January 2005


The terms bandied about in political debate in the US have become useless because they have been so misused. Liberal is a good case in point. It is most typically used to slander someone, which is a use completely foreign to its meaning.

I am extremely sick and tired of people hijacking perfectly useful terms, killing them, and making them meaningless by using them wrongly. I am especially mad about this when the process is accomplished with malice aforethought. The best (or worst) example of this kind of motivated murder is the assassination of the term "liberal."


The diagram above describes the typical "left/right" political spectrum. In the middle, where most people are, we find centrist opinions. Among these centrist opinions are two essentially similar groups: liberals and conservatives. Both groups believe that most things are fine left just the way they are. Liberals believe that there are some changes needed to make the existing near perfection even more perfect. Conservatives believe that changing a good working system is just asking for trouble. As one moves out from the middle and arrives at what is sometimes called "ultra-liberal" or "ultra-conservative" then you find more people in both groups who are advocating change. "Ultra-liberals" tend to see major problems, needing major changes, but they usually see these problems as mistakes or oversights -- there is nothing wrong with the basic system and methods, they just need some fine-tuning. "Ultra-conservatives" tend to see major problems, needing major changes, but they usually see these problems as the result of bad fixes that should never have been made -- there is nothing wrong with the system or methods, except that we have to go back to the original design because the attempted fixes just made things worse.

If you are right of center, and someone else is right of center, but to the left of you, you probably call them liberal, though they may be called conservative by anyone to their left.

Liberals tend to be forward thinkers, while conservatives tend to be backward thinkers. Forward thinkers see progress and advancement in the story of mankind's achievements. They look forward to a new and better day when we can extend the benefits of human ingenuity and accomplishment to one and all. Backward thinkers see the world as going to hell in a handcart and look back on the "good old days" as having been better in most important respects. They would like to return to a former time when it was possible to make a better (richer safer, simpler) life for themselves and their families. Young people have traditionally been more forward thinking, largely because they haven't got anything very nostalgic to look back on yet. The opposite tends to be true of older people. The world, as remembered from fifty or sixty years ago, looks pretty good to most folks, and turning back the clock can become appealing.

But neither Liberals nor conservatives are champions of real and meaningful change. Their interest and allegiance is to the status quo. Most real people are both liberal and conservative, it just depends which issue you're debating. When a society and an economy works (or is perceived to work well) most folks are centrists.

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