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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/22/11

The Real Culture Wars

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The term "culture wars," as used by the mainstream media, seems to have two distinct meanings. It's most commonly used to refer to the so-called "class of civilizations" between western democracy and societies where Islam is the primary religion. As Lila Rajiva points out in the Language of Empire, the US media also has an unfortunate tendency to misrepresent Islamic societies as tribal and uncivilized.

In another context, the US media uses the phrase "culture wars" to describe the red/blue state clash, which depicts red states as populated by highly religious, family-centered conservatives concerned about individual liberties and blue states as peopled by social libertines who value community welfare over individual liberty.

The US Class Divide: the Real Culture Wars

I totally agree with Rajiva's view that both so-called "culture wars" are artificial, manufactured by the mainstream media to keep the American public from uniting against their common enemy, which is the corporate state. I also believe the media deliberately conceals the real cultural divide, which is between the 20% of the population who comprise the professional/academic class and the 80% who work for near minimum wage. In my view these firmly entrenched class divisions are the primary obstacle to building an American mass movement, comparable to those taking the streets of the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

How the Middle Class Polices Society

What many on the Left fail to realize is that it's not merely the police and slick ideological propaganda that keep the capitalists in power in the US, These two forces are also aided by an army of "helping professionals" - teachers, lawyers, religious leaders, social workers, doctors, psychologists, etc - who play a crucial role in keeping the working class in line (in large part by instructing them in socially appropriate behavior).

Leftists and progressives frequently bemoan the absence of minorities at their meetings. The real problem is their failure to attract the working class to their causes - no manual laborers, minimum wage workers from Wal Mart or KFC, or low income mothers unable to afford a babysitter. Given that the vast majority of Americans of color happen to belong to this economic group.

Why Don't Working Class People Come To Our Meetings?

A major headache for progressive organizers is that low income workers find ultraconservative Teaparty and United Front groups far more appealing than progressive causes focused on improving their economic circumstances. As Marxist psychiatrist writes in his 1933 The Mass Psychology of Fascism, this is a very old problem, one he links to authoritarian child rearing styles pervasive under western-style capitalism (

In North America, the progressive movement is also cursed with the demographic reality that the US and Canada have a large, well-defined professional/academic middle class earning much higher salaries than the minimum wage and casual workforce that comprises 80% of the population. In Middle East and North African countries where mass movements are causing major political upheaval, this elite professional/academic class is very tiny, as the incomes of public sector professionals (such as teachers, social workers and doctors) are only modestly higher than private sector laborers. In fact, in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and eastern Europe, it's fairly common for doctors and teachers to go months without being paid during an economic downtown - which forces many of them to supplement their income by cab driving and part time laboring jobs. When professionals and blue collar workers face the same economic pressures, it's far easier to identify with and support each others' demands. That being said, the main reasons working class friends and clients give for avoiding political meetings relate to lack of sensitivity among middle class progressives and leftists to their own unconscious class prejudices. The complaints I hear fall broadly into four main categories:

*  Liberals and progressives rarely address the nitty gritty financial issues (i.e. paying the rent or mortgage and food and doctor bills) that would motivate blue or pink collar workers to become politically active. When you can't afford a doctor or shoes for your kids, it's hard to get excited about wars in the Middle East, banking reform or climate change.

*  Liberals and progressives tend to be insensitive to working class culture and are often perceived as moralizing about "political correctness" and "lifestyle changes." This often includes a heavy emphasis on changing light bulbs and other "sacrifices" activists are expected to make to reduce global warming.

*  My blue collar friends complain about not being heard at political meetings because more educated activists tend to monopolize the discussions.

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I am a 63 year old American child and adolescent psychiatrist and political refugee in New Zealand. I have just published a young adult novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW (which won a NABE Pinnacle Achievement Award) about a 16 year old girl who (more...)
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