What is Culture War? | James Kalb | CWR
The need for a sacred focus makes culture war inevitable when there are enough people who disagree strongly on the exact nature of that focus
A culture is a way of living, a system of habit and attitude, an orientation toward life and the world, that is shared and basically taken for granted within a community. It arises naturally when people live together, since we are social beings who need common habits and understandings to live together happily and productively.
That makes the idea of a “culture war” seem rather odd. How can there be a war over what is shared, habitual, taken for granted, and basic to social functioning?
The answer, of course, is that nothing human is automatic. Culture involves difference as well as agreement. Any moderately complex society has regional, class, and occupational variations. It has city people who differ from country people, and often migrants from elsewhere.
Most cultural differences reflect the fact that people live somewhat separately, a situation that reduces practical problems. When they do arise, something usually gets worked out through assimilation, accommodation, and sometimes mutual avoidance. A functional society is in everyone’s interest, so people normally adopt habits and understandings that keep their dealings reasonably amicable. Such things might involve standards like taking responsibility for one’s own, dodges like avoiding “hot button” issues in company, or acceptance that people differ in their virtues and vices, and find somewhat different ways to a good life.
A culture war arises when such habits and understandings break down, so that people constantly offend each other, points of contention cannot be negotiated, the limits of toleration are reached, and the society ends up in what amounts to a low-level civil war. Usually that happens when a new outlook and way of life arrives that’s at odds with the old on basic issues regarding what life is about and how we should live.
Culture pervades every aspect of human life, including our deepest concerns. Every culture has an orientation determined by basic commitments and views on what is most important and therefore sacred. A society needs to hold such things in common if it is to survive and remain functional in times of stress.