If we can identify a common impulse shared by technocratic liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike, it’s that they all tend to believe that culture is something that can be ignored, and that it amounts to a sort of waste which, being imperfectly accountable on a balance sheet, ought to be ignored when it isn’t being actively denigrated.
Understanding history and culture acts like a tax on time, attention, memory, and behavior. It’s an unseen source of mostly unwritten laws. It makes up physical mannerisms, appearance, verbal tics, senses of humor, taste in food, and artistic styles. It’s the common sensibility that makes it possible for people to cooperate with one another against competitors.
When we focus instead on hyper-individuated culture, in which people accumulate idiosyncratic tastes in fantasy material which may not be shared beyond their small circle, culture loses its connection to community and to everyday life.
People, particularly the leadership in the West, have turned away from the idea that they have a duty to uphold their cultural legacy. This frees up an enormous amount of time and effort, which most of them tend to fritter away and luxury and pop culture, most of which references nothing but itself and whatever is trendy at the moment. Many educated people have no connection to the history of their own culture or that of any other, despite the pretensions to a shallow sort of ‘multiculturalism’ which is rarely upheld in fact.
The technocratic way of thinking about the state essentially says that as long as the books balance, it doesn’t really matter all that much what happens to the culture that that nation-state governs over. This helps to make it easier to import enormous quantities of foreigners who don’t share cultures with one another or with the original inhabitants. If you just make an economic model that discounts culture, morals, and religion, you can pretend like there are no problems with the policy.
In reality, there are substantial differences between different populations. This would not have been a difficult argument to make at any time before 1945, but it has become a rather difficult argument to make since then — that the one-world-notion is a fantasy that has never been workable. Effective states and organizations can be composed out of multiple cultural groups, but it requires some compromise and synthesis between those groups. Attempting to create such a political synthesis without considering the problem of culture is delusional.
If there’s one way in which post-modern people are united, it’s in declaring that they no longer have a duty to keep the memory of the past alive. Unfortunately for the modern nation-state, it also means that many of those hyper-individuals are no longer all that interested in keeping the nation-state alive, either. People fixate on externalizing as many costs as they can and sucking up as many benefits as they possibly can. This type of behavior is an ordinary human response to incentives, but it’s not an admirable one. Whether it’s Jon Corzine embezzling investor funds or the welfare queen screaming for a new free phone and an EBT refill, the fundamental behavior is the same.
What people don’t necessarily realize is that maintaining standards of high and low culture are the ‘broken windows policing’ of political life. It’s grandma telling you to tuck in your shirt and chew with your mouth closed. It’s knowing the ten commandments, not stealing bicycles, and volunteering to fight when the country is attacked by a foreign army. It’s not trying to convert your neighbors’ children to snake worship.
The hyper-individualistic ideal of no external obligations can’t work in practice, because the rights of the individual are ultimately guaranteed by common cultural qualities. Without these qualities, people become unintelligible to one another, even if they speak the same language. Their behavior becomes incomprehensible and unpredictable, because they can’t really empathize with the other people or form models of their minds within their own brains.
Intellectuals in particular are fond of shrugging at culture, because it’s a source of power and jobs for them. If the people need an economist to tell them that stealing from their neighbor is bad, the culture has already become so weak and dysfunctional that no number of genius economists will be able to solve the problem.