A National Sobering (and Hangover) is Here

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If you’ve kept your head screwed-on straight these past few years, then you’ve probably realized that a lot of the absurdity and outrage in America has had to do with just how easy life is here, and by extension, the Western World.

Take the war in Ukraine. If you’d walked into a bar on New Years Eve and started talking about dictators who blow up innocent people and a refugee crisis, most people would think that you just got blue pilled by one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Instagram posts about Africa.

The idea that a war as cruel as Putin’s could happen in Europe probably would have sounded absurd – especially to people who are young enough to hang out in bars and follow Leonardo DiCaprio on Instagram.

But the truth is, for people over 40, industrial violence and widespread injustice are vivid life experiences.

The fact that this isn’t true for younger generations is a big driver of cultural conflict – but this may be changing thanks to Ukraine.

Let’s review some of the memories the older half of the country has:

  • Segregation was still legal in the U.S. when Boomers were in high school
  • Around the same time, 22% of the nation was living below the poverty line (2X the current rate); and
  • ~50% of non-white families were impoverished (almost 3X the current rate)

And on the global front:

  • As recently as the ‘80s, Soviet-backed dictators were still marching their armies through the streets of modern-day tourist destinations like Prague, Berlin, and Budapest; and
  • An actual genocide happened in Europe during the Kosovo War (1998)

These experiences are not baked into younger generations who have come of age in a global era where $1000 can get you a plane ticket and an Airbnb just about anywhere in the world.

This rift is a big reason for the Culture War. Boomers and Gen X-ers have a solid understanding of what evil looks like, because they’ve seen it. It’s a perspective many have lost when they take the bait on cultural battles like who can use what bathroom or if Texas Republicans’ choice to end drive-thru voting is indeed “Jim Crow 2.0,” as President Biden said.

But now we’re at an inflection point.

Regardless of the war in Ukraine’s outcome, we can make one big prediction about the trajectory of broader American cultural conflict: that it’s headed towards disarmament.

The reason is very simple. As long as there are real despots, like Putin, committing industrial-scale atrocities in Europe, then there will be no need for Americans to invent fake tyrants to fight at home.

Here’s a secret: the Culture War functions like the Military Industrial Complex.

It’s actually part of the same thing – an ugly side of American Exceptionalism that requires our society to find something impure to fight against at all times.

And with most of the world’s evil either defeated or living in Taliban mud huts, the Culture War has had to adapt just like the Military Industrial Complex. That means building-up new targets for moral outrage – this time, not across the moral Red Line, but firmly in the gray. For example, the police, Colin Kaepernick, Big Tech Companies, White Men, etc.

Like our foolish wars in the Middle East, the Cultural War has been combat in search of diminishing marginal returns.

For every terrorist killed, 3 made; and for every politically-incorrect celebrity canceled, another friend, university, or national institution is alienated from much of the American community.

In the shadow of a European war, these conflicts feel frivolous – and that’s because they are.

But take the glass half-full approach and remind yourself that being annoyed by bathroom politics and Instagram posts are the substance of a healthy nation. If you want to know what stability looks like, it’s not a world where we’re hard-up for a solution to hunger and inequality, it’s a world where we’re hard-up for a solution to how we can be good people and also enjoy Chik-fil-A too.


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