Quick Post: The Culture Wars and your weak Culture-Fu #auspol

The Left should start using Don Quixote as their mascot for the ‘current’ ‘Culture War’.

I’ve had more than a few beers with people lately who are worried about the Culture War.  Few of them can explain precisely what they mean by the term.  Few can explain precisely why they think winning this war is a good thing.

The idea of the Culture War (and its antecedent idea the ‘Kulturkampf’) is extremely interesting.  Typically, we frame the Australian discussion around the identity of former Prime Minister John Howard.  Howard had this clear idea of what he saw as ‘ordinary’ Australia and he wanted to use the organs of State to realise that vision.

It’s fairly obvious that a Culture War is a good thing.  We look to the Government and the Opposition to share with  us its vision of an ideal Australia.  When it looks ten years into the future, what does Australia look like?  What values does it share?  What culture does it have?  How are you going to make that happen?

If you’re telling me that the Labor Party spent six years in power not prosecuting a campaign of promoting a particular culture in Australia, then those six years were more of a failure than we thought.

Howard’s ‘success’in his Culture War was in normalising his activities by promoting the intuitions of his preferred Australians as default rational.  ‘This isn’t ideology,’ he could be paraphrased as saying.  ‘This is just commonsense.’

But this has become the great sadness of the Liberal Party: its rejection of thinking about ideology.  Ideology is bad.  Ideology isn’t practical.  Ideology doesn’t connect you with ‘ordinary’ Australians.  Thus, the ideology is to reject discussion about ideology.

It’s a magic trick which only works because the audience doesn’t question it.  Indeed, it only works because the magician performing the trick also doesn’t question it.

This is why Howard and his successors will continue to win the culture war: it relies entirely on inertia.  Axing departments isn’t done for ideological reasons; it’s done for practical reasons.  Trying to save money.  Trying to streamline processes.  Trying to get rid of the ALP waste.

But it’s a weird way to use the word ‘win’.  Does gravity ‘win’ when the apple falls from the tree?  Does water ‘win’ because it is wet?  Does 8,128 ‘win’ because it is a perfect number?  The Coalition ‘wins’ the Culture War by being completely unable to do anything except pander to the intuitions of their ‘ordinary Australian’.  See, for example, what happened with WorkChoices: it did not accord with the intuitions of the ‘ordinary Australian’ and, thus, looked like ideology.  Howard was toppled.

The only way for the Left to fight — let alone win — the Culture War is to show to ordinary Australians that their non-ideology is, in fact, ideology.  It’s not about showing that the Culture War exists to other lefties who only see Culture Wars when they’re not in power.  It’s about getting ordinary Australians engaged and involved in thinking about ideology.

Until they do that, it’s a very amusing puppet play for those of us conservatives who understand ideology.

‘We must fight that giant!’

‘That numpty writing in The Guardian thinks it’s a giant.  It’s a windmill!  What a dunce!’

‘If that imbecile had correctly read my analysis of windmill-giants, he would have found that I am arguing that it’s both a windmill and a giant!’

‘Wouldn’t it be good if more sociopaths were involved in this debate?  Does anybody have Mike Carlton’s telephone number?  I bet he has good views about windmills.’

‘THIS ARTICLE SAYS MEAN THINGS ABOUT THE “FUCK TONY” T-SHIRTS.  WHAAAAARGBLE!  I REFUSE TO BE SILENCED!’

Enjoy fighting among yourselves, guys.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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