Opinion: How do we negotiate a peace in the culture war? Start with one question.
We are all either caught between the culture war battle lines today or are firing the bullets ourselves. The weapons of culture wars are stories which establish an “in crowd” who will side with a particular culture army and an “out crowd,” who is the enemy. This is much different than what we might call the “culture peacetime,” where opposing narratives are aimed at seeking truth or solutions. During wartime, no truth is sought. Its only about winning.
Today, narratives about our country’s founding are framed in the same binary way — should we be ashamed or proud? In the culture war, we cannot acknowledge the dark shadow of slavery still echoes today while also holding up our founding, which enshrines human life and liberty, as a truly remarkable achievement. Expressing both positions puts us between culture war armies who will brand us as either a “CRT pusher” or “white nationalist.”
Failing to fall in the line with one side of the culture war makes us no use to the armies fighting it. A person is not useful to the culture armies if they consider border security the bedrock of national sovereignty but also see the need for robust immigration to fuel our economy. If the red army can stir their anger, however, by showing them masses of people flowing across the Rio Grande, they can direct their anger at the blue army.
A person is not useful to the culture armies if they embrace self-determination as key to human flourishing and also accept disparity in outcomes is often bred by unequal opportunity. But if the Blue army can anger this person by showing them a broken public education system, they can direct the anger at the Red army.
The culture armies do not care about immigration or border security or capitalism or inequality. They care about winning the war. It is about an in-crowd of “good soldiers,” an out-crowd of enemies, and wielding the nearest available weapon to strike a blow.
Those who step out from the culture army ranks, like Crenshaw, Liz Cheney and the seven Republicans who voted to convict President Trump for inciting an insurrection, take fire from the Red culture army. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema take fire from the Blue culture army for opposing another massive spending bill in a stream of many. Each get rhetorically bombarded and abandoned, not because most Americans disagree with their positions, but because they damaged their army’s chances of winning the culture war. Watching this carnage gives us all pause about stepping out.
Those of us trying not to become a cannonball or “good soldier” are not only fearful of stepping out, but also find it hard to know where to fight back if we wanted to. In a two-party system, must you back one army so the other army does not win or merely sit on the sidelines and watch the war unfold? I think there is another way.
It starts with a simple question posed by Ben Hunt, who studies narratives for a living: “ Why am I reading this now?” You can exchange “reading” for “watching” or “hearing,” but asking this question before consuming information is the first step in a negotiated peace to the culture war. You can still agree with the underlying policy position but asking why you are seeing a story at this moment might change how you feel about it. It might make you less angry or make you wonder about the motives of the producer. In both cases it prevents you from being a weapon for either culture army.
A negotiated peace, where we can once again debate ideas rather than only strike rhetorical blows, is not impossible. The culture armies do not give us the power to see wrong and right, God does. Our nation was born on an altar to the gifts of life, liberty and freedom to pursue happiness. This is our story. This is our song. In the near-term, we will get drowned out by the culture army artillery, but we must keep singing so when the gunfire ceases, we are ready to fill the silence with the song we know well, lest something worse take its place.
Ending the culture war does not end the competition between conservative and liberal. On the conservative side, we at Principles First will meet in Washington on February 26–27. There are many similar organizations on the left and right. We will hear from some with culture war wounds, like Adam Kinzinger and Bill Kristol. But mostly, we rank and file citizens keeping our heads down and being careful to avoid the armies using us as a weapon will gather to keep the song alive. You should find a place to sing the song too.
Pitcock, a US Marine Corps veteran and member of the principled conservative organization, Principles First, is a small business owner in Texas.