Essay Prompts and Culture Wars

userpic=divided-nationI love my strongly Conservative friends. They are such a reliable source of essay prompts and blog material. Today’s catalyst was the following:

What’s the end game, lefties? What’s your desired outcome in this cultural war you’ve waging? Is it to take over everything in America, run every institution in your own image, whatever that is? Or is it to destroy them all, as is now happening with the BSA and the NFL?

There is so much I could unpack in this comment, such as the fact that the BSA is actually keeping boys and girls in separate Cub Scout dens, or that one would think that the values of the Boy Scouts would be values they would want girls to have as well, or the fact that what is happening with the NFL is not an attack on the anthem, but rather kneeling for the freedoms that we pay lip service to in the anthem, but that we don’t see on the streets.

But that’s not what caught my attention. It was the phrase “culture war.”

We have so many wars in this country: culture wars, a war on Christmas, a war on values, a war on women, a war on drugs — one might forget what war is. It is not a heated political discussion. It is a dirty battle in which people not only may die, but do die, from the actions of the enemy. It was World War II and the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War and the War in Afghanistan. It is people coming back mangled and in pieces, or in coffins. I know war. The culture war is not a war, and you have no right to trivialize war and its horrors by equating the two.

But if this is to be a “war”, exactly what is at stake here? You notice that they never quite say. A recent This American Life touched upon the issue quite well, however.  What is being attacked is the traditional “American” culture of the early 20th Century: a culture where whites had unquestioned privilege, where women were second class citizens, where blacks and minorities were less than third-class citizens. It is a culture where sex was binary, relationships were normative, society was clearly Christian if not Protestant, and other religions were second-class or at least subject to prejudice. This was Jim Crow and Antisemitism. But of course, one cannot say that one longs for such things — there is the belief that the “thought police” (otherwise known as the dreaded Liberal) will come for you. So what you long for — what you say is under attack — is American Culture and American Values.

Look at the examples in the essay prompt. The kneeling football players are “insulting the anthem” by standing up for the rights of blacks to walk and drive in our cities without harrassment. In their eyes, the anthem stands for the values above, and standing up for the rights of minorities goes against those values.

The BSA? Well it is those pesky girls invading our boys only spaces. The Boy Scouts — in their eyes, mind you, not the eyes of the BSA — is where boys can be boys, and learn the right values such as how to treat women. I wonder if Harvey Weinstein or even our humble President was a Boy Scout. After all, we all remember what he tried to teach the Boy Scouts.

The folks who are up in arms about a culture war appear to want the culture as it was in the days of Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. Workhouses for the poor. Women either put up on a pedestal for modesty and virtue, or treated as sluts and whores. White men as the unquestioned Gods of society, unquestioned pillars of virtue. Society as a Christian one, with Christian values and feigned charity towards all, but all the wealth for the upper crust. That is the fictional movie image. For most of those living it, life was shit.

We are not dealing with culture wars. We’re dealing with cultural shift. We’re dealing with a world that has come to realize that all people have worth and value. We’re dealing with a world that has slowly, begrudgingly, come to realize that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and with respect, irrespective of those aspects they can’t control, such as skin color, sex, gender, orientation, social strata, religion, genetic predispositions — otherwise known as pre-existing conditions. We aspire for healthcare independent of pre-existing conditions. Why can’t we aspire for a society that does the same.

It is especially significant to see such an essay prompt on today, National Coming Out Day, when we should feel free to say what we are without fear of recrimination or reaction. Coming out is more than just stating your orientations or attractions — it is announcing to the world a public acknowledgement of who and what you are.

So, in that spirit, and in the spirit of making clear what side of the “culture war” I’m on: I’m a clear and present Liberal. I’m a Humphrey-ite Democrat. I believe in those progressive values that all are valued, that your right to practice your religion and beliefs ends where my right to practice mine begins. I believe that my body is my body, and your body is your body, and her body is her body, and none of us should be telling or legislating what we can be doing with it.  I believe we all have to stand up for what we believe in.

So is there a culture war? Yes, but not in the way you think. It is not the white patriarchal culture that is dying however. It is women who can’t get abortions. People that can’t afford healthcare or housing. LGBTQ…. who are being beaten in the streets or blown up in the clubs. It is blacks dying in the streets at the hands of law enforcement, or minorities dying at the hands of immigration officials. It is those who are defending the “traditional” culture who are perpetrating the war: they are bringing physically lethal weaponry to battle that most dangerous weapon of all: the idea of equality and justice.

So, how did I do on the essay, teach?