Thursday, May 19, 2011

Attitude vs. Ideology

In my previous post, I said that I didn’t think it made any sense to be an atheist and a conservative. I would say it’s tantamount to no longer believing in god, but going to church anyway. While I did anticipate it, I did a poor job of explaining how this fits into the left/right political debate in the US.

I don’t like the terms “left” and “right” as political systems. The terms are outdated to the point of being nearly obsolete (many ideas have gone from being left-wing to right-wing and back again). What makes it more confusing is that any discussion on the topic will automatically make the post unreadable to non-Americans, because left and right mean different things politically all over the world.

My previous post was primarily focused on attitude, or perhaps the motivation behind an ideology. If you support abortion rights because it’s what we have now… that’s conservative. If you support abortion rights because you believe women should have complete control over what happens with their body, you hold that view for a liberal reason.

In otherwords, I don’t see much use in saying one is “liberal” or “conservative” when it comes to defining one’s stance on individual issues. I consider myself liberal because my decision making on political matters are based on my firm support for individual liberties.

I know Democrats are language Nazis responsible for the politically correct nonsense of the 90’s, but I wasn’t old enough to vote then and I don’t support Democrats now, and it’s partly because Democrats do not share my view on personal liberty. There’s nothing liberal about Democrats, because the motivation behind their decision making mirrors that of the conservative mantra: don’t rock the boat.

While I openly embrace the idea of liberalism (and inwardly chuckle at how successfully the term has been maligned by conservative society), I don’t really like the terms “left-wing” and “right-wing.” I mean, for one thing, you need both or you end up flying in circles. For another, the terms are purposely nebulous.

If you take nothing from this or my previous post, remember this: these terms, left, right, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican… it’s all bullshit. They’re brands meant to garner your emotional attachment for the purposes of gaining your vote. Unless the individual you are voting for actually represents you, there’s no use in voting for someone because they claim to be any of those things.

Seriously, I would vote for a guy who called himself a Nazi if he had a track record of supporting what I support and opposing what I oppose. A label means nothing when it’s attached to a box of bullshit.

But while liberalism and conservatism mean something in the greater world of language (while being basically useless in politics), right-wing and left-wing have little or no redeeming value in my eyes. They serve largely as a sort of sloppy political short-hand.

“I’m right-wing.”

Okay, so you want to screw the poor.

“I’m left-wing.”

Okay, so you smoke pot and never vote.

Really, the “-wings” are just euphemisms for cultural stereotypes. Sort of like moderate.

“I’m a moderate.”

Okay, so you’re too busy to actually understand politics.

These terms don’t really help, unless you’re trying to avoid actually talking about individual issues. If you’re a politician and you don’t want to go on record as actually standing for any particular cause, or if you don’t want to have any real campaign promises to answer to, you can always fall back on political buzzwords like these.

Personally, I have all the time in the world and no qualms with sticking to an issue. I would rather point to my particular views than try to lump myself in with a bunch of political do-nothings and pretend I have anything remotely in common with the left-wing.

No, I’m liberal, like America. I like traveling freely (so no flying), buying what I want, saying what I feel… you know, liberal stuff. Stuff that people a hundred years ago would be shocked by. Stuff that people a thousand miles away would be shocked by. I don’t like these things because they’re shocking, they’re shocking because these are the things people have been told for centuries would ruin a society… and yet here we are, enjoying them. And these things are enjoyable.

That is liberalism.

Too often, I think liberalism gets lumped in with left-wing ideology, much like how conservatism gets lumped in with right-wing ideology. But these labels are fake, artificial constructs that we attribute. And while we make them up, they don’t always bear any resemblance to our real ideas, especially in a political landscape so hell-bent on smearing the opponent before one’s own house is even in order.

This is much clearer when you add the political parties to the mix. Just going back to the turn of the last century, Republicans were the liberals and Democrats were the conservatives, and it was liberal to want to ban alcohol. Eisenhower instituted an income tax over 90% for the wealthy in order to pay for WWII, an unthinkable action for a Republican today. It wasn’t Democrats who fought for civil rights in the middle of the last century, it was liberal Republicans (maybe even some of the same liberals who had supported eugenics not half a century before).

Party and ideological labels are essentially meaningless, then, when they are not based on true principles, but are instead a Frankenstein’s monster of parts sewn together. That’s what modern American politics is, really: a loosely tied set of special interest groups and their pet issues, and of course the politicians they fund.

And ultimately, I’m not going to change anyone’s mind on this. People will label themselves and their political organizations however they want. I can’t prevent the world from affixing the label of “liberal” to Barack Obama anymore than I can stop people from saying Lady Gaga is talented.

But I still say it, because I’m a liberal and I know I’m free to do so. I may be wrong, but at least I wasn’t too afraid to say something. That is why, to me, liberalism is, and always will be, an attitude.

The conservative doesn’t speak out when approaching the precipice of injustice and ignorance, because they have become comfortable with it. It’s up to liberals, no matter how few there are, to not only speak up, but to shout at the top of their lungs, “Change course!”


  1. these terms, left, right, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican… it’s all bullshit.

    As Chris Rock says: "Everybody's so busy wanting to be down with the gang. "I'm conservative", "I'm liberal", "I'm conservative". Bullshit! Be a fucking person! Lis-ten! Let it swirl around your head. Then form your opinion. No normal, decent person is one thing, okay? I've got some shit I'm conservative about, I've got some shit I'm liberal about. Crime, I'm conservative. Prostitution, I'm liberal!"

  2. I'm not saying Chris Rock didn't utter that, but I think if he thought about it for even a minute, he wouldn't be conservative about crime... unless he really does like the way black people are treated by the justice system. Who am I to say what Chris Rock thinks?

  3. "these terms, left, right, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican… it’s all bullshit. They’re brands meant to garner your emotional attachment for the purposes of gaining your vote"

    These labels have a purpose. We human animals like to socialize with like-minded people, so the labels help us find people we agree with. Without these labels, I'd have to spend time getting to know you before realizing you don't live in the same world I do. Thanks to labels, I've saved myself some time.

  4. Thanks to labels, we don't have to get to know anyone before we can pretend to know them, we just should.


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