In news reporting as in common speech, terms are often used that cloud a concise or even a correct understanding.
Here is a sampling of politically charged words that create misunderstanding and confusion:
Liberal and conservative:
The meaning of these words depends on the location and circumstance they are spoken about. “Conservative” in the US is one thing. A “conservative” in the Middle East is quite another. And the same applies to “liberal.”
Here is the problem. These terms are often thought by those in the US as having the same meaning in whatever part of the world they are applied. This is far from reality. For example, in the US, “conservative” means either a fiscal conservative, one who wants less government spending, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and smaller government. Or it means a social conservative, one who promotes a given standard of morality for himself and others, with or without government involvement.
Conversely, a US liberal is generally for more government spending, supports higher taxes, more government regulation and prefers relaxed moral codes, if any, sharing social preferences with libertarians.
This second US definition, “social conservative” comes closest to the Middle East usage of the term “conservative” (one who favors Islamic law), but still remains starkly different. A “conservative” in the Middle East is likely to be an Islamist desiring full implementation of Sharia law, burning churches and killing Jews. A conservative in the US is opposed to the spread of Islam and seeks greater religious freedom.
On the other hand, liberals in the Middle East typically favor less Islamic influence ranging all the way to a preference for a secular rather than an Islamist government. Liberals in the Middle East want less oppressive government, unlike liberals in the United States. This is exemplified in a recent Stratfor article that reads in part: “Liberal groups called for protests against Islamist influence over the process. (Read more: Egypt: Parliament Elects New Constitution Panel | Stratfor) In the US, it is conservative groups that protest Islamic influence. Liberals here are generally allied with Islamic groups.
Strange, isn’t it? Here are others.
Far left and Far Right:
Right wing and left wing are similarly misunderstood terms that depend on the region of the world the term is applied to. “Far right” in the US is overused simply to describe people who want smaller government and lower taxes. “Far left” as used in the US appropriately is applied to those who favor bigger government, more government control, and more government intervention into personal lives that tends to resemble Communist and Socialist forms of government.
However, popular usage of “far right” in Europe is commonly but mistakenly equated with Fascism. Popular usage of the term “far left” is often equated with the Communism. This application is more accurate than is the “far right” application to fascism.
A more accurate and meaningful set of terms to address degrees of freedom than “left” or “right” is a continuum from “absolute oppression” on the left, to free wheeling freedom (aka absolute anarchy) on the right. The far left is total government control over every aspect of human existence. The far right is the total absence of any government control or rule of law.
Using this formula, the far left would include Communists, Islamists and Fascists, with Socialists close behind. Islamist is included because the government would rule via strict Sharia (Islamic) law that would pervade the entire culture. This explains why Communists, Fascists, and Islamists tend to be allies.
The far right would include extreme libertarians, skin heads, and other anarchists preferring a “law of the jungle” existence.
The far left relieves the individual of personal decisions concerning employment, shelter, and sustenance, security and defense which are assumed by the government. There is little sense of personal responsibility, initiative or motivation. There is little uncertainty or fear unless one challenges authority. Government provides. The people produce the minimum required.
The far right relieves the government of all responsibility, leaving every aspect of employment, shelter, sustenance, security and defense up to individuals. There is an overwhelming sense of personal responsibility, more likely and often based in fear and uncertainty. Personal production is stifled by the need to survive.
Of course, these are extremes of each end of the continuum. A balance between these two extremes is where the ideological and political battles rage. Personal responsibility versus government responsibility. More regulation versus less regulation. Higher taxes versus lower taxes. You name it.
But the essence of the debate is how to achieve a social environment that enables an optimum level of personal productivity, personal responsibility, and personal freedom. The farther we can escape from either the left or right extreme the more likely these goals can be achieved.
The absence of an indwelling sense of moral responsibility and common purpose tends to allow a nation of people to unglue from the balance in the middle and get sucked to the extremes like by an invisible magnetic force. Both of these value systems are shot to hell in the US. Christianity is mocked. Churches are turned into entertainment plazas. (They’re turned into mosques in Europe and soon here.) Hedonism and amorality are glorified. Out of control immigration cannot be assimilated, and poorly conceived immigration policy masks the problem. Multiculturalism degrades and destroys unity. It divides; it does not unite.
Conversely, a strong, mutually shared sense of morality and common purpose provides the underpinnings for personal responsibility that relieves the need for very much government or the need to rebel against authority. But most trends in the US appear to be headed in the opposite direction. That is why I am refraining from making any positive recommendations. Any suggestions would be so far out of the mainstream of acceptable thought that they would be considered untenable or ridiculous. I could suggest “reverse multiculturalism” or “deport all illegals” or “cease Muslim immigration” or “ban all class warfare rhetoric”, or “ban all Jeremiah Wright, Black Liberation Army types of inciting racist hate speech” and allow prayer and Bible Studies in the public schools, and promote Judeo-Christian values in the public square. But you see how far from “acceptable policy” these actions would be in our current political environment?
A strong, mutually shared sense of morality and common purpose is what our nation sorely lacks and is losing more of every day. And we are ungluing from the center toward polar opposite camps of extremes. This cannot end well.