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The Culture War In One Graph

Why do we fight over culture? Because we can afford to
Via OurWorldInData.org
Via OurWorldInData.org

There’s a fascinating graph for you. It tells you the radical shift from “materialist” values to “postmaterialist” values in the West, over a 30-year period. From OurWorldInData.org:

Materialists are mostly concerned with material needs and physical and economic security. In contrast to this, post-materialists ‘strive for self-actualization, stress the aesthetic and the intellectual, and cherish belonging and esteem’ …

When liberals complain that middle and working-class conservatives who vote Republican are voting against their own economic class interests, they may have a point, but are more likely than not deceiving themselves. What do I mean? You could just as easily say that wealthy people who vote Democratic are just as foolish (if you believe it’s foolish to vote against your own economic interests in favor of an ideal). But would it really be accurate to blame wealthy liberal Democrats for having false consciousness?

The truth is no doubt closer to this: as Western societies have become significantly wealthier and more secure, all except the poorest feel secure enough materially to argue about cultural ideals. In other words, it takes a rich society to argue about transgenders in the public toilets.

Which, of course, brings us, as all things do, to Camille Paglia, and this bit from her interview with Reason‘s Nick Gillespie:

Paglia: There [comes] a time when these fine gradations of gender identity—I’m a male trans doing this, etc.—this is a symbol of decadence, I’m sorry. Sexual Personae talks about this: That was in fact the inspiration for it, was that my overview of history and my noticing that in late phases, you all of a sudden get a proliferation of homosexuality, of sadomasochism, or gendered games, impersonations and masks, and so on. I think we’re in a really kind of late phase of culture.

reason: So that the proliferation of cultural identities, the proliferation of all sorts of possibilities is actually a sign that we’re…

Paglia: On the verge of collapse? Yes! Western culture is in decline. There’s absolutely no doubt about it, in my view, looking at the history of Egypt, of Babylon, of Byzantium, and so on. And so what’s happening is everyone’s so busy-busy-busy with themselves, with this narcissistic sense of who they are in terms of sexual orientation or gender, and this intense gender consciousness, woman consciousness at the same time, and meanwhile…

reason: Is that also racial or ethnic consciousness as well?

Paglia: Right now, to me, the real obsessions have to do with gender orientation. Although I think there’s been this flare-up [regarding race]. I voted for Obama, but I’ve been disappointed. I think we had hoped that he would inaugurate a period of racial harmony, and I think the situation has actually become even worse over recent years. It seems to be overt inflammatory actions by the administration to pit the races against each other, so I think there’s a lot of damage that needs to be healed.

But I think most of the problems as I perceive them in my students and so on, is that there’s this new obsession with where you are on this wide gender spectrum. That view of gender seems to me to be unrealistic because it’s so divorced from any biological referent. I do believe in biology, and I say in the first paragraph of Sexual Personae that sexuality is an intricate intersection of nature and culture. But what’s happened now is that the way the universities are teaching, it’s nothing but culture, and nothing’s from biology. It’s madness! It’s a form of madness, because women who want to marry and have children are going to have to encounter their own hormonal realities at a certain point.

reason: Do you see your personal liberation as having helped to grease the skids for decadence, for the collapse of Western civilization?

Paglia: I have, yes.

reason: Do you feel at all ambivalent about that?

Paglia: I’ve defined myself as a decadent. One of my first influences was Oscar Wilde. I stumbled on a little book called The Epigrams of Oscar Wilde in a secondhand bookstore in Syracuse, New York, when I was like 14, and I was fascinated by his statements. So I am a Wildean, and he identifies himself as a kind of decadent in that period of aestheticism.

reason: And certainly he was toward the end of the great hegemony of England as a world power, at least in a cultural sense.

Paglia: Yes, that’s true too, the decline of an empire. Absolutely.

Anybody know if there’s any truth to that, or is that just Camille spouting off? I mean, I’m primed to believe her, but that’s confirmation bias. Harvard sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman, in his classic (secular) book Family And Civilization, cited the proliferation of what we would call “sexual diversity” as a factor in the decadent stage of civilizations. In Zimmerman’s view (discussed here), which is not based on religious conviction (Zimmerman was not religious) but sociological observation, it’s all about the family. A society that breaks apart into individualism and “atomization” is done for.