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Opinion

Culture wars: the age of the armchair warrior

04 Dec 2022 4 minute read
Yui Mok PA Images

Ben Wildsmith

‘Daddy, what did you do in the Culture War?’

‘I posted a meme of the Duchess of Sussex with Prince Harry on a lead but those were dark times, son. Never speak of them again.’

In the olden days you used to know when you were in a war because Tony Blair would start acting even more like a double-glazing salesman than usual.

With a flash of the demonic grin that seduced a nation in 1997, Middle Eastern cities would be reduced to rubble and The Sun would rush out an ‘Our Boys in the Gulf’ commemorative edition featuring Linda Lusardi in a khaki bikini.

The actual fighting of the war tended to be left to professional servicemen and the unfortunate residents of wherever we were liberating.

Our job, as armchair liberators, was to watch guided missiles blow up flat-roofed buildings on the news and then purchase computer games based on the conflict.

Your modern vicarious warrior, on the other hand, is a far more sophisticated consumer of warfare.

Nuance

Nowadays, we demand to be part of the action ourselves and lay our enemies to waste on social media as we fight for noble causes that permit neither nuance nor negotiation.

It’s do or die on Twitter for cultural warriors and, make no mistake, they must be taken seriously, or you’ll be unfriended at the very least.

At any given moment, battalions of our fellow citizens are valiantly calling each other names in the service of concepts that define the very soul of humanity.

Uncle Keith is fighting for freedom of speech during the ad break; Mum is defending biological womanhood for a couple of hours because her Pilates class has been cancelled; your daughter has put off her GCSE revision to decolonise the Llantwit Major community Facebook page and your window cleaner hosts a YouTube channel devoted to unmasking the machinations of the World Economic Forum.

The common factor in all the arguments that comprise the culture war is that they are insoluble.

At no point are Trans people going to agree to stop being quite so Trans, nor are their opponents about to suggest they be allowed to self-identify but only on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Such an argument must be distressing and exhausting for those whose lives are intrinsically affected by the issue.

These people, however, comprise a tiny minority of those engaged with the debate, and this is the defining feature of all culture war activity: it is a risk-free sport for those with no skin in the game, whilst being potentially devastating for those who do.

When our leisure time was spent meeting each other in person, it was considered impolite to discuss politics and religion unless they were the reason everyone was there. Nobody wanted the hassle.

Now, as public spaces are diminishing by the day and social media fills the gap, ideological strife has become an unavoidable part of daily life for many of us.

Debate

In a functioning democracy, the facility for everyone to debate issues of the day would be a great development. From it, new ideas could emerge, and meaningful political movements could be forged.

Far from democratising society, however, the internet seems to have hived off debate into a meaningless free-for-all and provided an illusion of solidarity for participants who, in reality, are growing ever more isolated and vulnerable to manipulation.

The terms of the debate are directed with ruthless efficiency by those with control over the flow of information.

So, this week people are lined up behind either Lady Sarah Hussey or Ngozi Fulani, neither of whom anybody had heard of until last week, in a dispute over a conversation nobody heard at an unremarkable palace reception.

Once engaged with the debate, people are cornered by algorithms that show them the opinions they want to see.

We are persuaded that the trivial is noteworthy and then set upon each other to fight for opinions which have been fed to us by our handlers.

Freedom of expression has replaced religion as the opium of the masses. As our standard of living declines, we are wasting ourselves in parlour games that serve no function but to perpetuate themselves and exhaust our capacity to protest.

The culture war is Eastenders for the self-important.


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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
2 months ago

I dunno….I don’t think a black lady invited to a palace reception and then treated in a rude way with oodles of racism and entitlement being demonstrated by that member of the royal family can be just kicked off into the long grass. That lady was subjected to racism by a member of the royals. From this article I can tell two things about the author: they are white and they are not trans….and I am willing to guess they are a member of YesCymru (they want independence just not for LGBTQIA people). It’s easy to pass off things as… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
2 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

Your baseless smears about Yes Cymru are sadly a perfect illustration of the point the author is making ☹️.

Cynan again
Cynan again
2 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

As, with the greatest of respect is your response. You may disagree with Cathy’s post, but it’s certainly not baseless. This is the polarised absolutism Ben Wildsmith is talking about. There is no calm in any online “discussion” about that matter. There is no nuance. No compromise. But don’t get me wrong. Under a variety of screen names (due to “the clone” who haunts this site) I’m a veteran of the culture wars too. Although I tend to see it as a way to blow off steam when I’m annoyed. Ultimately it takes WAY too much energy, anccomplishes nothing and… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Cynan again
Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
2 months ago
Reply to  Cynan again

Its Cathy’s claim about Yes Cymru that im saying was baseless Cynan – not her post in its entirety.

Cynan again
Cynan again
2 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

That was actually the bit I was referring to though. The conflict in YC over LGBT actually did happen and neither side would compromise or accept any wrongdoing on their own part. Following this, YC membership nearly HALVED. There was either a problem in reality or in perception. Instead of dealing with it as grownups everyone started bickering on social media. I have raised this various times since posting on YC, and usually in what I think is a reasonable way (I’m an a55hole only about 30% of the time). Each time I get personal insults and double digit downvotes… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Cynan again
The Mad Bat
The Mad Bat
2 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Jones

Oh dear, I think that to my infinite shame I may be white cis-het, and a boomer to boot. Is it too late to change? What can I ever do to make amends? How could I have become such a loathsome pariah so late in life, after trying to doing so much to support my fellow humans at work and in my free time. Do I still have enough years ahead to make all the necessary apologies? Is it worth even trying?

I am an utter disgrace. I’ll get my coat

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
2 months ago
Reply to  The Mad Bat

What is a cis-het? If I don’t know does that mean I must be one?…

All these acronyms make me dizzy just like algebra did in school…

The Mad Bat
The Mad Bat
2 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

CISgender and HETerosexual. LGBTQIA is a new one on me, I supposeI I is intersex and A is asexual. I agree it’s hard to keep up with if gender politics isn’t a big feature of one’s life, or as Ben has put it, one doesn’t have “skin in the game”

max wallis
max wallis
2 months ago

How disgraceful to dismiss freedom of expression as the opium of the masses. This in the week when Chimamanda Adichie has produced a thoughtful and challenging Reith lecture on Free Speech. Can’t Wales’s media produce something worthy on the topic?|

Cynan again
Cynan again
2 months ago
Reply to  max wallis

Nice grandstanding foghorn of an opening statement. But a fine example of the actual definition of virtue signalling. Expression is still free. But social media is generally millions of ignorant opinions being shouted at other ignorant people who are not listening. It’s the internet equivalent of a mass brawl

Last edited 2 months ago by Cynan again

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