What Motivates Cultural Progressives – Part 4

What Motivates Cultural Progressives – Part 4 October 20, 2012

                This is the last entry of my series based on my latest book entitled What Motivates Cultural Progressives. My basic argument is that cultural progressive activists shaped a social movement that meets the needs of the people in that movement, who tend to be white, male, wealthy and highly educated. Over the past three entries I identified church/state separation,, rationality and progressive politics as the basic values within this movement.  Those values are not exclusive to each other and in many ways support a basic ideology promoting the social and cultural interest of cultural progressive activists.

                How social movements frame their actions tells us a great deal about how individuals in those movements justify their participation in it. We know that people in social movements find ways to “frame” their movement that justify their participation in the movement.  In this entry I will look at the collective action frames driven by this movement. Specifically, I will focus on their diagnostic action frame, whereby movement participants argue what has gone wrong, and motivational action frame that illustrates why movement participants take the actions that they do.
                The values discussed in the first three entries provided insight into what cultural progressive activists see as major problems in our society. The intrusion of “irrational” conservative Christians are seen as a threat to the benefits of progressive, and in their minds rational, politics. This is the major problem many of the respondents discussed.

They are anti-choice, pro-death penalty, largely pro-gun, against social programs, anti-science, in favor of tax breaks and other political favors for the rich, and seek to allow their religious views to dominate American government. (female, aged 26-35, high school diploma).

I’m opposed to the idea that the government should regulate morality.  I object to their lack of appeal to reason. I object to the selective weeding out and subjective interpretation of portions of the bible that are used to support their views. I disagree with their political stances – all the ones I’m aware of. (female, over 75, some graduate training).

These, and other quotes I can produce indicate that these respondents perceive a wide variety of social and political problems connected to conservative political and religious influences being imposed on our society. These respondents clearly perceive political progressive reforms as desired outcomes. Religion being practiced at home is not a threat to those reforms and was not often conceptualized as a social problem. However, conservative religion outside of the church and home can influence society in ways that hamper efforts towards a progressive society and is seen as a problem cultural progressive activists seek to address.
              Understanding what cultural progressive activists see as the major source of problems in society puts us in a better position to understand what motivates them. Their motivations build on why they perceive the Christian right as a social problem. For many of them the irrationality of religion is not only a barrier to progressive society, but also poses a dire threat to our freedoms.

Christian fanatics have not yet reached the stage of active persecution but it is only a matter of time to where they become as bad as the Islamic fundamentalists. (male, aged 56-65, Master’s Degree).

Some of this group wants to establish a theocracy and to have all laws and rules confirm to Biblical law.  They will use any means to accomplish their goal to undermine democracy, so that their theology can dominate. (male, over 75, some graduate training).

Fear is a powerful motivational tool that social movements can use to maintain loyalty and commitmentIt is often difficult to persuade individuals to provide resources to a social movement based purely on the vision of a better society. It is useful to play upon the concerns and fears of those individuals to assure that they support the movement. Thus, it is not surprising that primary literature from some of the organizations run by cultural progressive activists paints Christian conservatives as a powerful enemy that must be defeated at all costs.

The United States is home to dozens of Religious Right groups. Many have small budgets and focus on state and local issues; the most powerful organizations conduct nationwide operations, command multi-million-dollar bank accounts and attract millions of followers. They have disproportionate clout in the halls of Congress, the White House and the courts, and they wield enormous influence within the political system.

…we wanted to oppose the growing strength of the Christian right and the accelerating pace of its theocratic agenda…we continue our work because the Christian right continues its work, unabated, on the state and local levels…

                Ultimately what motivates cultural progressive activists is their perception of themselves as providers of a rational, progressive political society and protectors from the imposition of an irrational Christian theocracy that resembles the Taliban. This perception fits the identity of such activists as being more rational and intelligent than their political and religious opponents. Given their socially advantageous position in society it is easy to see why they perceive themselves in this way. This identity meets a critical need for individuals  with such societal advantages and this social movement, like other social movements, not only forms to achieve the explicit goals stated for the movement but also to provide social benefits for the members of the movement.
                Once we understand this motivational source we are in a better position to comprehend our ongoing culture war. Both sides of the war have a vision of society they perceive as ideal. For both sides the alternatives to that ideal is unthinkable. For conservative Christians the unthinkable may be a society that has lost the blessing of God while for cultural progressive activists to lose the culture war means the imposition of a repressive Christian theocracy. Given the stakes perceived by individuals on both sides of the culture war, there is no reason to think that this war is going away anytime soon. Furthermore, while the Christian right has the advantages of reaching many people through thousands of religious institutions, cultural progressive activists have advantages with their majority group status on many fronts. Given the strong power base of both social movements, we should not expect either the Christian right movement or cultural progressive activist movement to soon disappear.

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  • Part of what makes me a “cultural progressive” is my belief that no analytical category as large as “cultural progressive” or “conservative Christian” can be really helpful. I make big distinctions between people like Pat Robertson and Pro-life Catholics. There isn’t one big culture war going on in this country, there are a thousand little ones. And lumping together the people who tried to ban sharia law in Oklahoma (which would essentially ban the individual right to contract) with people who don’t want to have contraception on their insurance isn’t going to help resolve any of them.

    Essentially, there are bigots in either category, and dichotomizing the situation just gives the bigots license to operate and feel like they have lots of support.

    • George Yancey

      There are obvious generalities in a lot of our work. But there is reality behind those generalities. We know that African-Americans are going to support Obama. That is a generality as there are a variety of reasons why African-Americans will support the President. Once we recognize the generalities we can then explore what is it about being African-Americans that do deeply correlates to support for the Democrat candidate. That is, in part, how we understand social phenomenon in our society. Likewise, I try to track generalities among cultural progressives so that we have a better understanding of our culture conflict which as you noted takes place in a thousand ways throughout our society. Thanks for your comments.

      • But you don’t have a better understanding of “our culture conflict.” That’s what I’m saying. There is no one answer for what motivates “cultural progressives.” Some of the people you’re talking about certainly construct their identity in opposition to “conservative Christians,” but others couldn’t care less what conservative Christians are doing. They’re doing their own things, and they’re own things are way more interesting to them than arguing with people they don’t agree with.

        You’re constructing a myth of “cultural progressives” that portrays them as oppositional and one dimensional. You’re not tracking anything, you’re picking examples that hide the depth and diversity of what you’re talking about. You should be familiar with the term confirmation bias. I think you’ll find it applies to this post.

        I tend to get excited, so let me know if I need to dial it back a bit. I am trying to offer a CONSTRUCTIVE critique. Let me know if that isn’t happening.

        • George Yancey

          My dissertation advisor use to say that sociology is not for people who have to have certainity. I think this applies here. In the book it is clear that we are not seeing cultural progressives as one dimensional. In fact we use factor analysis to create a seven categories for why indivdiuals are cultural progressives. But even with those seven categories some will be unique enough to fall through the cracks. That is what my advisor meant about certainity. Sociology will never create some explanation that covers everyone in a category.
          You stated that we are no closer to understanding the culture war than before. I disagree. The values we document, and in the book we use many quotes to counter the possiblity that we are just “picking examples” to fit our arguments, tell us a great deal about cultural progressive in general. Those values, minimizing religion, rationality, progressive politics, develop in different ways in different cultural progressives but they are very explanatory for why cultural progressives are part of the culture war. Once again there are expection to these values but it is in the generalities, the ideal type as Weber would put it, that we gain more understanding about this conflict.
          Of course it is always dangerous to generalize because it can lead to stereotyping. It is not merely cultural progressives who can be stereotype but I recon that many in the Christian right can be stereotyped as well. That is why we have to be careful about generalities when we look at specific situations. But because of the reality of generalities that we understand what happens MOST of the time. That understanding is where we gain deeper comprehension of a given phenomenon.
          One final note. This blog is the last of a series and so it may make more sense it read the other three entries. Of course all of them are just a part of the larger book we wrote based on this research. I do not mind constructive critcism and it helps me to sharpen my arguments. But to really critque this work, you have to put this entry in the context of the larger book we wrote about it. Have a great evening.

          • Fair enough. That’s what I get for jumping into a blog after only reading one post. Consider me chastened. You have a great evening as well.