Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"You liberals!"

Recently, I began to allow anonymous comments on my blog. I think I'm regretting it, but maybe not. I do want people to see that it's not just Savage; there are apologists for him who take his garbage quite seriously.

What I'm tired of is this caricature of "liberal". What does the word even mean anymore? I know what Michael Savage thinks it means; he doesn't know the difference between a true liberal and a fascist, as is evident from his labeling of George W. Bush as a liberal/socialist. Bush is a fascist; he is into corporate control of the government and doing things that promote big business. A socialist doesn't do these things. A socialist promotes legislation and action that benefits society as a whole. Just what is a liberal, though?

I did something on liberalism on one of my message boards, but I'm not going to cut and paste.

The Free Online Dictionary has several entries for the term, "liberal". I am going to go through them one by one, because I think it's important that we stop caricaturing liberals--and conservatives, for that matter, because these terms are used to divide us, and they have been made trivial and meaningless by those who work toward such division.

The first definition:

a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian
attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.

Sounds like "liberal" is a synonym for "freethinker" here, and I'm of the firm opinion that being free from bigotry is a good thing. Under this definition, I'm definitely a liberal, and an unapologetic one at that.

Savage says that liberalism is a mental disorder. So it's a mental disorder to break from traditional/orthodox/authoritarian views? It used to be the orthodox view that the Earth is flat. It used to be the orthodox view that the Earth was the center of the solar system. Breaking from tradition and orthodoxy can be a very good thing.

Let's look at the second definition:

b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant
of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.

Supporting reform for the right reasons is never a bad thing. Being open to new ideas is the only way we can progress, really. Tolerance is a good thing until you tolerate intolerance (which is what apologists for Michael Savage are doing). What's wrong with being tolerant and having an open mind?

The third definition is one of those generic ones: "Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism."

Perhaps it would be useful to define "liberalism", then.

A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of
the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law
with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority.

Hmmm. Are human beings naturally good? This article about German researchers who studied altruism would suggest that we are born with altruistic tendencies. It makes sense; being slower, weaker, and less well-armed than the predators in existence when our ancient ancestors first evolved, cooperation would have been a great survival strategy; groups of humans would have found it easier to fend off predators, hunt, gather, raise children, make tools and shelters...cooperation has been the norm for us from the beginning--at least along tribal lines.

I kind of like my autonomy, civil and political liberties, rule of law--as long as I'm represented in the legislature, and protection from people who declare themselves to be in charge ("I'm the decider!").

I also think that it's a good thing for people to come together to solve problems they can't solve individually, and that taxes should be an investment. If we can't get some sort of return from the tax money we invest, we should nix those taxes. I use the word "return" loosely; it doesn't have to be realized financially.

Getting back to "liberal", I'm going to skip the political party definition, because we don't have a major party that's truly liberal. The next definition is:

2.a. Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.

I think this definition represents part of the caricature of "liberal" that the neo-cons promote and demonize. They don't want the government to just "tax and spend". I know very few people who do, actually, from any political party; it's irresponsible, and would be difficult to justify. I do know plenty of people calling themselves "conservative" (again, caricaturing the term and rendering it meaningless) who think it's just fine that we're in debt to the tune of nearly ten trillion dollars to foreign countries, most notably China. That's $10,000,000,000,000. That's a million millions. That's enough to give 300 million people (roughly the U.S. population) $33,333.33 each. Except we owe that much. Savage calls that "liberal" policy, and he's right to this extent (though he wouldn't put it this way): the Congress from 2002-2006 and the President who signed the spending bills coming from them borrowed liberally from our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, burdening them with debt. Where is the benefit to society as a whole, though? That's where the "socialist" label breaks down with Bush, making it downright laughable. Those spending bills were benefits to corporations and individual political donors, along with every pet project the Republicans wanted to support during those four years. In the meantime, 8,000 people lose their homes to foreclosure each day. People are making roughly $2000 less than they made a few years ago. Unemployment is at an all-time high--if you look at the real numbers. The "official" numbers come from the number of people actually receiving unemployment, which runs out after a certain period of time. Gas prices are outrageous, but oil companies received tax cuts from that Congress and this President. Very wealthy people became even wealthier; the rest of us saw our incomes stagnate or go down, while everything became more expensive.

I don't advocate giving tax money away to anyone; I want it to be an investment. In this respect, I can't really be called "liberal". Giving money to autism research and therapy would be an investment in the future of children with autism; society would benefit from having more functional people working, paying taxes, and supporting themselves.

The problem with the people who throw around the word "liberal" is that they're stereotyping people who happen to disagree with them. I argue that we're all liberal, conservative, or moderate, depending on the topic at hand, and labeling people with one of these terms only marginalizes them and causes division. Let's have some real dialogue and stop with the intellectually lazy caricatures.

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