I have been swimming in a sea of talking points instead of conversation, and am at risk of drowning. Recently, I joined an across-the-political-spectrum discussion group on Facebook, and generally have been having a lot of fun exchanging perspectives and ideas. Until last night.
Last night, another group member I do not know well used the definition of fascism to describe the progressive movement in this country. As I am a lover of language, I corrected his definition of both terms, as they are polar opposites, and then was accused of being a typical liberal who feels she owns the definition of words.
As a poet and writer, I use words, but do not own them beyond the split second I string them into an image, thought, or sentence. No one does. So–here are those definitions that got me into trouble last night.
noun \ˈfa-ˌshi-zəm also ˈfa-ˌsi-\
: a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government
: very harsh control or authority.
: a person who favors new or modern ideas especially in politics and education.
These are not my definitions. They come from Merriam-Webster. Regardless, our exchange deteriorated to the point of snark, and any hope of constructive dialog between us was lost, at least for last night.
Our exchange led me to think more of how I define my politics, which are not, and never have been decidedly one way or the other. For example:
- I have voted for a Republican or two in my time.
- I am not anti-gun, but strongly advocate responsible ownership and sales of firearms).
- I am far more concerned about the health of the fourth amendment to the US Constitution right now that I ever will be about the Second. Especially since 9/11.
- As an Army brat, I support a strong military.
- As a person with a conscience, I regret what we have done in other countries to support oppressive regimes.
- I am radically feminist and passionately pro-choice, but my personal faith and belief system would never allow me to choose to terminate a pregnancy (and yes, I have been in that situation to test this out). Does this mean I would impose my choice on another woman? Hell, no.
So, lately I have been feeling like the term liberal really does not fit me well. It is too tight around the waist. Instead, from now on, I will be calling myself a leftward-leaning pragmatist.
Is the label really so important?
Nope. Just when talking to other people who seem to crave a snapshot.
I guess people like to categorize.
Language is dynamic, in that it evolves, but there is also an element of not quite grasping the gist of a given word.
IMO, there are those liberal and those conservative who are all about some sort of dogma, as if it were laid down in some biblical way. I’m no socialist, even though I’ve been called one a billion times. Just recently, I debated someone on the left who wanted to root out capitalism. There is a healthy place for capitalism and competitiveness. On the other hand, competition is not the answer in all things.
As with you, I’m a choicer, former PP volunteer who supports them heart and soul. I’ve tangled with socialists who try and co-opt the push for equal rights and dictate how we should work for these rights, when it is really all about their greater goal. No thank you.
We all get to self label, or we should, a lesson I bring with me from the queer community. If someone insists on one from me, well… liberal feminist dyke should get them somewhere in range.
Thanks for sharing, Nelle. I like your label 😉
I have been called a pinko commie socialist feminazi so many times, I have just adopted that label without question, and perhaps I should have dug deeper.
with apology, I tend to agree with your opponent – the two are not mutually exclusive – many of the most virulent fascists believed their enforced ideologies were indeed socially progressive ideas – having said that I also agree that most labels are meaningless because we are all fairly unique in our personal collections of political positions
Love this comment–you need not apologize for it. I shudder to think of a forced progress/nanny state scenario. Progress is only progress if and when it is welcomed.
While people who claim to be liberals and promote equality can be fascists, I don’t think they are true liberals. And I don’t see why anyone would call you a fascist.
Aw, you’d have to have been there. If you want to join in the fun, I’ll add you to the group 😉
I can understand why you may not personally own any words in the current politico-economic climate. Words are so perishable and easily soiled and spoiled. I have a lot of good gently-used words I can rent to you for a fraction of the cost of owning. Email me for a price and availability list. 😉
Aw, thanks, Alice. I am saving up for Christ’s toenails, though 😉
Those toenails are mine, you greedy thing. 😉
I may agree with Paul and your opponent only in so far as it applies to our brand of Third World Politics. Some time ago when Ghana was not yet democratic, it could be said that it was a Fascist state based loosely on your definition given above though Ghana liked to think that she was a Socialist and yes progressive.
Now democracy has made us progressively progressive, favoring new and modern ideas especially in politics and education at high costs. Our learning process was long and tedious. We went with the tides of communism/socialism and switched over to democracy when the geo-political and economic dynamics dictated so.
And what label do we give ourselves as Ghanaians? Ghanaians! 🙂
I like your current label 😉
Want to commend your bravery for posting on this topic. I think you have expressed your opinion remarkably and must agree with you.
I agree with you that we don’t own language and that it’s dynamic. I certainly experience this as someone who writes poetry and as someone who writes about political thought.
I have often found these discussions frustrating because many people don’t know what they are talking about. When someone is confronted with a definition and then tells you that you think you own it. . . well, I think that’s really lazy on that person’s part.
It sounds to me like he/she couldn’t accept your challenge so he had to make some meaningless generalization about other people with whom you may or may not agree some of the time. I hear this a lot. The idea that we can even own the terms and phrases we apply to ourselves (sometimes even voluntarily!) seems silly to me.
I give you credit for having patience, Susan. I also feel like the term liberal is too narrow around the waist (I feel that way about most terminology).
Thanks, Jeremy. Love the comment, as always. I think I have outgrown the term, and am really tired of labels. I’m just going to call things as I see them from now on, minus the labels 😉
I felt myself shedding the label years ago and I remember going through a period where I thought “what am I?”
And then I developed a sense of humor about the fact that I even felt it necessary to ask.
😉 that’s called maturity…