If Facebook has taught me anything, it’s that Liberals fucking love Science!—but also, how confused most Liberals are about Science today.
Everyday, I see the same “friends” posting articles in support of Gay Marriage, Minority Rights or anti-Christian vitriol, also incessantly sharing from the I Fucking Love Science! fan page. This, of course, is perfectly natural. Ever since its inception during the Age of Enlightenment, Liberalism’s goal has been the empowerment of individuals through a clear articulation of our inherent Rights as Human Beings, and erasing prejudice through the proliferation of Science and Reason. But as these daily declarations in my News Feed have also shown me, something new has been combined with this program that has radically changed its character.
If you were to ask Liberals today if they still agreed with this original mission statement—Rights, erasing prejudice, etc—they would most certainly assent. But if you were to then delve into the means by which they attempt to now enact it, you’d find that their once crystalline expression has become incredibly muddied.
These Rights that Liberals claim we naturally possess rest upon the observation that, despite the appearance of diversity, really, deep down, Humans are all the same—we all have the same basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, but most importantly, personal recognition. And because of this underlying sameness, we are all equal. This is reinforced by the fact that Science, too, does not discriminate: the law of gravity or inertia, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics works the same in America as it does in Russia, Brazil or even Papa New Guinea. So we are also equal in relation to scientific Truth—especially when expressed in that most unambiguous of human languages: Mathematics.
However, in the last 30ish years, an intellectual movement has been appended on to Liberalism that complicates, and in many ways, conflicts with these insights. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It is known as Multiculturalism—and it has become ubiquitous in practically every major American and European university and political institution today. While admittedly, as with any movement, Multiculturalism is multifaceted with diverse aims and platforms, what I intend here by this designation is something upon which all sects most certainly agree: Simply, the recognition that the world consists of many unique cultures, and the accompanying belief that there is value in this diversity.
To truly understand this change and why it is so significant, though, we should first explore the concept at the core of this movement.
What is Culture?
We use this word today in two related, but very different ways. There is “a Culture”: a distinct group of people sharing language, customs, values and referential symbols that connote a separateness distinguishing them as a unique group. But then there is also someone who is “cultured”: an intellectual, worldly, urbane individual possessing a multi–cultural knowledge. Both of these worldviews are the result of education—i.e. nurture, not nature—yet how different the person who receives them will be. In the first case, we have what could be called a “Conservative” education: the individual is enculturated with the historically determined beliefs of their ancestors and relatives; and in the latter, we have a “Liberal” education, the purported goal of which is Truth—regardless of history, geography or lottery of birth.
Ever since the advent of Liberalism amongst the bourgeois classes of 18th century England and France, there have been countless “Conservative” writers who ardently oppose it. While part of their motivation is certainly protection of their privileged positions threatened by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, what they also wish to conserve is the thousands of years of history and heritage that make their particular society distinct and form an integral part of their identities. Or to put it another way: They want to preserve their Culture—their unique language, customs, values and referential symbols.
One of the most eloquent and effecting of these writers was the Irishman Edmund Burke, who many consider the “Father of Modern Conservatism.” Through sweeping, imaginative, nuanced prose, he forcefully attacked the rootless cosmopolitanism of the Philosophes (popularizers of Liberalism during the Enlightenment) that threatened to destroy the diversity of the world. In opposition to their abstract scientific theories, Burke believed in the intuition of everyday common sense and the “wisdom of the ages” found in localized cultural traditions. He was not, however, simple-mindedly opposed to Science, as many Conservatives are today, but rather warned against its pursuit at the expense of the meaning imbued in life by the transmission of one’s particular history, customs and values.
With the recent addition of Multiculturalism, it appears that Liberalism has finally come to accept the truth of Burke’s critique of itself. However, there is just one slight problem with this new program: Despite the rebranding, it hasn’t actually changed its core beliefs, continuing to promote a universal doctrine that transcends and, majority of the time, conflicts with—therefore undermines—the Cultures it now wishes to conserve. This is the true cause of the so-called “Culture War” in America: Liberals wish to dispose of all traditional roles and values, freeing the individual to negotiate them entirely for her- or himself; whereas Conservatives continue to preach the tenets and structures of Judeo-Christian/Western history—regardless of whether or not those beliefs are “rational,” i.e. based on Science.
The Gospel According to…
Liberals now claim to believe in the importance of Multiculturalism and sing the gospel glorifying Culture, but the words have no substance. Liberalism is an acid bath that erodes the prejudices that sustain a Culture, not a balm that preserves them. All those non-Western peoples they wish so desperately to rescue from the ravages of global capitalism and cultural imperialism are more than just styles of food or dress or artistic aesthetics; they are world-shaping and limiting forces prescribing definitive beliefs about right and wrong, roles and lifestyles—basically, everything that Liberals hate about the Christian Right. Sure, they may currently be the ones fighting for the equal right of all cultures to be represented in the public square, but Liberalism, by definition, undermines the possibility of any real Culture from existing.
This confusion was perfectly illustrated for me in an article I came across recently, 11 Social Norms We Really Need To Stop Believing In, here on the post-Liberal-education-playground that is Thought Catalog:
Growing up in America, I was raised to follow a set of unwritten rules that society abided by. They weren’t laws, so it’s not like you would get arrested or fined if you ‘broke’ a rule per se, but you were certainly looked at in a negative light if you did. As I grew older and truly embraced a mind of my own, I questioned why some of our societal norms and beliefs were alive, particularly the ones that do no harm onto [sic] others. I understand and believe that laws are needed to maintain limited chaos and a successful society, but I don’t understand why we need the following unwritten, sometimes unspoken rules that further mandate our choices, and way in which we lead our lives.
The writer’s disparagement of the “unwritten rules” of “societal norms and beliefs” in favor of having a “mind of [her] own” perfectly encapsulates the clash between Liberalism and Culture. “Unwritten rules” are precisely what make a Culture, and the “negative light” shown upon you if you dare to break one, the way it is perpetuated. While she may understand the need for laws to maintain social order, values that further limit choice are, apparently, indefensible—“particularly the ones that do no harm onto [?] others,” i.e. whatever an individual chooses to consent to ought to be unjudgable.
And this is the real crux of the matter. The Liberal doctrine of Consent renders practically all cultural beliefs untenable.
It means that, regardless of what your particular society dictates, if you feel uncomfortable about a prescribed role or action, you should not be forced to perform it; and vice versa: if you want to do something that traditionally has been considered “bad”—but believe it will “do no harm” to another individual (which, if we’re being honest, is practically incalculable)—you should be allowed to do it. Liberalism completely flips the source of values and morality. Instead of coming from a “higher power” (God(s), the Tao, the Good, Dharma, even just Public Opinion), like in a traditional Culture, one’s values should come from within, which tears apart the social fabric that transforms a bunch of random individuals into a unified group with shared hopes and dreams.
Oh, the Irony, I mean, Humanity
“Conservatives” are the true creators and sustainers of Multiculturalism because, ironically, without them continuing to propagate their “prejudices,” there would be no distinct cultures. All that would be left are the autonomous choices of isolated individuals expressed through the fleeting trends of the marketplace. Yet, while Conservatives are stuck doing the dirty work that makes diversity possible, Liberals constantly demonize them for continuing to hold their, purportedly, unexamined beliefs. The point of this essay, though, is not to say that Conservatives are necessarily more in the right than Liberals today, but to show why Conservatives seem so pissed off. Liberals claim to want to preserve the diverse beauty of a multi-polar world, yet accuse Conservatives of bigotry whenever they attempt to do so.
So is it possible to have Culture without the type of intolerant “Conservatives” that we have today? Yes, I believe it is. But it would first require Liberals to stop being so intolerant and admit that the impulse to conservatism is not bad in and of itself—and is actually the very foundation upon which any Culture is built. To get to that place, though, what we need first is a new genuine Liberal Education to liberate us from the quagmire of thought that I’ve just described. What we offer now is merely a Liberal (i.e. politically Liberal) education—that has actually become far too conservative, in that its beliefs have devolved into mere prejudices and are perpetuated despite them no longer being “rational.”
As the English cultural critic Matthew Arnold famously said in his essay Culture and Anarchy, we must once again look to “the best which has been thought and said in the world . . . [to] turn a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.” There we may find a common ground where we can once again have a civilized debate in this country about who we are and what we want as a people—as a Culture. It is only through such a project that we will ever be freed from the gridlock paralyzing our nation’s capital; transcend the blind-hate spewed by our polarized media; mend the fabric between our increasingly balkanized communities; and maybe, just maybe, even be able to talk about politics on Facebook without the risk of being un-friended.