All Quiet on the Culture Front

by Zaid Magdub | April 21, 2024

To say that all politics is sex may seem like a rather pubescent position. A very radical albeit pubescent position. But it is not an unsubstantiated one, for in a social environment tainted by the ‘Culture Wars’ our politics is undoubtedly pubescent.

The Western psyche seems to be in something of a state of mourning. A funeral procession for the politics of old, for the days before politics became so bloody difficult, before the polarising ‘Culture Wars’. In a social imaginary that prides itself so deeply on worshipping the gods of the Enlightenment (edifying the icons of Voltaire, Locke, and Rousseau, embodying those values of ‘Free Speech’ and reasoned debate), it seems something of a heresy, something to be guiltily mourned, that our political debates have strayed so far from tolerating the view of the other.

This sentiment is not just the stroppy nostalgia of your Blairite father, or of a spotty Young Conservative freshly broken up with by his Corbynista girlfriend. The well of politics seems to have been poisoned, and the prognosis always seems to be the ‘Culture Wars.’ Consider the dissension of the ‘old politics’: one could find themselves outraged at the view of the other, but there was still a paradigm of politics to which all adhered, an ideological space where discord could occur, but fundamental goals were shared. And because those fundamental goals were shared, free speech and reasoned debate could be tolerated. Because one did not see the other position as ontologically different or repugnant, their differences were endurable. That mode of disagreement has festered in the shadow of the ‘Culture Wars’.

Long mourned are the days when the most vigorous debates would be about the likes of drug criminalisation or even austerity. Two camps could argue against the other in the most unsavoury manner; and yet, they would still be forced to accept that their politics are rationalised in the same manner. Even the most ardent advocate for decriminalising narcotics could hardly claim that their opponents did not care about the crisis. They just care in the wrong way. The Other is only thinking differently, their cognition has faulted them; their moral character may be in question because of their means, but their aim is (in the end) permissible.

This cannot be the case for the ‘Culture Wars.’ A poorly termed phrase, best defined as the phenomena of social antagonisms that cannot be reconciled in popular consciousness. Take the issues of race, of gender, of identity; take all the issues that are Woke; the discourses that draw the line between the Tofu-eating Wokerati and the Gammons of Middle Ingerland. They are not issues of ‘culture’. Packaging them as such makes them seem benign, reduced to the spires of the superstructure, like art or whatever other nonsense, divorced from the real issues. In complete contrast, ‘Culture Wars’ denotes a battlefield somewhat eschatological, a historical moment where it seems as if the status quo and all the practises of our civilisation are in question. Seeing all one once knew seem to crumble is somewhat apocalyptic.

But they are neither. We are neither at the precipice of disaster, nor clashing over customs. These are social disagreements which cannot be reconciled because those who argue seek entirely different ends. Their clashes arise from seeking to install entirely separate modes of existence. If one person sees a mode of being as inherently good, and another sees it as inherently bad, they cannot accept that the other may have shared goals. A feminist cannot accept the patriarchy to be a myth, or an ‘anti-racist’ that his anathema is mythical. The differences in positions are fundamental: as they are fundamental, it must mean the other is fundamentally wrong; and if the other is fundamentally wrong, then their framework of what is right and what is wrong must also be fundamentally wrong.

The ‘Culture Warrior’ is therefore led astray into thinking they are a moral crusader, too. They mistake such social antagonisms for proof that the other is morally unsound, deluded into thinking all other bases of argument are moral ones. This simply cannot be the case. Strip away the prima facie, and find we agree far more on morality than is expected. Western consciousness remains very much moulded in the crucible of the Abrahamic faiths. And because of that, the ‘Culture Wars’ cannot be about morality.

So many things that are fundamental to us would be fundamental to our grandparents. We venerate suffering; rebuke the distaste for the weak; reject Karma in favour of a banal, ruthless Cosmos where the good may agonise and the wicked may find ease. Even in death, we accept life is finite, a judgment should be made upon us for our deeds while alivewhy else care for legacy so dearly? We (in the West) claim to detest the suggestion that man is born intrinsically inferior; that is why the Caste system is so unsavoury, and the Colonist/Slaver had to reduce the Native to lesser-than-man, to merely a vessel of skin voided of humanity. Even in so-called revolutionary politics, it is not so much the dullish pages of so-and-so German philosopher that makes oppression so unconscionable. What truly lights the barricades is not the piffle of scientific analysis: it is that deep-seated empathy for the poor and discontent, the zealotry of Christ and those who preceded and succeeded him. The religious man just adds God to the equation.

To see the ‘Culture Wars’ as the strain of our collective moral fabric is deeply inappropriate, serving to masturbate the egos of the Jordan Petersons and Ben Shapiros. Unfortunately for them, we agree far too much about morality.

The real contradiction that underlies it all is sex.

To continue discourse on the ‘Culture Wars’ is relying on an erroneous label. For what truly informs our social hostilities is raw and rough: it is the sin of flesh, not the sin of the spirit; it is as material as the veins through which libido courses, the tingling sensation of euphoria, as the sensual binds one to an organ that is not their own and flesh entwines. Sexthe purest form of social relationis the most material of bases for the ‘Culture Wars.’ More accurately, it is the commodification of sex that constructs them.

Control over sex is control over labour. Sex is not simply an act, nor sexuality simply an internal affliction. Neither is sex only the satisfaction of pleasure, or merely a bodily function. Every pulse owes itself to an orgasm, and at a societal level, so does class. To reproduce new life is to reproduce a new labourer, a toiler or one who is toiled for. To do that is to create a labour force, fostering class and all its festering divisions. Society is then reproduced, and the new generation inherits the original sins of the old. Sex determines the core ingredients of social existence: life and class.

The terminal decline of ancient institutions which once governed the social biome, like the Church, is a consequence of the bloodied birth of capitalism. These corporate bodies could no longer enforce the etiquettes of pre-capitalist society, particularly the control of sex. In this new bourgeois society, the insatiable urge to commodify prevailed. The inexhaustible hunger, which we politely refer to as the ‘profit motive’, tore through the sentimental veil once enforced by the Church, ripping apart the silk tulles of eternal damnation which reserved sexual intercourse to the tradition of marriage, and desecrated the embroidery of violent coercion. What transpired was commodification en masse, delivering us to the state of affairs we find ourselves trapped in.

Sex sells. In our media, and our cultural exports. Pornography, music videos, even cultural identities. Rainbow flags on the Vaseline and on the Lockheed Martin shells. Different forms of sexual identity and expressionno longer policed by archaic structures of faithsell. The body is the final commodity, and every orgasm pays a cheque.

But we find ourselves increasingly terrified. The liberalisation and privatisation of sex is terror-inducing, as much as it is profitable. Without the traditional monopoly over sex, the structures that once preserved the new labour force have withered away. As hollow as the nuclear family may have been, it had a stability that has been forsaken. Just how will the new generation of workers be raised if women are too bold and old, and whoever sleeps with whomever!

Here arises the central antagonism of the ‘Culture Wars’, positioned between the profit motive and the need to ensure the breeding and rearing of a new herd of labourers. From the effigies of that contradiction arise the embers of the ‘Culture Wars.’ For it can be summed up with a slogan: sex is selling far too much. All the issues we associate with that dreaded label boil down to sex, and sex alone.

Two broad camps have crystallised. Those who accept the status quo, and those who believe they are being socially castrated.

A primary case-study is the normalisation of pornography, the purest form of sexual commodification. Bodies are deprived of souls, reduced from profound explosions of emotion, experience, and thought into purely corporeal things to fuck or be fucked. The physical and mental capacities of a human being to consent, bastardised into nothing more than exchangeable merchandise. Even race is impacted, it’s fetishisation, a most lucrative endeavour. Ethnography erodes into Ethnopornography. The aesthetics of exoticism fuel a putrid erotica, obsessing with the sexuality of former colonial subjects: think the ‘Asian Babes’ of the early 2000s; or the fixation with ‘Beurettes’ in France; or the fetishisation of Latina women. Or take the likes of Mia Khalifa and the gross ogling of brown skin, glasses and the veil, that is all too common in post-911 America.

The normalisation of pornographic media has created a milieu disturbingly comfortable with the abuse of women for public consumption, a culture where adolescent boys memorise the names of pornstars. There are those that accept this kind of normalisation, tolerating the introduction of brazenly pornographic scenes into mainstream television, Ã la The Idol or Euphoria, or accepting ‘rough sex’ as a defence for the brutal murder of women, like the case of Sarah Conolly. The counter reaction to this trend is similarly flaccid. Think the psychosexual militarism of the Tate Bros, alienated by mass sexualisation yet still unable to access sex. They uphold a hollowed traditionalismwhere tradition is simply subjugating womenbelieving the women that will not sleep with them exercise the hedonistic and pornographic lifestyles that they are so addicted to witnessing. Even in the more refined circles of politics, the response is to lurch towards phobia of the marginalised, feigning outrage at schoolteachers paid minimal wage who commit the cardinal sin of ‘saying “gay”’.

All the other issues can be seen in the same light. Be that the superficial love for, or uproar against, Rainbow Capitalism. Or how the migrants are here to rape and pillage. It is all sex: it defines our social existence; and because sex is so ontological, it feels so ontological. So we were never talking about Culture. We thought we were speaking about morality but even that we were not truly speaking of. It is all sex. Not a millennialist battle of ideologies; just a lot of fucking.

Words by Zaid Magdub. Art by Angelika Woodruff.