Labels Can Mislead

     We tend to trust labels. (At least, we did back when we were a high-trust society, but perhaps I shouldn’t assume that it remains the case.) If the package says “Chocolate-chip cookies,” we proceed on the assumption that the package contains chocolate-chip cookies. If we discover afterward that it contains something else, our readiness to trust labels henceforward is shaken…especially if it really contained C4 with a compact electric detonator triggered by the convenience flap.

     So also with political labels.

     There are a lot of folks out there who style themselves “liberals.” These past few decades, the word has taken on a meaning at odds with its origin: “one who favors personal freedom.” But for those of us who remember liberalism when it defended freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and so forth, the label is a cruel reminder of how successful the Left has been at twisting our language out from under us. Indeed, it might have been the Left’s most potent stroke.

     It’s the same on the Right. Many who call themselves conservatives hold to notions that don’t…quite…jibe with the original meaning of the word: “one who favors the perpetuation of established ways and institutions.” Many a contemporary “conservative” actually favors rather sweeping changes to established ways and institutions…which puts backs up among those who continue to favor the original meaning.

     It’s no longer wise to trust labels that have gone through such contortions. This is especially urgent for those who are used to pulling the voting lever for “everyone with an R after his name.” You could be voting against your true convictions.

     Ace comments most cogently:

     I’ve said this before, but it needs to be said again: What we used to call “conservatism” had two different parts to it.

     One, an ideological part, one that favored freedom, religion, business, and such,

     and two, a merely factional part, dedicated to preserving the Right To Rule of the Ruling Class, the right of the “Higher Orders” to rule over the “Lower Orders.”

     “Conservatism” united those who wanted to retain traditions with those who wanted to retain traditional ruling structures.

     They sort of go together.

     But they don’t have to.

     And when one group — the part that seeks primarily to preserve the Right to Rule of America’s legacy, nepot Elite — stops acting as partners with the ideologically minded, freedom-seeking part, and in fact seeks to subjugate them — then we’ve got problems.

     That’s a rather precise description of our current political milieu.


     Polarization advances with the age of the population. In other words, as a population ages, its social, commercial, and political divisions widen and harden, until it becomes nearly impossible for the opposed sides to communicate without epithets. This is in the nature of aging itself, which attaches us ever more firmly to what we know and find familiar, and thus to regard as ever more threatening anything that would disturb those arrangements and practices.

     There’s nothing to be done about it, other than this: it is important for each of us to know:

  1. What he really values;
  2. What he definitely detests;
  3. The wherefores in each case.

     Each of us is responsible for entering the voting booth knowing what he’s about. If you pull a party-line lever rather than vote discriminatingly, be aware of what you’re endorsing. Party leaderships, strategists, and tacticians have a goal quite different from what you might imagine: they exist to elect persons of their party, and nothing else. Were they to serve any other purpose, they’d soon lose their positions. Electoral success fills the party’s coffers; nothing else does.

     This has an implication: the party’s purported policy positions are secondary to its electoral fortunes. The kingmakers will depart from those stands should they become electorally inconvenient, and they’ll do it without a qualm. So while it’s worthwhile to know the party platform, it’s equally important to watch for developments that might jar its luminaries loose from it – and to keep a weather eye on their conduct, especially as re-election time nears.

     Labels have been important, but they lack the reinforcing quality of electoral outcomes. Indeed, as politics has professionalized, labels and platforms have taken a backseat to purely practical considerations: the retention of power. This is visible both in the large and in the small. Consider the behavior of party “mavericks” when legislation important to retaining the allegiance of a major constituency is on the table. At such times a “maverick” will seldom vote against his caucus. Those who do – the Manchins; the Sinemas; the Gabbards – are people to watch.

     And watch we should.

1 comment

  1. Maybe I should make this a post instead of a comment later.Good political labels are hard to come by nowadays.
    Agree that liberal/conservative doesn’t work well anymore. Left/Right works, after a fashion, except that Right generally means not-Left more than anything. Yesterday’s Centrists are more or less lumped in with the Alt-Right by contemporary media. Even Old Leftists like J.K. Rowling are soon cast out from the tribe.
    So really we have Left/Not-Left or Far Left/Not Far Left.
    In many ways, this is a problem for the Right. There is no cohesive Rightist ideology that predominates. Some folks are Social Conservatives, or more accurately, Religious Conservatives. Others are Libertarian or An-Cap. Still others are really Centrists or Moderate Leftists who have been exiled from the Leftist Tribe. Donald Trump was a kind of radical or ballsy Moderate, regardless of how his critics painted him. There are surely more factions I’ve omitted, but whatever the specific species exist in the wild, we know there are many.
    This makes labeling Rightists very difficult. Leftism doesn’t suffer from the same malaise, or at least not in the same degree. Though they have sometimes epic levels of infighting and tribal exiling behavior, Leftism has but one overall general direction. It is determined largely by a kind of absolute mob democracy, albeit steered by media consumption. Rightists don’t have anything very comparable to that. Rightists may agree to compromise or set aside differences to fight a common enemy, but in truth the worldview of a Religious Conservative differs tremendously from that of a Libertarian. It is the tyranny of Leftism that unites them. The mob-consensus is lacking from them. Rightists are too individualistic for that.
    Moldbug once said that Rightists are individually more powerful than Leftists. They are usually competent producers. They are less lazy. They are armed. And setting aside the respective elites and Mandarins of Left and Right tribes, which generally skew the numbers, they are richer. But in absolute numbers, adherents of Leftism outnumber Rightists. This can be demonstrated at a high level by the fact that Democrats outnumber Republicans, and by Mitt Romney’s statement that “47% would never vote for me.”47% are committed Leftists, not in an ideological sense (some of them probably have little concern or notion of ideology – they vote for the welfare money), but in the sense that they cannot be talked out of Leftism. Among Rightists, the committed population is much smaller. I lack such readily available numbers for the Right, but given that they are already outnumbered by Democrats generally, and Romney’s number is largely accurate for committed Leftists, I would wager it is under 35% of the US population. Probably much less.The Leftists are more unified, more committed, and more numerous. Even individually more powerful Rightists have a hard time against all that. Democrat laziness at the polls has been a great force multiplier. Some are so lazy they cannot motivate themselves to vote. This is why the Left chafes at something like a Voter ID law. They say the concept is racist, but in truth they know that any additional effort required to vote, even something as small as that, will impact their tribe more than the Rightist one. Some won’t bother to get an ID. Others might have one, but forget to bring it, and not return.
    The individualism of the Right, the difficulty labeling them… these grant the Right outsized influence, power, and competency relative to the Left. But when that must fight against numbers, a media establishment, and the political leaders of the country, it is simply not enough.I suspect that the creation of a cohesive Rightist ideology blending some of the elements of all of the disparate elements of the Right is required to defeat the Left, and I despair that it will ever happen.

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