How many culture wars do we have going on at any one time as a global civilization?
I can think of at least this many:
- social-conservative vs. social-liberal
- big-capitalist vs. nation states
- secular vs. religious/theocratic
- kleptocracy vs. democracy (and we all know who’s winning)
- cultural-preservationist vs. postculturalist
- science vs. traditionalism
- individualism vs. communalism
- rights vs. responsibilities
The amazing thing about all of this is that nobody seems to notice all of these things have a place in the world. Even I, a rather strong atheist, would never say that religious stances have no place in our world; it’s just that the balance between personal benefit and the cost to others is so precarious a thing to balance that, in a democracy, I think, theocracy has absolutely no place. Similarly, I think that business interests must necessarily be of a lower priority than the interests of the people. That is to say, of all institutions in the world, I think the state institution of a democratic government is the one most sacred to the preservation of human freedom. At least potentially so. This means that it must be safeguarded against all other interests; neither church nor company should be allowed to conspire and overturn it.
It strikes me as curious, in fact, that a whole rhetoric of sacrality of democracy didn’t evolve in the early days of America. If I had my way, we’d be a little closer, in democratic countries, to thinking of our system the way the medievals thought of their royal leaders. Conspiracy against democracy happens all the time, when businesses bribe politicians with campaign funding and lobby for whatever the hell they want. We ought to decry these people far more forcefully than the medievals defended their fat, greedy, bloated kings from regicide on the grounds of divine right. It seems to me that to sin against democracy is a far more horrifying thing than to slay some king who simply stole from the people. (Yes, I’m simplifying and regicide was taboo also because it destablized kingdoms, I know… but still, it seems to me ridiculous to see us all watching democracy assailed at all sides and not even have a word to decry it which bears even half the stain of the old sin of “regicide”.)
Beyond safeguarding democracy (once, that is, we establish it), it seems to be that all of these pairs of tendencies have a place; each of them needs to be present in balance with its pair-opposite. Without the benefits of a working economic system, there’s little we can do to preserve the environment: people will ravage it in their struggle to survive, especially with a human population the size we now have. Similarly, with no respect for the environment, people will be trapped in a hell of consumer-corporate work and consumption, until the species cannot inhabit the planet any longer.
Is it just a human tendency to stray toward extremes? Is there something we can do about it? I’m thinking about that these days.