Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Not Even in Name

Mike Adams has another one of "those columns" of his on Townhall today. By which I mean "right idea, but probably for the wrong (read: religious) reasons." But I agree enough with the conclusion that I'm willing to take Ayn Rand's Barry Goldwater Escape Clause:

If he advocates the right political principles for the wrong metaphysical reasons, the contradiction is his problem, not ours.

(If that isn't clear - here is more convincing evidence that Rand was a Goldwater supporter).

The basic purpose of the column in question is to argue that we should stop calling Democrats "liberals." I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I have already been engaged in this "act of self-censorship," as Dr. Adams puts it, for over 4 years now.

I admit, self-censorship of speech is a PC/Orwellian strategy, something I normally oppose. I continue, for example, to call black people "black," even though the "correct" term these days is "African American." Reason being - I never meant "black" in a prejudicial way, and changing my speech patterns would give the false impression that I believed I had. Likewise, I continue to call lame things "gay." Reason being - this IS offensive to gays, I guess, but if the shoe fits, wear it. It's a particular shade of meaning to "lame" that gets the moniker "gay," and that particular shade of meaning happens to fit pretty well with some general identifying behaviors of gay people. Not all of them, you undertstand - I'm making a generalization here. I could self-censor my speech and choose another term so as not to offend - except that I have the feeling that the people taking offense are too quick to do so. I've never, for example, complained that I was offended when people say white people can't dance. That's because in general it seems to be true that we're not as good at it as blacks and Latinos. Getting offended hardly changes the truth of the situation, and adult gays should be able to roll with the punches the same way we straight white guys do.

But I think the term "liberal" does actual damage. It allows bad people to simplify the political debate in dangerous ways. Furthermore, the use of the term "liberal" to refer to socialists is itself Orwellian. It's the prototypical example, in fact - in the sense that we're calling labeling something as its opposite for the purpose of confusing people. Orwell wrote his books in large part because of Stalinist propaganda claiming that Russians, of all people, were "freer" than those living in the West.

I will have lost most readers by this point on two objections. First, that Democrats are not "socialists." Ah, but they are! Let me return to that point in a minute. The second is linguistic - namely that if everyone uses a term in a particular way, then isn't that ipso facto what it means?

Well, right. To a great extent, that's true. Never mind that "sinister" comes from the Latin word for "left," and that its current meaning arises in large part from traditional mistrust of lefthanders, no one is aware of the history when they learn the term, so this is harmless. People simply learn that that string of syllables/phonemes refers to shadowy, malicious things ... and so it does.

In the case of "liberal," however, the etymology is clear at the point of use. We're not just "vaguely aware" that "liberal" is etymologically related to "liberty" and "liberation" and "libertine," we actually expect it to have something to do with freedom. After all, in its technical sense - as used in, say, the fields of law or economics - it retains this sense. A "liberal trade policy" is one relatively free of tariffs and other restrictions, for example. More to the point, you frequently hear people say that they're "liberal" because they believe in individual freedom - when the Democrats believe in no such thing. So while it's true in general that etymology is not a reliable predictor of modern meaning, in this case it happens to be. That's why the strategy of socialists labeling themselves "liberals" actually works, and why we have absurd situations like something I saw recently in the comments section on Pharyngula, in which a commenter proclaims that universal healthcare is "absolutely necessary" for freedom. Clearly, this person has no idea what "freedom" means, and that is due in no small part to the fact that the socialists have successfully confused him by labeling themselves "liberals."

Alright, but aren't "soclialists" people on the road to Communism - they advocate state control of the economy for the purpose of social engineering and establishing "social justice?" Do the Democrats qualify?

Absolutely they do. Granted, the Democrats are fairly mild socialists if you take a global perspective. Compared to "Old" Labour, or the SPD, or Sweden's Socialdemokraterna, or the Liberal Party of Canada (see what I mean!!!), the Democrats are mostly harmless. But that's a bit like saying that you're poor because you don't make as much money as Warran Buffet. Just because you're less socialist than some other dyed-in-the-wools doesn't make you "non-socialist." I'm sure there's a name for that particular fallacy (does this fall under false dichotomy, I wonder?), but I'm too lazy to look it up.

In any case, take a look at what Democrats stand for. They want universal healthcare coverage. That is, they think it's the government's job to pay people's medical bills. They want Social Security "fixed, not privatized." Again, because they think it's the government's job to save money for people. They favor greater welfare spending, including spending on children who don't need it. They oppose privatization of ultilities. They believe in trade barriers. They're pro-union. They constantly want to increase the minimum wage (notice that it's not even a question whether we should have a minimum wage - they think it's immoral not to support ever greater increases on it). They like seatbelt laws, smoking bans, the War on Drugs, bans on transfats and a thousand other instrusions into our daily decisionmaking rights. They're generally enemies of free speech - favoring hate speech codes, campaign finance reform (don't be fooled by the "McCain" on that bill - the Dems outvoted Republicans on it by a significant margin), bans on public prayer, anti-discrimination laws, etc. This is in general the profile of a party that believes that the government can and should intervene in human affairs to "engineer" a better society. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the very definition of socialism. The only thing their platform is missing, in fact, to make them a Scandinavian-style socialist party is advocating that the government nationalize key industries. That is to their credit - but it doesn't make me feel any better about all the rest of it.

Now, don't get me wrong. It's not as though the Republicans are great beacons of liberty for their part. But I'm also not advocating calling Republicans "liberals." (Tellingly - neither are they. Repbulicans are in general more honest than Democrats about what their intentions are, I think. They call themselves "conservatives," and that is indeed what they are.) I don't think that label fits either major party. If it fits any American political party - it fits the Libertarians. Unfortunately, "liberal" was already taken by 1972 when the "Libertarian" party was founded, and so the name was unavailable.

Well I've been trying to take it back. I consider myself a "classical liberal." (Ideally, I wouldn't need the "classical" modifier, but that's my small concession to language consensus.) And I do not consider ANY Democrat a "liberal." Liberals are people who believe in maximal individual freedom. That means "free to do whatever you want so long as you do not violate the rights of others." They are people who want to leave the government out of people's decision-making processes. They are people who believe in personal responsibility (which means you take the consequences for your own boneheaded decisions without running crying to the taxpayers to bail you out every time - and also that you provide for yourself without asking other people to do it for you). They are people who believe that the Constitution is a contract that must be fulfilled as written. It doesn't mean anything if we can read into it anything we want - like Roe v. Wade's faux "right to privacy."

The Democrats are none of these things. In fact, they are the opposite of these things. It is simply inaccurate to call them "liberals," and so I have been avoiding doing it for over 4 years now. My friends laugh at me when I call them "soclialists" (even though that is what they are), I suppose because the term "socialist" is so charged from the Cold War that it means something more extreme now than it used to. So fair enough - I'll settle for just calling them "leftists." I don't see how anyone can quarrel with that.

As for the Mike Adams column - well, go have a read for yourself. It had the right idea, but for all the wrong reasons. I could nitpick it to death, but why don't I not and say I did. The bottom line is that he wants to say that Republicans are more "liberal" than Democrats. I'm ... not so sure. It's true that they generally are on economic issues, but being for a freer economy than the Dems want is hardly the same thing as being for a free economy (see "Warren Buffet Fallacy" above). In any case, we can all agree that Republicans are quite controlling when it comes to social issues - are, in fact, guilty of some attempted social engineering of their own.

No, America doesn't really have a "liberal" party. So I agree with Mike Adams when he suggests we should stop pretending like it did. Stop calling Democrats "liberals" 'cause they're anything but.


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