We Now Pause for a Bit of a Rant

Scot McKnight (whose work I deeply appreciate) quotes Dennis Prager (whom I rarely read) on his site, talking about the difference between the “left” and “liberals.” You can follow the link to read what set me off.

Labels are necessary if we are to communicate. Words are, pretty much, labels. All labels have limitations. The word “tree” can evoke different meanings. Different people might have different boundaries between a tree and a shrub, for example. That’s why we have words, and not just a word. We have phrases, clauses, sentences, and yes, even paragraphs. You use those to explain the detailed boundaries of the way you are using a particular label.

The problem is not labels. The problem is the misuse of labels. Politics gives birth to lots of misuse because those in politics want to have shorthand ways of vilifying opponents. So we take a group’s label, find all the bad things done by anyone who might fit that label, and apply them to the entire group. That’s why we have videos from liberals (as defined today, not the century old definition used by Prager), showing stupid conservatives. This is supposed to leave us with the impression that everyone on the right is an idiot and knows nothing.

In turn (and I don’t care who went first, just “in turn” in terms of this rant), we have conservatives producing videos of stupid liberals.

Wow! I am so utterly dumbfounded! There are stupid Republicans. And Democrats. And liberals. And conservatives. And Christians. And non-Christians. And …

The only thing we should get from such videos is a low opinion of the people who make them.

My problem with these labels is that while I know stupid people who hold a variety of positions, I also know intelligent ones. Intelligent conservatives, liberals, progressives, leftists, rightists, and so forth. I find no sense in which you can determine intelligence by political position. Further, I know of no way to discover how charitable someone is through a label. Sure there are surveys, but do you really want to assume that a survey applies to each person you meet? I find it much easier to just talk to them and then listen.

My father, for example, was a vigorous opponent of what he called socialized medicine. Yet he gave away medical services or charged less than the market would bear all his life. He never turned anyone away over money. He died as John Wesley suggested with very little. Without a doubt he cared, cared deeply, and did something about it. I’m sure my conservative friends will applaud.

But there are others, “leftists” if you please, who believe very firmly that everyone should have medical care. They don’t believe private charity can accomplish it, so they work to make it available to everyone using the mechanism of government. Their purpose is not to “get” the drug companies, the health care equipment manufacturers, or the doctors. Their purpose is to provide better health care for more people. They aren’t evil. They take a different approach.

There’s plenty of room to debate these approaches. But none of this will happen if we assign all possible evil characteristics to our opponents, and all possible good ones to our allies.

One of the characteristics that will prevent any movement toward unity is the desire to vilify groups of our opponents, not by labeling them, but by misusing their labels or by mislabeling them.

A little generosity in the use of labels would go a long way. And no, don’t assume I blame most mislabeling on the right because the quote that set me off was from Dennis Prager. This issue has plenty of blame to go around. Several times.

(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org.)

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