I’m Not Interested in Finding a Truce in the Culture War. I’m Interested in Winning It.

by Lindy West

There’s this prevailing attitude that the “culture war” is some kind of discussion that we’re all having. But you know what? Fuuuuuuck that. I know this is divisive and counterproductive and inflammatory or whatever, but not all ideas are created equal. Some ideas are shitty, and I’m sick of coddling people with shitty ideas just because this country has a weird backwards boner for old-timey puritanical rhetoric. No.

In an interview with Scientific American this month, author Jonathan Haidt discusses his new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, in which he seeks to nail down precisely why the right and left in this country are locked in this endless, grumpy impasse—and what we can possibly do to fix it so we can actually get some shit done. Now, I’m all for getting some shit done, but, in this particular war, “peace” isn’t at all what I’m looking for. I’m looking to win. Because I’m right.

Haidt lays out some of the ways that both sides, left and right, carelessly foment divisiveness by pushing each other’s buttons. And he offers some advice:

Once you start thinking about what each side holds sacred and you know the moral foundations that underpin their policy positions, you can do a better job of targeting your moral appeals. And most importantly, you can do a better job of avoiding land mines. For example, it was foolish of the Obama administration to insist that religious schools, hospitals, and other institutions must pay for birth control for all employees. This was extremism in defense of one of their sacralized issues—women’s rights—and it led them to pass a rule that would have forced many Christians to violate some of their sacred values. But it’s not as if those institutions were stopping women from using birth control. The issue was just whether religious institutions should pay for birth control in health insurance policies. It’s like forcing synagogues to buy pork lunches for their non-jewish employees. It triggered outrage, and fed into the long-simmering idea that the Democrats are conducting a “war on religion.”

Conversely, the various Republican bills forcing women who want abortions to get a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound—same thing in reverse. In defense of their sacred value (right to life, protect every fetus), they legislated that doctors would have to harm and degrade their own patients. This triggered outrage and fed into the long-simmering idea that the Republicans are conducting a “war on women.” So I think my book will help both sides avoid committing “sacrilege” by stepping on sacred values so often, and I think it could help them think more clearly about how to reach the other side.

Nope. Sorry.

Conservatives ARE waging a “war on women.” Liberals, by contrast, are certainly not waging a “war on religion.” I don’t give a one shit about your religion. I’m not saying your religion is bad, I’m not saying it’s good, I just don’t care. It’s annoying, but you can go yell about your religion on the street, you can beg people for wig-money on TV, and you can even come knock on my door (if you like throwing time and energy in the garbage). You can believe literally whatever you want, as long as your beliefs don’t actively restrict the rights of other human beings.

Haidt’s two examples are not parallel. In the first, the birth control example, religious conservatives are fighting for the right to make women’s basic healthcare contingent upon adherence to an arbitrary, conservative moral code. The implication is that a woman’s vagina (and concomitant reproductive organs) is not a part of her body—it’s a separate entity that, because of puritanical religious attitudes toward female sexuality, does not warrant the same medical care as every other fucking (or, rather, non-fucking) part of her body. The specific medical care that a woman needs is between her and her doctor, and if human beings are covered by a medical plan, then human bodies should be covered by that medical plan, regardless of what we do with those bodies. Full stop. Also, kindly stop thinking so much about what I do with my body. It’s creepy.

So the liberal objection, in that example, is to the inhumane restriction of women’s rights. It’s not some awkward “sacrilege,” and it is certainly not “extremism.” Women are humans (surprise!), and it is objectively correct to stand up for human rights. I am not “oppressing” you by trying to stop you from oppressing me.

Also, “religious liberty” is bullshit in this context. There are all sorts of things in the Bible that we legislate against, but you don’t hear religious conservatives pitching a fit about their “rights” in those cases. As long as we’re not stoning unclean women to death, then LET THE LADIES HAVE OUR FUCKING MEDICINE.

In the second example, regarding trans-vaginal ultrasounds, the liberal argument is also firmly in the corner of civil rights. The conservative argument is…elsewhere (bananaland!). This one is so ludicrous I can’t believe it made it past the pitch meeting, but here’s the gist. Pro tip: Do not stick stuff in people’s vaginas if they don’t want you to. Conservatives aren’t raising liberal hackles because they’re “stepping on sacred values” (as though those values sprang up fully-formed out of nowhere, as though we defend them blindly)—liberals are pissed because conservative lawmakers, in Haidt’s own words, “legislated that doctors would have to harm and degrade their own patients.” Um, YEAH. REASONABLE OBJECTION. A woman is a person. A clump of cells is not.

To debate this is unacceptable and I will not do it.

I believe in right and wrong—just not the opportunistic, politically-driven kind that’s been dredged up out of some old fantasy book and used to subjugate whomever it’s most profitable to subjugate that season. I believe in the kind of right and wrong where you can see people actually get hurt. Where you see people’s rights negated and lives torn up. Where a clump of cells is worth more than a human being, and one abusive garbage straight parent is worth more than two loving, stable gay parents. That’s real. The other shit is not. Fucking up my life is not covered by your “religious freedom.”

Honestly, I’m all for trying to understand where the other side is coming from, for being an open and accepting person, but too often in the debate between left and right in this country, it comes down to a conflict between rationality and irrationality. And I’m sorry, if you deliberately shun evidence and call me an elitist for adhering to facts, then this is no longer a discussion. We don’t have to debate, say, whether or not women should be allowed to work outside of the home. Or whether or not black people should be allowed to vote. Or whether NAMBLA should have a seat at the UN or whatever. This isn’t some subjective circumstance that we need to discuss and consult literally all sides—it’s not up for discussion. People just get to have the rights. They just do.

If the “culture war” were an actual war, it wouldn’t be one of those sad, ambiguous wars where you’re not sure which side is the “good guys”—it would be the fucking war at the end of Lord of the Rings. And I’m sorry, but Sauron ran Mordor into the ground (seriously, dude, just NO infrastructure??), he would have made a terrible president, and I’m not interested in sparing his feelings just because he, personally, likes living in the middle of a stanky volcano waste. The rest of us don’t, because it’s dangerous and scary and there’s no furniture and no sunlight and all our clothes smell like brimstone. This is not something we need to discuss. All non-orcs who don’t want to live in Mordor say, “Yaaaaaaaaaayah!”

So, yeah, fuck your “debate.”

Originally published on Jezebel. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.

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  1. 1) Fucking medicine. Makes sense.

    2) That picture at the top makes me think, “‘Merica, frick yeah.” But in a good way. Not in a backwater podunk way.

    3)Weird backwards boner for old-timey puritanical rhetoric. THIS.

  2. I want to cry this is so perfect. There are legitimately debatable issues and then there is backwards fuckery. Stop pretending there’s no difference.

  3. Ugggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I’m so glad this exists because it just boggles my mind how quickly the States warped into this.

  4. the phrase “backwards boner” sounds really painful and awkward and is thus the most accurate description of the American cultural mentality I’ve heard all day.

  5. HEY AUTOSTRADDLE I don’t know if you’ve reported on this already but I haven’t read about it BUT EVEN IF YOU HAVE it’s important and relevant to interests, it’s called The Everyday Sexism Project, you can leave accounts of your everyday encounters with sexism and it helps end the normalised nature of casual sexism.

    ALSO. Irrelevant to this post, but you guys, there is SO much media coverage of American gay rights laws, but there’s stuff going on other places too so I feel like everyone in the UK should go on ahead and read this lovely page and sign the petition: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/campaigns/equal_partners/sign-our-petition-now-8144881.html

  6. Yaaaaaaaaaayah! A-Woman! I loved the Lord of the Rings visual I had. There was an Orc who looked like Maggie G.

  7. Maggie Gallagher is coming to Notre Dame to “debate” gay marriage with John Corvino.

    I’m already blowing up the facebook event with these basic ideas, so this is super relevant. I won’t kowtow to bigots.

    this seems like an appropriate time to say ‘FUCK THE PATRIARCHY’

    • I went to this debate at my school where john corvino is a professor. it wasn’t so much a debate as it was a short discussion followed by audience questions, most of which where not great. maggie and john started off by switching sides, each taking a few minutes pretending to be the other and laying out their position. then they switched back and spent some more time expanding on their reasoning for their position. maggie’s being that we are losing our ‘culture of marriage’ and we need more married people making and raising more babies, gay marriage threatens this ect. also that men and women are super different, and that man/woman marriage is really special. john’s being that gay people exist, the institution of marriage helps (gay) people be happy, stable people -> happy, stable contributing members of society.

      I admit I went to this hoping to see john c. demolish maggie’s position in the debate, but that didn’t really happen. he’s all like “we’re friends, we wrote a book together!” (I don’t remember her ever calling him a friend). if you go to this, I would recommend being really prepared with possible questions, on specific stuff. nobody at the debate I went to had good questions on stuff she didn’t explicitly cover, so she would just be like “well you just disagree with me, I’m not going to repeat myself”.

    • marika i like you because you always know the right time to say “fuck the patriarchy.” the secret, of course, is that “the right time” is all the time!

  8. Fucking up my life is not covered by your “religious freedom.” – I need that on a bumper sticker, or perhaps have one of those little planes flying around with it on a big sign

  9. “It’s like forcing synagogues to buy pork lunches for their non-jewish employees.”

    LOL. Yeah, can you buy me a sandwich, er sorry, I mean, allow me to control how many children I have in my lifetime?

    • Also, eating pork is optional, you might be craving it but you will be just fine eating something else. Birth control is, despite what conservatives who think “abstinence until marriage” actually works think, not even remotely optional for a lot of women.

      Like, seriously that is the stupidest analogy I’ve ever heard.

      A better example would be if you’re employed by a member of a church that doesn’t believe in vaccines and so your health insurance doesn’t cover vaccinations.

    • Not to mention that birth control pills are used for a lot of things that aren’t actually involved with contraception!

  10. Reminds me of something I ready a while back. One person wants to drown 100 puppies, the other person doesn’t want any puppies to drown. Drowing 50 puppies instead is not an acceptable compromise.

  11. Your viewpoints on this issue are despicable, and I’m not even religious. To call an unborn baby a clump of cells- let’s just say I hope you wouldn’t feel that way if it was your baby. Also, you’re entirely misrepresenting the facts about the right’s “war on women.” The kinds of things these religious institutions are against covering have nothing to do with vaginas in general but instead things they are morally against, such as abortions and contraceptives available for less than $10 a month. The outrage from the right has been a response to an attack on religious freedoms. It amazes me how libs like you are so blinded by your sense of self-righteousness that you will not only degrade life but practice the same types of bigotry you claim to oppose.

    • How can abortions and contraception not have to do with vaginas?

      And lol, this “contraceptions available for $10 a month” argument. Dudes think they can just Google “price of contraceptives” and if they find one that’s under a certain price amount they win. Yeah, that’s not how it works. Just like how not every anti-depressant works for every depressed person, not every birth control pill works for every woman. Particularly for those of us who take it for other health reasons beyond preventing pregnancy. I have to get a specific kind of pill because my main reason for taking it is to reduce cramps; if I got the cheapo kind that Republicans think I should be required to get, it would probably make my cramps worse.

      Birth control isn’t some weird, marginal thing; pretty much every woman who has sex with men uses it, as well as a lot of women who don’t (because of the aforementioned health reasons). It’s pretty much expected by a lot of doctors that a woman who is above a certain age and not trying to conceive will be on birth control. Not covering it is not covering a pretty basic part of health care for women.

      As for the notion that Catholics are being forced to pay for something that they find “immoral,” insurance companies are now footing the cost of the birth control so they have nothing to complain about at this point. The very fact that Catholic universities/hospitals are still whining about this when they’re NOT PAYING FOR IT makes it clear that that isn’t the issue. I think if we’re really going to talk about bigotry, though, let’s talk about the bigotry of posing yourself as an inclusive university/hospital that enrolls/employs people of all faiths and then suddenly expecting them to abide by Catholic views when it comes to what their insurance covers. We’re not just talking about places like Notre Dame that are clear about their religious background, we’re also talking about places here like Georgetown where half the people applying probably don’t even know they’re Catholic.

      • I really don’t get where the under $10 a month stuff comes from. Back when I dated boys I paid less than $10 a month for birth control because my health insurance covered it. The insurance company’s negotiated rate was about $30 a month for them. I don’t know what i would have had to pay my generic pill without the insurance companies’ negotiated reduced rates, but it definitely would have been more than $10.

        • If you google you can find that places like Wal-Mart provide particular kinds of birth control for less than $10 a month without insurance. It doesn’t really matter though when most women can’t use that kind.

      • and just a side note for the non-trolls reading this, when I say “Catholics” I mean the Vatican and the lay Catholics who agree with them on sexual matters. Not talking about everyone, or even necessarily the majority.

    • For the record, if it’s the protection of life one is worried about and you want to reduce abortions, then you have to invest in birth control. You cannot ban or limit abortion AND birth control at the same time leaving women locked into a position where even married women can run into unwanted pregnancies. Seeing justice in limiting abortion AND birth control is indicative of a sexually repressed mind. Sex is not an enemy and women are autonomous human beings. Religion is a private institution and should never hold sway in government or public enterprise. Period.

      • THIS too.

        but I feel like this troll is one of those people who doesn’t understand why we can’t just expect people to abstain forever if they don’t want babies. I mean, the major anti-choice orgs are also all anti-birth-control so they obviously feel that way too.

      • Thank you Alexa, for pointing this out.

        I know it’s not a particularly popular opinion, but I am not super pro-abortion. I am definitely not anti-abortion, but I understand why religious people have a problem with it.

        So what I have always preached to my super religious family about abortion is that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t want to reduce abortions while at the same time limiting access to contraception and promoting abstinence only education in schools. That’s just ridiculous thinking.

        But for some reason, people don’t want to hear logical arguments…

  12. Thank Fuck that some people in the world like you have actual common sense.
    For me it’s all a debate of common sense vs those lacking education.

  13. Thank you, this was a very interesting piece! This covers something quite problematic regarding human nature, simply the fact that everyone has their limit. And the thing is, as open as I consider myself to be, I realize that there are just things I cannot accept, regardless of how much I can understand why certain people would hold certain opinions as… “sacred”. Basic human rights are sacred for me. And if someone else holds other things sacred, things that impose on my basic human rights, I will fight them and just as Lindy, I fight with the intention to win.

    Well spoken indeed.

  14. Maybe this is so obvious it should go without saying, but no one is force-feeding women birth control pills! From the beginning of this church vs. Obamacare saga, I have never been able to understand the argument that religious freedoms are being threatened. (The same thing for marriage equality: If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married!) Those who stand at the pulpit can still preach the same bullshit about a woman’s body if they want, but the fact of the matter is these women WANT and NEED birth control. Healthcare should have nothing to do with religious ideals or “moral” ideals; you gotta find another place to make that argument and hammer Jesus into people’s heads…the place just isn’t healthcare.

    • The argument was basically that people thought it was violating the rights of Catholic (or affiliated with other religious groups that oppose birth control, but Catholics are the main one) universities/hospitals to be anti-birth-control by forcing them to have their insurance plans cover it. People are acting like you’re requiring freaking churches to pay for birth control, when the insurance company is footing the bill and half these institutions are just Catholic-affiliated but the majority of the people working or going to school there are not Catholic. Actual explicitly religious organizations like churches are exempted from the mandate (so as a pastor’s kid who is still on my parents’ insurance, I still have to pay a co-pay for my birth control, although it’s NBD because it’s a pro-choice church, so it’s not a very big co-pay).

      And there’s really no truly GOOD arguments (i.e., ones coming from people with actual constitutional law backgrounds) that it’s unconstitutional. The legal standard for something like this is whether or not it’s designed to target a specific religious group. It’s not – it targets all providers equally, sacred or secular – so it’s perfectly constitutional, in the same way that requiring Rastafarians to abide by the same marijuana laws as everyone else is also perfectly constitutional. Most of the people saying it’s unconstitutional are religious leaders and advocates with little to no legal knowledge.

      (for the record, I’m not a lawyer but my mom is and she has a strong constitutional law background and so she’s kept me informed of all this)

  15. God, yes to giving a flying fuck about truces. I have so many friends on facebook who think being neutral on everything gives them some kind of moral superiority over the rest of us who have chosen sides. You know, sometimes there is a right side and a wrong side of an issue. Both sides are not always going to have valid viewpoints.

  16. I think it is just fine if religious establishments don’t provide birth control (etc). Honestly, just go somewhere else. And forcing synagogues to buy pork for their nonjewish employees: Why can’t those employees simply eat pork somewhere else?
    Here’s the thing: I agree that the examples are not parallel. The War on Women is worse. But saying that those above transgressions are not hurting anyone is also wrong… Literally, just go somewhere else. That’s why the second example is worse: Because women can’t go somewhere else, there is nowhere else. And that’s the problem.

    • You can’t “just go somewhere else” if you’re employed at a Catholic hospital or university.

  17. This is pretty much what I’ve always felt. Ever since I was little, I’ve had this very strong sense of right and wrong. When something is wrong it burns inside me like acid and I KNOW. I don’t need to debate it! Sometimes things really are black and white. And I don’t care if that makes some people think I’m narrow-minded or stupid.

    Also I loved the LOTR example because YES. I always loved the LOTR as a kid, read all the books every summer, and I think it probably did shape the way I view the world. Sometimes there are grey areas (like the way the Ring could twist good people into doing bad things), but that doesn’t mean you don’t know what’s right or wrong when you know it. And we really shouldn’t be afraid to say it.

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