This is part two of my three part response to Preston Stovall’s essay On the Role of the Public Intellectual in the United States on the web site of Heterdox Academy. Parts one and three are here and here.
I think there’s a lot of over-thinking going on among the punditry and in academia about what’s happening in America today. The WEIRD-thinking intellectual bubble within Charles Murray’s Super Zips can’t see outside itself.
Even gross categorizations like liberal and conservative are identity groups. Thinking in those terms tends to lead toward WEIRD reductive analyses. When we force people into niches we tend to miss the forest for the trees.
I think a lot of what’s going in American culture today is less of a liberal or conservative thing and more of a fundamentally human thing. If we step back and look at the bigger picture of basic human nature I think the reason for the Trump and Brexit votes is hiding in plain sight: The moral foundation of liberty/oppression. It cuts across all identity groups. They are invisible to it.
Millions of us regular chimps on both sides of the political aisle ganged up to oust the alpha chimp – which in this case is a metaphorical one in the form of the cultural elite; the “enlightened” folks who live in the Super Zips and enjoy near complete hegemony over American culture itself via their near monopolistic control of its three major muscle groups of education, entertainment, and the press – who presumes to know better than we who live outside the bubble – if not physically outside of it then at least intellectually and morally outside of it – what we “really” need and want, and proceeds to force upon us its Procrustean policies to that end.
Many of the people who voted for Obama last time voted for Trump this time. Trump won because he flipped blue states to red. The voters in those states didn’t switch psychological sides. They weren’t one-foundation liberals last time who woke up on election day 2016 only to discover that they’d suddenly acquired a whole new suite of moral foundations and now lived in a brand new moral matrix with brand new moral instincts and intuitions; nor were they “enlightened” when the voted for Obama only to suddenly regress into racist deplorables by November 8th.
I think what’s lost in all the WEIRD over thinking inside the bubble about what’s happening in American culture is that National politics is more like religion than it is like shopping.
People did not vote for their pocketbook, nor did they vote for their tribe, nor even did they vote for their values and principles.
They voted for their personal autonomy; their sense of self; their instincts and intuitions about who and what they are; their basic, essential, human dignity; their souls.
We’re in the middle of a cultural movement that most intellectuals can’t see precisely because they’re in the middle of it; as if they’re in a raft, unaware that they’re floating down stream with the culture because the water outside the raft looks still to them.
The culture war has morphed. It has changed. It has evolved into something completely new and different without anyone noticing. It has escalated to a whole new level. It’s no longer a struggle between competing ideologies.
The culture war is now roughly a contest between a) the empirical reality of human nature as it actually exists and life as people actually live it [experienced by the Trump and Brexit voters], and b) the idealistic dream of the way people and life should be [experienced by the Hillary and Remain voters].
The cognitively distorted thinking described in The Coddling of the American Mind has reached critical mass. We’ve passed the tipping point at which the situation in academia described in Incompatible Sacred Values in American Universites metastasized into the the broader culture as a whole.
The liberal grand narrative no longer exists. It has mutated in to the grand narrative of Social Justice.
The culture war is now essentially a struggle between the Telos of Truth (reality as it is actually lived) and the Telos of Social Justice (reality as it is wished to be.)
In part three I describe how we got here and how to fix it.