Why the Culture War Must END — Part 2: Psychological Harm

Robert B. Marks
3 min readDec 12, 2023

NOTE: This was originally intended to be a single article. However, as the word count grew ever higher, it became clear that it would need to be divided up into bite-sized chunks. So, there are five parts, and you can read the others here:

Part 1: The Death of Nuance

Part 3: The Normalization of Bullying and Abuse

Part 4: Exposing Western Culture to its Enemies

Part 5: Ending the Culture War

In 2015, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt published an article in the Atlantic titled “The Coddling of the American Mind” (this later became a book). In it, the authors noted that the recent rise of trigger warnings and efforts to bolster the mental health of college students by protecting them from words or things that might upset them was having the opposite effect. Instead of making them more resilient, they were taking on the very mental practices that were symptomatic of people suffering from PTSD, anxiety disorders or depression. In fact, the treatment of these ailments use cognitive behaviour therapy (also known as CBT) to train patients out of these mental practices. The end result is a dramatic increase in anxiety disorders and depression among college students. Or, put another way, healthy minds were being trained to have anxiety disorders that they would not otherwise have.

One does not need to look long to see these same symptoms among culture warriors. Just to take the example of Russell T. Davies’ return to Doctor Who, we see just about every single item on the list of 12 “Common Cognitive Distortions” listed at the end of the Atlantic article.

To take just a few examples, there is:

  • Mind reading (Russell T. Davies intends to destroy the legacy of Doctor Who)
  • Catastrophizing (Russell T. Davies is going to destroy Doctor Who)
  • Labelling (everybody who complains about the trans representation is a transphobe)
  • Discounting positives (the episode had a discussion about pronouns, so the entire thing was terrible)
  • Inability to disconfirm (it doesn’t matter how much Russell T. Davies tries to give back to the fan base, he must be trying to betray them; it doesn’t matter how many complaints about representation came from trans people, the criticism must be coming from transphobes)

This has had the effect of upending the entire mechanism of outrage. Anger is important — it is one of the brain’s survival mechanisms. Feeling anger is a warning sign that something that has happened is wrong or harmful. However, the way it is supposed to work is as a reaction to something unexpected. The normal process is to expect that things will be normal, be surprised by something wrong or harmful, and then experience anger and outrage as the brain processes what it has seen. But the culture war turns this on its head — culture warriors engage is a sort of “grievance collecting.” They expect to find something harmful, they dissect what they are watching with the intention of discovering it, and thus they invariably find something to be offended over, even if it not worthy of anything other than a raised eyebrow.

This means that the culture war is not just toxic, it is actively damaging the psychological health of everybody involved. It is encouraging the very mental habits that help fuel anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Watching a show that is otherwise well written and depicts almost all of its characters in a positive light and interpreting a single discussion about pronouns as shaming a character and indoctrinating an audience is not normal or healthy. Neither is interpreting criticism about trans representation as an attack by transphobes. And while it is tempting to suggest that this damage is limited to culture warriors, that it just isn’t true. Anytime somebody goes to watch a television show or movie that they have never seen and steels themselves for a woke lecture, or worries about how racists will react to a minority character, their mind is engaging in these very same harmful mental practices. The longer this culture war goes on, the greater the damage to everybody’s mental health will be.

NEXT: The Normalization of Bullying and Abuse



Robert B. Marks

Robert B. Marks is a writer, editor, and researcher. His pop culture work has appeared in places like Comics Games Magazine.