Culture Wars

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When I was a boy, everyone who was anybody wanted to be cultured. Cultured meant refined taste, manners and a good education.

Somehow though, the term has been hijacked to mean something more like tribal norms. Now, norms may be what most people accept, but they aren't necessarily cultured. Slavery was the norm in the South 150 years ago.

And so, disputes that owe more to the Hatfields and McCoys than to Henry Higgins are labeled "culture wars." They have nothing to do with culture. They have everything to do with provincial resistance to change. They are not in good taste or well mannered, and more often than not they owe little to the kind of open-minded thoughtfulness fostered by education.

The latest tribal norm to emblazon the banners of the "culture wars" is the view that God wants women to stay barefoot and pregnant. For centuries, all the major Christian religions said, "Of course He does." Then, beginning in the 1950s, the secular state raised its heretical head. Contraception and abortion are matters of personal conscience, protected by a right to privacy, the Supreme Court said.

So why are we still squabbling about whether women should be free to plan when and whether to have children? It's the last stand of a dying norm. The Appomattox of the Civil War of reproduction.


The phrase "culture war" is somethoing of an oxymoron. People of good taste, manners and education can find better ways to resolve disagreements. That's what college dorm-room discussions are for. You know, college, where impressionable youngsters go to get an "indoctrination in liberalism."

That's the threat, all right; liberal thought. No wonder those clinging to repressive gender norms are fighting so desperately.

With a Perspective, I'm Mac Clayton.

Mac Clayton is an author.  He lives in Palo Alto.