Americans or young immigrants how to be American and how to speak English. Knowledge from other cultures can supplement a good American education without overwhelming or overly diffusing it.
Politics with strong rhetoric and lots of generalities
Politics without strong rhetoric would be a soporific, to be sure, but could not the politicians use specifics rather than generalities that often have no pragmatic meaning, and could not the dramatic phrases be structured so as to illuminate and clarify the issues, rather than obscure them so that politicians can hope to attract not only those who share their values but those that don’t? (Reagan is a case in point, attracting many voters who ended up voting against their own interests just because he was so good at communicating and spouting cliches.) Hunter, like most of us, hopes for wise and noble leadership, but expects a cacophonous morass of insipid Culture War volleys. The only change in the cultural wars of late is that they are decentralizing, with the Evangelicals aspiring to “take back the country one precinct at a time,” and non-Evangelicals committing themselves to stopping them.
Hunter sees the knowledge industry of the Third Wave as the best antidote for the domination of authoritarianism. Truth, education, knowledge, science and the appeal of positive power will eventually win out against the appeal to the regressive pseudosecurity of negative power and Strict Father mentality. Media, educational institutions, the entertainment industry, and the helping professions are all demonstrably anti-orthodox and constantly propagate progressive ideals.