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The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars.

Can Whites, Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Gays, Jews, Christians, Feminists, Fundamentalists, and a host of other identity category groups get along with each other and work toward achieving justice for all? Maybe, says Todd Gitlin, a president of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the Sixties, a professor of sociology at Berkeley for 16 years, and the author of The Twilight of Common Dreams. This book reveals Gitlin's deep disappointment with the direction America's political Left has taken since the Sixties.

Gitlin believes that the "Left," which once stood for universal values, has come to be identified with the special interests of distinct "cultures" and select "identities." The "Right," long associated with privileged interests, now claims to defend the needs of all. The result is that, "Since the late 1960s, while the Right has been taking the White House, the Left has been marching on the English department."

The author contends that Americans are obsessed with their racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual identities. Lots of energy which could be directed toward seeking common good is directed to "culture wars" over concepts such as "multiculturalism," "identity politics," and "political correctness." This seems particularly the case in academia, where university culture encourages groups to narrowly form and argue for their own interests. What gets lost in this contemporary passion for special consideration is the need for building bridges among groups and the importance of building toward commonalities as a way to reduce inequality.

Gitlin sees no easy answers to the trench warfare that he observes among all parties in the culture wars. His contribution to "making peace" is entreating those on the Left to stop relying on identity politics and to move toward advancing concepts of common obligations and mutual reliance. He argues those on the Right should ease off their attacks on political correctness and concentrate on the costs of inequality in our culture and the importance of democratic pluralism. These seem like sensible suggestions.
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Author:Levinson, Martin H.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1996
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