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There Is Lots of Stuff Much More Important Than Everything in the Culture War
People get angry about stuff that is much less consequential than other stuff that no one cares about
Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about puberty blockers or whatever Ron Desantis is doing in Florida. Puberty blockers are the worst type of mutilation of children, according to some—vital healthcare, according to others. But everyone seems to agree; exactly what the medical system does regarding transgender children is a hugely important issue.
Same with Desantis’ (or desanctimonious, as some have called him) actions in Florida. What he’s doing is either some vital form of moral progress that prevents the horrifying critical race theory from being pushed on helpless children or Nazi-esque book burning. Everyone can hear either the glass crunching at Kristallnacht or the zealous cries of the Russian revolutionaries.
Michael Huemer once remarked that everyone across the aisle agrees on one thing about abortion: that it’s a very easy issue. They just can’t agree on which side is obviously correct. In a similar way, everyone agrees that this irrelevant culture war bullshit is very important—people just can’t agree on whether it is good or bad. Convenient, huh—the stuff that really grinds your gears and gets on your nerves is a vital moral issue. When transgender people don’t pass well and talk about how they have pride flags in their kindergarten classroom, in ways that disgust conservatives, it’s awfully convenient that that is the biggest problem. What luck that our outrage antennae have been precisely tuned to pick up on the issues that are actually most important.
Oh no, what a calamity of unimaginable proportions! Young children cannot read a small number of books that run afoul of the sensibilities of Florida conservatives. Unless they, you know, go to a bookstore or public library or buy a book online. The number of children on puberty blockers is less than 20,000—Matt Walsh, however, guessed millions, having had his brain eaten by the culture war. Now, having not thoroughly investigated the issue, I think that puberty blockers are probably mostly good—but they are far from the most important issues. The supposed epidemic of mutilation of minors who are having their genitals chopped off—fewer than 100 adolescents underwent bottom surgery over the course of several years. With top surgery, the number is less than a thousand. And yet this—this—is the issue that sucks up our public debate.
Half a million kids have been killed in Yemen. Millions of kids are being systematically starved, and its infrastructure being blown to bits. This is being done with U.S. arms. The U.S. is selling arms to the country responsible for the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Children are starving to death and getting cholera, and getting other diseases—diseases that the kids of the wealthy westerners who have been sucked into the culture war vortex don’t get. These are the kinds of diseases you only get when there are not medical institutions—when an entire country has been systematically decimated, tortured, and starved, when there is not access to hospitals or water or food.
And no one fucking cares.
Perhaps if the children in Yemen came out as transgender, then the world would care. Perhaps if they started reading Robin DiAngelo then they’d be sucked into the culture war, and people would care about what happened to them. But, you know, they’re just kids starving. And plus, they’re foreigners, so no one cares when they literally starve to death.
Billions of animals are being systematically tortured in factory farms, in the worst conditions imaginable. And no one cares. Occasionally, progressives will stiffen at the mention of the sexual abuse that goes on in these factory farms, when cows are held down and forcefully impregnated, because they, like most people, only are capable of caring about gratuitous, unspeakable evil when it relates to the culture war. Who cares if babies are being blended up and pigs that are smarter than dogs are beaten to death against concrete and egg-laying hens are crammed into tiny cages where they have less space than a piece of paper and can’t turn around, as long as they’re not being sexually abused, seems to be the prevalent progressive attitude. Of course, despite claiming to oppose the sexual abuse of animals, very few actually do anything about it, like, for example, boycotting dairy.
We’ve over and over again almost gotten into nuclear wars. Voters don’t care about that, of course. What they care about more than averting not terribly improbable nuclear annihilation are transgender bathroom bills.
Let’s imagine that puberty blockers caused people to drop dead instantly. This would still mean that U.S. weapon sales to Saudi Arabia are roughly 20 times more important than puberty blockers—and this is just counting the deaths caused. If we assume, plausibly, that no matter how bad it is to be given a puberty blocker, it is less than the badness of being deprived of food in Yemen, then U.S. arms sales are at least 1,000 times more important than puberty blockers. Why do we focus 1,000 times more on the issue that’s thousands of times less important? The ban on organ sales is more consequential than laws around puberty blockers, for heaven’s sake, yet no one ever talks about lifting that.
Of course, people will claim that it’s symbolic. The reason why it’s important to push back on either the pernicious transgenders or Ron Desantis because it’s indicative of a broader problem. But this is a bad argument. Everything is part of a larger issue. Factory farming is part of the wider issue of speceisism and mistreatment of animals, as well as the larger issue of not adequately internalizing externalities. The war in Yemen is part of the broader issue of U.S. militarism, which is far more consequential than anything that anyone is talking about in the culture war.
The real reason people care about the culture war so much is that it’s fun. It’s fun to be outraged and to laugh at the crazies on the other side. LibsofTikTok makes a living showing videos of left-wing people (and also Stephen Kershnar, bizarrely) being cringey or seeming like they’re indoctrinating people. We are a culture addicted to outrage porn, and it is burning the commons.
A lot of it has to do with plain old disgust. Think what you want about whether conservatives are most likely right about transgender issues, but it’s totally obvious that a lot of the reason that they’re so adamant about it is that they find many transgender people gross.
Now, if people recognize this and don’t care, that’s fine. If people’s general attitude towards watching videos talking about the horrors of whatever irrelevant culture war bullshit was “it’s fun to watch, and I’ve already masturbated today,” that would be one thing. But people act like these are the most important issues in the world, as though random flamboyant kindergarten teachers are Atlas, holding the world on their shoulders.
It’s a completely idiotic attitude. There are lots of things that matter—poverty, disease, factory farming, foreign policy. But the random culture war bullshit that seems to engulf all of our collective attention spans is not what really matters. And we’d all recognize that if we weren’t so addicted to the outrage.