Sunday, June 08, 2008

Why Engage the Culture?

This article in City Journal by Andrew Klavan is a great summary of why conservatives need to be engaged in the culture. Here's a few key paragraphs:

Beating poverty in America nowadays is largely a matter of personal behavior. Get a high school diploma, don’t have kids until you’re married, don’t get married until you’re 21, and you probably won’t be poor. It also helps if you work hard, show up on time, act courteously, and avoid anything felonious.

But where are these kids going to learn such things? It’s the stuff you just sort of absorb in a healthy, traditional, two-parent home, and that’s exactly what they’re missing. If they learn what they’ve lived, they’re done for--the girls too likely to “come out pregnant” like their mothers, the boys to be underemployed and maybe even do time.

You can’t legislate responsibility, either. Personal behavior in a free society has to be a matter of choice--choice without which there is no virtue--virtue without which a society can’t be free.

It seems to me that leaves these kids only one recourse: the culture. Where the institution of family is broken, only the surrounding culture can teach people the inner structures required for a life of liberty.

Many conservatives often seem to have given up on culture or not to care. There’s a strong strain of philistinism on the right. When we talk about “culture wars,” we usually mean preventing the courts from redefining marriage or promoting abstinence instead of birth control: culture, in other words, as the behavioral branch of politics.

Culture, in the true sense, is more than that. It’s the whole engulfing narrative of our values. It’s the stories we tell. Leftists know this. These kids get an earful from the Left every day. Their schools serve up black history in a way guaranteed to alienate them from the American enterprise. Their sanctioned reading list denies boys the natural fantasies of battling villains and protecting women from harm. Any instinct the girls might have that their bodies and their self-respect are interrelated is negated by the ubiquitous parable of celebrity lives. And I hardly need mention the movies and TV shows that endlessly undermine notions of manly self-discipline, feminine modesty, patriotism, and all the rest.

Conservatives respond to this mostly with finger-wagging. But creativity has to be answered with creativity. We need stories, histories, movies of our own. That requires a structure of support--publishing houses, movie studios, review space, awards, almost all of which we’ve ceded to the Left.

If you read the whole article, you'll also see a really heartbreaking anecdote about an entire classroom of students who didn't understand why someone's last name would be the same as her father's.

As Klavan says, we can't afford to withdraw from the world, or to wag our fingers and judge the culture as wrong without offering an alternative. Even if we can't personally go out and make a great movie, we can at least support good conservative offerings. We can also talk to our friends and neighbors about the culture and encourage them to check out some of the positive influences out there.

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