Sunday, June 23, 2013

Why I Will Not Fight A "Culture War"

"Culture War"

A pretty popular term right now.  As I understand it, this basically means the Conservatives pitted against the Progressives over whose values will prevail in society -- both culturally and legally.

Of course, there is always a push/pull in every society.  I mean, let's face it, no two people are exactly alike.  So, when you put millions of individuals together, you're going to have lots of disagreements on how things "should be."  And this, to me, is fine and natural.  There should be discussion and debate.  But, not a war.  At least, not in my opinion.  Especially when there is plenty of room for negotiation.

Pope John Paul II spoke out a lot against war.  He spoke against the war in Iraq.  He spoke against war, in general. He spoke of the harm caused by war to innocent people.  He spoke of civilian casualties.  He spoke of men and women in uniform and how their lives should not be endangered without truly just cause.  He spoke of how both sides in a war -- both the victor and the defeated -- suffer.  Yes, he said even the victors are damaged by war.  This means, to me, that when you are in the position of getting your way (and keeping it) through force, you are not actually gaining the cooperation of those you defeat.  And those you defeat -- who are kept "in their place" against their will -- are not just going to roll over and adopt your positions.  They are going to try to figure out a way to rise up and put you down, in turn.  This just leads to more hatred, more conflict, more war.  John Paul II argued that negotiation should be the primary means of resolving conflict; and he stated that negotiation is often neglected or not given enough of a chance to succeed.  What are the advantages of negotiation?  Negotiation seeks to allow everybody as much freedom of choice as reasonably possible.  People are required, through negotiation, to try to see the individuals on the "other side of the table" as human beings with free will, dignity, hopes, dreams, and needs.  In a negotiation, everybody has to give something up in order to gain something.  There is not a "winner" and a "loser."  The needs and desires of all -- even of those you disagree with -- have to be taken into account.  And this helps all of us to remember and respect the humanity of those from whom we differ.

You may be thinking to yourself, "Well, the Culture War is not a literal war, like World War II or the war in Iraq."  But, I disagree.  I think a lot of the same dynamics exist in the Culture War as in a war in which actual bullets and bombs are employed.   What are some of these dynamics?  First of all, each side starts to separate from the other -- socially, geographically.  How many barbecues have you been to lately where Dems and Reps freely mingle and enjoy the company of one another?  How often nowadays do we see neighborhoods -- or even whole towns, cities, and states -- that are predominantly of one political ideology or another?  And after the separation comes the demonization.  We start thinking of each other as "enemies."  We can't listen to each others opinions -- especially via the internet, the radio, or the TV -- without becoming apoplectic.  And this leads to more separation and more demonization.  It is easy to demonize people with which you don't have to personally interact.  And once we separate and demonize, it is easier and easier to hate.  It becomes easier and easier to want to "put the other side down" by some kind of force.  It becomes easier to believe that making everybody live the way that you deem "correct" -- the way that makes you feel comfortable -- is right and just.   It becomes simpler to make "straw man" arguments out of the ideas of your opponents, so that you can joke about them and ridicule them, instead of giving them the respectful and intelligent consideration they deserve.  And all of this does just as much damage to us as individuals and as a society as a literal war --  not physically, perhaps -- but, psychologically and spiritually.

What is the solution?  Negotiation -- as John Paul II advocated.  Each side in this "Culture War" needs to listen fairly and openly to the concerns of the other.  Then we need to make room for each other, even if it might make us a bit uncomfortable to do so.  I have been a fairly conservative person most of my life (even though I am a bit of a hippie on the inside), and it concerns me when I hear "my" side say, too often, that this, that, or the other thing is "non-negotiable."  It just seems like we say it too much.  And then the progressive people feel threatened and disrespected and they don't really feel like dealing with us and all our "non-negotiable items."  And I don't really blame them.  We come across as a bit obnoxious and intolerant sometimes, fellow conservatives. 

Also, frankly, I really like the idealism of the Progressives.  And the vast majority of Progressives are lovely people, who are kind and charitable, who are just and merciful, who are great fun.  And I count many of them as my good friends.  I'm not going to have a war with them.  I will give them room to follow their consciences.  And I trust that they will give me room to follow mine.  Also, our consciences have more things in common than not, because we all strive to be people of goodwill and moral integrity, even if some of our opinions differ.

One final thought:  When we war with one another culturally, there is something we often forget.  We forget about the actual people whose choices and orientations and lifestyles we are putting under our little microscopes.  For example, in the vociferous and often unkind debate about gay marriage, conservatives sometimes seem to forget that there are actual gay couples who genuinely love each other.  There are actual gay individuals and couples with beautiful children.  And these people love their children just as much as I love mine.  We need to avoid hurting these people by our words and attitudes.  We need to respect these families.  We need to be charitable.

As one of the saints once said, "In all things, in ALL things -- charity."

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