Victory in the Culture War
Let the word go forth this holiday season. Glory, glory hallelujah, the culture war is over.
November 6th, 2012, was VC day, the day the fifty-year war for the future was won. When history looks back on that day, the reelection of Barack Obama will be a footnote—or, if you’re a partisan, an exclamation point—but only the second most important thing that happened that Tuesday. Victory in the culture war, after five long decades, was the first.
Fifty years ago, liberation came into the land. One by one the causes emerged, civil rights, women’s rights, gay liberation, freedom of lifestyle choice, freedom to pursue happiness unhindered by the dead hand of the past. The shape of the future was clear, all those years ago. We’ve been fighting a rear-guard action ever since.
And now we have triumphed; there is no going back.
Gays will not be returning to the closet, women’s wombs will not revert to being property of the state, the glass ceilings will not unbreak, hippies, punks and weirdoes will not be forcibly converted by the squares, the theocrats’ dreams of total power are destroyed forever.
My friends, you may not yet see it through the smoke of battle. There are many skirmishes ahead, the forces of reaction die hard. But the decision is made, the battle won. The times they have a-changed.
Personal liberation, sexual liberation, freedom of choice, of body, of conscience, the right to take a drag off a joint without being dragged to the joint, those ideas broke through in the sixties. We’ve been fighting to defend them for half a century. Fighting against those who would claw us back to the past, fighting the old battles over and over, and now the field is ours. The dragons lie twitching on the ground. They are dangerous yet; they can still spit fire in their final agonies. But they’re dying, and mostly, they know it.
I’m not saying we can let down our guard. There are snipers on the rooftops, guerillas infest the statehouses, some in the army of the past will never give up. Kansas will still be Kansas for a while. We’ll need to be vigilant for a long time yet. But the war is over, all that’s left is a mopping up operation.
The victors can now raise their battle-scarred faces and peer above the smoke to glimpse the future. A hopeful moment is upon us, at last.
It’s not that all our problems are solved. Economic inequality, climate change, religious conflict, disease, they are still with us, those battles never end. It’s that the leading edge can move forward now.
We will need to keep our heads on a swivel. But that swivel also points forward. And, for the first time in fifty years, the way forward is open. The enemy is at our feet and the wind is at our backs. It’s time to get moving again. But where?
I don’t know, that’s for the rising generation to decide. But I can see some glimmers on the horizon; I can see the promised land.
Conflicts still rage around the globe, but they’re mostly small, limited, internecine. Big states no longer fight big wars. We’ve made some progress on the “peace on earth” front.
Now it’s time to tackle “goodwill towards men.” I think that’s the story of the 21st century: an active, global striving for the good.
Ethics is the new frontier. That’s where humanity needs to progress now, and that’s what we’re ready for.
I see it all over the world. They’re reaching for it. In Cairo, in Beijing, in war-torn Africa, drug-torn Mexico and partisan-torn Washington DC, the chant of the people is the same.
Be better. Be kinder. Be fairer.
And, as remote as those ideals seem, they’re coming. No government anywhere in the world can attain true legitimacy without at least seeming to stand for them.
How those ideas will triumph, I do not know. I’m an old warrior and old warriors never get into the promised land. But if history favors their cause, and they are long-lived, lucky and blessed, they may see the glow.
So, children, as you face this hopeful moment and embark into the unknown future, permit me a piece of advice. I have learned one lesson in a hard-fought life that I want to share with you, as you go forth into the light.
Remember this: The promised land is not a place you reach. It’s a place you build.
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