People say America is right now stuck in a cold civil war and so far it seems like a fair assessment of the nation. Many who have noticed this are wondering what we can do to improve the situation.
The problem is: nothing.
Why? 2 factors.
Think a moment about actual, real war. One factor about it is that there is an objective, undeniable metric available to all sides: death. The side with more deaths, tends to be the side that loses (unless there is a huge population difference but let’s keep things simple right now). So if your side had several battles in a row where your deaths X > their deaths Y, you’re probably losing. Conversely if X < Y, you’re on the way to victory. This also means there is a very clear, well defined end point to the conflict: one side (or both) is entirely dead.
However cultural conflicts do not have such a neat, easy metric to them. Without a clear metric, things get confusing. For examples just go around on the web right now to both right-oriented and left-oriented sites. You will be able to see both sides arguing that they’re losing the culture war. Now just take a step back and think about it dispassionately (maybe pretend you’re Mr. Spock visiting earth) – how could you tell which side is correct? Which side is wrong? Or are both sides correct about losing? Or wrong? Which factors and considerations of society & culture matter, and which don’t? It’s not an easy question to answer and with no obvious end state, it may be one that is not answerable. Without a clear metric, and both sides convincing themselves they’re losing, it’s easy for both sides to conclude they have nothing to lose. Desperation has never been much of a motivator in lessening conflicts nor in granting mercy.
The second factor can also be explained by thinking about real war. How do two sides come to agreements about the “rules” of the conflict? Why would two sides agree against using poison gas on each other? (for example) Really think about it – how does that even work when two groups are trying to kill each other? It works because if one side breaks the treaty, there is an understanding that the other side will do so as well. If army X uses poison gas, army Y will do the same. If the consequences are horrible enough there is incentive for both sides to follow the agreement.
But there’s a complication isn’t there? Modern militaries are made up of thousands – millions of soldiers and support. Just because the generals agree to not use poison gas, what keeps a random colonel or grunt from using it? How can the ones in charge keep the rest of their group in line? If a soldier disobeys the treaty, what usually happens is that the offender is captured by his own side and handed over to the enemy. This signals to the opponent that the attack was not an official decision, but a rogue choice. Handing him over is a signal that they want to maintain the treaty and lets him face justice as the enemy sees fit – an enemy that will probably not be as interested in mercy or due process as the offender’s countrymen would be. (This is what is implied by the line “disavow any knowledge of your actions” in those movies & TV shows – “if you get caught, the enemy can do as they wish.”) Thus there is incentive in the ranks on both sides to obey the rules and the treaty is maintained.
Where is the equivalent in the modern culture war? For a culture to exist, there has to be agreed upon boundaries within it and ways of enforcing them. Modern social networking, has made this impossible.
For a hypothetical example, let’s suppose there was an agreement in politics that the families of politicians should be off limits (especially their kids) unless that family member is also involved in politics. Sounds fair, right? Everybody left, right, and center should be able to agree on this, yes? Of course it will be understood that this is all operating under the treaty example above: if one side goes after family, then it’s fair for the other side to do so, otherwise what’s the point of the agreement? This should all work perfectly!
Except it won’t. Why? Because we have millions (if not billions) of people on social networks with capable search engines. Name me any rule society wants to agree on and within an hour we can find an example of someone violating it. Thus the aforementioned rule of decorum would last about one day (probably 30 minutes) until a random somebody would be found violating it. Which side they belong to would quickly be determined (whether accurate or not is irrelevant) and then the opposite side will begin returning the sentiment in kind. It won’t stop nor can it ever be stopped because there’s no “general” for one side that can “hand” the offender over to a “general” on the other side in order to maintain the treaty.
Then to top it all off, let’s add in the factor that there is low cost and effort needed to join and use social media. If anybody can sign up within 5 minutes, then even if we assume that 100% of a side in the culture war behaved according to the decorum treaty with 100% fidelity, the opposing side can have an impostor perform a false flag at minimum cost and set off the cascade of rudeness.
Do you want a practical example?
Recently Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had a video of her college days… I’ve seen some report this was “leaked” but it’s more accurate to say it was already posted to youtube and somebody linked it on twitter where it gained renewed attention. Let’s look at some quotes from a few articles on this:
An attempt to humiliate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as she was sworn in as the youngest ever US congresswoman has backfired impressively, prompting a huge outpouring of support for her.
There’s nothing remotely scandalous about the video, but that hasn’t stopped right-wing Twitter users from attempting to weaponize it against Ocasio-Cortez, who is a Democratic Socialist.
It’s amusing to think about the mindset of the weirdo conservatives who leaked this, thinking it would make people poke fun at her.
The latest example involved an old video of her in her late teens doing some goofy dances (including a Breakfast Club homage that ought to have been endearing to Gen X-ers).
So some “right-wingers” reacted badly to this video. Who? Is this story on instapundit? Drudge report? Twitchy? Not at the time of this writing. So who “on the right” is saying anything about this video? Where are the links or examples? The guardian seems to be the only one to put in that much effort and this is the sum total:
A 30-second video was posted by a Twitter user called AnonymousQ, showing Ocasio-Cortez dancing on the roof of a building while in college.
“Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is,” read the post, with the user, who has since deleted their account, claiming it was a “high school video of ‘Sandy’ Ocasio-Cortez”.
But instead of embarrassing Ocasio-Cortez, who was elected to represent New York’s 14th congressional district in November, the video has bolstered her popularity, with many people on social media praising her for being joyful and having fun.
. . .
With the clip, she [AOC] wrote: “I hear the GOP [Republican party] thinks women dancing are scandalous. Wait till they find out Congresswomen dance too! Have a great weekend everyone :)”
“Conservatives” attempted to humiliate Representative Ocasio-Cortez – and by “conservatives” we mean a single recorded tweet from an account which is now deleted so nobody has any way to check whether that user was really conservative or not. How old was the account? What was its posting history? How many followers did it have? How many likes or retweets did that tweet get? What were the general replies?
Hm. We don’t have that information any more. Instead we just have “conservatives” reported as reacting negatively. From a single tweet. By someone that could just as easily have been “liberal” playing the Wounded Gazelle Gambit
That is why the cold civil war is not going to be getting better any time soon.