Why we need to fight the culture wars.
The UK is in a state of civil war.
The battles affect all of us, our rights and the extent to which we can be involved in the democracy that we value. This culture war may seem like another game of political point scoring, but it roots itself in discrimination against those that don’t fit the pattern. While the battle rages on it’s easy to focus on the fight itself, and the individual issues that demand attention, but the question remains; what will it look like when the culture war is over?
Well in order to know that, we need to understand what the fight itself is all about, as well as recognising the fact that these wars are nothing new.
Culture wars are wars of invention, they don’t exist in any natural form and like most conflicts they benefit only a small amount of the people forced to take part. They are led however by political entities and there are no rules for who can be drafted. In these cases, objection cannot be conscientious. As a means to push a political agenda, they are a perfect tool of deflection because they depend upon creating a narrative that described the opposing view as a threat. The Police, Crime and Sentencing bill for example has been widely criticised for the effect it will have on the right of the public to protest.
Naturally, trying to restrict a key tool of expression in a democratic society isn’t going to go over smoothly. It becomes much easier however when the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of summer 2020 become re-framed from members of the population demonstrating for racial justice, to people who are attempting to edit history and challenge British values. The result of this is that we end up with two clearly defined narrative sides, one which wants to preserve the UK’s history and its ways of life, and the other that wants you, yes you, to be ashamed of that cultural history.
This is of course a complete fabrication, but it’s easy to see how valuable it could be to an administration pushing an authoritarian agenda, to have any opposition to that being viewed as ‘anti-British’, as opposed to pro democracy. The culture war takes no prisoners and any subject can become a new front to be fought.
Immigration has been used effectively in the pursuit of Brexit. It is telling that there was an escalation in asylum and immigration as a talking point in the run up to the referendum, and even more so that it was quickly replaced by discussion of the EU and the NHS once the results were in. What this shows us is that a fear of ‘the other’ was deliberately stoked until the desired outcome was won. Despite it becoming less ‘politically salient’ as an issue, the hangover can be seen in the debates around channel crossings that continue to be a headache for the home office.
Trans rights have become a battleground as groups looking to damage the case for them, seek to separate LGB, and cisgender support for the trans community by creating a false conflict between trans rights and women’s rights. Despite evidence that trans men and women have been targeted to push traditionalist conservative and right-wing values, as gay rights are seen as a ‘harder sell’ given increased public acceptance in recent years. This has led to a recycling of the talking points used against gay, lesbian and bisexual people during the era of section 28, which was itself a response to the moral politics of Thatcher’s conservative government.
Now some people may look at this and think ‘but, isn’t that just politics?’
Well, the answer to that isn’t always straightforward. Culture wars are a normal part of the political game and this is the main reason why some people claim that they don’t exist or that they’re only valid within the political sphere and again, there is some truth in this. It’s for this reason that we are increasingly seeing issues becoming linked to political affiliation rather than personal opinion, which is a phenomenon that is particularly prevalent in the United States and is well demonstrated by the struggles over masking and vaccination during the pandemic. The assumption of politics as sort of team sport between parties, often misses the idea that most of the political battles we see are based on cultural values. When people stop seeing political ideations as abstract concepts and examine the actual issues behind them, it becomes much easier for them to deduce whether or not a particular government, party or indeed individual has the best interests of the populace at heart, or if they’re simply looking out for themselves.
It is because of this however that we should have hope for the outcome of these battles. Ultimately when we look at past examples of cultural battles, we see progress. Civil rights movements have repeatedly won out over regressive politics and though there may be backward steps, as long as there are those who are willing to press on, invariably those set-backs are challenged and corrected.
The truth is, the culture wars as we know them, may never end under the political system we have. Equally however, that doesn’t mean that the individual battles that make them can’t be won. While we may see hate splashed across front pages and the headlines on websites day after day, the majority of people care about those around them. Opinion polls on cultural issues show time and again that the idea of a cynical populace looking out for number one isn’t the majority view.
The reason that these cultural battles must be fought, is to remind those on the fringes of them, that there is something to fight for, that there is progress yet to be made. We must do this because it is in understanding the injustices of the world around us, that we are inspired to fight for the values we truly care about.