Friday, July 10, 2015

Confused over the "culture war"

Culture War Two: conservatives get high on their own supply | Jason Wilson | Comment is free | The Guardian

Jason Wilson's discussion of the culture war raises in my mind the uncertainty of what can or cannot be included under the umbrella of that idea.

Wilson says that it all started as follows:
Culture war arrived in Australia as a wedge tactic borrowed from US Republicans. There, it was crafted in the late 1980s, as a way of shifting debate from the inequalities brought about by Reaganomics to the more advantageous terrain of morality and values. Culture war also allowed conservatives to substitute an internal enemy for the collapsed USSR.

In Australia, Howard used an adapted version to court the votes of blue collar conservatives – Howard’s battlers, who were promised “An Australian nation that feels comfortable and relaxed about three things: about their history, about their present and the future”. The ABC
“luvvies”, who had been tarnished by their association with Paul Keating, became the enemy.

What started as a cynical ploy has apparently become a deeply-held belief for some conservative politicians and pundits. The right are now high on their own supply, and some of them may never come down.
Seems to me that the article suffers a bit by lacking a definition of "culture war".

Gerard Henderson is quoted as saying that Howard lost the culture war with the ABC.  By which he means, ABC analysis still typically skews soft left.   (What Henderson overlooks is that this does not necessarily help the political Left:   the Labor reforming governments of the 80's were often attacked on ABC current affairs from the left, too.)   The reality is that journalism is always going to appeal as a career to people on the soft Left.   Obsessing about that is like complaining there are too many gay guys serving you your drink on Qantas:  it's not going to make any difference in the big picture, even if you would prefer to be handed your scotch by an attractive woman, and running a campaign against it is going to make you look like a  controlling nut.

I tend to view the big "culture war" issues of my lifetime as being the silly post-modernist movement and its rub off effect on history and education (and, possibly, sexual identity politics.)

On these matters, I say the Left mostly lost - no one treats post modernist guff seriously anymore, and despite the complaints of old time culture war warriors writing in the Australian, extremes in education theory have swung back to an evidence based centre, as has history.   And starry eyed views of aboriginal issues influenced by such things are not so prominent now as well.

The one area where you could perhaps say the Left had a spectacular culture war win has been sexuality (what with gay marriage.)   But it's a bit hard to pin down the Left/Right divide on that - I mean you have the libertarian Right supporting gay marriage as much as former "anti-marriage for anyone" Left.  And I have a theory that a change in public attitude towards heterosexual reproduction, with the technological revolution in simple contraception and IVF, has had a big influence on how people perceive homosexual relationships.  I don't think it was so much the Left driving the culture change here; it just evolved through several strands of societal change.

Next you get to the tricky area of how culture war ideas effect economics theory.  I guess there is appeal in saying that Thatcher's "no such thing as society" sounds like a "culture" statement, as does Libertarian fetishism over doing what they want whenever they want to ("how dare you propose locking me out of a Club at 4 am even if I have never wanted to go there at that time before"), but I suspect these are more properly characterised as ideological or philosophical positions rather than cultural ones.

In any event, there is no doubt that the political Left has tended to become more centrist in it adoption of economic policy over my lifetime - another way in which you can argue the Right has been the "winner".

I'm think Wilson's article supports the view parts of the Right have gone rather nutty in several respects because it has already had the reasonable wins it could expect, and has been left with a sense of no where else to go.   (Amusingly, pop analysis of the Labor movement is that it has lost its heart because of falling relevance of trade union membership.   This is simply a factor of rising wealth and a move to the sensible centre.  And yes,  a move to centrism can represent an identity problem for either side, but to its credit, it's not Labor which has swung to an anti-evidence ideological extreme in response.)

So, unfortunately, much of the Right has chosen to be ideological over evidence based, and to unjustifiably interpret everything through a "culture war" lens no matter how inappropriate or redundant that approach may be to the practical matter at hand.   In a weird role reversal, they have become the ones now who think evidence is unimportant, not because (as the Left thought for a while) that everything is relative and a social construct, but because they think everyone else except them are the ones making stuff up.  They already know from their ideology how the evidence should really go.

A sad situation...


Not Trampis said...

Henderson never understood the Leigh and Gans paper. understandable as it contained numbers!
Whom does the ABC talk to? That is the real question and one they answered.
Henderson wrong as usal.

John said...

Amusingly, pop analysis of the Labor movement is that it has lost its heart because of falling relevance of trade union membership.

Not sure now Steve, a friend of mine has told me that union numbers are increasing again. People might finally be realising that without collective power they are at the mercy of corporate power.

I do think the Labour has an identity problem. Perhaps it needs to stop defining itself as being for workers and rather focus on defining itself by policy positions where the goal is to create a better society, which will involve a raft of strategies ranging from family services to unemployment strategies to wealth distribution problems. To some extent it has already done that. It is Labor that can craft a policy position that isn't about culture wars or "leaners and lifters", to move beyond the divisiveness that now dominates coalition thinking. Under Abbott the coalition is adopting the strategy of demonising its opponents. I consider that a dangerous path for Australia. After the 2013 election I thought Labor needed at least two terms in opposition, I'm not convinced that we need to remove the Abbott government and that in spite of the currently parlous state of the Labor Party. Yep, it's that bad.

Steve said...

Yep, pretty much agree with what your take on it, John.

Steve said...

Sorry, I got interrupted before finishing that typing..:)

John said...

I made an error. My last sentence should read ..

I'm convinced that we need to remove the Abbott government and that in spite of the currently parlous state of the Labor Party. Yep, it's that bad.

Steve said...

I read it as "convinced".