Culture wars and personal identity

Conservative U. -- in cyberspace - Los Angeles Times
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, conservatives saw a country that was split about 50-50 between the left and the right, as it is today and will continue to be for a long time. But the country's main cultural institutions were nearly all liberal — making conservatives rage and despair. Things have now changed for the better, and technology has been the main enabler.

Take the news. Most major newspapers and hundreds of local ones, as well as the Big Three TV networks, remain liberal bastions. But blogs and other Web services, and cable TV and talk radio, have expanded the news. Conservatives were unable to take over existing institutions, so they invented new ones using groundbreaking techniques.

Technology can lead the way once again as conservatives storm the most important of all liberal-held fortresses — America's colleges and universities.

Important conservative scholars are scattered all over the country, like rhinos in zoos. Most universities have one or two. But sometime soon, a conservative think tank will offer a new type of Web service. (I say so because it's inevitable, not because I have inside information.) This new service will help those professors create high-quality online courses so that lots of conservative scholars can come together for the first time, electronically. The result will be a cyber university that presents an integrated, conservative world view.

It only took a few smooth operators to reveal the vast, untapped market for conservative talk radio. The same thing will happen with conservative cyber universities. When it does, watch out. The culture war will no longer be a liberal walkover.

The mutual accusations by liberals and conservatives of media and university control are very interesting. The US is probably not split "50/50" between conservative and liberal worldview but the people at the centerpoint of each camp certainly perceive it that way and what's more, they think the other side is winning. This is often simply by virtue of having their position aired in the press, on the radio, on TV or through other symbolically significant media (such as the pulpit or the lectern). The accusations of the media of simply allowing to positions to be presented without subjecting them to the test of accuracy are certainly valid to a certain extent but they don't explain the more deep-seated problem.

This is probably an issue of identity. Conservatives don't seem themselves as being valid partners in the debate because the debate is framed around liberal assumptions and their words almost literally have no meaning. And liberals, of course, feel the same when watching a 'Justice Sunday' broadcast.

George Lakoff's Moral Politics goes a long way towards establishing the cognitive roots of the problem and Alan Brinkley's essays in Liberalism and Its Discontents trace not a few of its historical foundations. However, I think we're still waiting for a good 'ethnography' of the culture-wars that takes both of these scholars into account.