Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Culture Wars, Which Side Are You On?

There is a great deal of conflict in the world. There are the age old power struggles that pit rich and powerful nations against those nations with little power or wealth. On national levels these struggles usually play out in the arena that puts political parties representing the wealthy and powerful up against those that represent the working classes and disenfranchised. This is the struggle that Karl Marx referred to as the struggle between "the haves and have-nots."

It is important to note, however, that in the early stages of the 21st century there is another powerful struggle afoot in the world. It is the struggle between the traditionalists and the secularists. It is a culture war. Mass communication, mass education, and the melting of boundaries between nations and cultures have resulted in a new class of people who reject the old ways, the old rules, and the old traditions as outdated and useless. The clash between these persons and the ones who hold to the old ways have divided the world.

In a large part of North Africa and eastward all the way to the Philippines a struggle between Islamists who want to institute Sharia and those who wish to obey only the secular law of the state. In Africa there are those traditionalists who believe Sharia includes what they call female circumcision, and what much of the world calls female genital mutilation. In traditional societies such as in Saudi Arabia it means women wear veils and cover themselves from head to foot. It means women may not drive cars, work, or even go out of the house without being accompanied by an adult member of the family. It means a woman can be brought before a religious court and subjected to whippings of sometimes 100 lashes for illicit actions. In Iran women are condemned to death for adultery.

Notably, there are secular societies in the Middle East. In Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria the wearing of veils that cover everything but the eyes are outlawed in universities and many public spaces. In European nations where there are large numbers of Islamic immigrants similar laws have been passed recently. In most Islamic majority nations we see an ongoing struggle between those elements of society that represent "modernization" and education and those who wish to retain the traditional society. Furthermore, many of the extreme traditionalists wish to stop the advancing forces of globalism from further tainting their youth and their societies. This makes the U.S., the EU, Japan, and most industrialized wealthy nations a target for their ire.

Mind you, in many cases the traditionalists and the "have-nots" are one and the same. The educated and wealthy are the "haves." The nature of becoming one of the "haves" involves exposure to advanced education and liberalizing Western notions. Take the boy out of the village and send him to a Western university and the next thing you know he's hanging out in bars and pubs and drinking and dating Western women who dress in suggestive attire and often have pre-marital sex. Take the girl out of the village and send her to a Western university and the next thing you know she doesn't want to come home. She wants to stay in the U.S. or in Western Europe and marry some guy who doesn't even belong to the same faith. Both seem to like Western clothing, ways of life, and owning big cars and houses. A threat to the traditional culture? Well, duh! It throws up a bit of a conundrum. Keep the kid at home and ignorant and you remain poor. Send him or her to a Western university and they may have the opportunity for more wealth, but reject the ways of life they were raised in.

None of these things are news. They are the fodder of TV, newspaper, magazine, and online news day in and day out. What a great many of us who reside in the secular West do not recognize is that these culture wars between traditionalists and secularists play out here as well. The Islamic extreme, notably produces terrorists who wish to attack "The Great Satan," but in the U.S. members of the Christian right regularly feel justified in attacking and sometimes killing OB-Gyn practitioners who offer abortions. This too is a form of terrorism. It is founded in the idea that those who disagree with me disagree with God's commandments and therefore deserve to die. When they find themselves too terrified to go against God's commandments they will fall in line and behave in accordance with God's will. Forget the fact that what any one person perceives to be God's will may be at odds with any other person or group of persons.

The Red State-Blue State phenomenon was brought to the attention of the American public a couple of election cycles ago. Because it affected the outcome of elections, it was framed as a Republican-Democrat thing, essentially political and more of the "haves vs. have-nots" thing. It should be noted, however, that a large segment of the Republican Party has been hijacked by Cultural Traditionalists who want to make this a Christian nation, adhering to Christian principles, and eschewing what they see as flagrant ventures into the world of anti-Christian behavior.

There are a great many behaviors that are a part of the debate between the traditionalists and the secularists, consumption of alcohol, sex without marriage, interfaith marriage, etc., etc., etc., but the two major hot button issues in the U.S. are abortion and homosexuality. Traditionalists tend to oppose both vehemently. Secularists embrace both, as rights of individuals, and often just as vehemently. It creates conflict. Notedly, the Red States are generally rural, small population places and Blue States tend to be states with large population centers. Red States tend to have fewer jobs and wealth. Blue States tend to have larger concentrations of jobs and people with wealth. Once again that "haves vs. have-nots" thing. A rule, but with notable exceptions. Red States like Florida tend to have large concentrations of rich, hang on to our wealth and screw the poor conservatives, but not so many moral, religious conservatives.

To anyone who pays attention, it's no secret that money and changes in culture tend to accumulate in large cities. The largest concentrations of secularists who wish to move society beyond religious restrictions are in the largest cities. In the U.S. that means that New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago hold the largest numbers of people who wish to liberalize society as a whole, the largest concentrations of people with university educations, and also the largest numbers of people with a lot of cash. Small town and rural America hold concentrations of traditionalists who are anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-anyone who doesn't look like me, act like me, and believe the same thing as me.

It is a worldwide struggle. It is very real. It will move us into a new era globally or thrust us back into the dark ages. It's a question of where you stand. Many people in the enlightened sectors are accepting of all cultures and all ways of life. The trouble is that many of those cultures and ways of life will not accept you if you accept gay friends, if your ex-girlfriend had an abortion, if you live with a sexual partner without marrying them. As in any war, this war of cultures demands that you choose sides. I make no secret that I am an individual with an advanced degree who lives in a major Blue State city, who has gay friends, who believes in the equality of women and in their right to choose whether to have children or not, and who does not believe in gods or afterlife. Which side will you choose?

No comments:

Post a Comment