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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    In defense of the U.S. culture war

    According to many, the U.S. is in the grip of a “”culture war”” between “”orthodox”” (rough translation: traditionally Republican) and “”progressive”” (radically Democratic) perspectives.

    Public figures ranging from politician Pat Buchanan to academic Howard Bloom and late actor Charlton Heston have endorsed the view that our country is being torn from within by a sweeping moral divide on issues like gun control and abortion. They caution that Rome fell largely due to internal moral bickering – see Bloom’s “”The Lucifer Principle”” or Heston’s speech “”Fighting the Cultural War in America”” – and urge us to resolve this ideological conflict ASAP. The more conservative-minded pundits of this bunch consider the culture war unconstitutional, arguing that white, religious, heterosexual Americans are afraid to express their views in an atmosphere dominated by political correctness and liberal media.

    Well, any concern that WASPs aren’t being given a voice anymore has been nicely obliterated by the Bush administration. But the fact that views from the historically dominant perspective of our country are coming increasingly under attack is no cause for concern – in fact, this kind of bloodless cultural warfare is exactly what makes the U.S. a great country.

    Many things about being a U.S. citizen suck. You can’t walk down streets of major cities and see beautiful buildings 600 years old. You’re relatively likely to go to jail. You have to bear the criticism of most other nations for your last 50-odd years of foreign policy. You can’t drink until you’re 21.

    Yet there are many things we have to be proud of, like a legacy of independent, individualist machismo we still extol by kicking the crap out of other countries when we deem it necessary. Alternatively, if you find this an unstomachable source of pride, then take comfort in everything orthodox opponents of the culture war are afraid of.

    Almost all countries outside the U.S. remain dominated by a strong sense of traditional culture. No matter how enlightened the socialist-leaning nations of Europe might be, they still argue about who makes the best beer or who wrote the best literature. Because our culture is so new and diverse, we Americans prefer to hijack the best elements from other cultures (often judged by how lucrative they prove). As famed conductor Daniel Barenboim stated in his book “”Parallels and Paradoxes”” (with Edward Said), he loved working with U.S. musicians because they were free of the musical biases European students invariably showed. While Germans always prefer Brahms and the French Debussy, we cultural bastard children of America give every artist an equal chance to win our affection.

    When you’re in Italy, you know you’re in Italy. This statement is true for many countries marked by characteristic architecture and cultural homogeneity. But while other nations boast a set-in-stone culture that is often considered beyond criticism, our cultural battleground holds nothing sacred, and pressures us to revise strategy and avoid past blunders.

    The United States is a nation of individuals bound not by cultural unity, but rather by a common belief in certain principles. We are the country on this planet that best approximates empirical science: Though we all respect an underlying methodology (in this case, the Constitution), we are committed to self-criticism and improving on past perspectives. This means we are not obligated to uphold any cultural perspective or political worldview; rather, we adapt, like science, with changing times and desires of the people. And, as in science, if your idea sucks, it doesn’t matter how much history is behind it, how many of your ancestors died to defend it, or how important it is to you: You can believe it at home, but it’s not going to survive in the public sphere.

    Our culture wars are exactly what make the U.S. a nation to be proud of. If Hispanic or African-American culture were to dominate our politics, you’re damn right I’d approve of a “”White pride”” minority rallying against them. Our country is at its best when it gives all voices a say – and lets them compete mercilessly against each other – in the great experiment of liberal democracy.

    The greatest thinkers of our national history have taken advantage of a unique cultural environment which actually encourages tearing down past systems of thought rather than perpetually enshrining them. I’m glad to be an American, but only to the extent that we have the intelligence to admit it when our dominant ideologies prove idiotic. Long live nonviolent cultural warfare.

    Daniel Sullivan is a senior majoring in German studies and psychology. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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