Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

My Thoughts

The Myths of Cultural Conservatism

The myths of cultural conservatism make it among the most destructive of modern ideologies.

In particular, cultural conservative mythology ignores the reality of the modern world completely. Thus, cultural conservatives are incapable of dealing with modern civilization or preserving the values they claim to cherish.

The dangerous myths of cultural conservatism include:

1. Economics does not matter

In detail, cultural conservatives believe culture is all that matters. In their limited imaginations, money does not matter. Nor do such conservatives believe economic forces shape human behavior.

Thus cultural conservatives ignore our dysfunctional economy with its high levels of income inequality, poverty, and wage stagnation. This myth explains why cultural conservatives have such a difficult time communicating with the working class who should theoretically be their allies.

For example, a cultural conservative intellectual tells a man with no job, no money, no bank account, and no health insurance that his greatest problem is gay marriage. Then to add insult to injury the intellectual wonders why the unemployed man has a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker on his car.

2. Technology does not matter

Essentially, cultural conservatives reject the last 600 years of human history by saying technology does not shape civilization.

For example, cultural conservatives claim Britain became a great power because of its religion; or Shakespeare, not the Industrial Revolution. In addition, cultural conservatives claim Europeans built colonial empires because of their cultural superiority rather than superior firepower.

This is why cultural conservatives intellectuals cannot deal with the implications of developments like the Internet and artificial intelligence. The obvious reality that technology shapes our lives and civilization is alien to them.

Additionally, many cultural conservatives refuse to adapt laws, regulations, or procedures to modern conditions. For example many cultural conservatives will insist a self-driving car operate under the same rules as a horse and buggy.

Taken to its extreme this cultural conservatism is a wholesale rejection of modern reality. Ultimately, many cultural conservatives are less capable of adapting to modern conditions than Luddites and technophobes who at least acknowledge technology’s power.

3. Science does not matter

The cultural conservative denial of science is a little more nuanced than the rejection of technology. Generally, cultural conservatives; like Marxists, pay lip service to the scientific method but only accept scientific data that supports their beliefs.

Moreover, unlike technology; which is all around us, everybody but scientists can usually safely ignore science. Hence, most cultural conservatives ignore science and refuse to discuss its implications.

For example, cultural conservatives refuse to consider the implications of modern medical science, particularly behavioral neurology. Importantly, medical science; in the form of behavioral neurology,  shows biology causes much of our behavior. Hence, modern medical science is undermining the whole project of cultural conservatism and its leftist rival cultural Marxism.

Notably, the rejection of science explains why climate change denial attracts so many cultural conservatives. To clarify, climate change offers solid evidence for the validity of modern science. Hence, acknowledging climate change is a rejection of cultural conservatism.

4. Culture is power

All cultural conservatives operate under the fallacy that culture is the ultimate power. Hence, they believe a superior culture can always overcome science, money, and technology.

Taken to its logical extreme, this belief leads to countless deaths upon the battlefield. A prime example occurred in World War I when French soldiers charged German machine guns with bayonets to demonstrate the superiority of French culture. Not surprisingly, the German machine gunners survived but vast numbers of Frenchmen died.

More recently, we saw Al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists challenge the most powerful military on Earth with old AK47s and homemade bombs. Like the French generals, ISIS and Al Qaeda’s leaders believe their superior culture could overcome American technology. Predictably, most of ISIS and Al Qaeda’s fighters are dead or locked up in Guantanamo Bay.

We can find the American campus version of this thinking in the leftists who marched on the college English department rather than the White House or Goldman Sachs. The leftists won their battle on the campuses, only to find themselves a powerless minority. The possibility the governmental power in Washington; or the financial power on Wall Street, could be a greater force than culture never occurred to the pseudo-Marxist intellectuals. 

Likewise, a generation of American cultural conservatives spent their time trying to revise the school curriculum; and censor network television programming, while ignoring Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Not surprisingly, America’s cultural conservatives are now a powerless minority who try to prove their relevance through subservience to Donald J. Trump.

Note: I call these intellectuals pseudo Marxists because historic Marxists; and Marx himself, understood the power of money and technology.

5. We can undo modernity and history

The final delusion of cultural conservatism is that we can undo modernity with simple behaviors, brute force, violence, or laws.

For instance, the American cultural conservative believe they can restore traditional family life and communities can by using 1950s textbooks in the schools. Meanwhile, the Islamic cultural conservative believes he can wipe out 500 years of history by wearing a turban and refusing to watch television.

More recently, a subset of American cultural conservatives believe they can take the world back to the 1950s by refusing to buy Chinese products. Moreover, British cultural conservatives think they can restore the Empire and raise Queen Victoria from the grave through Brexit.

Thus, in its latest degenerate form cultural conservatism becomes a kind of sympathetic magic. The belief being that the right behavior will change everything.

Like alchemists, cultural conservatives spend their time searching for the magic formula that will restore the imaginary golden age. For instance, one week the formula is reading paper books or standing for the national anthem. The next it is listening to classical music, or cooking traditional recipes at home.

The myths of cultural conservationism explain why this belief system always fails. The only way to preserve traditional culture is to acknowledge and understand the modern world and the forces that shape it. Until cultural conservatives abandon their comfortable myths, they will preserve nothing.