Why the Culture War was over before it began

I am not a supporter of “Whig history;” I do not, by any means, believe that time naturally progresses towards greater human liberty, and whenever I hear some well-meaning liberal making this argument, I assume that they are probably looking no more than about 250 years into the past, and even then taking a Eurocentric view.

That said, I am convinced that most–if not all–of the reactionary arguments that we are presently hearing from conservative commentators will have faded to dim and unpleasant memories within the next few decades, and I have a very good reason to do so: namely, even when fighting against progressive cultural ideas, conservatives are implicitly endorsing a progressive ideological framework.

Take, for example, the recent creationist flare-up over Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new Cosmos series, a representative example of which comes from Answers in Genesis:

The scientific method has led to the discoveries and technological leaps that shape our lives and our understanding of the universe. Unfortunately, when it comes to the topic of unobservable origins, mainstream scientists who believe big bang cosmology and molecules-to-man evolution think that the god-free framework they have invented is a factual reality that accurately and reliably describes a past they can never examine. They test their ideas about the past within their own concept of what the past was like, and they believe they are actually using the scientific method to make observations about the past.

Despite the admonition to “question everything” and to “reject” ideas that “don’t pass the test,” the fact that abiogenesis violates the fundamental laws of biology is ignored. Evolutionary blind faith in a “great mystery”—such as that invoked by Bill Nye in the recent Nye-Ham Debate—trumps the scientific method. Why? Because molecules-to-man evolution must have happened for Darwinian notions of origins to be true.

I will leave it to one of my molecular biologist readers to perform the ceremonial debunking of hoary creationist chestnuts about abiogenesis, but for my money, the salient point of AiG’s criticism is to excoriate Tyson for his “blind faith” and urge him to show greater support for “science.” I will repeat that point: A Christian organization is denouncing Faith as a vice and holding-up Science as a virtue. No doubt, they think that this is a clever bit of turnabout on their part–but in fact, they are doing nothing more than to seal their ultimate defeat: by so doing, they have already conceded that the epistemology of science is the correct one. Effectively, they have agreed to play science’s game by science’s rules, and so it is inevitable that they will lose.

Likewise, we see that the latest wave of homophobic legislation in the United States is motivated by some demented notion of individual freedom. By adopting the logic of Civil Rights, they too have decided to try playing by their opponents’ rules, and they too have all-but-guaranteed their own eventual defeat.

All of this sounds wonderful–if you happen to hold, as I do, to “progressive” political values. However, progressives should take note: we ourselves frequently fall into this exact same epistemological trap when it comes to other issues. For example, when we try to argue in favour of public education by stressing the value of degree-holders to the economy (rather than, for example, making the Humanistic argument that quality education is a fundamental right), we are endorsing the ideology of neoliberalism: when we allow the rules of the game to be set by the Corporations, the Corporations will win. And I need hardly explain why trying to fight Rape Culture by emphasizing the “sexiness” of consent will never work in a million years.

About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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2 Responses to Why the Culture War was over before it began

  1. Lindsay says:

    I never thought of that, about the whole faith-vs.-science reversal. I had figured most of that was just garden-variety projection. (I believe stupid, untenable shit just because I want it to be true, so you’ll never convince me that you don’t do the same! — like that).

    About the other stuff ….. I don’t know. I may have commented here before to the effect that I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel as far as sociopolitical stuff goes. I guess I’m also seeing the huge victories they’ve won in moving the Overton Window rightward on stuff like privatization and what is a public good. And those victories have lasted; the first big wave of deregulation/privatization happened a generation ago.

    I also tend to see them accepting our premises as not necessarily a sign from the gods that we’re going to win; it can also be the opening move of some appalling bit of political jiu-jitsu. My example with this is abortion: they can’t outlaw it outright, Roe v. Wade is against them and they don’t have the votes to do it anyway. But they can make it functionally impossible for a very wide swath of the American people to actually get an abortion if they need one, by adding all these hoops to jump through in the name of “safety” or “protecting women.” There, they’ve accepted a pro-choice premise — that a woman’s (or other person endowed with a uterus’s) safety and welfare is paramount — ostensibly at least, but what is actually happening is that we’re going back to how things were, before legal abortion.

    (And it will be obvious to everyone reading this which of us lives in Canada and which of us lives in the US, in one of the reddest of red states. LOL.)

  2. Pingback: Quotebag #106 | In defense of anagorism

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