Reflections on philosophy and culture

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Liberal and Conservative Culture

Liberals often ask one another: "Why do conservatives in American so often think that liberals are elitists snobs?"  Answer: because they are!  

At least, there is a lot in the cultural trappings of political liberalism in American which many folks with a working class background (and here, I include myself) find alienating.  This is a constant source of frustration for me, since at the level of political ideology, I'm often with the Democratic Party; however, at the same time, liberal culture often sickens me.  Politicians usually attempt to avoid these cultural trappings, but they are rampant among liberals 'on the ground.'  

There are a lot of examples of this.  In mainstream Hollywood cinema and TV, southern accents and country music are often signifiers for stupidity.  The single most frequently used trope in liberal rhetoric is that of the ignorant, unwashed piece of 'white trash' who is too much of an idiot or a bigot to realize that the Democrats are the ones who have their best interests in mind.  Urban liberals happily think of Middle America as a destitute cultural wasteland - all that nasty stuff you hope to fly past as quickly as possible while relaxing in your Business Class seat.  Liberals like to think of and portray devout Christians as quaint, silly Neanderthals praying to the clouds in the hopes that the clouds will give them rain.  And so on.

The strange thing is that liberal culture is guilty of many of the same vices they laughingly attribute to conservatives.  A good example of this is the notorious obsession, quite common in liberal culture, with pseudoscience-based health trends that, of course, also happen to be inaccessible to most working class people: organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, and/or vegan foods; homeopathic remedies, 'natural' supplements, and a contempt for so-called 'western medicine.'  The same liberals who harp on these trends like to think of conservatives as 'anti-intellectual.'  And yet, the 'science' on which these trends are based is about as solid as creation science.  Liberals often suspect that conservatives are secret racists, and yet the very term 'western medicine' is a racist one: as if the roots of modern science-based medicine didn't trace through the medieval Islamic world; as if there isn't empirical medical research of the highest importance coming out of countries outside North America and Europe.

I think I've had these worries about liberal culture in America for quite some time.  A year and a half ago, I had the unusual experience of moving from one of the most liberal areas in the U.S. - west L.A. - to one of the most conservative - Alabama.  Perhaps being in the reddest of red states has given me the confidence to express these worries.  Every time I open up an issue of The New Yorker or read articles on the Huffington Post, I cringe at what I read.  This isn't because my politics are moving to the right, but rather because I don't think that liberal culture in America really knows how to attract the sympathies of working class people in Middle America.  And this is a serious problem: it's what makes possible the success of hateful Republican Party rhetoric.  But I don't have all that much optimism that the situation will change much in the near future.

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