Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Culture War Round-Up

Tim Burke has been reading Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland and shares some thoughts about the origins of the culture wars that Nixon fueled and that are with us to this day. This is a great post, with great comments attached to it.

Part of his point is that the culture wars are not entirely trumped-up, that there are some real grievances underlying them. Burke cites Jane Jacobs as the “good Nixon,” a liberal anti-technocrat – a provocative assertion, maybe an arguable one – is urban renewal best characterized as impartial technocracy, or the work of sophisticated special interest groups?

The post touches on what might be called the “What’s The Matter with Kansas” dilemma: that liberals and conservatives both claim to be fighting elitism, but the liberals define elitism primarily in economic terms, and conservatives in cultural terms. Burke short-circuits this dilemma in a way. It’s important to see that culture war is not one of great massed armies, Rich versus Poor or City versus Small Town. It’s close-in guerilla fighting between people who are demographically similar, between the Jesus decals and the Darwin decals in the same parking lot.

Burke’s conclusion is that conservative anti-intellectual reaction can get out of control, refuse to stay in its box.

Rotwang writes that American anti-intellectualism leaves an exemption for the neurosurgeon, the engineer, the indispensible expert. If there’s historically evident danger to culture war, it is that it is hard to keep it nothing more than a Punch-and-Judy pantomine, hard to keep it confined to a narrowly intramural struggle within specific professional or social hierarchies. There are pathways out of Nixonland that go into very dark, dangerous places that no one wants to traverse.

I’ve written elsewhere that creationism (a branch office of American anti-intellectualism) is incompatible with modern technology, and that conservatives are hypocritical or (more likely) oblivious to the contradiction. Nobody wants to go to a neurosurgeon who is the product of home schools and Patrick Henry College. Burke writes that’s a de facto exemption that we grant, but one that might not always hold up under duress.


McCain has an ad out now that attacks Obama for supporting sex education for kindergarteners. Turns out the ad is a lie – so McCain will be taking off the air very soon, right?

Here, Slate’s The Big Sort blog comments on the McCain ad, and refers to a sex ed controversy in Charleston, WV (Kanawha County) in 1974. I vaguely remember this controversy; my family had moved away from Charleston just a few years before this, and the part about somebody shooting at a school bus rings familiar.

Somebody did a graduate thesis in which he interviewed pro- and anti-sex-ed Kanawha County residents. Their stand on this issue was a powerful sorting variable: it predicted people’s occupation, what kind of church they went to, what part of the county they lived in. A telling factoid about the interface of cultural versus economic classism: UMW miners went on strike, crippling the coal industry in the state, to protest their children receiving sex ed in school.


George Saunders in the New Yorker has what ought to be the final word on Sarah Palin.

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