Friday, May 8, 2009

I'm a Liberal (again)

So the other day, when describing myself as liberal, Papillon said that it's funny I should use that word because it's a word that religious people use and since I'm not religious, why should I use it. Well, in short, for lack of a better word. Also, it is a relative and comparative term. But can I use that term without it being relative? Can I just say "I'm liberal" without defining conservative? Let's see what the dictionaries have to say:

New Webster's Dictionary
a. Generously ample; profuse; favorable to reform or progress; not too literal or strict; free.--n. One who advocates great political freedom

Merriam-Webster's Online
1 a: of, relating to, or based on the liberal arts b archaic : of or befitting a man of free birth
2 a: marked by generosity : openhanded b: given or provided in a generous and openhanded way c: ample, full
3obsolete : lacking moral restraint : licentious
4: not literal or strict : loose
5: broad-minded ; especially : not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms
6 a: of, favoring, or based upon the principles of liberalism

*note that the 3rd defnition and the only seemingly negative one is labeled as obsolete. hmmmmm

See also:'s much too long definition

So, yeah, so far so good, right? Would anyone say that they are opposed to reform or progress if pressed on the issue? "Oh, yeah, we could stand for a little change here or there." But we will bother to make the change? Will we stand up for the change? Here's one that I found fascinating when Googling "what it means to be liberal". It's the Wikipedia entry for a History of the term "liberal" . Just some pieces of this article:

...a long history in the English language with the meanings of "befitting free men, noble, generous"...

The first English language use to mean "tending in favor of freedom and democracy," according to the OED, dates from about 1801 and comes from the French libéral,...

Classical liberalism is an ideology that includes limited state intervention of macroeconomic infrastructure. Classical liberals such as Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin supported state intervention of infrastructure.

Now, I don't know about you but I have no problem being free, noble, or generous. Nor would I be upset if someone accused me of being like Thomas Jefferson. That guy was fucking awesome.

But so far we've been rather vague, using generalities that would be tough to nail down. Do liberals have any tenets, credos, etc.? Well I think spiderleaf over at Daily Kos did a pretty good job. I'll grant that this post is a little old--oh teh internetz don't forget--but that doesn't make it any less useful(funny how I considered something from 2005 "old"). Here are a few points from the post What it means to be a liberal:

I believe all people were created equal and deserve equal protection under the law.

I believe every person has the right to knowledge (i.e. a good education)

I believe we have a duty to protect the less powerful among us.

I believe in freedom of speech and expression, no matter how painful.

Again, I almost defy anyone to argue with any type of strong position against one of these. I think we liberals are getting very tired of being vilified because of our oppositions. We're trying to take stands here. Stands that we view as being vital and crucial to the better-working of the society in which we've found ourselves. We have open minds about a great number of things and find ourselves willing to consider but we have to draw lines somewhere. Like, for instance, here, in the sand. Liberals were the ones who opposed hanging witches, the buying and selling of human beings, taxation without representation, absolute monarchies, genocides, making people sit on different sides of the diner based on their skin colour, limiting an individual's right to practice her religion(or non-religion), telling a woman her "role" in the household, and burning books. Anything else you'd like to add?

Another article I found, also titled What it means to be a liberal, by Geoffrey R Stone makes a list of the ten things that many liberals will probably agree with. He prefaces by saying that "not all liberals embrace all of these propositions, and many conservatives embrace at least some of them." Mr. Stone, perhaps conservatives who find themselves agreeing with a majority of these should rethink the label they give themselves. Again, it seems that the word liberal has been given a negative connotation for quite sometime now and it's about damn time that liberals stand up and say "Enough!"

Now an argument, perhaps, would be to say that liberals are taking a stand of moral superiority with an arrogant attitude about the whole thing. To that I would reply yes. Seriously, what's the point in arguing your side if you think it's an inferior position to begin with? This is the reason that people get into arguments: each thinks s/he is right. Which is fine but then we have to get down to the basics and bases of our positions. The whole debate on torture that's raging across the information superhighway is a very good example. Some people think it's okay and some don't. And of course, those that don't get very adamant about it:

He says "It's wrong. That's it.----It doesn't matter. We don't do it."

And I say "Preach it, Brother!"

Ahem, sorry, I didn't mean to get off on a rant. But you can see how it evolves now, right? It's funny how this liberal POV tends to make liberals seem as if they're attacking when I think the word 'attack' carries such a violent feeling with it. How about pointing out? Drawing attention to? Disagreeing with?

Remember our initial question? Can the adjective 'liberal' be used without being a relative and comparative term? *sigh* No, it seems. How can you advocate progress or reform if there is nothing to progress from? So are we, as liberals, okay with that? Since I'm forced to be relative we should touch on the other terms. The ones we're comparing/contrasting. Okay, check this shit out. It's Merriam-Webster's Thesaurus entry for the Near Antonyms and Antonyms of the word 'liberal':

Near Antonyms hard, rigid, strict; doctrinal, dogmatic; bigoted, intolerant, narrow-minded; reactionary
Antonyms conservative, conventional, nonprogressive, old-fashioned, orthodox, traditional

OUCH! Seriously, someone wants to be the opposite of liberal?

Post Script-Papi, this is not meant as an argument. Merely a clarification. :)
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