Good morning, fellow Citizen.
Welcome to the fifth issue of No Easy Answers, a curated newsletter for curious, courageous Citizens. Our goal here is to find meaningful signal in a world full of noise, and to think more clearly about the issues of our time.
Today marks an exciting rebirth of the Citizen Within website. I've been working with a developer to break the site down into three distinct sections—essays, notebook, and newsletters.
- Essays are going to be longer-form, more thoughtfully constructed pieces of writing.
- The notebook is for small tidbits and unfinished ideas that I'm toying with, but still want to get out into the world. I'm trying to be less protective with my ideas, and do more "learning in public," so the notebook section is for that exact purpose.
- And the newsletter section, of course, is for No Easy Answers posts like this one.
The reason I'm so excited by this—besides appeasing that part of my brain that craves organization—is the notebook. I have so many ideas I want to share with y'all, but that don't feel quite ready for the primetime spotlight of a finished essay.
So in addition to these weekly newsletters, you can expect new writing from me more frequently.
It'll be lots of shorter posts in the 200-500 word range, instead of chunky long-form pieces. But the beauty of this approach is that, hopefully, you'll get to see my thinking evolve in real time, as I try to work through a bunch of complex issues that I don't fully understand (yet).
So yeah, this is just the beginning of the Citizen Within project, and I'm excited for where it's going.
Onwards and upwards. 😊
For today's newsletter, I want to try something new, and pull together three pieces of media that relate to a central theme—the Culture War.
These past few months, I've been working on an essay called The Culture War Is Cancer.
The more I dig into this fierce tribal conflict, the more convinced I am that it's the most pernicious force currently operating in American society. The Culture War, left unchecked, will undermine our liberal democracy, lead to political violence, and result in the American experiment coming to a premature end.
I believe it's our job, as thoughtful, responsible Citizens, to see the Culture War for what it is—a cancer eating away at our sense of shared humanity—and do everything in our power to excise it from our lives and our communities (both physical and digital).
Anyhow, that's what the new essay, and many of my forthcoming notes, will be about. But for today, I want to point you towards three pieces of media to whet your appetite, and get you thinking about the Culture War in a new way.
Let's dig in.
This is probably the most famous post on Slate Star Codex, and for good reason. It's a window into the natural human tendency to avoid, and often dehumanize, those in differing political/cultural tribes.
The conclusion Scott Alexander comes to is similar to that in The Tolling Bell essay I shared a few weeks ago. In order to have any chance of breaking out of these frightening tribal dynamics, we need to understand the values we seek to uphold, and have the courage to call out our own tribe when they transgress. That's what it means to be a Citizen.
Next up is a recent (and alarming) video featuring Saagar Enjeti, whose Realignment podcast is freaking excellent.
In the segment, he calls out the same dynamic I mentioned above—the Culture War is creating distinct red and blue tribes that look more like competing religions than differing opinions within a pluralistic democracy. For anyone who values peace and prosperity, and who understands the history of competing religions, that analogy should be a wakeup call.
Last, but certainly not least, we have a stunning example of what Citizenship looks like in the context of opting out of the Culture War.
In case you've been living under a rock, the most intense and emotionally charged flashpoint in the Culture War is the intersection of transgender identity, children, and early medical intervention (hormones, puberty blockers, surgery, etc). If there's an untouchable third rail in American politics right now, it's this one.
This post is by a pseudonymous writer who goes by Liminal Warmth. She's in a unique position to speak to these issues authoritatively, on account of being a trans woman. (She's also one of the more delightful, thoughtful people I've found on twitter recently.)
Anyhow, this post is exactly what you'd expect from a rational, empathetic adult grappling with difficult issues. Most everything you'll read about this topic comes from culture warriors whose brains have been pickled in the intoxicating juices of tribalism.
There are no easy answers in this realm, despite what the loudest voices on both sides say. The only way we'll ever break free from these toxic tribal dynamics is by putting down our rhetorical weapons, calling out our tribe when they're wrong (which is super uncomfortable), and collectively seeking the truth.
Thanks for reading. Hope you found something here that helps you see the Culture War in a new light, and hopefully start reexamining your relationship with it.
Good luck out there, and godspeed.