The Two Cultures

One of the things I was hoping for yesterday was a breakdown of the walls we have been building up in this country. Sure, one did fall—or crumble a bit, at least—the wall between the races, but there’s another one, much stronger, that the election only seems to have shored up.

Look at the results. Of the states that went for Obama, ten plus the District of Columbia gave him at least sixty percent of the vote—a margin of twenty percent or more. Another ten awarded him better than fifty-five percent (but less than sixty), at least a ten-point margin. Those are huge numbers, huge wins. Much greater than the less than six point national spread.

For, on the other side, McCain bested sixty in six states, fifty-five in nine others.

Whatever the reason (and it is too facile to simply call it “race”), these numbers show that the gulf between red state and blue state is widening. A variety of factors tilted the result to the Democrats this time, but those will change at some point, and the other side will get back in. If this continues, we'll never achieve stability or real cultural progress. We'll have motion, yes, but it will be like that of a teeter-totter, up and down but going nowhere.

In his classic essay “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,” C. P. Snow writes:


Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension—sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding. They have a curious distorted image of each other. Their attitudes are so different that, even on the level of emotion, they can’t find much common ground. (4-5)

Snow was writing of the divide between two academic cultures, between literary intellectuals and scientists, but his words could as easily refer to conservatives and liberals in the United States. We don’t understand each other, and we make little attempt to do so.

In victory, in 2000 and in 2004, the right put little effort into crossing the divide between the two cultures. There was talk of a ‘permanent Republican majority’ and an attempt at marginalization of the liberals to the extent where they could be safely ignored. The conservatives were wrong to think in this way, and those chickens came home to roost last night.

The question now is whether or not we on the liberal side will show ourselves better in victory than the conservatives were. Certainly, our country deserves better—but can we live up to its demands? Can we, for example, stop insulting red-staters, calling them “crackers,” “rednecks,” “hillbillies,” and the like, talking down to them as though they are so many under-educated bumpkins? Can we start taking them and their ideas seriously in ways that they never did for us?

Last night in their speeches, both McCain and Obama gave us room to move towards reconciliation—not by conceding to the demands or philosophy of the other, but by beginning to learn to respect difference and the ‘other’—a hard task, certainly, but one that can be accomplished, given the right climate. And McCain and Obama have provided just that, a space between the rain and the snow when we can come outside and look at each other and see to our surprise that the ‘other’ is no devil, just ‘us’ in another guise.

No votes yet


 If you are speaking of dissuading ad homimen attacks and arguments, then yes.  But if this is instead a call toward the bipartisanship or post-partisanship meme that is pushed by the media and others, then no.  The culture wars were used by Republicans to create polarization in the electorate and are based on wedge issues that divert and distract attention from the actual issues important to governing.  I am not certain what benefit we derive from giving serious attention to ideas that are conceptually flawed and designed with the intent of creating derision.  

I think it is something of love the sinner, not the sin.


What the culture wars have forced on us is an unwillingness to recognize any real thought or care in the beliefs of the other side.  We become intractable. 


If we can start to learn to listen to the other side--not to compromise, not to agree, but to understand--then we can better convince the other side that WE are right.  When we just trash them, that will never happen.


The news media are fools, in that they are talking compromise not understanding.  Why?  For they don't want compromise, no matter how much they may convince themselves otherwise.  When the liberal and the conservative on their shows agree, there's no show left!  There could be a show, however, if they promoted attempts to really understand the other side.


But that won't happen.

is good and necessary.  My greatest problem with communication with many of my friends on the right is the filter they apply to anything I say or present based on their association of me as a Democrat.  They have had decades of spoon fed propaganda from their party that tells them not to trust "liberals" or the "liberal media."  It will not be a simple process.  I think some if it might have become engrained in their DNA.  For example, during the primaries there were plenty of discussions about the Clintons, including how much they hated both Bill and Hillary.  But when asked why they felt the "hatred" they could not provide a rational or logical reason.  

There are big problems with this, and I don't know if we can overcome them--for the other side has to try, as well.


And, frankly, I don't know that it will.

If Obama is not deterred from pursuing issues like health care and a stimulus package for "Main Street" that includes major infrastructure projects, this should go some way toward overcoming the ideological divide. I agree with Standingup that the wedge issues have been used to distract Americans from major issues such as job loss and the war in Iraq.  I was impressed by the way in which the Democrats addressed issues such as abortion and gay rights during the election and this has carried over into Obama's most recent speeches.'''

Anyway I am tremendously heartened by the Indiana, Michigan and Delaware etc., votes which tell me that we can get beyond racism, and I think the divisiveness you refer to Aaron can be overcome as well.





It's something that's not ingrained the DNA (I know it was not meant literally) but is intractable in a way that is similar to the Palestinian-Israeli divide. 

When a concept or 'meme' is repeated by shared media for a generation and they backdrop the meme with consistently reinforcing imagery, the cement between the intellectually-filtered idea and the nearly instinctual thing that powers us to action -- emotion -- becomes fixed. 

A generation of time means that people who came to political conviction in growing up with such liinkages in place from early childhood can almost have no choice in what they believe.  it's why both Popes and Communist czars have been quoted saying "give me your child before he is five and I will make him a good _____________-ist for life".

The issue is almost biological as it is the mechanisms of biology that cement into our nervous systems the meaning of early experience. 

Palestinian kids who grew up in refugee camps were bathed in the daily correlation of the ideas that Zionist aspirations were responsible for the personal hells they lived everyday and you don't easily undo such correlations when they're reinforced by cultural repetition of the same, especially when the tanks enforcing your hell are so unavoidable as they bulldoze your neighbor's house.

I was a lonely left-leaner who could understand the injustice of the Israeli wall propositioin because I didn't see that much could be done to repair the sensibilities of a generation trained in hell.  I diidn't ultimately advocate it, but it seemed that the cultural divide would only begin to get fixed after a period that could at least train people to the cold experience of ceased hostilities.

The problem I see is that lefties acculturated to value the rational conclusion of intellectually-filtered reality but are asked to communicate with a righty base that is culturally trained on the emotional power of such imagery as standingup cites.

How to begin the generation of a cold peace when Fox and Limbaugh still have the license to provoke?



"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." - Thomas Jefferson

Let's leave aside the problem faced by average non-terrorist Palestinians who are subject to extreme discrimination etc., by the Israeli settlements policy etc. Both sides obviously keep the pot roiling.

Here in the U.S. I think things can change for the better much more quickly. That's how I view the vote in ostensibly "red" states such as Indiana. I think that West Virginians who depend for survival on the functioning of coal mines, yet suffer the atrocities visited on them by coal mine owners who don't give a damn about their health and savety, are a case in point. If Obama carries out his promise to encourage policies that reduce our carbon footprint WHILE DEFENDING THE LIVING STANDARDS OF COAL MINERS by various support programs should they face job loss, and also by deamanding (which he hasn't yet to my knowedge) strict enforcement of health and safety regulations, then I think the miners will be reassured and look upon President Obama and his government in a less fearful manner.

The more he protects the interests of famous "forgotten men and women" who loved FDR, and who attacked the oligarchy, it is my hope that race will become an increasingly forgotten issue. That is my dream and I bet it's Obama's as well.

Encouraging people to find scapegoats on whom to displace their frustrations and justified anger is a tried and true tactic that is used to render the average man and woman impotent to change things. I think that many unexpected people have begun to understand this and that this is the lesson of the election and the signficant popular vote that Obama has gotten.



The above map, compiled by the NYT's shows the USA in terms of increased vote for the Republican ticket over 2004.

I would like to encourage broader research of the implications expressed by the E&P Pub and the NYT's.

Any takers?

...or one like it, on Daily Kos.


While it is disturbing, and brings to mind a simple charge of "racists," I hesitate.  Things are, I believe, a little more complicated.


For the moment, I don't have an answer as to why this pattern exists or a rebuttal to the charge that it illustrates racism, but a lot of the area is among the poorest in the United States.  It also is one that has suffered the most condescension from the people on "the coasts."  But it is something I want to explore and find the root of, even if it does prove to be just racism.