Monday, March 15, 2004

Battlefields of the Mind: Looking at the Culture War from Afar
Part Three: Sword and Sorcery

Fundamentalist Christians have, for several decades now, been twisted into a fit over Role Playing Games like Dungeons & Dragons. At first glance, this seems like simply a symptom of their pathological irrationality. But I think it's a bit more deep rooted than just fear of the Devil lurking in a Unicorn Poster*. Fundie Christians hate D&D because it threatens their monopoly on overly complex fantasy worlds with arbitrary rules.

"Oh, sorry, you failed your saving role, so it's off to the flaming pit for you."

These concerned christians fear that their children are being led into occultism and madness by a game, despite the fact that, time and again, there is no evidence that it's the game that makes people do anything. The few unfortunate lunatics who kill their siblings with axes have a tenuous grasp of reality to begin with and there's no reason to believe that switching brands of fantasy, from those written by Wizards of the Coast to those written by ancient dead shepherds would effect the outcome one way or the other.

You aren't saved from anything by believing in nonsense, even if your brand of nonsense has the benefit of 2000 years of cultural acceptance. You still believe in things that are not, and act as if they are, which is dangerous behavior all around, but is potentially fatal on a global scale if you are the President of the United States and believe that the King of the Angels shits magic ice cream every time you kill an infidel.

So what does this have to do with the Culture War?

Well, first off, what I have been referring to the Culture War is really a fictitious meme created by a few ultraconservative pundits as a way of framing the dialogue between infophobes and infophiles in terms of conflict. (For more on this reframing of the issues of the day in terms of conflict see Orcinus). War implies that there are two sides, one good, one bad, engaged in a fight to the death for the supremacy of each side's favorite world view, winner take all (at least, this is the traditional, comic book view of war as noble champions versus despicable agressors. Can you guess which ones the Neocon Pundits fancy themselves to be?)

The Culture War is in fact, just a continuation of the ongoing dialogue between opposing viewpoints, but through the means of ridicule and name calling. We characterize these viewpoints as Conservative or Liberal, running on a sliding scale from the Far Right to the Far left. But like all arguments based on abstractions, this is a generalization that obliterates nuance and thoughtful discussion by forcing everyone with a viewpoint (which is everyone with two or more brain cells to rub together) to pick a side, cross the line and square off against an opponent. This leads to the invective and name calling that has increasingly become a part of public debate.

But reality is far more complex and dynamic than this push-me-pull-you political shorthand leads us to believe. And that's the problem. Conservatives canít win in a fair intelectual fight, even one they started. They need to roll with loaded dice, make up the rules as they go and then decide which rules are applied and when (and change them as they see fit). Talking common sense to them only makes them angry, because common sense doesnít enter into the picture. The Sean Hannitys and Bill OíReillys and George W. Bushs of the world are engaged in a dangerous role playing game. Itís dangerous because they forgot to leave their dice in church where they belong and when you point this little fact out, they stick their fingers in their ears like the intelectual six year olds that they are and scream, ìNah! Nah! Nah! Canít hear you!î and then threaten to beat us up after school. But thatís really all we can do is try to persevere with logic and heart and gradually, chip away at their straw men and expose their lies and trickery. Thatís how we won the Scopes trial. Itís how we declared our Independence from King George and why we did have to fight because he wouldnít see reason and wanted to keep playing his Geopolitical real world version of Risk.

And thatís the only time war becomes an acceptable outcome: when the Infophobes start hurling bombs instead of just insults.

*My wife told me once how, as a child, she had received a unicorn poster in school as a reward for completing a reading contest. She took the poster home and hung it on her wall, as children are want to do. When she came home the following day, she discovered that her mother had thrown the unicorn poster away because unicorns, being mythic creatures are thus, satanic and the poster was a doorway through which the Devil might creep into their very Catholic home and steal the silver or rearrange the flowers. My wife's copy of the Collected Stories of Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King's It met similar fates.

Ed. note: I know, I promised a critique of Secularism Vs. Theocracy but I realized while writing the third part that the whole idea of the culture war was a false meme. So perhaps Iíll extoll the virtues of a Secular Society over a theocratic one another time.


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