Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Culture Wars In Print

Books, I am learning, play a major part in the American Culture Wars. I was in the bank today, when one of the tellers said to another that Charles Darwin had written in The Origin of Species that if they ever found life smaller than a single cell, that this invalidated all of his theories, and in effect, proved him wrong. Having personally slogged through The Origin of Species, I recall no such passage anywhere within the book, and Darwin goes into a fair amount of detail of current criticism of the theory of evolution. Later, at a bookstore, I found How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered The World, which seems to be a screed taking aim at anyone who dare believe anything other than the orthodox scientific view of the world, calling them everything from eccentric to dangerously delusional.

All of this prompted me to think about the Culture Wars (which have faded back into obscurity, given that it's currently nowhere near Christmas, and abortion clinic bombings seem to have gone out of style some years back), and the literary front. Not being much of a literary sort anymore (and having a preference for nonfiction over opinion and commentary), I hadn't really put much thought into the degree to which the Culture Wars are being waged in print. There seem to be thousands of books about, that attempt to bolster one side of the argument, or, perhaps more commonly, undermine the other. Despite the fact that The Origin of Species predates the American Civil War, and has been almost completely superseded by other works in the field of evolutionary biology, there is still an idea among the religiously-minded that being able to somehow discredit either the book or Charles Darwin will completely de-legitimize evolutionary theory, and leave the world with no choice but to accept the idea that the Genesis story (well, one of them, anyway) is a literal history of the origin of life on Earth. On the other hand, books like Christopher Hitchen's God is Not Great, and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion are widely understood to be attacks on both religious faith, and those who hold to it.

Not having the energy or the inclination to be a culture warrior myself, my interest in the literary side of the battle will remain more academic than active. (Although it can be hard to avoid the field of combat entirely - there are simply too many lone soldiers wandering around looking for enemy collaborators to do battle with.) But I suspect that one day I'll be interested to learn just how many skirmishes were fought in print, and who was judged to have won them.

1 comment:

ben said...

It's called vanity publishing. People write books that no-one reads so they can claim to be an expert in that field: "I wrote the book on it".

God, if only American culture was designed and guided by books... but we both know no-one reads... at least not enough people to define a culture.