Rules of Engagement
Imagine a red army and a blue army fighting for control of a city. (You might populate this hypothetical city with gray civilians, or you might not. I don’t think it tortures the thought experiment much one way or another.) The fighting in this city is mixed up. There are no battle lines to speak of, just sporadic flare ups of combat as both sides attempt to stake out various territories within the metropolis. Now imagine that the two armies operate with vastly different rules of engagement. The blue rules of engagement are pretty streamlined: “Shoot reds on sight. Shoot to kill.” But the red rules are a little more… we’ll say “involved.” The reds try to observe the Universal Rules of Fair Play in Warfare. This means they generally avoid initiating battles. They don’t fire from ambush. They don’t aggressively push advantages or pursue retreating forces. And they’ll even punish their own troops for violating their notions of above-the-board combat. A red soldier executing a surprise raid on sleeping blues is as culpable as a blue doing so to reds. Reds aren’t savages, after all.
In this thought experiment, which side would you say is likely to win the city? If you had to bet.
The cleverer readers at home have no doubt already surmised that what I’m actually asking you to contemplate, in the most general terms, are the differences between conservative and liberal strategies in the Great American Culture War, a conflict that is now some fifty or sixty years ongoing. Liberals conceive of the culture war as a war, a conflict in which they have an enemy who must be beaten. And so wherever this enemy rears his white, cishetero, Christian head, they take their pot shots at it. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to think of the culture war as a debate of sorts rather than a dominance struggle for social preeminence. And so they couch their propositions in the language of principle (even when those principles are in fact ex post facto rationalizations) and occasionally pull out a devastating gotcha about the other side’s “hypocrisy.”
(I do have to admit, in the interest of thoroughness, that the situation isn’t quite so dire as it is in the imagined scenario above. In that scenario, team red operates on universal rules. In reality, however, a great number of the rules with which team red attempts to police public discourse aren’t universal at all but actually blue in origin. So the situation for real-life conservatives is a bit more dire, in fact.)
You have to admire the Left for it’s clarity of vision. It has identified its enemies, and it does what it can to drive them from the field. The recent fireworks in Indiana are a perfect illustration. Team blue knows that Christians are hateful homophobes, and so it goes to bat for the right of homosexuals to sue them over wedding cakes. The Right, with its characteristic acumen, mistakes this bushwhack for a principled stand. “Ah!” they say, “But if you support the right of a gay man to force a Christian to make a cake then you must support the right of the KKK to force a black baker to make a cake!” The average liberal couldn’t imagine a more irrelevant rejoinder. They aren’t making any such proposition at all. In their calculus, Christians (of the Not-fans-of-Pope-Francis type at least) are the bad guys and thus their interests are hateful and invalid and must be opposed. The KKK are bad guys and thus their actions are hateful and invalid and must be opposed. You attack bad guys. You don’t attack good guys. Whence the confusion?
The fact that they have such a clearly defined enemy is, incidentally, why the Left can mobilize effectively despite being a creaky, Frankenstein mass of mostly incompatible interest groups. Mexicans will ethnically cleanse blacks when their territories run afoul of one another, but they both vote for the same party. Homosexuals don’t always enjoy the gentlest of treatment from their Muslim friends, but they nevertheless routinely support Democratic politicians who promise more immigrants and “refugee resettlements” from all the vibrant corners of Africa and the Middle East. The Democrat coalition is organized not around a coherent vision of the future but a shared opponent.
Read the rest at Social Matter.