Supervised by: Jonathan Bert McLelland Jr. BA, MA. Bert completed an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts in Political Theatre at the University of Alabama (UA). Bert then completed a Master of Arts at UA in Communication Studies, focusing on rhetoric and political discourse. In 2020 (in the course of this degree) he co-authored two academic papers which have since been published. Bert has recently completed a second MA in Public Policy at King’s College London.
As a professional Bert has worked on multiple political campaigns in Britain and America. He was an intern on the 2018 Alabama gubernatorial campaign of Democratic nominee Walt Maddox, and in 2019 he worked in Cardiff as a communications officer with the People’s Vote Campaign. During the 2020 election, Bert worked as a digital organizer and debate strategist for a congressional campaign and then ran social media for the first Democratic state senate campaign to unseat a Republican in 35 years.
A culture war is a political struggle caused by conflict between sets of social beliefs and cultural values. The culture wars have proved to have major consequences on the political state of the world, ultimately contributing to our divided society. Along with discussing its benefits and disadvantages, we discuss how it has affected society in terms of political tribalism, sectarianism, and polarization. The evidence of this paper was collected through academic articles and media reports concerning the culture war in the US and the UK from the 1990s onwards. As the paper explores the question of solving such detrimental disputes, we have come to the conclusion that culture wars may not have an end result, and perhaps that is not a bad thing.
What is a culture war? How do they affect society? And can they be solved? All of these questions are extremely relevant in the current political climate of today’s world. It is crucial to ask these questions in society today, not only because 76 percent of Britain doesn’t know what a culture war is (Nast, 2021), but because the wars are having major consequences, evermore dividing politics as we know it.
First of all, it is relevant that we ask the question, what is a culture war? Despite the fact the definition of this term is up for interpretation, and that some people question the very existence of culture wars altogether, academics define a culture war as a political struggle caused by a conflict between sets of social beliefs and cultural values. At its core, it is a fight of beliefs that allow facts and logic to take second priority to personal ideals.
It may not be a bloody and physical war that you were imagining, however, these ideological wars have proved to have vast implications, significantly dividing and polarizing politics.
Social media’s advancement in recent years has been a big factor in fomenting culture wars. Its highly advanced algorithm has demonstrated its ability to intensify people’s opinions. Hence, researchers have been seeing a trend of increasing arguments over history, race, and gender. Throughout this paper, we explore individual culture wars and how they are contributing to the current divided nature of politics. These wars include fights over gay rights, trans rights, abortion rights, free speech, racism, pronouns, and many others.
In our research, we examined its effects on society under political tribalism, sectarianism, and polarization in addition to debating its pros and cons. Although human beings are tribal creatures by nature, issues arise when this tribalism permeates a political system because parties encourage partisanship among their supporters. The US is an example of a country displaying a destructive political dynamic. The constitution, once a uniting document that was branded as a statement of shared principles, is now a weapon used by opposing parties. With the nation more divided than ever, political tribalism in America is at an all-time high.
Studies have shown that the rise of cultural groups is what leads to in-group bias, which is strongly correlated with polarization. These cultural groups can form based on minor characteristics, but with time, populations develop associations between particular characteristics and particular behaviors, increasing covariation. Meaning that polarization can bring people together but can also create prejudice between groups. Over the past couple of years, the public has seemed more inclined to feel prejudice towards those outside their social group and feel sympathy towards those who are in.
Furthermore, we examined whether the culture wars have a solution. We asked the question of why haven’t they been solved and came to the conclusion that perhaps they simply can’t be. This finding, whilst it acknowledges the impact of the culture wars on society, explores why the human condition doesn’t foster a healthy environment for resolution. The argument makes the claim that the trajectory of the culture wars is a never-ending circle with no solution. However, as society engages in conflict, we have the ability to find common ground and consequently improve the state of our politically divided society. Ultimately, perhaps the culture wars cannot be solved, and perhaps that may be a good thing.
Although some studies suggest that political polarization in the United States is not especially intense compared to other Western polities, research on such polarization has grown very quickly in the United States in recent years, reflecting the current state of partisan conflict in that country. This is most likely because there are just two options and a distinct set of in and out-groups in two-party systems, where this kind of polarization is clearly understood. It is fair to say that America, whilst being so powerfully influential, is one of the most politically divided developed democracies in the world. Considering America’s heavy influence in our interconnected world, it is highly likely that many advanced democracies will follow this dangerous path of political dysfunction. Throughout this paper, we explore how culture wars are contributing to the current state of the divided political dynamics evident in the UK and the US. Despite that in politics there is room for some necessary conflict, we have found that the current state of politics and the social divide is unhealthy and we need to confront this issue. As Tania Israel says, “Some of this divide is a matter of perception”, therefore, we believe that if we educate the world on the culture wars, we will move a step closer to resolving this growing issue (2020).
The implications of our findings are wide-ranging and significant. The implications of the findings are evident throughout the three questions that we answered (nature, impact, and solution). Through exploring numerous individual culture wars, we documented the crux behind each dispute. This allowed us to further the argument of how culture wars are so prevalent and rampant in today’s society and how they are affecting the dynamics of politics. Whilst answering the fundamental question of how they are affecting society, we recognized that culture wars are a primary factor contributing to our ever-so-divided democracies. In addition, we answered the necessary question of whether the culture wars can be solved, and if they can, how.
Culture wars directly drive political affiliation, emotional reactivity, and people’s views on society. It is a sense of what is wrong or right in the world we live in, as well as the conditions under which a community can coexist. It influences where people want to work and live, and with whom they want to have a relationship. Since culture wars are rooted in the fear of extinction, their implications can be significant. It has been observed throughout history that shooting wars had a culture war prior to them because they provided the justification for violence. Consequently, culture wars are incredibly powerful and dangerous, and as such they need to be studied and incorporated into the school curriculum.
Definitions (Culture war, woke)
Where did the concepts of a “cultural war” and “wokeness” originate? What does it mean? James Davison Hunter, a sociologist, used the term “culture wars” in the early 1990s. Hunter used it to express the conflict between traditionalist and progressive worldviews that had developed in the US (KCL, 2021). A culture war is two conflicting worldviews on what is really right and wrong about the society we live in. This is sometimes determined by how strongly people feel about controversial subjects with strong moral or values bases, such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and gun control.
The first recorded use of the term “woke” was by an African-American author William Melvin Kelley in an essay titled “If You’re Woke, You Dig It” (Romano, 2020). In June 2017, the adjective “woke” became common parlance, with some taking it as a compliment and some as an insult (Romano, 2020). “Woke” was later formally added to the Oxford English Dictionary (2022). According to the dictionary, the term means, “well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice” (Oxford, 2022).
Pat Buchanan (1992)
Who was Pat Buchanan? Twenty years ago, Patrick J. Buchanan upset the Republican convention in Houston by saying that a battle for America’s soul, a “cultural war,” was being fought on a cultural level. He also attacked the Democratic Party for supporting abortion, extreme feminism, and the gay rights movement. The speech brought topics like abortion, homosexual rights, religion, and the place of women in society to the front of the stage, often noisily, along with speeches by the preacher Pat Robertson and Marilyn Quayle, the wife of Vice President Dan Quayle (Nagourney, 2012).
Psychology Behind the Wars
There are multiple variables to a so-called “culture war”, each affecting the ideals of others in their own ways. However, it can be noted that psychology can play a bigger role than one might assume. The question of if a culture war even exists further proves the instability of the concept right from its birth. According to Hara Kunzru from the Yale Review, “Evolutionary psychology was sociobiology turned inward, from human behavior to the psychological mechanisms that generated it… Evolved traits or adaptations could be identified and understood using the standard tools of experimental psychology… Behaviors could be defined” (2022). In other words, the concept that human behavior is replicated and understood through experiments is more relevant than ever when it comes to understanding culture wars. At its core, a culture war is a fight of beliefs that allow facts and logic to take second priority to personal ideals. In retrospect, it makes sense that culture wars are issues of such strong conviction and repetitive nature. Which poses a deeper question; How can we use patterns of human psychology to further understand the reasons behind the human significance of culture wars?
A 2016 research paper by Krishna Reddy, published at ResearchGate, explores the “Psychological Patterns of Human Behavior”. Notably, the paper claimed; “...any kind of person never cultivates a specific or any kind of behavior on its own as it is found very rare, mostly a person is meant to cultivate its behavior from the surrounding in which he is nourished” (Reddy, 2016, p. 7). It would make sense that we carry strong beliefs based upon personal upbringing and/or experiences. If humans cultivate their behaviors from others, rather than themselves, it would seem that if people have the same beliefs it could bring them closer, or rather into a group. This can be reflected within the many “groups” of political parties and opinionators in the main fight of the culture wars — what is inherently right and wrong. Human predictability, within patterns and behaviors, is an indicator that culture wars are a fight of indirect upbringing. It would seem that humanity’s primitive nature to convert and protect is what fuels the underlying fire of what a culture war is.
The way social media has been transformed and has been used throughout recent years has indefinitely affected society as a whole. Terms such as “cancel culture” and “woke” have become powerful words in the culture war and on social media. The number of newspapers that have begun to mention cancel culture have nearly quadrupled in the past two years. The more time someone spends on social media there is a more likely chance that they will come across some sort of misinformation that aligns with their views. Many people have been unable to tell the difference between online and reality and over the past six years researchers have been seeing a trend of increasing arguments about things like history, race and gender. In an interview, James Davison Hunter talked about how many people are at fear of extinction and America is at risk of losing the culture and identity of one’s self (1991).
Researchers in the UK have also noticed that identity politics online in the UK is seeing a similar trend to what was happening in the US in the 1980s and 1990s (KCL, 2021). The Financial Times stated that “Something has now changed. British social media is no longer full of simplistic stances on identity” (2018). Social media has increased the amount of ideological cultural gridlock in the US because of the increased isolation on both sides of a debate. James Davison Hunter describes the desperate change and influence of America’s culture as it has evolved into a culture war over time (1991).
What is happening in the world right now?
Despite their history of bloodshed and persecution, the LGBTQ+ community have become widely accepted within today’s society, however, there is still an underlying dispute that is fuelling the rampant culture war now underway. The political climate of the 20th century fostered numerous thriving social movements which recognised the fundamental human rights of gays and lesbians. All of this was accompanied and backed by the significant social movements of feminism and the civil rights movement. During this time of intense change, a significant cultural shift away from traditional religious ways was occurring as society at large adopted a more progressive and secularist viewpoint. This shift is evident through society’s change in attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community over the past few decades. Within a single lifetime, the attitude toward homosexuality has advanced from classifying the act as a psychiatric disorder and under law, it was criminalized, enforced by imprisonment, chemical castration and social ostracisation, to more widespread moral and legal acceptance today. Despite its widespread acceptance, there is an increasing amount of criticism laid upon the movement, not just throughout the civil population but within the academic community. Ultimately, the legacy of the gay liberation movement is evident today, for its ability to lay the foundations has proved to allow the LGBTQ+ movement to progress, however its rapid advances have produced a (possibly inevitable) backlash, resulting in a culture war.
LGBTQ+ as a Culture War
Despite its origins, the LGBTQ+ movement has proved to have made massive advancements today, both socially and legally. However, accompanied by its progression, the movement has come in for an increasing amount of criticism. The justification of the criticism is backed by the idea that the woke agenda has been corrupted by extreme ideologies (Heritage, 2021). The culture war around LGBTQ+ issues has undoubtedly been exacerbated by the increasing polarization of politics. In fact, some argue that the running dispute over the social movement has been a primary factor that may have caused the political divide evident today.
‘A New Boldness’
It seems like a hint of the rainbow has infiltrated everyone’s everyday lives. This correlates with the statistic of the American gay acceptance rate which is at 70 percent, an all-time high. This is a huge achievement considering that only a few decades ago, 57 per cent of Americans believe homosexual sex should be illegal (Gallup, 2019). The LGBTQ+ movement has achieved this acceptance which is evident through the same-sex marriage bill of 2015, and other legislation protecting the rights of the LGBT community. Along with this success, people question the relevance of the movement. An increasing amount of Gen-Z (14-25-year-olds) is ‘uncomfortable’ with the trajectory of the movement, according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s annual survey (GLAAD, 2022).
In reaction to this alleged ‘extremism’, right-wing groups have taken action against the movement. This combat manifests itself through the 250 anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced at the state-level. Many of these were enforcing policies against transgenderism in sports. Of the 250, only 24 bills were enacted, which totals more than the passed bills over the previous three years. One of these controversial enacted bills was the Parental Right and Education Act, or the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. On February 17th, Florida passed a bill that would limit the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, specifically from kindergarten to third grade (Garvey, 2022). The bill claimed that it was not necessary or ‘age appropriate’ for the syllabus to involve LGBTQ+ education. Parents are now allowed to sue if any such discussions occur at their child’s school. Supporters of Florida’s recent bill argue that the mainstream media have been corrupted by wokeness and now intend to dismantle anything that does not fulfill the ‘woke’ political agenda. The bill entails the requirement for school teachers to inform the parents of their child’s mental, physical and emotional health. This is in contrast to Washington State’s policy which requires teachers to conceal students’ gender transitions from their parents unless the student gives the green light for their parents to know. The agency overseeing Washington’s education system, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), says that “sometimes, transgender students may not want their families to know that they are transgender or that they use a different name, pronouns, and gender designation at school” (2022). Despite the cultural clout of so-called ‘woke’ activists, the recent GLAAD survey suggests that parents have increasingly become disapproving of their children being taught LGBTQ+ history. The amount of parents ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ ‘uncomfortable’ with their children being taught LGBTQ history has risen from 34% in 2016, then 37% in 2017 and finally 39% in 2018 (2019). The contrasting outrage which both opposing state bills respectively provoked just exemplifies the extent of the rampant culture war occurring.
Religion is one of the most controversial topics around the world and it has been a major cause of many wars. 73% of American citizens believe that government policy should not be impacted by religion. Only 25% of American citizens believe that religious values and beliefs should be supported by public policy, according to a survey conducted by Pew Research in the spring of 2022. Why is this the case? How closely related are the government and religion?
Politics and religion both seek to gain political power and use it to further their own goals. However, they use various strategies to accomplish this goal. Politics uses planning, diplomacy, and attempts to win over the public either democratically, whereas religion appeals to people’s religious feelings to gain their support for capturing power. As a result, during a power struggle, both politics and religion try to discredit one another. If religion has political influence, it wants to use it to further a higher purpose (irenees, 2009). It asserts that since it has divine power, it is on a sacred mission to transform society with the help of the divine (irenees, 2009). Separately, politics often bases its decisions on public needs and demands.
The American government is not banned from discussing or allowing religion, and it is also not required to remove all religious connections from public discussion. Instead, the First Amendment guarantees that the government will not favor any one religion and that it will not limit anyone’s right to practice their beliefs (Lankford & Moore, 2018).
The Court ruled in the most recent Trinity Lutheran case that “that denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion… The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.” (Lankford & Moore, 2018). These rulings defend the separation of church and state.
With the recent legislation in the US and continuing debates throughout the world, abortion is amongst the most controversial issues today. The ongoing heated debate over abortion rights is evidence of the world’s increase in divisiveness. While the abortion controversy exemplifies contrasting biopolitics, it also represents new tensions over the margins of the separation of religion and state in countries.
In 1973, the landmark Roe v. Wade Decision legalized abortion across the US. In May 2021, the US Supreme Court agreed to review a Mississippi state law that banned most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy and was unconstitutional under the Roe v. Wade Decision. A year later, in May 2022, a draft written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was leaked, demonstrating the majority opinion on the case. It reported the decision of the court to confer no rights to abortion, thus overturning Roe v. Wade. So what has changed in 50 years? Why is the issue of abortion more divisive now?
Back then, it wasn’t as big an issue as the only major group to reject the decision was white evangelicals, which made up 26% of the population (The Guardian, 2019). Unlike today, they were ambivalent about politics and weren’t as strongly motivated against the issue of abortion. Evangelicals became more engaged in politics and religious rights as political leaders saw them as a financial and political opportunity and aimed to mobilize them by bringing up issues. One of these issues was abortion. Hence, abortion became a massive moral concern for them as they were turned into a political force.
In America, the abortion argument is frequently presented as a conflict, with “pro-life” individuals on one side attempting to limit access to abortion and “pro-choice” individuals on the other side opposing governmental limitations on abortion. However, relatively few Americans on either side of the debate take an absolutist view on the legality of abortion, according to a survey done by the Pew Research Center (2022). It can be interpreted that social media and other factors exacerbate the divide in the case of abortion. Even though more people are engaged compared to the 1970s, there are still passive groups. Although the issue is closely related to polarization, it is not to the extent that the public is divided into two groups alone.
“Abortion must be considered not only as a conflict of values on fundamental issues of life, personhood, citizenship, gender, and family, but also as a contest for the institutional nature of a reconfigured structural and technological order.” (Maier, 2017). The abortion controversy, being a great example of biopolitics, also showcases the tension in the division between religion and government.
Differences in perspectives on the purpose of human reproduction, the boundaries of women’s personal liberty, and access to abortion services are influencing women’s daily lives and influencing distinct gender narratives in different areas of the US, bolstered by religious claims. Any topic that raises religious issues automatically raises other contentious issues as well, leading to more arguments and drawing more individuals into the never-ending abortion discussion.
In the UK, everyone is legally entitled to freedom of expression. The law continues by stating that this is a human right. However, half of the UK population now agrees that individuals must be more careful when speaking to people from diverse backgrounds (KCL, 2021). The other half believe that people are too easily offended by opinions (KCL, 2021).
What causes offense is a problem of how to respond to free speech issues. Compared to other potential subjects, the public is more likely to believe that people should be more sensitive to avoid offending others when addressing racism, transgender issues, sexuality, and gender identity.
The UK also estimated the percentage of the population that is more likely than another to think that individuals are too easily offended using statistical techniques. For instance, men are 3 times more likely to believe that people are too easily offended than women.
There are five distinct groups with their own perspectives on free speech in the UK: free speech fighters, the free speech concerned, sensitive non-interventionists, sensitive interventionists, and freedom-from-harm fighters (KCL, 2021).
Even in the United States, the subject of freedom of expression may be controversial despite the First Amendment’s near-religious respect.
In the United States, free speech is currently under attack by many news stories, attempting to control how others express their opinion on things. For instance episodes of Joe Rogan’s show that contained racist insults and false information on COVID-19 caused a growing anger on Spotify; “Maus,” a graphic novel about the Holocaust which won the Pulitzer Prize, was taken out of the curriculum by a Tennessee school board, and much more (CBS, 2022).
John Powell, a professor of civil rights and democracy at UC Berkeley, stated “You can’t make the Holocaust a nice thing – it wasn’t a nice thing!” Powell laughed. “You can’t make slavery a nice thing. ‘That makes people uncomfortable.’ It should make people uncomfortable! The goal of education is not comfort. So, if someone really wants to challenge the Holocaust, let ’em challenge it. But don’t ban a discussion on it.” (CBS, 2022).
The laws of America have regularly supported this idea. Offense, lying, threats, and encouraging violence are restricted in American free speech. yet continue to be concerned about the risks involved with expressing our thoughts in public. Not only in America, though. Since 2019, laws have been passed in at least 37 nations, including those in Europe, increasing censorship of social media or of an individual (CBS, 2022).
The term comes from the Greek words kosmos (world) and polis (city). A cosmopolitan, then, means a “citizen of the world.” Cosmopolitanism is the belief that citizens, regardless of their identity and political affiliation, can be or should be a single community. The idea encourages one to move beyond their identity consisting of their political beliefs, culture, and religion and commit to a single wider community. Its exact nature and how to go about it are still being debated. For example: should it be integrated into new forms of politics and market relations of moral norms? The main goal is to achieve inclusive social interaction that doesn’t limit reaching this single community.
It is sometimes confused with the idea of nationalism and/or patriotism. The idea supports allegiance to a single community while advocating that it be globalized. It encourages openness to difference, recognition of otherness, and diversity.
The concept has a long and complicated history. It has been used against marginalized groups, such as the Jews, in negative connotations to condemn them. Cosmopolitanism denies that cultural affiliation is an important part of one’s identity and supports the idea that it is not exactly necessary for one to “flourish” (Brock, 2019). Cosmopolitanism also questions how responsibility is defined in the context of community. The cosmopolitan view suggests each and every citizen is responsible for people they do not know.
Cosmopolitanism has gained popularity as a concept since it is believed that it may contribute to the accommodation of ethnic and cultural diversity, which is a major challenge in today’s modern world. It is believed to have the potential to effectively prevent the increment in polarization because it relies entirely on absolute acceptance of difference and understanding.
Identity politics, as a term, has appeared in political discourse since 1970, however, the meaning behind it has been applied to numerous political movements prior to its coinage. The Combahee River Collective initially coined the term in the 1970s as it sought to overthrow oppressive systems of power in the US. The definition of identity politics developed from the feminist, gay liberation, and anti-racism social movements of the new left activism throughout the 1960s and 1970s (Lemmey, 2020). The movements sought to conceptualize the empowerment of identities, especially within marginalized groups, and to combat the oppression of the dominant patriarchal hierarchy. The impacts of the 1960s and 1970s social movements still prevail, with the term ‘identity politics’ remaining one of the most disputed topics on today’s political agenda.
Identity Politics as a Culture War
Identity politics is the tendency of an individual to form their political agenda on the basis of identifying factors. Considering the very fundamentals behind culture wars are boiled down to a disparity in identity, you would think that identity politics could be the driving force exacerbating the situation as the term manifests itself within the everlasting drive for recognition and cultural reformation.
Stacey Y. Abrams claims “by embracing identity… Americans will become more likely to grow as one” (2019).
In recent years, however, the term ‘identity politics’, similar to wokeness, has become an insult. So why is that? An argument that attempts to dismantle identity politics is the question of whether a society can survive when people are treated as members of identity groups rather than individuals. Under the logic that identity is never an individual matter, adopting and furthering identity politics may threaten individualism and our modern state democracy. Conservatives argue that categorizing a country into groups of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, characteristics that were previously thought to be relatively immutable, will further build up resentment and grievances between both sides. In addition, whilst it furthers the divide between the left and right political agenda, identity politics has caused the definition of the term ‘American dream’ to differentiate between both ends of the political compass. Whilst to the right the term still signifies America’s prosperity and liberty, however, on the contrary, the left has re-defined it as a euphemism that has produced inequality. This is just one example of how identity politics strive to tear down the inequality caused by the populist right, spoiling the traditional values that America has been built upon. According to a recent survey that Eschelon insights conducted, 66-28 strong progressives believe America is not the greatest country in the world, whereas working-class voters, 69-23, believe that it is (2022). In addition to this survey, strong progressives, with a margin of 94-6, believe that America is societally and systemically racist, whereas Hispanics and working-class voters, with a margin of 58-33, believe that racism comes from individuals (Eschelon, 2022). These statistics showcase how progressive viewpoints have furthered identity politics extremely and, in doing so, have furthered America’s divide. A lot of people feel threatened by the end goal of identity politics as it supposedly manifests itself in a revolutionary manner. Identity politics is perceived in this manner perhaps because it has the ability to divide a nation and then aggregate the marginalized people, who have been filled with animosity, against the system. Despite this, identity politics is argued to nurture dynamic development between different identity groups. However, the argument against identity politics does not accept its ability to prevent tribalism, rather they believe identity politics foster an environment where tribal identities govern the systems of society. Tribalism has become more prevalent as a consequence of the empowerment of cancel culture and critical race theory, both of which are a direct product of identity politics.
So, you may ask how do we resolve this problem that is only further tearing the US and UK apart? Conservatives believe that the solution to this trap of identity politics is to deliberately ignore everything indicative of identity – race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or any other identity markers – and rather determine status and success through a person’s character, competency and individual ability. On the contrary, the left argues that identity politics is a tool for equality, therefore it is fundamentally good for society and there is no solution. Ultimately, although the realization of a utopia of agreement over identity politics is unlikely, actions can be taken towards solving this culture war dividing society.
Gender makes up a huge part of our identity. Pronouns are how people refer to themselves to reflect their gender identity. Although the world has come a long way in learning and respecting the concept, there is still confusion amongst the public concerning the use of gender-neutral pronouns. Those who are non-binary say they struggle with getting accepted in their environment and making others recognize their identity. This means there is still a portion of society that is not well-informed on the concept.
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in the fall of 2018, six-in-ten Americans say they have heard at least a little about people preferring that others use gender-neutral pronouns such as “they,” including 22% who say they have heard a lot about preferences for such pronouns. Generation and political affiliation have been proven to be the major factors determining awareness in the US. Roughly three-quarters of Americans aged 18 to 29 (73%) say they have heard a little or a lot about people preferring nonbinary pronouns, compared with about two-thirds of those ages 30 to 49 (65%) and smaller shares of those ages 50 to 64 (54%) and 65 and older (46%). 25% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they know someone who prefers being referred to using gender-neutral pronouns, versus 11% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. The results are evident that the political division between Democrats and Republicans also differentiates their awareness of pronouns.
The culture war in the UK is a great example of how much the topic of pronouns and transgender rights play a role. The average Tory leadership candidate had several issues to choose from, like 9.1 % inflation, when setting out their stall to replace Boris Johnson in 2022. However, the leadership candidates signaled to voters that they pay great attention to the trans culture war. They demonstrated that they were willing to use the culture wars in their campaign by participating in the contentious debate. This sparked a debate in the UK over whether the culture wars were deflecting attention away from other, arguably more pressing issues, and whether culture wars have become a tool of manipulation in politics.
Effects on Society
As a consequence of the widespread culture wars occurring within today’s society, political tribalism is prevalent. The culture wars have proven to be an exacerbating force that is increasing the polarization of politics, in turn adding fuel to the fire, extremifying both ends of the political spectrum. As we study history, it is easy to recognize that when political groups stop focusing on achieving the greater good for the nation and rather turn their focus to dismantling the opposing party, there is a decline in national unity. This process of polarization, extreme loyalty and partisanship is known as political tribalism. It is self-evident that human beings are tribal creatures, we have evolved to be that way. Ever since the dawn of time, we have belonged in groups, and that is where we have flourished. However, when this tribalism infiltrates a political system, problems occur. Successful political systems, like democracies, are based on a process by which people with differing viewpoints may come together and engage in necessary dialogue to further the prosperity and health of their nation. Now that tribal identity has kicked in, political parties are not engaging in healthy dialogue, but rather they are promoting partisanship among their loyal followers. Amy Chua believes that “the United States is starting to display destructive political dynamics” (2018). This claim is backed by the actions of demagoguery and scapegoating that is evident and widespread throughout American politics today. Ever since the founding of the United States, the population has had differing beliefs, however, for the majority, these beliefs were united under the constitution. It is safe to say that America is no longer united under the constitution, as progressives label it anti-democratic and plutocratic. The constitution, once a uniting document that was branded as a statement of shared principles, is now a weapon used by opposing parties to strike their enemy. It seems that America undermined the ideal of Abraham Lincoln, as he sought to unite his country under the ‘political religion’ of the constitution. Maybe our divergence away from the constitution has not only caused the culture war, but it has affected how we react to them, because how can you unite a country that has no common ground? Perhaps this lack of common ground is pushing us further into a state of political tribalism. The media certainly hasn’t tried to promote this common ground, rather Donald Trump routinely proclaims that the mainstream media is “the enemy of the American people” (2017). The media coverage of the culture wars has showcased the corrupted intention of the media and how it sensationalizes the truth and challenges our perspective of America to fulfill its campaign of fear and consumption. The media is perhaps a primary factor that has fabricated the truth causing a further divide over the culture war, in turn resulting in a state of chaotic political tribalism. It is evident throughout America’s political climate today that political tribalism is at an all-time high, with the country being more divided than ever, excluding during the Civil War. Ultimately, as a consequence of the cultural wars that are ever so apparent today, America has resorted to the ways of political tribalism, only furthering the divided nation.
Sectarianism has seen its toll all around the world, like the Syrian Civil War where many places of worship have been attacked and destroyed by the opposite parties. Sectarianism causes extreme cases of hatred, discrimination, and splits within certain groups. A survey showed that many people don’t know the term “sectarianism” and that without people knowing, cases of sectarianism have affected communities in various ways. Since many have grown up around sectarianism without generally knowing the term, many people have in a way normalized it, and the more they encounter it the more normal it becomes to them. In certain communities, it has been extremely normalized and the divide between two parties has also been something that many have not thought about. Some examples of cases of sectarianism can include someone’s political views, abortion, and LGBTQ+ rights. The more and more a community gets divided due to sectarianism, the more likely a bigger divide will occur. The exacerbated feelings and opinions between two groups cause a divide. The UK has seen a rise in sectarianism in western Scotland, and Liverpool. A survey done showed that many people believe the rise of sectarianism is because of the hostility and exclusion behind everyone’s beliefs which bring in beliefs of religious and racial division that has been normalized in a way.
Pros and cons of culture wars
When the term “culture war” is brought up in passing, thoughts of personal turmoil and political chaos are commonplace. Does this mean culture wars are bad? That tends to be the general assumption. However, looking at the facts of the problem leads to a vast and more complex answer.
The Scientific American gave voice to the idea that “hostility can bring people closer together” which is tested with an experimental study utilizing relations between mediators and negotiators in which those conducting the study “… told mediators in these groups to act in either a nice or hostile way toward both negotiators… 85 percent of the negotiators who dealt with a hostile mediator reached an agreement with their counterpart, as compared to only 59 percent of those in the presence of a nice mediator” (Francesca Gino, 2018).
As suggested by this study, it would seem that hostility can be more successful in negotiations. This is highly reminiscent of the aggressive environments the culture wars nurture. Suppose people can find others who they agree (or disagree) with. In that case, it can bring them closer together allowing the chance to benefit from negotiable debates on otherwise set-in-stone topics.
A relevant outcome of a culture war is real-world militarization and physical conflicts. While some places may be liberated, others may have their rights attacked. If there was an issue in a country that had become a popular talking point, the medium of culture wars allows more action to take place within a global debate – or war. This concept could be positive or negative, as patterns throughout history have shown that more attention to a topic gives leeway for significant changes in policies and rights. In addition, real-life wars can have dire consequences on the lives and safety of others. As stated by the National Library of Medicine, “War destroys communities and families and often disrupts the development of the social and economic fabric of nations. The effects of war include long-term physical and psychological harm to children and adults, as well as reduction in material and human capital.” (Srinivasa Murthy and Lakshinarayana, 2006)
This excerpt captures the certitude of how the culture wars can affect us based on their positive or negative outcomes. On the other hand, without culture wars, many progressive ideas and thoughts wouldn’t have had the chance to clash against traditionalist standards. In this sense, culture wars shed light on important topics that scope out the political climate. As everything relating to culture wars is; this could be detrimental or beneficial based upon your beliefs.
The truth is that a culture war can be a plethora of interpretations beyond what is good and bad. Although the concept could seem superficially simple, its unstable nature allows room for any changes. That being said, it would seem that the benefits of culture wars are just as prevalent as its cons. This fact allows us to engage in a culture war based on how we think it will benefit us by its outcome. The mere fact of engaging in culture wars despite its consequences could be considered a culture war debate within itself.
Whether or not culture wars exacerbate the division in the US, society has a tendency to polarize when events that challenge people’s identities occur. There are several reasons for the tendency to polarize politically. While a portion of the public took extreme political stances, there was a portion that sustained ambivalence. This portion did not admit to any kind of political committee. But when society started to face controversial issues, the demand for moral clarity arose in the politically passive part of the public as well. As political leaders attempted to segregate their beliefs on moral issues, the public developed more progressive views. So how polarized is the public on the new fronts on the culture war (religious and political strife over social concerns like abortion)?
Polarization should be measured by both social group members’ attitudes toward their
own social in-groups and out-groups, and the effects of group attitudes on partisanship (Muste, 2014). Polarization can bring people together but can also create prejudice between groups. These cultural groups can form based on minor characteristics, but with time, populations develop associations between particular characteristics and particular behaviors, increasing covariation. Thus, the bias between cultural groups increases over time. For example, American partisans’ evaluations of out-parties, based on the like-dislike scales included in the American National Election Studies, have increased sharply across the past few decades. and the proportion of Americans who state that they would be displeased if their child married someone from the other party had increased from 5% in the 1960s to more than 40% by 2010 (Iyengar et al., 2012).
“Analyzing inter-group attitudes from 1964 to 2012 for social group cleavages defined by race, class, age, sex, and religion shows that polarization in attitudes toward social groups is minimal and generally stable, and most group members feel positively toward out-groups” (Muste, 2014). But that has changed throughout the past couple of years. Now, the public seems more inclined to feel prejudice towards those outside their social group and feel sympathy towards those who are in. Iyengar et al. and Hetherington and Rudolph (2012, 2015) demonstrate that the most significant shift in partisan attitudes in the United States over the past 50 years has been a shift from moderate levels of sympathy to increasingly strong dislike among American voters who identify with either the Republicans or the Democrats.
Why hasn’t it been solved?
Culture wars haven’t been solved because, at the moment, they simply can’t be. Think about the instabilities of a culture war. To some people, culture wars don’t exist, whilst to others they do. This leads to the extraordinary fact that we have even been able to engage in talks of culture wars when a percentage of people think it is a myth.
Culture wars differ from most issues under the political climate because they allow more room for personal opinion and morality than data. That is not to say that culture wars are entirely devoid of reason and facts; quite the opposite. The reason culture wars are so impactful and prevalent is that they utilize facts to make beliefs – something that is atypical of the usual argument on the morality of right and wrong.
Why can’t culture wars currently find a solution? Because it is a cycle of morals and beliefs. Topically, Pew Research held a meeting on culture wars with insight from James Hunter, the writer of the well-known book; Culture Wars (1991): “…none was addressing the culture in culture wars, or at least the more complex elements of culture in culture wars. So on the face of it, the disagreement would seem to be conceptual and methodological and not substantive.” (2006).
As quoted above, James expressed how the culture of culture wars is more of a conceptual argument than the wars themselves. This further shows how even at its core, culture wars are truly subjective to what one believes is right and correct, which is exactly why these wars are so hard to conclude.
A question comes to relevance; do people avoid talking about culture wars? As with most concepts, there are two sides to this coin. While some may love to engage in talks of culture wars to express what they think is correct, others may just not want to have to deal with the hostility and mess that can come with these talks. This is a huge part of the reason why culture wars aren’t currently solvable since there is a majority who don’t even want to engage in the first place.
When clashing over beliefs and values becomes commonplace, it allows room for improvement. This shows that even if there is no concise answer to the seemingly impenetrable culture wars, globally, we should feel relieved by the fact that everyone is not so different after all with their conviction to beliefs.
As Culture wars divide people all around the globe, people get split apart based on their beliefs, because the separation is relative to the situation. That exact adaptability is what makes the culture wars such a prevalent and ongoing issue. What is unique about culture wars compared to other topics, is the fact that discussions can be limitless due to the overflowing supply of new and old ideologies. With that, as people grow and evolve, so will the culture wars.
The culture wars, and the conflict that comes with it, is important to the whole world because it touches issues that matter (or arguably don’t) to everyone’s beliefs. Since the beginning of culture wars, there have been many conflicts between parties with different beliefs and values, and these have separated several communities across the world. The future of culture war is alarming with the amount of ongoing clashes going on in the world right now, and most likely there will be new conflicts to come.
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