How Do You Turn a Culture

It has been widely observed that the only real way to achieve change on various issues which straddle the moral-legal-cultural arenas is by “changing the culture”.  Drawing from the past: although segregation was theoretically made illegal fairly early on in the civil rights movement, it was not until the cultural consensus swung heavily against segregation that it really started to vanish in practice.  Similarly, if dueling were suddenly made legal in the modern US, I rather doubt it would suddenly become frequent in social sets that are not already known for shooting each other — we have reached a cultural consensus that swords or pistols at first light are not an acceptable means of settling arguments.

Yet how does one change the cultural consensus on an issue such as abortion, the nature of marriage, etc.?

Moral conservatives are often accused of “only caring about political means” when it comes to dealing with the great moral controversies of the day. And yet the advantage of advocating change within the political arena is that it’s clear how one does it. How does one work to change the culture as regards to the acceptability of abortion? Or the morality of gay marriage? Or any of the other pressing questions which provide fodder for the “culture wars”.

The conservative in me wants to say that cultural change is always slow and organic — that one cannot form a movement and change the culture. By that model, cultural change would best be achieved through living one’s life as one believes one ought, rearing children with the same beliefs, working with like-minded people to build communities which share and reinforce these values, etc.

And yet historically, one can see a number of examples of sea changes in cultural consensus which clearly happened much more quickly than that. Although the “sexual revolution” of the 60s and 70s clearly had antecedants in the 20s through the 50s, it cannot be denied that in a period of fifteen years or so the cultural consensus on a number of behaviors surrounding marriage, contraception and sexuality changed very, very quickly.

During roughly the same period, the cultural consensus surrounding issue of race changed — again very rapidly.

The movements leading up to the constellation of political and cultural issues falling under the banner of “women’s rights” and the abolitionist movement both took rather longer to come about, with each having a clear track record of at least fifty years before achieving any notable successes. However in both cases there was clearly more going on here than simply people living out their beliefs and passing them down within their own sub-cultures. There was in each case a very active advocacy movement.

I may or may not have any ideas here, but before attempting to go further (and because time is pressing at the moment) I’d like to open it up wide:

What do you think are the most important means of “changing the culture” on the “culture war” issues?

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