Sunday, August 21, 2005

Power and Politics in the Culture Wars

Is there some sociological common thread in the Isreali pullout from Gaza and our own culture wars? Our culture war, to give you the soundbite summary, works something like this: What ideas will define our public life and morality? The ideas of Christianity, especially fundamentalist Christianity, or the "modern" ideas of secular humanists and other progressive types?

The common thread in all of the battles in our culture wars, and the Gaza pullout is not so difficult to understand. We are seeing battles for power over peoples' minds. The weapons are mostly soundbites, fear-mongering, sloganeering, and philosophical trickery. OK, there is also some real logic and sound science involced sometimes.

Consider these illustrations of two sides in current debates:

Is the universe a mindless and amoral physical phenomenon? Or, was it created with a purpose by a Creator whose intentions have been revealed to humanity?

Did life arise on earth through the intervention of a designer (possibly a god), or was there just a bunch of biochemical activity? To put it another way, is the existence of intelligent life on earth the simple result of time plus chance?

Can we say that God wanted a group to have such-and-such a piece of land? Or, can we merely try to work out some sort of understsnding based on a mixture of force, political calculation, coercion, and the (crossing my fingers) application of some moral principles?

The implications are complicated in their details, but simple in a way. Somebody is going to develop and promote the ideas that dominate your social environment, and then your mind, and then your behavior.

You may claim some control over the ideas that pervade your consciousness and over how you behave. You may have it right, but remember why the chicken really crossed the road (see my "Everyday Decisions" blog).

What's a soul to do? Hmmm..., uh, I'm really more of an idea person, actually. I can try to offer some concrete suggestions in future blogs.


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