AmeriCAN-DO Attitude

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Are They Socialists, Communists, Liberals, Conservatives, Progressives or Ignorant?

Clay posted a good article, by his friend, entitled “Conservatism 101”. I responded with some of my thoughts on the issue.

My general feeling is that we are too quick to label others and ourselves based on political ideologies that we all may not completely understand. Thus the title of my blog post here. Some people may not fit the label of holding a certain ideology, but may just have an ignorant or not completely informed opinion on an issue.

Therefore, it is better to discuss issues and ideologies, rather than react in knee-jerk fashions by labeling people when they espouse their opinion on an issue.
Good post, Clay.

Only one complaint…

The author of the article started off with “Conservatism” and then moved to “Conservatives believe…” This then led to a commentor stating that “there is no one definition of conservatives…” There is one definition of conservatism. Period. BUT, many people do not agree with every part of conservatism. This is why the labels of “conservatives” and “liberals” are ridiculous. And then you get people calling themselves “moderates”, when there is no such ideology. A “moderate” is simply someone who either

(1) Just wants to be liked by everyone, so expresses no definitive opinion on any issues
(2) Actually has definitive opinions on issues, but doesn’t want to be thought of as a “winger” (right or left), so instead of actually talking about those definitive opinions on the issues, they call themselves “moderate” and are back to being liked by everyone, because they aren’t left/right-“wingers”

And this is really the core of the problem with most people involved with politics today. They don’t really understand most political issues or most ideologies regarding the political issues, and so instead they revert to labeling each other and themselves. This then serves right off the bat to divide people. “Ooooh he’s a rotten right-wing nutjob, so he believes….” or “oooh she’s an idiotic liberal, so she believes…” This gets people off the issues and simply throwing insults and labels at one another. Meanwhile, no one is doing anything to actually educate themselves on what matters: the issues.

I think the article you posted started off well, but then by switching from saying “conservatism is…” to “conservatives believe…” left it open for people to say “HEY! Not all conservatives believe that!” The fact is, people are not “conservatives” and “liberals”. People are individuals who have opinions on issues. Some of those opinions actually line up with Conservatism and some of those opinions sometimes line up with liberalism. But there is no redefining conservatism or liberalism. They are specific ideologies.

I like to compare it to religion. Catholicism is a religion that has as one of its cores an opposition to abortion, opposition to pre-marital sex and opposition to birth control. However, there are people who attend Catholic Church and call themselves Catholics who are in favor of all of these things. While these people attend Catholic Church and call themselves Catholics, they are not abiding by Catholicism. So, really, they are not Catholics.

The same thing applies to Conservatism. Conservatism is a set ideology with stances on numerous political issues and life issues. Taking the example of President Bush, he holds many opinions on issues which are aligned with Conservatism. However, he has many opinions on issues which are opposed to Conservatism. Therefore, he is not a Conservative, but rather a politician with some conservative views. That’s it.

Our society needs to stop with the labels and start focusing more on ideology and issues. This article does a good job of it, but needs to focus on defining “conservatism” not “Conservatives”.

The proper way to do this is to say “Liberalism states…” and “Conservatism states…” and then people need to say “My views on [Issues X, Y and Z] align with Liberalism and my views on [Issues A, B and C] align with Conservatism. [ie, someone can say that their stances on social issues align with liberalism, but their stances on foreign policy and fiscal issues align with conservatism. This person would probably be called a “Conservative”, but they really are simply a person who is socially liberal, but conservative fiscally and on foreign policy. There is no need to label this person a liberal or conservative at all, because they are neither. In fact, if we go back to the supposed father of Conservatism, Barry Goldwater, he held liberal positions on social issues and was very much hostile towards the religious.]

Posted by Michael in MI on February 29, 2008 – Friday at 12:55 PM

*****

“The attitude that we should not call people, including themselves, for what they stand for is foolish and deadly.”

“SimpleParadox” made that comment earlier in response to what I wrote about not using labels for people. I stand by my opinion, but I will clarify it a bit…

The reason that I propose focusing on the opinions people hold on political issues, instead of labels for people is because most people really aren’t “liberals” or “conservatives” or “socialists”, etc. Most people have a very shallow grasp of any particular political issue – whether it be the economy or healthcare or United States Constitutional law, etc – and come to their opinions based on having very little knowledge, facts and historical perspective of the issues. Most people don’t logically think through all the consequences of a particular policy, and simply think of things on a superficial level and on what seems ‘fair’ or ‘right’.

Just take the economy for example. Socialism seems ‘fair’ and ‘right’ and capitalism seems ‘evil’ and not ‘fair’. Why not take from the rich to give to the poor? Only seems ‘fair’, right? Well, punishing the rich for working hard and earning their money and then rewarding the poor for doing nothing takes away incentives to work. You end up with the poor realizing they can live off the hard work of the ‘rich’ and the ‘rich’ losing motivation to work hard, because they know the harder they work, the more money is taken from them and given to someone who has not earned it. That is why socialism has failed everywhere it has been tried.

But not everyone understands all these details on the issues. So really, they are not truly “socialists” or “liberals” or “progressives”, but rather just people with an opinion on an issue. If we focus on their opinion on the issue and discuss the details, they may realize that they did not fully understand the issue and then change their opinion on it based on more info and education. But, just reacting to what someone says with “you’re a liberal!” or “you’re a socialist!” or even “you’re a conservative!” does nothing to further the education and knowledge of people on the issues.

Now, there are people who can actually be called Socialists and Marxists and Conservatives. They are people who fully understand Socialism and Marxism and Conservatism and are working to implement policy based on this full understanding of these ideologies. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could be called fiscal Socialists/Marxists, because they understand Socialism/Marxism and still promote the policies.

But the average person, especially on MySpace, does not really fully understand most ideologies. So when they present their opinion on an issue, instead of reacting in the knee-jerk with “you’re a Socialist!”, the better reaction should be to engage them on the issue. A better response would be “Do you realize that you are espousing Socialism, which has failed everywhere it has been tried in history?” This could then lead to a discussion of Socialism and its failures, rather than an argument going “You’re a Socialist!”, “No I’m not!”, “Yes you are!” etc etc ad naseum.

The labels really are only good for generalizing and dividing people, instead of bringing people together to discuss issues. When it gets down to it, we are not “conservatives” and “liberals” and “Socialists” and “Marxists”, we are all Americans with opinions on issues, some which align with Conservatism, some which align with Liberalism, some which align with Socialism, some with Marxism, etc. Instead of dividing one another with labels, we should be working to help educate one another on the issues.

For example, instead of just saying “Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are Socialists who are going to destroy this country!!!”, the better approach would be to highlight the economic policies of Clinton and Obama and then explain how they would affect the economy. In the process, explain how what they are espousing is Socialism and how Socialism has failed in every other nation it has been tried in history. This will help educate people and help them think through the issue better. And having this understanding of the issue will prevent them from being taken in by another politician in the future who espouses Socialism. The goal should be to explain why we should reject the ideology, not why we should reject the politician. If we just work to reject individuals, this leaves it open for people to accept the same ideology from a different individual in the future who may explain the same failed ideology in a nicer-sounding way.

So anyway, this is why I say it would have been better for the article to focus on Conservatism and not “conservatives”. Conservatism is an ideology. “Conservatives” is just a label. It’s always better to understand the ideology, so we are not duped by the labels given to people.

Posted by Michael in MI on March 1, 2008 – Saturday at 1:37 AM

UPDATE at 14:27 EST on 02 MAR 2008: I added this comment at Clay’s Blog in response to a reply to my last comment above:

I think we are actually on the same page here. This is what I am addressing when I talk about not using labels:

“I am a conservative. I like the label. It is an easy way to explain who I am and where I come from. To those willing to ask questions and have a fair debate.

I find that most people that I call socialists never ask me what do I mean? They get more hostile and personal in their attacks. When I ask them what is socialism they disappear and never respond. I find this curious and would like answers.”

Using labels is good *only* if people understand the ideologies of conservatism, modern liberalism, classic liberalism, socialism, Marxism, etc. The problem with just resorting to labels is that people have made up their own definitions of what is and is not conservatism or liberalism or socialism, etc.

For example, usually here in MySpace if people acknowledge that, in general, their political ideology is conservative, some people will immediately say “oh, I see, you’re one of those racist, bigot, homophobic, warmongering, bible-thumping, anti-choice, anti-sex, poor-hating, greedy right-wing nutjobs”. And then many people immediately react to that ignorant view with return insults and then back and forth, back and forth name-calling and insulting ensues and meanwhile, the issues and the ideologies are never discussed.

And then the example you gave is true many times as well. Someone in a debate will present their opinion and will be informed by someone that their opinion is espousing socialism or Marxism. The person with the socialist/Marxist views will then get offended and react accordingly with insults and name-calling. But, meanwhile, they don’t really understand what is socialism or Marxism and that they are espousing those failed ideologies and policies.

This is why I think we all need to work better at addressing the issues and staying away from personal things. And labels are personal things. People need to get a lot better at addressing the person’s statements and ideology rather than addressing the person in a personal attack.

As you mention, the goal of too many people is to win a meaningless online debate so that they can feel all superior, instead of the real goal we should all have which is to educate and inform and also be open to learning and being informed by others.

I have been guilty of the former in the past and I learned from experience that it is a futile exercise. I now do my best to practice the latter. Though I fail at times, I succeed more often than not.

I think the key is to approach discussions on politics with both humility and confidence. We need to have confidence in our viewpoints and our ideology and have the confidence to explain ourselves and our ideologies. But we also need to have the humility to realize that we do not know everything and should be open to hearing other input.

I understand completely that many people do not debate politics in this way and I understand how frustrating it can be. But if we all keep in mind that there may be other people reading our thoughts put to words on a website, then even though we may not reach the person with whom we are talking, we may reach someone who is reading our discussion. This has happened for me many times when I read military blogs. I have learned an amazing amount from military members who have taken the time to debunk the lies and distortions of the anti-military people. While their message probably falls on deaf ears of the close-minded people who simply hate the military, it resonates with me, someone who was ignorant of all things military, but had a thirst for learning more.

If we all look at the big picture and not get caught up in short-sighted little personal stuff, I think we can all make a difference for the conservative movement.

Posted by Michael in MI on March 2, 2008 – Sunday at 2:26 PM

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March 1, 2008 , 2:38AM - Posted by | Conservatism

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