Metaphors exert a powerful influence on our thought, by leading us to draw connections that would have otherwise lain undiscovered. Their power is great, and so they must be used wisely.

— Someone really wise and shit, maybe a centaur

One metaphor that’s everywhere these days, or at least close enough to everywhere to justify a thinkpiece about it, is the metaphor of war. Everyone seems to be comparing war with things that are not war, but which they are pretty sure are still a lot like war. Some of these comparisons are good, maybe, like the description of a widespread effort to undermine access to life-saving reproductive health resources as a “War on Women”; others are probably bad.

But there’s got to be some truth in our favorite longest-running metaphorical war, right? If Culture War isn’t real then all the weaponized irony we’ve deployed will have been for nothing and SBBS might as well shut down. So we’re really mad about Jeffrey Moualim’s new piece in the Independent, which shows some deep disanalogies between actual war and whatever I’ve been doing as a foot soldier in the “U.S. Right-Left Culture War”.

Even with the incredibly fierce fighting that transpired for most of [World War I’s] four years, on Christmas, both sides would observe a cease fire. Men would put down their guns, the sound of canons would go silent, and some would actually venture into no man’s land and fraternize with the enemy. In the midst of sheer madness, there was a glimpse, if for just for a moment, of sanity.

My initial reaction was that I can identify with this, since I sometimes have to stop making fun of bronies because they have Magic cards I want to trade for.

But then Mr. Moualim describes the “Culture War” in similarly militaristic terms and takes the comparison to its logical and absurd conclusion, threatening our business for no better reason than to establish an important truth:

Today there is a war waged every day, a culture war between the left and the right. It is timeless and it appears endless. It uses media of every kind to blitzkrieg the opposition, and those left standing are entranced with the idea “we live to fight again.” The notion of peace is nonnegotiable, and compromise is considered surrender. The right and left of this country will do battle, and hostilities do not stop even for the most important and significant day of the year during which believers espouse peace on earth, good will toward men. One need only turn on the television or access the Internet to see polarizing figures like Miley Cyrus or Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty lobbing shells of extremism at the other side, a shock and awe strategy intended to evoke harsh and bitter feelings from the “enemy” and provoke a response filled with hate and hysteria. And while it may seem to some just harmless fencing, it has in point of fact caused deep divisions in this country, where walls of intolerance are fortified instead of torn down.

As much as it pains me to admit this, I believe Mr. Moualim is correct in the conclusions he draws from this juxtaposition, which are definitely these conclusions and not other conclusions:

  1. Wars might be sometimes fought for reasons other than the immediate interests of those actually fighting in them. The soldiers who did that illicit fraternizing in no-man’s-land on Christmas 1914 didn’t really have reasons to hate those on the other side, except when this one German guy cheated during a game of Magic. But the higher-level officers were pretty ticked off about this because their interests were closer aligned with the state. The foot soldiers and their “recognition of each other’s humanity” were fucking up the game-plan.

    As our good Mr. Moualim makes clear, though, the “issues” commonly associated with the “Culture War”—the rights of women, people of color, and sexual, gender, and romantic minorities; gun control and justice system reform; climate change and other aspects of environmental justice—are not abstract concerns that matter only to guys like Hitler. They directly concern the lives of our friends and families (it’s a bit of a hassle) and those who oppose us—who will actually work to prevent free reproductive care for all, or the end of the drug war—are threatening our interests profoundly. They’re trying to cheat at a lot of games of Magic, and they won’t recognize the humanity of all of us. Effed up.

  2. The second point that Mr. Moualim definitely makes at some point in his essay, I mean unless I really misread it, is that the objectives of the “Culture War” aren’t that much like the objectives of a real war at all. If there are any overarching goals shared between all the ongoing struggles on behalf of marginalized people, one is probably to secure the universal recognition of their humanity—to make a Christmas Armistice possible between more than just white men from different European countries.

    And an armistice was not probably the point of the Great War, or of any war, and anyway if all you want is an armistice you probably want fewer soldiers rather than more of them.

So Jeffrey Moualim answers the rhetorical question in his article’s title: it makes no sense to call for a cease-fire, for an armistice, in the “Culture War”, not only because it’s not a real war but because, when we do get a cease-fire, it means we’ve won.