(I’m coming in late with this, due to injuries sustained during a move from a rational apartment to the strangest house I’ve ever seen. Also:
A couple readers back in the Old Country asked for more information on President Ford’s Clemency Commission and its statistical analyses. See Lawrence Baskir and William Strauss, Chance and Circumstance, Knopf, 1978. For those interested in learning more about the sad and ugly history of conscription in America, I (im)modestly recommend two of my own books. Try The Coming Draft (definitely not my title of choice), Random House/Presidio, 2008, and Evasions: The American Way of Military Service, Paragon, 1984.)
There is a concept in science called “emergent properties.” It happens when you combine known things and get something new and different. Combine two gases, hydrogen and oxygen, and you get a liquid, water. Combine two poisons, sodium and chlorine, and you get salt. Combine two sets of human chromosomes and you get a unique new person. Recombinance.
“Emergent properties” also apply in human affairs. For example, if you combine Jewish apostasy, Greco-Roman philosophy and politics, and Germanic culture, you get early Christendom. Economics knows well that when a lot of people do something, the effects are not the same as when a few people do it. Ship a thousand jobs to China: no problem. Ship a million: that’s different.
And so it goes with America’s Culture Wars I and II. Recombinance. Emergent properties. Culture Wars are always about real-world issues; strong emotions have always been part of such struggles. What matters here is the emergence of something new from the combination of older ingredients.
Culture War I, a 50s/60s to 90s/turn-of-millennium affair, did see something new. Real-world issues abounded, but in a fundamental way, how you felt about them became more important than the issues themselves. Intensity, authenticity, personal relevance, social conscience, “growth,” and the rest of that dismal psychologized vocabulary, superimposed themselves upon and often supplanted the facts of a problem or situation.
Do I exaggerate? Consider the nuclear disarmament movement. You didn’t have to be a sprocket scientist to understand that, every time a treaty got something limited, the technological action moved elsewhere. Treaties arguably made things worse. Nor did you have to be a geopolitical/grand-strategic macher to understand that the “Nuclear Freeze” movement of the 1980s would have aborted the ongoing trend toward fewer and smaller nukes, or that President Reagan’s “Star Wars” was meant to bleed the Soviets financially, not put up an Astrodome in space, or that . . .
A personal aside. During this period, I encountered a young activist Jewish woman who presented herself as “a product of the Holocaust.” Since she was far too young to have experienced it herself, I asked if her parents were survivors.
“No, We lost no one.”
Close friends, mentors, admired elders?
“No. I’ve never met a Holocaust survivor.”
Then how are you a product of the Holocaust?
“I feel it.”
“And you flaunt it,” I almost added.
So, that said and a couple things left discreetly unsaid, to condense it to a formula: Culture War I did indeed witness the “Triumph of the Therapeutic,” of psychologized ethics and politics – but only, apparently, for one side. The Left. And, according to the received narrative, the 60s also began the Left’s “Long March through the institutions” – gradually taking over academe, the media, the professions, setting the standards and terms of political discourse, and working all the while to turn Uncle Sam into Aunt Nanny. Or worse.
Then Culture War II, post-9/11, provided a stunning reversal. The Left had long before burned out on its own shtick. With few exceptions – one of them, anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism, a big one – the Left doesn’t offer much by way of therapy, or anything else, anymore. Indeed, the Left, what’s left of it, serves primarily as a deflated punching bag for a Right that has succumbed to the Politics of Feeling Good about Yourself.
True, the conservative venture into therapeutics also began in the 1960s, when supporting the Vietnam War, racial segregation, etc. became ways of opposing the people you loved to hate. But the Culture War II variant is far more pernicious, far more toxic, and far more carefully cultivated by those with the money and interest in doing so. For this is not merely “Archie Bunker v. The Meathead” updated. It’s something emergent, something new.
And insofar as this conservative Triumph of the Therapeutic supports and “stands with” Israel, best we understand what it is, and to what sorry end it may bring us.
Next: Culture War II as Conservative Metastasis