As America remains hopelessly polarized in its endless culture war, it has become abundantly clear that there is little personal advantage in taking sides, as there is nothing to win here.
There was a time when mankind believed wars could be won. Two armies would meet on a battlefield, and proceed to kill each other in an organized fashion until one side or the other determined that they’d suffered more than they had initially hoped and withdrew from the fight. Whoever was left standing was the winner.
If you lost enough of these battles, you accepted defeat and the victor decided your fate. It was rather civilized in its grotesque barbarism, with gentlemen dividing the spoils according to tradition, and the peasants patching themselves up as best they could. Peace was established for a period of time, and the losers paid the winners. It was a game of sorts. A wicked game.
Between 1066 and 1815, the English and French fought countless wars, over land or title or both, and rarely did much change overall except that a lot of peasants died, and occasionally the warring royals married one another. While they shared an abiding hatred of one another, the English remained steadfastly English and the French remained undeniably French, so their hatred and periodic desire to fight, was about all they shared.
Of course the ruling class didn’t harbor any real ill-will towards the other country, possibly aside from a little petty jealousy, they merely wanted what they felt was rightfully theirs, like petulant children, so they convinced the dirty people that the other side were evil so they would fight for their battles for them. It was simply the way things were done.
Powerful countries invaded less powerful ones, colonies were established, indigenous people were slaughtered or removed, and natural resources were stolen. Occasionally, the colonists got ideas of their own and revolted in order to form their own kingdoms. Depending on your perspective this was either outrageous treason, or a god-given right to freedom from tyranny, with the added benefit of lower taxes. Over time, it became patriotism and we wrote songs and fairy tales about it involving wooden teeth, the brilliance of white men, the rockets red glare, and other such nonsense.
“I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”Umberto Eco
Today wars aren’t really won or lost so much as they just sort of fizzle out, largely out of boredom, and then someone goes home. The idea of winning a war of attrition against an enemy that has nothing to lose should have been put aside after the Vietnam War, but it wasn’t. Vietnam was just the beginning of a series of wars that America undertook after failing to glean any lessons from all other previous occupying forces, all of which did no better than we did. American exceptionalism blinded us to the fact that we were unlikely to fare any better than anyone else had. Because we were richer and more powerful, we simply stayed longer, spent more money and killed more people, but with exactly the same result. We do it bigger, longer and stronger, but achieve nothing more. We fought starving men in pajamas in Vietnam and eventually left having been soundly beaten. Nineteen guys with box cutters stole our own planes and took out a couple of buildings along with 3000 lives and changed the country forever. In response we spent trillions bombing the desert for two decades, all the while helping to dismantle personal liberties and protections in an apparent effort aid to the enemy in destroying our own country. Never have we lost a war so completely or decisively, before turning on one another to complete the job.
We like to think of ourselves as an evolved culture, but really we’re barely keeping up. We are still just talking about the first time we let a Black man do this, or a woman do that. America has been behind on nearly every social or cultural issue in modern history, almost without fail.
We lead the world in only a handful of areas, all of them shameful, starting with military spending, citizens imprisoned, media consumption, entertainment exports, guns per capita, murder, pet ownership, arms exports, beef production, obesity, cosmetic surgery, fast food and billionaires—though not necessarily in that order.
America’s Culture War
I don’t know who we’re kidding, what we think we’re going to win, or who will decide when it’s over, but if it’s anything like our other recent wars no one will win, it will drag on far too long and cost far too much. Not to mention that the idea of a culture war is pathetic. What culture?
Its less a war and more like a circular firing squad where we handed out guns (this is Americans after all) to every group with an acronym and an axe to grind, and now we’re just indiscriminately firing into the center, foolishly hoping to not get hit in return.
Groucho Marx famously said that he didn’t want to belong to any club who would have him. I’ll take that a step further and tell you that I don’t want to be part of any club that agrees with one another, and none of the ones who constantly bicker amongst themselves, which is all of them, one or the other.
Democracy is an illusion, an impossible dream of utopian fantasies, a magic trick and a scam. Unity is bullshit. Reform doesn’t happen without a fight. Tribalism leads to the dehumanization and hinders actual debate. All this is true, and it doesn’t matter what you believe.
Social media was supposed to level the playing field by democratizing the media. No longer would we have gatekeepers who controlled the flow of information, as we could all be our own agents of change and our own journalists. It didn’t matter that most people would be uninformed, unethical, uneducated, or easily duped. Give everyone a say. That’s democracy right?
We’ve all seen where this has gotten us. Disinformation and viral lies are destroying our democratic institutions that rely on community acceptance. It only works if we believe it works.
Now we have a whole society of people that are experts in little more than their own manufactured outrage. No one can know anything unless you’re part of that particular club, which you joined by deciding you wanted to be a part of it. Man, woman, gay, straight, black, brown, white, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, urban, rural, left-handed, blonde and gingers. That’s only one part of our identity, and we break it down to a microscopic level until we are the only ones who can speak for our group. We are 320 million special interest groups, and we’re tired of being ignored by the man.
Frankly, I’m tired of giving a shit. They used to say you can please some of the people, some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I’d say you can’t please anyone anymore.
The comedian Louis CK (yeah, whatever) used to do a bit about how “everything is great and we’re all miserable.” It was a good bit. It encapsulated our current psychosis of being so privileged as a nation that we can no longer recognize the privilege. It doesn’t matter what group you’re in, if you’re arguing about your status on social media, you’re one of the elite. You might be a Black, gay woman, but you’re an elite Black, gay woman. The people everyone claims to be fighting for aren’t even paying attention. Everyone is acting as a standard bearer for a group that doesn’t even know they exist. Everyone believes they have the sole right to be outraged and offended, are the only ones to have borne pain and suffering. Everyone is unique in their plight.
As a privileged, straight, white, Christian man who has been well-educated, traveled the world and made a good living because I was an intelligent, white man, I can tell you that it’s not true. That will seem preposterous to almost everyone of course. Strike that. Even the Republicans think I went too far with that statement. But it’s still true.
I’ve lived on this planet for half a century now and I’ve seen more of it than most, but not as much as some. I work in a field that combines commerce with psychology which has brought me in contact with all manner of cultures, socioeconomic strata, geographic and racial identities, and nationalities and the thing that has struck me is that no one is as unique as they think they are. Everyone is special and no one is unique, or the other way around, it really doesn’t matter.
I’m tired of being apologetic for being who I am, but I have to remind myself that it’s the price of privilege if you expect to be an empathetic human being. The quandary I have at this point in my life is wondering why that is an important quality to have? The question itself might seem inhuman, but if everything I was told growing up is nothing more than a social construct, who made up these arbitrary rules about kindness and morality, let alone equality and fairness? How do we know that the natural law of life isn’t every man for himself, survival of the fittest, where the strong always prevail and the weak are to be used and discarded lest they infect the herd?
I have tried many times to be what I thought was an effective ally in a fight that was not my own, only to be told that I didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, the issues at hand, so I should just remain quiet. Maybe they’re right. Maybe there is a fight and it’s simply not my own. Maybe Ayn Rand was right about selfishness being the height of human existence, that our greatest existential questions are nothing beyond the pursuit of our own happiness.
Christianity seems to have been a serious failure, having made no serious contribution of any note in Western culture unless you count all the horror, and all the other major religions are merely versions of the same thing. Some of the eastern religions may hold some promise as they propose that you are the problem and life nothing more than an illusion. Take the blue pill.
I began this essay with myself I because I am talking about the one person that no one else has agency over, and that is myself. Your opinion has no bearing, and carries no weight, on how I feel, unless I make it so, so I am choosing, within the bounds of good manners in a civil society, to no longer care what you think. It seems like that is what everyone is hoping for. For white men to stay out of their affairs, which seems reasonable enough.
I don’t need to be actively trying to thwart your hopes and dreams to pursue my own, unless you get in my way, and then you’re on your own. Your needs are your own after all, and my desires are my only priority. We can all continue to be insular and self-serving, worried about nothing more than our own needs. It’s been working so well up until now, for me.
I don’t want to be part of your club, and I never did. We all toy around with belonging in our youth, as we are a communal culture, but I learned early on that in the midst of a large family, there was no reason why I couldn’t be happy entertaining myself.
It’s true that I’m not as insular as I like to think I am, or I wouldn’t be writing this for an audience, or publishing it at all, let alone engaging with people on social media. I clearly desire some form of acceptance, but I have other means to communicate without worrying about if we agree on anything.
The problem I have is that I get so frustrated with how cowardly people are about what they say, how mob rule works on both sides of any argument, and so have often felt the “need” to speak my mind when I know others would not.
I used to have a boss who was a serial liar and if you didn’t confront him on his misstatements of fact immediately, they would fester in his brain until he believed them to be true. This led to a fractious relationship to say the least, and I was often accused of being disagreeable or argumentative, when I was merely pointing out false testimony.
It’s no different today. People make grand statements (including me) and then assume everyone agrees if no one confronts them on it. While I try not to confront people in their own spaces, I make clear in my own space how I feel about a subject, even if it’s not always right, and most people take that is an invitation to disagree with me publicly. That is the bargain we make when we enter the public square.
The truth is I like to express myself through writing, and because I am curious by nature, I have an opinion on just about everything under the sun, and set forth to talk about it in a way I find interesting. Doesn’t make me right, but it does make me well-read, and at times, articulate on a wide range of subjects.
Everyone wants you to speak out when you agree with them, but not so much when they don’t. They want you to march, as long as you’re following them. We are a nation of sheep that believe themselves to be capable, if not accomplished, shepherds.
It doesn’t matter what your club is, which tribe or herd you belong to, I don’t want any part of it. It’s all just one more fraternity with some arcane rules and a keg, and I’m simply not interested.
I’ll be me, such as I am, and you can all kindly piss off.