Ky. Voices: Our clash of cultures: traditional vs. post-modern

J. Larry Hood of Nicholasville is an adjunct professor of history at the University of Kentucky.
J. Larry Hood of Nicholasville is an adjunct professor of history at the University of Kentucky.

All people perceive reality and interpret data according to their own world views, that is how they conceive of ultimate values or truths. Today the great cultural clash within the United States is between a traditional Western or Judeo-Christian understanding of life and a post-modern multicultural existentialism.

This war explains the self-segregation of Americans in residential patterns and thinking and the intense, increasing polarization of national politics.

The contrasts below illustrate how the two worldviews (traditionist/multicultural) differ profoundly regarding what anthropologists call the three earliest and ongoing institutions underlying all societies:

Religion: God/Man; surprise/predictability; joy, beauty, wonder/utilitarianism; distinctiveness/uniformity; history is prologue/existentialism; tragic nature of man/nature is not destiny or identity; man's propensity toward evil/man is morally upright; moral absolutes/situational ethics; love and justice/ love and fairness; freedom of religion/freedom of worship; individual faith is a pervasive influence/individual faith is compartmentalized outside the public square; Western cultural is superior/multiculturalism, none superior; American exceptionalism based on belief in God wills all to be free/disavows exceptionalism, except for American moral failings.

Family: defined by society or God/defined by individuals; heterosexual couples/heterosexual or gay and two or more; monogamy and fidelity/open marriage if so desired; sexual drive is so pervasive an influence on society that restraint and a focus on intimacy is required/sexual relations need not be a cornerstone of society and intimacy need not be a goal; parental (especially paternal) authority/a restricting, unnecessary societal construct; sanctity of life/woman's right to choose; women in combat blends genders too much/women in combat necessary for true liberation and equality.

Government: society centers on the individual/centers on the state and unimpeded collective action; individual responsibility/governmental responsibility; one man and one vote/group (ethnicity, race, gender) identity and group political benefits; republicanism/mass democracy; checks and balances/unfettered will of the people; federalism/unitary government; social groups provide security against intrusive government/atomized individuals who have the state as the one dominating association; freedom of action/freedom from want; liberty/equality.

Those identifying with the first set of characteristics in each pairing understand religion to be a well-spring of liberty, see traditional families as a necessary foundation for society and a check against the arbitrary power of a government of morally imperfect people.

Those identifying with the second characteristic see religion as limiting freedom, consider traditional (and perhaps all) family as unnecessary, and trust in a government of good people wielding great power en masse to provide freedom from want.

Alexis de Tocqueville in the mid-19th century, writing as if he had envisioned today, warned people of the great danger to liberty and well-being from a powerful people's government: An immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate.

It is absolute, detailed, rigid, far-seeing and mild. It would resemble paternal power but it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique and sole arbiter of that.

Thus, taking each individual and kneading him, the sovereign extends its arms over society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd.

It does not break wills, but softens them, bends them and directs them. It does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes and finally reduces people to nothing more than a herd of timid industrial animals of which the government is the shepherd.