Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Real Culture War

I've posted a final essay about the recent, traumatic 2004 political season - another layered appraisal of the "Real Culture War," showing how obsolete and irrelevant the hoary old "left right axis" has become.

culturewarbattlegroundWhat appears to be dividing America, instead, is the issue of modernity. Whether people believe progress is possible or desirable. "Moderates" who stand, tormented, between fanatical poles of left and right are not different because their views are tepid. It is because many are capable of believing in science, in human improvability, in beneficial argument, in the contingent nature of opinion... and in tomorrow.

The work commences at:

And yes, it’s a bit ... well... erudite. I wish I had a way to reach those of my fellow citizens who turned out in droves for Carl Rove, voting to support conspiratorial liars. But I don't have a talk show. All I can do is try to engage those interested in reason and argument. Moderate liberals and conservatives who notice that something very strange is happening to America.

One feature: a proposed coalition of moderates who want out from the old left-right mania, offering instead a concise, limited list of reasonable goals for Americans of good will to get behind. See: Alliance for a Modern World.

alliancemodernworldMy suggestions don't cater to simplistic 20th Century ideologies. They are pragmatic. They serve the Enlightenment.


FINALLY, I have no idea whether the proposal below has got legs. I’m just passing it along. You are welcome to do the same...

"Join a "credit card strike" December 12 and 13! That's when Electoral College votes are tallied. The idea is not to disrupt the economy, but to cause a measurable protest 'blip'. To participate in this modest “general strike" simply pay CASH for everything you purchase on those two days. It's easy. And ANY level of change in credit card activity will be noticed! Even a small dip in blue states may say "this is just the beginning. So watch it."

"Some think this to be an idea worth passing on. Spread the word! CASH-only purchases on December 12-13!"


DevP said...

A (manual) trackback from your friends at Democratic Freedom:

Sean Dustman said...

Woah! One of my favorite authors has a blog? Welcome to the blogsphere David, have been a huge fan of both your novels and your essays for years. Glad to see you out here.

Bora Zivkovic said...

I like your article very much. We may not agree 100% but I have written some similar things on my blog and will post a link and comment to your piece later.

David Brin said...

Thanks all three of you.
First commenter made a good posting of his own.

Some of my earlier postings can be found at:

Some people especially like:

There's a lively discussion list at:

We'll endure and persevere. I am reviewing Jared Diamond's book on why civilizations Collapse. We are showing all the signs of the obstinate past-fixation that led to other disasters... but we also carry the tool set for avoiding that fate.

winterspeak said...

Hi Dave:

I think you missed the real story of the election by reading your own biases into it. While much has ben written about Red/Blue america, exit polls have turnout higher for both parties, but the fundamental split between different groups (blacks, youth, evangelicals, etc) is pretty much exactly the same as before. The *only* difference is that Bush gained about 3M folks who would have voted Democrat but voted Republican because of the war on terror (New Republic piece by Peter Beinart).

I have no doubt that you have noticed a Machismo culture (with plenty of Paranoi tossed in) is at war with the Dogmatic-Other culture. The reason Machismo culture has not done more damage is because it can't get its hands on bigger bombs, but it's doing what it can to change that.

Bush has a plan to change this Machismo/Paranoid culture into something else (probably Eastern, maybe Dogmatic-Other). It involves taking feudal autocratic societies, killing the leader, and installing a more competitive and accountable system of government, which may look like Democracy.

Just as breaking up gerry-mandered districts into competitive districts can reduce extremism, introducing competitiveness and accountability into government will create demand for compromise and expertise, 2 things sneered at in macho/paranoid societies.

This may be a bad plan, but until someone cooks up something better, it will win votes. I like the cute idea on your blog about switching the way you pay from cash to credit card to send a signal, but if you honestly think that that will make any difference at all on how the country will vote until Saudi holds its second election (aka "victory") I fear you will dissappoint your son again.

On the other hand, cooking up a better plan to win the Terror War may win votes, but it looks like you all are busy trying to win the Culture War first. Don't bother letting me know when you're done--I have bigger fish to fry.

Anonymous said...

It seems that there is a great divide between who Bush really is and what Mr. Brin has been led to believe.

Mr. Brin, President Bush is hardly the backward-looking man you make him out to be. He is extremely progressive, trying to change the structures that have harmed this country's place in the world. For some time now there has been a gap between America's real place in the world and the face we've been showing them.

For example, Mr. Bush's policies on education, particularly community college support, are indicative of a man who wants to develop our economy to one that can compete in a world where goods can be produced extraordinarily cheap. We cannot compete in an environment so dominated by labor costs without instituting reforms harmful to trade and the global economy in general.
So Mr. Bush has gone on the attack against the dollar, and pushed for a pro-savings climate -- those tax cuts were not a stimulus package, but a structural change. A little in-depth look at Mr. Bush's economic policy reveals a surprisingly subtle plan to protect American goods without resorting to attacks on free trade, a policy geared towards reducing dramatically the trade deficit, and making it easier for us to pay off the debts that, admittedly, he has had a hand in building.

We have a $7.5 trillion national debt, growing every year in large part thanks to our massive trade deficit. Yet Mr. Bush's policies have been extremely effective at busting down the trade deficit and increasing US exports -- all this despite claismthat Mr. Bush is hurting jobs and sneding our future overseas! These policies have worked precisely as Mr. Bush intended them to. Exports are at their strongest in over ten years.

Mr. Bush is a progressive. He's jsut not your particular brand of progressive.
Yes, he has a respect for prenatal human life. If it's human (and it is, all 46 chromosomes), and it's life (and it is, by any biological definition), Mr. Bush is ethically opposed to killing it. This is perhaps his only truly conservative social position.
See, Mr. Bush doesn't protect the current definition of marriage because it feels better. He considers marriage as an institution to be absolutely essential to the forward progress of the state, particularly in what kind of citizens we're producing and how they fare economically and socially. Is this regressive? It might be a little shortsighted, or it might not. But it's not just a knee-jerk born-again smattering of religious oppression.
After all, is our problem with Karl Rove, or Mr. Bush, or the evangelicals who voted a particular way in the last election due to Mr. Rove's tactics?
Is it the way Mr. Bush presents the argument, using terms like "Evil"?

Is Mr. Bush so backward-looking on foreign policy?
Here we have one of the most aggressively pro-democracy presidents in history, by design and in effect tearing down regimes that you yourself denounce! Here go the macho societies, suddenly exposed to women voting in elections -- in big numbers. The transition may have its growing pains, but the trend is unmistakable: the polarization we boo-hoo about is in fact creating a huge, aggressively pro-democracy faction in the Middle East. The Arab street is changing, and the People in Egypt and Iran have taken notice. So too, apparently, have leaders of countries housing large numbers of fundamentalists.

Regressive? This man, Mr. Bush, who has relentlessly pushed for markets around the world to open up? A man who believes, correctly, that liberal democracies do not attack one another? A man who believes, correctly, that free trade prevents wars?
And the message and effect of his trade policies and meanuevering with the dollar is unmistakable: the past is gone, the old barriers must come down. You say this is a man who does not believe that progress is possible or beneficial? Why then make the argument for free trade, for democracy everywhere, for human rights?

This is not a left-right man. This is a man promoting growth and freedom, both economic and societal.
And that's precisely what those maps show: the stark divide between stagnant and booming America. Places in population stagnation and low economic growth overwhelmingly voted for Kerry, while places that are growing the fastest in America are overwhelmingly poro-Bush. This is not about slave states and free states. This is about opportunity and ownership versus the Rest.
The moral values just come with the territory; hence, the big split between Catholic voters (What? They vote in large numbers for both candidates? Despite the abortion thing? It's true!). The split in this electorate was geographically and demographically about growth versus stagnation. And Bush was the favorite of the growth crowd.

There is yet hope for Pax Americana. The sum total of wars in the world is dropping. The American dollar is doing precisely what it needs to do to keep us on top and yet promote the economic health of our allies. If you ask me and a growing number of people, really, you'd find that the best thing a country like Russia could do is take on the dollar as its official currency (de facto, it already is... their reserves may be taking on more euros for stability, but they do raw-materials exports to the EU with prices fixed in dollars, and the dollar is the mattress-money currency of Russia).

The language, the culture, the political system and the economy of the West is spreading.

And as for a culture war, this supposedly divided house is doing a fine job of standing, Mr. Brin. Despite it all.

Tony Fisk said...

Interesting article, with some interesting suggestions.
(I liked the notion of voting for preselection candidates! of *all* parties)

I, too, thought of Heinlein's future history. It's particularly chilling to note Heinlein's timing of Nehemiah Scudder's ascension to presidency (2012).

FWIW, some serendipidity (and a bit of christmas shopping) provided me with a couple of links that you, and readers of this post, may find both amusing and relevant:

Weasel words is a compilation of words that have been gutted of their meaning by various factions (political and otherwise). Doublethink lives on!
Surprisingly, that link led me on to NewMatilda, a website devoted to preventing the same polarisation that is occurring in USA from happening in Australia (which it is, :-(.
From what little I've seen, there are some interesting discussions are going on there

Anonymous said...

I've read a bunch of David Brin's essays about romantics and modernists and I find them very compelling.

And yet...

I remember when I thought that romantic and idealistic were positive terms, preferring what should be or could be over what is. Isn't that idea what science fiction and futurism are all about?

I'm as afraid of irrationality as the next person, but does it have to be an either/or prospect? Is there a way for romanticism/idealism to work alongside modernity/pragmatism rather than counter?

(A related question I've often wondered is whether mysticism can work alongside rationality/science without mucking it up; I admit, I doubt it. But it would be nice.)


Anonymous said...

Jon- on that issue- romanticism, idealism, and mysticism alongside progress, science and reason- have you ever taken a look at the works of Ken Wilber, especially, "Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution"? He takes arguments similiar to Brin's a step further, juxtaposing prerational pseudo-mysticism and romanticism with a transrational idealism and mysticism that integrates reason and science. It's an interesting idea, no doubt, and Wilber's work is quite provocative in that respect.

As for David, keep up the good work- I've found your recent essays especially valuable and inspiring. I'm currently working on a large paper myself on the changes in the political spectrum and how the traditional dichotomy of Conservative Realism and Liberal Idealism is obsolete, and I've been using your recent essays in the process. I'd be happy to send you a copy when I'm done, if you'd have some time to look it over.

-Nicq MacDonald
(soon to be webmaster of, with any luck)

Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard of Ken Wilber before. I've just requested that book from my library. Thanks for the heads up. (Out of curiosity, I've read David Brin's essays/comments on Star Trek, Star Wars, the Matrix, etc. Has he ever commented on Babylon 5?)


(Oh BTW, I read the Life Eaters and liked it a lot. I was a bit suprised by some of the commentary about how the "Nazis win" scenario was unrealistic; I always thought (based on what I've read of WW2) that even with all of the hard work, brains, and sacrifice the Allies had, so much of the war was a crapshoot (dependent on weather for the Normandy invasion for instance) that it really could have gone either way. End of huge run-on sentence.)

Anonymous said...

Wow. Having finally seen some of Mr. Brin's commentary, I can see several of his opinions and understand several of his viewpoints, especially those seen with Star Trek. At the same time, I must ask about his thoughts on Babylon 5; does he decry the show based on its Homerian elements (Sinclair/Sheridan and their rise to greatness), or does he enjoy the show as a vision that the evil isn't necessarily evil (the Shadow War), and that many common people can make a difference just as easily as one point man (pretty much the entire series)? Or is he just neutral on the entire thing, and glad that it's a fairly optimistic, yet realistic, science fiction franchise that doesn't say that we're all doomed?

Me, I'm eagerly awaiting it.

Anonymous said...

A (manual) trackback:

I take Brin's idea and apply it to a group of conservatives I know well (because I used to be one). I would appreciate any feedback.