Saturday, November 21, 2009

So Many Words At The Tower Of Babel

From Some questions for modern liberals by Lyle Duell:

From observing many of the letters to the editor, I gather that modern liberals seem to be true believers in big government. If this is the case, I'm curious to know what they want to be liberated from. The word liberal infers that there is something that they want to be liberated from. If it is not big government like classic liberalism believed, what is it? Could it be God? Morality? Normality? In having faith in big government, have not the new liberals betrayed the spirit of the founding fathers and classic liberalism, both of which had a healthy skepticism of government? Maybe one of the new liberals could tell us where liberals' faith in government has come from.

Does it come from the great job that government has done in handling the US Post Office, Social Security, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the War on Poverty, Medicare, Amtrak, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the public school system? At the same time maybe they can tell us why the American people should trust big government with running our health care and dealing with global warming.

Recently, I have noticed that the new liberals are referring to themselves as progressives. My question is: What have they progressed beyond? Have they progressed beyond liberalism? One would hope so, but I don't think that is the case. Maybe there is a progressive out there who can tell us the difference between the illiberal liberalism of the new liberals and progressivism? Still another question is: Why are the new liberals referring to themselves as progressives? What do they mean by progressive values? Do they mean values that are not traditional or Christian? If so, what are they?

I believe the new liberals, or progressives, owe it to the American people to explain exactly what they believe and to explain their progressive values. Of course, the truth is that the new liberals are just playing games with words. There really isn't anything new or progressive about their beliefs or values. The reason that they have changed their label is that linguistic experts (propagandists) have told them that people respond better to the word progressive than the word liberal.
I am sorry Mr. Duell, you make it very difficult for me to respond to you without it sounding like I am belittling you, mocking you, and talking down to you. I will try hard to be somewhat civil. The regular readers of this blog know that I am not always successful at this. Oh, the words that come to mind that I could use to describe you. Who is actually “playing games with words” here? I will try to be polite. You’re just pulling that “propagandists” stuff out of your ass, aren’t you Mr. Duell? OK, now I’ll try to be polite.

Let’s start with two words that seem to confuse you. Liberal and liberate. Please notice that these are two words, not one. Perhaps there is a reason why. Perhaps they have two different meanings, not one. Let’s examine that thought.

Merriam-Webster says this about the word liberal:
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin liberalis suitable for a freeman, generous, from liber free; perhaps akin to Old English lēodan to grow, Greek eleutheros free
Date: 14th century
1 a : of, relating to, or based on the liberal arts b archaic : of or befitting a man of free birth

2 a : marked by generosity : openhanded b : given or provided in a generous and openhanded way c : ample, full

3 obsolete : lacking moral restraint : licentious

4 : not literal or strict : loose

5 : broad-minded; especially : not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms

6 a : of, favoring, or based upon the principles of liberalism b capitalized : of or constituting a political party advocating or associated with the principles of political liberalism; especially : of or constituting a political party in the United Kingdom associated with ideals of individual especially economic freedom, greater individual participation in government, and constitutional, political, and administrative reforms designed to secure these objectives

synonyms liberal, generous, bountiful, munificent mean giving or given freely and unstintingly. liberal suggests openhandedness in the giver and largeness in the thing or amount given
liberal with her praise>. generous stresses warmhearted readiness to give more than size or importance of the gift generous offer of help>. bountiful suggests lavish, unremitting giving or providing bountiful presents>. munificent suggests a scale of giving appropriate to lords or princes munificent foundation grant>.
Wow. That’s really cool. Even I’m learning some things here. However, I don’t see anything about liberals believing in big government. Why would people who believe so much about freedom, and being free men, want to be enslaved by big government? I don’t see anything that infers that there is something that liberals want to be liberated from. I wonder why that is?

Liberals are generous. What the fuck is wrong with them? Who let them out of the loony bin?

Merriam-Webster says this about the word
Etymology: Latin liberatus, past participle of liberare, from liber
Date: circa 1623
1 : to set at liberty : free; specifically : to free (as a country) from domination by a foreign power

2 : to free from combination

3 : to take or take over illegally or unjustly liberated from a nearby construction site — Thorne Dreyer>

synonyms see free
That’s pretty cool too. Two words, two different meanings. The word free seems to be a link between liberal and liberate, but that’s about it. It is interesting that the definition of liberate doesn’t mention liberals at all.

Perhaps it seems that I am being petty. I assure you that I am not. Words and what they mean are extremely important if we are to understand one another, if we are to understand anything at all. Without a solid understanding of what words mean we have the Tower of Babel. (Amazing isn’t it that I, like Richard Dawkins, believe that knowledge of the Bible is important.)

Balance. Mr. Duell makes me think of the word balance. (You can look this one up yourself, if you feel the need to.) A little sense of balance is in order here. Balance implies two sides to every story, not one big dead weight weighing down the narrative into the depths of obfuscation.

Mr. Duell, you seem to be unbalanced. No, not mentally. Unbalanced in a way that I’m at a loss to find a word for. I think that all of us, including me, fall into this trap. We have our beliefs and we frequently use any means necessary to defend them, even if those means are wrong, misguided, or do not make any sense. This trap can ensnare any denomination, and any political belief system. We all need to be vigilant.

You seem to have your own set of beliefs about liberals and progressives. I think that you are misguided in your beliefs. I could go into great depth here, but I will try to keep this brief.

It is false to say that liberals believe in “big government.” Liberals believe that government has the potential to (and sometimes actually does) help the common good.

Not all liberals trust the government. In fact, I think that very few of them do. Let me point out that liberals tend to not trust big corporations as well. It seems, Mr. Duell, that you don’t trust the government, yet it seems to me that you have great faith in corporations. I fail to see the logic in this. For every government agency that you see as a failure, I can name a corporation that actually has been a failure. Enron, Lehman Brothers, etc. (Please don’t say that they failed because of the government. Please don’t go there.)

I tend to think of the government as us, not them. (“We the people” and all of that). I tend to think of big corporations as them, not us. (“We the corporation”)?

Mr. Duell, you say: “…maybe they can tell us why the American people should trust big government with running our health care and dealing with global warming.” Can you tell me why the American people should trust big corporations with running our health care and dealing with global warming? At least with the government involved with these issues there is a sense of balance. The power does not exist solely with the big corporations. Are you honestly pleased with the way that big corporations have dealt with these issues in the past?

Again, not to be petty, but liberal and progressive are two words. They mean different things. For a better understanding of progressives a good place to start would be The Progressive. These “new liberals” have been around for 100 years. Shocking, isn’t it?

Mr. Duell, you seem to seek an understanding of liberals and progressives. In some ways we are alike. I seek an understanding of Conservatives, Libertarians, and right-wingers. It is difficult for me to get past what I see as a bunch of crazy, inflamed rhetoric from the right. Perhaps you have the same problem with the left. I think it is important for both of us to keep trying. Don’t you? However, we will never understand one another at the Tower of Babel.

The right-wing has stolen the word liberal from us. I want it back. The right-wing assigns evil and negativity to the word liberal. Reread the definition. Do you see evil and negativity? I certainly don’t. I want my word back. The right-wing chooses to live in the Tower of Babel. I choose not to.

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