The Culture Wars: Phase 2?
11 November 2015
Here is a conjecure. We are by now deep into a new phase of the so-called "culture wars." The current battles in the culture wars are ased partly on competing and apparently irreconcilable perceptions over the extent of what some see as genuine oppression and others see as merely so-called "oppression." I was prompted to this conjecture partly by recent events on various university campuses and partly by some advice I ran across on a Unitarian-Universalist website about how to be effective allies to those with marginalized identities. They offered 20 or 21 recommendations -- some of them sort of banal seeming, but some of them intriguing. Two of the more intriguing ones were the following:
1. Assume that oppression in some form is everywhere, everyday.
2. Notice how oppressions are denied, minimized, and justified.
Now I think 1 and 2 neatly encapsulates a certain widely shared point of view about the plight of the marginalized and the response of some to that plight. Well strictly speaking, I should say those "plights" since they make it explicit that oppressions are plural and various here. You obviusly have to be alive to the many distinct forms that oppression takes. They way transgendered people are oppressed is one thing. The way racial minorities are oppressed is something else entirely. Being alive to the one doesn't guarantee you will be alive to the other. Now if you start out with the belief that oppression of the marginalized is a more or less omni-present and undeniable fact, then you are likely to regard any one who doesn't share that assumption as suffering from some form of denial -- perhaps because they themselves are complicit in these many oppressions themselves and are thereby refuse to own up to their own complicity.
Of course, someone who rejects the claim that oppression is undeniably present everywhere you find the so-called "marginalized" -- their scare quotes not mine -- will strongly resist that characterization of themselves as in denial or as being complicit. ("But of course, they will" the other will impatiently say, "Isn't that what those who are complicit and in denial always do?") Instead they will see those who endorse the combination of 1 and 2 as playing the "victim" card. And now they have given themselves a basis for hurling back at the other an accusation of bad faith, of attempting to stifle dissent and silence opposition. In their view, the marginalized have turned into the marginalizers!
"Absurd!" the other will say. "That's just another form of oppression heaped upon us!"
If my conjecture is on the right track, It's pretty hard to see how there can possibly be fruitful dialogue and conversation across such a divide. What you have instead is a culture war played out over many arenas of social life.
The somewhat tricky thing here -- and this is what most intrigues me at the moment -- is that earlier phases of the culture wars were fought between a pretty easy to demarcate left and a pretty easy to demarcate right. But in this new new phase of the culture wars the opposing sides seem to me less easy to demarcate in the old vocabulary of left and right. That's how you get the scenes of more or less left wing professors who professor to believe in free speech and dialog being shouted down by supposedly left wing students who demand to be heard. And you get some of the right cheering on part of the old left as it battles against another part of the old left. But you might also eventually see the marginalized of the old right -- evangelicals and such, for exmple -- making similar demands to be heard and heeded, rather than argued with. After all, have they not been marginalized too?
What a strange new world we are living in!