(This is the second part of a preliminary draft of a four-part article on the Wedge Strategy of the "Christian Right" and similar ideological-political movements. Your comments, and especially objections, counterexamples, and suggestions for improvement, are strongly invited. Part I is linked to here.)
Coercive ideologies can only engage directly a minority of Americans, and therefore their political, cultural and intellectual influence depends entirely on the use of wedge strategies. The Christianists in America, in particular, do not have any other strategy at all. Their temporary political triumphs are in all cases the result of wedge strategies, and can last only as long as those wedge strategies remain unexposed.
America is still individualist enough for wedge strategies to be aimed exclusively at individualist principles as ideology A. Thus opposition to coercive taxation is used to create wedge issues such as tax financing of abortions, or of medical research with embryonic stem cells. Opposition to mandatory attendance in government schools is used for wedge issues such as the teaching of the biological principle of evolution in those schools, or teaching facts about contraception and safety (as opposed to so-called "abstinence education") in sexuality classes. In the recent California elections, the wedge issue of education about homosexual as well as heterosexual sexuality and marriage played a significant part in the passage of Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution to abolish equal marriage for homosexuals.
Given that the wedge strategy is the only strategy available to the Christianist side, what about contexts where there is no actual wedge of overlap between the Christianists' goals and the principles of their opposition? In such contexts, the Christianists (or other coercive ideological movements in a largely individualist, Enlightenment-based culture) can only resort to wedge strategy variants that create the false appearance that a wedge does exist. This can be done by creating or reinforcing a misinterpretation of the opposition's (A's) principles, or by creating a misidentification of positions outside of ideology A as wedge issues between A and B, or by doing both simultaneously.
Variant 1: Misrepresenting A ("False-A")
Phillip E. Johnson's first campaign against secular culture, and the campaign with which the term "Wedge Strategy" is most closely associated, dealt not with a political issue but with an intellectual and cultural issue: naturalism as an indispensable foundation of natural science. Johnson's wedge strategy was to misrepresent the intellectual foundations of the scientific process, especially the fact that the scientist's thinking must be critical (so that previously accepted explanations may be replaced, when appropriate, with better-integrated explanations that can more completely account for available observations and measurements) and open to evidence (the scientist's meaning of "open minded.")
The false-A variant of the Wedge Strategy substitutes a false image of A in place of actual A. In the Christianist-Islamist campaign against naturalism, the requisite false-A already existed in the form of Kantian interpretations of the philosophy of science, particularly that of Thomas Kuhn, who argued that scientists' interpretations of their observations and measurements are driven less by what is needed to get to knowledge of reality (which according to Kant and Kuhn is in any case not possible) than by what he called "paradigms," frameworks of interpretation driven by subjective esthetic preferences and by intellectual fashion. While despised by actual scientists (see, for example, "The Non-Revolution of Thomas Kuhn," in physicist Steven Weinberg's "Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries," 2001) Kuhn's view of science became a staple of Pragmatist education "about science" in American schools, and was perfectly suited to the role of false-A for an anti-naturalist wedge strategy in American cultural politics.
Johnson's primary was to single out those scientific theories that most obviously embody the principle of naturalism (of accepting only those explanations grounded in measurement and observation of reality, and excluding those that appeal to processes, events, or concepts for which there is no natural evidence) for wedge statements, such as this one, which a Christianist Board of Education in Georgia ordered posted at the head of biology textbook chapters on evolution: "This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." The implicature is that, per Thomas Kuhn, the same evidence would be interpreted differently if the prevailing fashion in Kuhnian "paradigms" were different. And of course the anti-naturalists also supply the alternative, supernaturalist-friendly, "revolutionary paradigms:" "Creationism," and, for the more squeamish, "Intelligent Design."
The best defense against the false-A variant of the Wedge Strategy is what I will call the Miller Defense, devised by Kenneth R. Miller. Miller is a Roman Catholic, but philosophically a Maimonidean theist (Maimonidean theism insists that because religious scriptures and traditions are received indirectly, through fallible humans, while the natural universe was created directly by God Himself, the study of the natural universe provides a more reliable insight into what God wants Man to believe than any religious scripture or tradition; and that religious scriptures and traditions that contradict the findings of natural science must be reinterpreted as human parables and metaphors) who is not afraid to openly contradict even a Cardinal of his Church when the findings of science are unambiguous enough.
In response to the sticker requirement, Miller started his Biology textbook by writing, "Everything in science must be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." Thus, when the student encounters the same wording, pasted as a sticker at the head of one specific chapter of the textbook, where it would be redundant if it were not meant to mean something quite different from what it means to the scientist, the false-A game is unambiguously exposed for the scam that it is.
Variant 2: The False Wedge
Another variant of the wedge strategy involves the misrepresentation of a non-wedge issue as a wedge issue. This scam depends on a false, usually instrinsicist, pseudo-epistemology: it applies the form, but not the substance, of some principle of A out-of-context, as though it were not a principle derived by reason, to be applied in the context of the knowledge on which it is based, but rather some arbitrary, intrinsicist, quasi-religious mandate.
As one example, consider the recent attempt of the now thankfully terminated Christianist regime of George W. Bush, to prohibit "discrimination" against physicians who would base their choice of treatment of patients, not on the best interest of the patient, but on their own religious beliefs. (Even though the proposed regulation would have applied to private as well as tax-funded and government health-care organizations, that was not the essential issue: Even an Objectivist government would need to employ physicians in its armed forces, its jails, its embassies in countries where local medicine does not meet American standards and so on.)
Opposition to invidious discrimination in tax-funded and government jobs is a clear individualist (ideology A) principle. An employee's race or national origin or gender or sexual preference is so clearly irrelevant to performance in nearly all jobs, that a policy of NOT discriminating on the basis of such factors is an obvious component of the individualist worldview. In view of the ugly history of religion-based discrimination, conflict, and mass murder in much of the world through the ages, and especially in Christendom, a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of religion is also seen as implied by the same principles, and in most contexts it is.
The exceptional contexts are those in which the employee is forbidden by his religion to perform an essential part of his job. And it is an essential part of a physician's job to plan and carry out every patient's treatment, in that patient's own best interest as determined by objective medical science, subject only to the patient's own informed consent. A reasonable contract of employment would specify that, absent the patient's informed consent to be treated according to other criteria, such as the physician's (or perhaps the patient's own) religious beliefs, a physician bound by such beliefs must refer the patient to a colleague whose religious beliefs, if any, will not interfere with carrying out the objectively optimal medical treatment. If the physician's religion does not permit her to do even that, she should quit - and she cannot claim that the "religious discrimination" implicit in her employment contract is unreasonable or invidious.
The hinge of the false-wedge wedge strategy variant in this example is the subjectivists' denial of the fact that the optimal medical treatment, is the treatment that is based exclusively on objective knowledge, and not on non-objective factors such as the physician's religious beliefs. The proper defense is to state the alternatives clearly: treatment designed in the best interest of the patient on the basis of objective knowledge and the patient's own informed consent only, versus treatment with some options pre-eliminated on the basis of the physician's private religious faith - a private faith that some patients may share, but others don't. There is no way to answer this defense without a fatal exposure of ideology B.
Variant 3: The Combination Variant
The last variant of the wedge strategy combines mis-representation of A with a false-wedge issue. Consider wedge strategies based on so-called "parental rights." By creating a new individual with his or her own individual human rights, its parents take on the responsibility to finish the job in the child's own best interest. In a society with a minimal government limited to the protection of individual rights, the government will normally presume that parents act in the best interest of their children, and intervene only when this is clearly not the case. An application of the combination variant of the wedge strategy treats contextual non-interference in family matters not as a procedural principle, but as a "right" (thus misrepresenting the concept of rights in ideology A) and then uses it as an intrinsic, "God-given" unconditional mandate for "parental rights" or "family rights."
This specific false-wedge issue has been used by every anti-individualist ideology B in recent history.
The Communist government of Cuba used the argument from "parental rights" in the case of Elian Gonzales, a Cuban boy whose mother lost her life in bringing him to America. Elian's father, a Cuban Communist official, successfully persuaded an American judge to let him take Elian to Cuba.
Islamist parents claim a "parental right" to take their daughters to Islamic countries, where the girls are married, regardless of their own wishes, to husbands chosen for them by their parents.
In most American states, Christianist parental consent laws (sometimes disguised as "parental notification" laws) authorize parents to force a teenage woman to complete an unwanted pregnancy, against her will, also in the name of so-called "parental rights." (Where the anti-concept of "parental rights" is disguised, for example as mandatory "parental involvement," stripping away this disguise is an essential component of an effective response.)
The correct (if not always immediately effective) defense against the combination variant of the wedge strategy, is to point out that the pseudo-concept of "parental rights" mistakes a procedural principle for a right. That rights are not arbitrary fiats from "society" or from a God, but rather objective pre-conditions for living a life appropriate to a human being. That one of those pre-conditions is the freedom to live according to the judgment of one's own mind. That it is never in any individual's interest to be denied, while still a minor, his future right to live his adult life by his own judgment. And therefore, that it is never in a minor's best interest to be forced to spend the rest of his life under a totalitarian regime, or to be forced to marry a husband chosen for her without her informed consent, or to be forced to complete a pregnancy against her will. This argument will not always work against legislators and judges who praise each other for "Pragmatism," that is, for each other's indifference to principles and concepts. But those of our fellow citizens who may in time recognize the contradiction, may also in time question America's current official anti-ideology of Pragmatism, and its use of "rights," as in "parental rights," as a slogan instead of a concept.
(Next - Wedge Strategy, Part III: Identification)