Cultural Context for Engagement

This is a summary of the intro to a sort of anthology of cultural engagement writers that I'm reading for class right now. I thought it was a good "big" picture summary for question and discussion for our class and thought I'd throw some hightlights on the blog. Hope it's not too long... (E, interesting how much his article resonates with your comments on superficiality... I'd love to flesh that out some more!) "Tolerance is thought of by many as of greater importance than judging a person's character, no matter how defective a given person's character may be... As a secular principle, it is essentially theological in character in the minds of those who most readily invoke it... "Deconstructionism of the postmodern Left... contests the very premise that there are universal standards... with the result that morality is striclty personal and private... "On the cultural Right... there is a growing tendency to withdraw... Among religious conservatives especially there is a deeply pessimistic outlook that views culture as... beyond redemption. The only answer these skeptics assert is withdrawing entirely... into moral enclaves... "...[but] in the American system of ordered liberty, democracy is dependent for its health upon conditions that are more or less social or cultural in nature... The Founding Fathers conceived of a system consisting of three spheres: the politicalor law-making sector, the economic sector, and the socio-cultural sector... "Culture is our souls' writ large; it mirrors what we value and love... If the purpose of culture is order and govern our lives in accordance with broadly shared values, then our culture no longer functions as a culture. Its purpose is no longer to order, but to grant emancipation from the very idea of moral norms... When we talk of cultural failure, it is usually in reference to the loss of this norm-setting function... "...[people argue that every generation rebels against the former generation, that cultural relativism is just the newest way]... But this kind of reasoning, while partly sound, only encourages... a sense of futility among those who seek to [engage]... Ironically, this cultural relativism leaves kids with fewer and fewer socially harmless ways to challenge the status quo represented by their parents... Is it possible that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (Columbine) turned to fascination with Hitler and death because nothing else socially provocative enough for them to build an identity around remained? "...[popular culture's senselessness]...Cicero captured it this way: 'If we are forced at every hour, to watch or listen to horrible events, this constant stream of ghastly impressions will deprive even the most delicate among us of all respect for humanity'... 'complacent nihilism' is not the ingredient of a healthy culture... Cultural critic Eugene Peterson says that 'the enormous entertainment industry in our land is a sign of the depletion of joy in our culture... Gone is our own imagination, our individual creativity or our gifts of service to the world, our willingness to defend our system... instead we buy the vitality of another's imagination to divert and enliven our own poor lives'..." "Conventional moral norms, indeed the very idea of a norm, imply certain boundaries in the public realm where our common life is developed. Cultural nihilism, operating in the service of individual emancipation, necessarily destroys these boundaries between the public and the private... Gurstein argues that modern expressive liberalism has broken down because it can no longer discriminate between the essential circulation of ideas, which is the cornerstone of liberal democracy, and the commercial exploitation of news, entertainment, and sex as commodities... it can no longer distinguish between the expression of unorthodox ideas in the pursuit of truth, which is the lifeblood of art, and the desire to publicize anything that springs to the mind in the name or artistic genius..." "The alternative to cultural protest, super-parenting, and a host of other 'demand side' measures is cultural recovery, advanced through movements aimed at permeation, replacement, and renewal... Yes, private responsibility on the part of consummers will matter... and families will play an important role in pushing back against the power of popular culture... We need big ideas as well as specific plans... built on words of analysis, challenge, and hope." ~ Summary of the Introduction, "Moral and Intellectual Framework" pp 1-38 Don Eberly, Building a Healthy Culture (collection of about fifty essays on cultural engagement)


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