Why Theories and Culture Wars Aren’t Always Relevant | Sarah Stook


A recent tweet encouraging people to read theory had mixed reviews from those who encountered it. The most prevailing view was that theory…doesn’t really matter that much.

It seems that politics had become too invested in theory and idea over practice and implementation. 

The idea of ‘owning the libs’ is a theory that comes from American conservative commentators such as Ben Shapiro and Steven Crowder. It’s what it says on the tin, essentially using conservative views to upset those on the left- and it’s not meant to be kind or sincere. The idea has become popular among some conservatives and there’s no doubt some readers still subscribe to this idea.

Like theories, it seems the culture war is another thing that has been overblown. The divisiveness of politics, especially after Brexit and Donald Trump’s shocking 2016 win, has only increased over the years. Owning the libs is the strategy used in the culture war. The use of pronouns in everyday life and social media had brought on both commendation and scorn. Some mock it as a sign that someone is, charitably, a moron. The lengthy battle over statues of famous figures who may be ‘problematic’ has only increased after the firestorm that was 2020.

The thing is, do these tactics work?

As political beasts, we often genuinely forget that others do not really care about what’s going on around us, especially at an intense level. We question why someone doesn’t know the name of some minister or US Senator, forgetting that most people really just don’t care. 

It’s the same with theories and the culture war.

When it comes to the statues, one could argue that it is more relevant due to historical context. Even if a person had a shady past, do their feats that make them so famous cancel out said past out? A minor remark that wouldn’t be uncommon in the 19th century isn’t cause to bring a statue down. If we take down these statues, we’re taking history down with it.

Do most people have a strong opinion on this? If you’re political, sure.

Pronouns and Marx do not matter to the average person. It doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t understand more academic views, it means they’re simply not interested. Theory won’t influence most people in politics or voters in general. 

Well, the thinkers cry, you’re just assuming that working class and non-politicos are stupid and don’t understand things. They hate ignorance (ironic, considering they’re ready to rail on Trump and Brexit supporters). What they don’t understand is that not everybody will share their view on it. Not reading academia does not make one stupid.

Theory isn’t the only thing that isn’t necessarily consequential. The culture war has been inflamed by both sides. Multiculturalism, race and gender theory and climate change may be important to some, but they’re not necessary in the lives of many. The recent attack on Capitol Hill is a result of this culture war, yet has been widely condemned by those of all political stripes. Such idiocy and danger over a cultural issue, or any issue for that matter, is not widely received.

Most people know capitalism and socialism. In the wider political area, the number and types of theories expand. If you spend any time among young people, you’ll see that many spout Marx and his theories as some sort of gospel, especially on class warfare. How many, however, have actually read The Communist Manifesto? How many have actually read into Marx? Probably not that many. You get even more specific theories, from egalitarianism and objectivism to Neo-Sovietism and statism. 

Philosophers? It’s the same kind of thing. 

Some people might not be interested in theory because it’s boring. Yes, there are some works that one would struggle to stifle a yawn as they read it. Another reason is a little more important- for these people, politics is about survival. 

Even in times of great prosperity, there will be strife. Families go hungry. People turn ill or get a life-changing injury. Schools are overfilled. NHS waiting times stretch on. The unemployed can’t find work. The list goes on. There will always be at least one person who is in desperate need. Even if they are well-versed in political theory, that will not influence their politics. They’ll vote on whether they can get a job or no, if their children can go to a good school and if they can get a GP appointment at a reasonable time. 

We can talk about Hobbes and Locke until we’re blue in the face, but that doesn’t mean an instant win in the argument. We can mock the use of different pronouns or proudly display them on our Twitter bio, but that won’t make one lick of difference to the vast majority of the population. Many people in politics aren’t online, which certainly means those who aren’t political don’t have as strong a virtual presence. 

Owning the libs or bleating about Marx isn’t the way to win. Not everyone has the education or time to read theory, but that doesn’t make them wilfully ignorant. Instead of engaging in a debate about racial theory online or badgering someone to read Hayek, remember what the fight is truly about.


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