The warfare excuse

The US, it seems, is in a particularly intense period of cultural warfare. Chasms are appearing whilst other boundaries are dissolving, and everywhere I look people are posturing, signalling and trying to gain some sense of a world that is descending into non-sense. I’m not in the midst of it, but from my spot here in the UK I can see the effects; heck, I can feel them. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that culturally—not just in the US, but the world over, and at all levels of the socioeconomic scale—we’re undergoing a period of significant structural re-alignment and re-evaluation of values. A crisis, if you will.

One way to take a measure of its extent is to examine how these cultural wars are affecting people’s ability to do their work. From what I’ve seen, the disruption is widespread. The first example that comes to mind is from Venkatesh Rao, a writer, researcher and consultant. In a tweet—which I can’t find, dude is active—he said he probably would have written more longform blog posts, done some more consulting and completed more of a sci-fi novel if it weren’t for the culture wars. This is a single instance, but not an isolated one. I have friends, active in other domains, who have found it hard to produce due to the increasingly bizarro-state of the world.

Part of me understands this. War is a non-normal state, so normal routines get interrupted in an unpredictable, aggressive manner. However. It is a cultural war. The shells being flung out and exploding around our homes are composed, in most cases, of psychological not physical munitions. Hence, the other part of me feels that using the raging culture wars as an excuse is a convenient way to avoid doing work in a difficult environment.

Going further, if the world is in the midst of a cultural crisis, a cultural war, then we have few choices. We can turn away, attempting to deny insistent reality (not recommended). We can get distracted, allowing insistent reality to sweep us away and enlist us in inconsequential battles (not recommended). Or we can use the energy of the surrounding conflict to power our work. We can use it to do what we do better and at a greater rate than ever before.

And one final question: if the world is spiralling out of control, then is it not more important than ever that we do our work, that we do the thing(s) that we are uniquely positioned to do?