Last week, we discussed the “Second War Between the States”. Without question, this is a war of laws and policies. However, it is much more than that. It is a war over culture.
I am a big culture guy. I think it is the most important factor in predicting the success or failure or any association of human beings. Understanding the culture of a family will tell you much more about that family than will their address, income or the cars they drive. The culture in a company or a non-profit is tremendously influential on how they operate and whether you would want to associate with them or not. We have all probably worked somewhere or at least interviewed somewhere where the company culture was not a fit and we knew it was not a good place for us.
Countries and states have cultures, too. We certainly have long had a very strong and recognizable American culture. The American culture is not English culture or French culture or Mexican culture or Japanese culture. It is uniquely American. And, within our culture, many different “dialects” can be found across the country. But, just like English spoken in Alabama is still closer to English spoken in the Bronx than it is to German, American culture in Texas and Vermont are still more alike each other than they are like Russian culture.
At least that’s how it used to be.
I am definitely not the first person to speak or write about the current “culture war”. The topic is immensely complex and has many layers. I could write a book about it. Others have already done so. In this writing, I will only lightly touch on the subject. But, to ignore it when talking about “The Second War between the States” would be to leave out the war’s most significant battlefield. You see, if we lose the battle for our culture, we will subsequently lose the laws and the policies that we hold dear. One follows after the other. If you believe in the slogan popularized by Karl Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” the laws to enact that arrangement will naturally follow. However, if instead you believe that, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities (Abraham Lincoln),” then you will reach a completely different conclusion. Similarly, if we maintain the American culture, it will be hard for the socialism and statism of the Left to prevail in legislative bodies. Increasingly, I see it as the primary battlefield in the war to keep America free, prosperous and strong. However, I also see that American culture is changing to one that is increasingly oppressive, unpromising and weak.
The battle over culture in America is often trivialized as being just about top-of-mind political issues. Will people respect the sanctity of human life at conception or respect a woman’s right to choose? Should taxes limit and redistribute income or be as low as possible to fund the necessary functions of government? Is climate change real, alarming and man-made or something that is unproven and does not warrant upheaval in the economy? These are not trivial issues. Not in the least. But, culture transcends these issues. Beyond defining where you stand on these arguments, culture is the foundation upon which you shape your entire perspective and worldview.
For example, consider what I call the “entitlement culture”. I was raised believing that you are entitled to nothing unless you work for it and your good character is deserving of it. If you are lazy and of poor character, you are entitled to nothing and it is just and right that it be so. But, the “entitlement culture” of the Left is changing this reality. Far more than just Social Security, Medicare and the government programs we label as “entitlements”, this is about a mentality of “me”. I deserve this by virtue of living. If I don’t get what I think I have coming to me, it’s because someone else unjustly got it. If I don’t have everything I want, it’s because of “the man”. I have to get it and get him and the end justifies the means. The “entitlement culture” is the opposite of what we used to call our “aspirational culture”. The “aspirational culture” is the uniquely American spirit that is defined by the fact that in this free country of opportunity there is nothing that holds me back from achievement by nature of my own diligence and God-given talents. However, because of my unique set of skills, I also cannot be anything I want to be. I will never be a good basketball player because my hands are too small, I can’t jump and I am too short. But, God has endowed all of us with a talent in something and in this country we can use that talent to its fullest. You cannot be simultaneously entitled and aspirational. You cannot believe that the deck is stacked against you while at the same time believe that nothing stands in your way.
Unfortunately, I see the “entitlement culture” around me all the time. In my view, road rage is about entitlement. My time is more valuable than yours. You are going too slow and cut me off. Don’t you understand that you just cost me a SECOND of MY time! I am important and your inane actions have interfered with my rights. I have a right to everything!! I see this sort of mentality everywhere now – on roads, airports, and theaters. I’ve seen it in the way people treat each other. Take owning a nice car, for example. (This wouldn’t be a laptop from John Campbell if I didn’t include a car -related example!) I own Ferraris. I have loved them since I became a car-racing fan in the early 60s and they are why I later became a Ferrari dealer. I have driven them since the 70s. For years, I would receive nothing but admiring glances and shouts of, “Nice car! Can I take a picture? It’s on my bucket list to own one of those.” But, in today’s culture, for every one of those nice comments, I now receive in equal share the back side of someone’s raised middle finger or an angry fist or shout. The clear message is, “You shouldn’t be allowed to have that you capitalist pig, unless of course everybody gets one for free.”
The “entitlement culture” has spread now to the point where we are entitled to never be offended by anyone ever. Remember the child’s chant of, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me…”? The new chant is, “Any word you say that offends any of my liberal sensibilities (except, of course, you can insult Sarah Palin with impunity) is punishable by imprisonment and unemployment. So, you better shut up you miserable wretch or I’ll call my attorney!”
I know many active liberals and leftists. Some of you are reading this and fuming about it over your fair-trade, organic soy latte right now. I understand why. Many of you are not yourselves selfish, discourteous, self-important or even entitled. But, this is the culture you are creating. Many of you are doing this unwittingly. (Not all, but many) It is not the world you set out to create. However, you are creating it because of a fundamental flaw in all liberal and leftist thought through the ages: Ignoring human nature. You set incentives expecting that all people will be altruistic in their reaction to such incentives. But, in my judgment, no human is completely altruistic. The bad results we are getting in our culture are directly correlated to the bad incentives and bad messages that the Left is creating.
So, those on the Left use their domination of the media, entertainment industry and education system to drive their cultural agenda. And, right now, they are winning. In my past, I have fallen victim to the “popular entertainment culture” and have fallen into the trap of some of the behavior I now see as depressingly prevalent. I understand how easy it is for them to win given the seductive, yet harmful messaging carried 24/7 by the media. And, the results of their victory are social malaise and economic stagnation. But, the red states are beginning to wake up to the threat. Of course, some of this fight for culture will happen in Washington, but the real battlefield is in everyday America. It will take place in our supermarkets and ball games and schools and churches and offices and farms. Everyday people are fighting the ruling elitists and their oppression. And, in the red states, they are starting to turn the tide. You can hear it in a line at the DMV. You can see it when two people reach for the same shelf at the hardware store. You can feel it at the funeral of a fallen soldier or in the caring for a mother whose child has been called to God too soon.
Congressman and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI) is a devout Catholic. Caring for the poor is a fundamental calling of his deep faith. We have now reached the 50 year anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, yet the poverty rate in America is identical to what it was in 1965 in spite of spending literally tens of trillions of dollars trying to remedy it. The war on poverty has failed. We need to do something else. A few weeks ago, Congressman Ryan launched his own effort to reduce poverty in America. A major part of that effort is communicating the fact that there is a culture that has been developed in poor areas that perpetuates poverty, violence and hopelessness and that we must work to change that culture. He was immediately attacked. His attackers stopped just short of accusing him of racism (the standard charge from those on the Left when they have lost the debate and have run out of rational arguments). You cannot attack the culture of the Left, you see. If you do, you are a hater of some sort. That is their mantra.
But, they are wrong. Completely wrong. Totally wrong. I won’t impugn their motives as they regularly impugn mine. I don’t believe that they have motives that are rooted in hate or evil anything like that. They are just wrong. History is replete with well-intentioned people who ruined lives, countries and cultures because they would not recognize when their chosen direction leads to disaster. Where I fault the Left is in their blind devotion to ideologies, cultures and practices that have so spectacularly and regularly failed.
There is so much more to say, but I think you get the drift. The bottom line here is that this is a war for which every one of us must put down the plowshare and pick up a sword. Don’t be bowed and don’t be bullied by the destructive culture of the Left. They are destroying lives. Yet, you can save them. All of us can and must rise up and restore America to its rightful, successful culture of faith, family and freedom. We can preserve our uniquely American heritage of liberty and prosperity and strength. Every one of us can make a difference. All of us, together, can save America……from itself.
Next time: Income Inequality. It is real. But, no one is talking about the real solutions.