Friday, August 05, 2011

The ends and means of culture wars

The current battle over library funding marks a skirmish line in a culture war. A culture war develops when people who hold a series of attitudes, often incoherently,  perceive themselves as a group and develop strong feelings of solidarity combined with hostility to others who hold competing attitudes. In Toronto, the culture war lines we all acknowledge include the Gay Pride parade and Mayor Ford's refusal to attend, bicycle lanes, and libraries. Less acknowledged but very real conflicts revolve around the word industrial, and the corresponding attitudes to the presence of actual industry in Toronto, and to existing industrial sites.

Because culture wars tend to involve incoherent clusters of beliefs, lines in culture wars can shift abruptly and without warning, propelled by the whims of popular culture and commercial media. I have written elsewhere of the growing acceptance of Toronto City Centre Airport and the corresponding collapse of the movement against it. In 2003, people calling for the closure of the airport belonged to a juggernaut that handed the mayor's chair to David Miller; a few years later, Toronto Life referred to them as a group of "aging hippies".

I hope I have conveyed my own belief that drawing lines in a conflict of cultures only damages the integrity of everyone's position, and even worse, makes compromise into a dirty word, coherent thinking about policy more difficult, and generally sabotages the process of effective self government. When a substantial number of people  choose to validate themselves by joining or supporting arbitrarily defined factions, the ability of everyone to participate in effective self government will suffer. Over the next while, I hope to produce a series of posts on how to avoid and diffuse cultural conflicts.