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Culture war: country music edition


I wasn’t particularly planning to continue on the culture war beat, but then, I wasn’t expecting Orion Magazine to publish exactly the type of article I’d like to see more of. In One Nation Under Elvis, author and environmentalist Rebecca Solnit uses music — specifically country music — as a jumping off point to examine the cultural and class markers that divide a movement from itself.

It’s become a bit trite to say that climate change isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a left-right issue. But political coalitions in the U.S. really did once look very different than they do now. In the ’30s, the progressive movement “saw farmers, loggers, fisheries workers, and miners as its central constituency along with longshoremen and factory workers.” According to Solnit, this constituency frayed in the postwar period, and blasted apart in the 1960s:

It was undermined by the culture clash that came out of the civil rights movement. By the 1980s, when I was old enough to start paying attention, the divide was pretty wide. And environmentalists were typically found on one side.

Read the whole article. These sorts of cultural considerations turn on nuances that won’t come through in any summary I could cough up. But I will say a few more words on why I think this topic is important.

A possible political realignment is underway, spurred in large part by global warming. The rewards will be great for whoever is smart enough to grab them. But making the most of the opportunity requires seeing beyond some of the narrow frameworks that have shaped the debate to date. Please note that I’m not talking about “framing,” the vastly overplayed notion that if we start using better words to refer to a given set of policies, opposition to those policies will magically melt away. I’m talking about actually reaching out to and considering the interests of constituencies outside the environmental mainstream. Solnit puts it best in the conclusion to her article:

It would mean giving up vindication for victory — that is, giving up on triumphing over the wickedness of one’s enemies and looking at them as unrecruited allies instead. It might mean giving up on the environmental movement as a separate sector and thinking more holistically about what we want to protect and why, including people, places, traditions, and processes outside the wilderness…This is the back road down which lie stronger coalitions, genuine justice, a healthier environment, and maybe even a music that everyone can dance to.

Photo by Larry Mills.

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