‘Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, childhood was a phase, adolescence did not exist and adulthood was the fulfillment of youth’s promise. No more,” Diana West writes in her book, The Death of the Grown-up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization. West is worried that “eternal youth” is “fatal” and recently took questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: You note that more adults watch the Cartoon Network than CNN. Surely, you’ve seen Jack Cafferty. Is this really a problem?
Diana West: Not if that were the only statistic out there indicating a seismic cultural shift in sensibility has taken place that has made us more adolescent and less adult.
Other such factoids include: the average video gamester was 18 in 1990; now he’s 33; the National Academy of Sciences has redefined adolescence as the period extending from the onset of puberty, around twelve, to age 30. And, leaving CNN aside, here’s another cartoon statistic: One third of the 56 million Americans who sat down in 2002 to watch SpongeBob SquarePants on Nickelodeon each month were between 18 and 49 years old. (Nickelodeon, incidentally, thought its core demographic group was the six- to eleven-year old set.) These older fans may be chronological grown-ups, but their taste reveals an affinity for kidstuff their forebears didn’t share and almost certainly wouldn’t understand. The point is, aspects of the maturation cycle have stalled, leading to significant changes not only in pop culture, but in ourselves as a people.
“There isn’t any clear demarcation of what’s for parents and what’s for kids,” a former Hollywood studio executive told the Wall Street Journal. “We like the same music, we dress similarly.” The Death of the Grown-Up explores how, when and why this phenomenon came about, and, on a deeper level, what it is doing to us as a society and nation.
And just for the record, I’ll mention that I regularly appear on CNN, and once alongside Jack Cafferty (whose remarks recently on Chinese imports that prompted pro-China protests on the streets of Los Angeles I must say I support)!
Lopez: What is the real culture war?
West: “The real culture war” is the reason I wrote this book. We are in the middle of it, whether we know it or not.
Recall the academic “culture wars” of the 1980s and 1990s — a struggle that was, in large part, a war over cultural identity. Were we going to remain heirs to the Western canon, or become children of a multicultural world? Because that question was asked of a post-grown-up society exhibiting classic symptoms of “identity crisis,” the winning answer came decisively from the multicultural Left.
I didn’t realize the full extent of that victory until much later, beginning on 9/11, when the Multicultural States of America–a nation that had taught itself to believe, for example, that the complete works of Alice Walker and William Shakespeare were interchangeable, offering equal enlightenment and meriting equal study (giving Shakespeare the benefit of the doubt) — came under cataclysmic attack. Was it a real war, this time, not a culture war … or was it a real culture war?
And here we go again. Many of the same questions that drove the theoretical culture wars of the past came back in this more literally perilous era. What do we stand for, and, no less important, what do we stand against? Is the West itself going to remain intact, or is Western-style liberty going to be transformed by contact and conflict with, in this test case, Islam? These are the questions that the post-grown-up, multiculturalist society we have become is having trouble answering. It’s not just the mystery identity of “we” that’s problematic at this point. When a civilization defines itself by an eternally youthful pliance and infinite openness — just as its citizens define their personal lives, not at all coincidentally — it’s difficult to determine what, if anything, that same civilization can be definitively closed to. In this real culture war, the stakes are much higher than they used to be: that is, we’re not just discussing whether Rigoberta Menchu has a place in the canon alongside (or instead of) John Milton; we’re talking about whether Islamic law (sharia) has a place alongside (or instead of) Western law. Having caved on Rigoberta Menchu et al, it shouldn’t be surprising that we are also caving on sharia. I am hoping the latent grown-up in us all can put a stop to this.
Lopez: “Jihad is from Mars and Islam is from Venus”?
West: Ah — you have seized on my spoofy punchline about the extent to which the myth of Bad Jihad-Good Islam has become our conventional wisdom. Such “wisdom” requires us to remove jihad from Islam entirely, allowing us to frown on the former and embrace the latter. This is a dangerously misleading strategy.
I have come to believe that the Western way of life — which I’ll define in brief as life lived according to Judeo-Christian-evolved morality and liberty — is imperiled by the demographic spread and influence of Islamic ideology and laws. Notice I didn’t say the spread of “Islamism.” Or “Islamist-ism.” Or “Islamofascism.” Or just “Wahhabism.” Or “fundamentalist militant extremism.” Over the years, I have used most of these “ists” and “isms” in my column, trying them out one by one until I got to the point where I realized they were serving as a distraction, a form of verbal camouflage that turns our attention away from the ideology and laws of Islam itself. In the cause of not-giving-offense — the highest cause of Westerners-turned-multiculturalists–we have prevented ourselves from undertaking a hard-eyed appraisal of Islamic ideology as a whole, jihadism included, and engaging in a serious discussion of how to contain it.
Lopez: What should the war be called? The name matters, doesn’t it?
West: Yes, it most certainly does matter. For starters, the war should not be called “the war on terror,” which, as many have pointed out, is a tactic, not a nation or coalition or ideology. It is as if in 1941 the U.S. had raised an army to fight “the war on surprise attack,” or “the war on blitzkrieg.” “The Global War on Terror” isn’t any better on this count, just geographically bigger. And I don’t like The Long War, either. I don’t think this war would be a “long” war if we had the courage and clarity to identify the jihadist ideology and aims, and set our minds to protecting Western societies from both. I probably favor “war on jihadism.” Islamic jihad is what threatens us; and a war on jihadism suggests a war that is being mounted defensively to repulse an aggressive movement.
Worth noting is that poll after poll in the Muslim world indicate that Muslims believe the “war on terror” is in reality a “war on Islam.” Are they correct? As the war is currently designed, I would have to say yes, they are — although this is surely not the president’s intention. If, however, you understand that freedom of conscience and sexual equality, to take just two basic ideals of the president’s democratization strategy, are seen as antithetical to Islamic law, it becomes clear that bringing such freedoms to the Islamic world would certainly appear to Muslim believers as being part of a war on Islam.
Consider the overarching conception of “freedom” itself. The entry on freedom, or hurriyya, in the Encyclopedia of Islam describes a state of divine enthrallment that bears no resemblance to current Western understandings of freedom as predicated on the workings of the individual conscience. But multicultural “we,” rigorously trained to see all peoples and all cultures and all religions as ultimately wired in precisely the same way, persist in overlooking such distinctions. We instead regard our kind of “freedom” as being one-size-fits-all “universal” freedom — universally valued and universally desired. Then we scratch our heads when large swaths of the monocultural Muslim world regard it as an ineluctably Western (if not infidel) threat to Islam. Frankly, I don’t think that convincing Islam otherwise is where our security interests will be met, or even can be met. Me, I would like to see us get out of the high-end democratization business to concentrate more specifically on warding off Islamization in the West and jihadist terror via a “war on jihadism.”
Lopez: How are “dhimmi life under Islam” and “PC life in a multicultural world” similar?