I am not sure how to place the concept of cooperation in the framework.  On one hand, it appears that a truly fair and equal society would require cooperation among its constituent parts, its citizens and institutions.  But is it a necessity in fact, or is equality and fairness sufficient for the creation of a democracy?

On the other hand, it could be that cooperation is a direct result of democracy.  And this is where I feel uncertain.  I’d love to see some conversation about cooperation.   (And a concise definition of the concept would be extremely helpful here as well.)

Proposition:  Individual dignity, wealth, and sustenance derives from the surrounding environment and what it empowers and encourages one to create; that power to participate is not created by one’s self, and therefore all wealth must ultimately accrete to the community.

Corollary:  Needs of community or society must be considered before the needs of the individual.

Paradox:  A member of society owns and enjoys more equity as an individual when their considerations are subordinate to the needs of the society.   (Think Single Payer health care or any form of real insurance.)

Proposition:  Equality, or fairness, is a major foundational element of democracy.

Proposition:  Democracy is possible if a society demands fair treatment for all of its citizens.

Corollary:  Equality is a necessary requirement for democracy, although it may not be sufficient to guarantee democracy.

Corollary(?):  Democracy is virtually impossible without equality and fairness.

Axiom(?)/Proposition(?):  Public policy can aim to create more equality and democracy for the public generally, or it can aim to preserve certain privileges of only some people.

Lemma(?):  These aims exhaust the set of possible outcomes of public policy.

Corollary(?): These aims are mutually exclusive.  (Maybe not true in all cases?)

Corollary:  A policy cannot successfully accomplish both.

Axiom:  A policy of either type may succeed or fail.

Inference:  Sometimes public policy appears to target both goals, but the inherent advantage given some group by one goal must, by definition, deny equality to those outside that group.

Before I get far into this post, let me first state that the word “semantics” does not own any sort of qualitative attribute, such as many words seem to have acquired.  Semantics is simply the study of  word meanings.  To dismiss words as being “mere semantics” is an abrogation of semantics in itself, reflecting a misunderstanding of the word “semantics.”

It doesn’t seem to stop with the word “semantics,” either.  The word “government” has also acquired a negative attribute of some sort, even though the word itself only refers to one aspect of how a people living in a jurisdiction are organized politically.  I would only remark that the root, “govern,” is somewhat ominous and repugnant, as the word arises from centuries of the acceptance of the idea that people will be ruled over rather than democratically choosing how they would like to be organized.  The word “government” refers to the institution that creates and enforces laws, regardless of its outdated construction, and it is the term that I will use to describe that institution as it exists.

At any rate, the word “government” as it is used in common language does not intend to convey any negative connotation, although some choose to use it that way.   And there are many more words that have come to impart a negative quality in and of themselves, thanks to some understandable grievances that have come to be expressed through non-standard use of our language.  The word “welfare” is another one that I will point out later on.

My point to this 3-paragraph prologue is that at least some of us are in the habit of employing certain words for purposes other than which they are intended.  The terms “Left” and “Right” are often dismissed as some kind of arcane distinction that no longer matters, or are somehow divisive by their very use!   This is a ridiculous assertion if one is to only take a look at the origin of these terms.  (Researched, detailed study of the etymology of the words “left” and “right” can be found in Wikipedia and elsewhere.)

When I use Left and Right in these posts, I am only using them to describe the observations I have made of just one specific aspect of how individual persons align their economic and political expression.  If I am mistaken in my observation, let me know.  But I do think what I am observing is largely very accurate.

Among the many different tendencies of individuals, there is a subset of which are of particular interest to at least this observer of political and economic behaviors and the idiologies that drive the behaviors.  There are two tendencies among people, in particular, which are mutually exclusive.  That is, a single person cannot be a believable, credible stand for both of these positions simultaneously.  A person can either defend a system of societal inequality, or a person can promote a system of ever-increasing societal equality.  By this last sentence, I think the reader has to agree that these are exclusive positions.  If not, then please explain, in detail, in the comments how one individual can be a credible stand for both of these tendencies.

It is important for the reader to understand that this is the basis for what I see as the root of the suffering in this world.   I do not deny there may be other sources as well, but I do see the distinction between these two tendencies as the primary enabler of policies that promote widespread suffering, wherever that may be occurring.  Likewise — and as I have already stated — there are far more than just this one distinction which makes individuals unique.  But I do feel it is this one characteristic that creates the huge divisions in our society that separate people from what they deserve as human beings.

The term “Right” refers to the tendency to defend systems of inequality.  The term “Left” refers to the tendency to create increasing systems that are inherently just and humane, systems that impede the possibilities of suffering.  These terms are used only in continuation of their original distinctions that originated in the royal courts of Europe.  A monarchical system is founded on a notion of inequality that says only those of certain blood lineage and other factors are eligible to lead, and all others must beckon to the call of these persons, regardless of how unjust or inhumane their demands might be.  Democracy is the antithesis of this lop-sided system separating the powerful and the powerless.

Similarly, today’s system largely continues that tradition, although decorated and punctuated by institutions claimed to be just and democratic in design and practice.   But we easily observe that many of these institutions are quite apparently used to serve and further consolidate the power of those who are already economically and politically powerful, just like their monarchical prototypes of long ago.

Attempting to dismiss the distinction of “Left” and “Right” as innocuous, arcane, or unimportant without offering alternative terminology is to completely ignore the suffering of people on this planet.  Equality is the basis of genuine democracy, so to dismiss the distinctions that delineate the forces working for and against equality is to very likely dismiss the possibility of genuine democracy.

Now, to segue back to the reasons for my long prologue to this post.  One of the ways that some people dismiss this distinction is when they refer to it as “mere semantics.”  They are correct, actually, that it really is mere semantics; nothing can be truer.  But in their attempt to apply the word “semantics” in this manner, they are implying that the word “semantics” itself means something trite and unimportant (which it does not, of course).  This misuse deprecates the efforts of those of us who care about equality and democracy.   The problem here is, of course, that people are misusing the word “semantics,” and we should demand a more accurate understanding of the real intentions of their statements.

Dismissing this distinction is no different from how some people dismiss the term “global warming,” or even their own alternative, more euphemistic phrase “climate change.”  Claiming non-existence of an observation does not deny the reality that led to that observation.  There really are people who defend the current system of social/economic inequality as it really exists, and there really are people who promote a much different approach to human relations (along with its environmental implications).  So to claim that no such groups exist is to deny the very real phenomenon of human suffering and environmental destruction.

Then I am required, it seems, to address the possibility that just uttering this distinction is somehow divisive in my intentions and that it could be further complicating the delicate reality of human suffering; this is a claim I hear frequently.  If anyone believes that to be true, please explain how this is so.  If a scientist discovers that a virus is causing certain people to suffer and die, does that make the scientist guilty of causing further suffering and death?  If not, then how is my observation that Left and Right tendencies appear to exist in our political reality hurting our chances of resolving problem with the human condition?

The problem, according to this equivocal argument, is that Left and Right are labels, and that labels create stereotypes which lead to more social problems.   I agree that stereotypes may, in fact, help engender injustices; we see this frequently, particularly when applied to supposed criminal tendencies of our minority populations.  Hatred and bigotry are often borne of stereotypes, leading to the obvious manifestations of injustices leading to unfair penalization of individuals characterized by these stereotypes.

But stereotypes often illuminate the hypocrisy and destructiveness of bad policy.  One example is the “welfare queen,” who is claimed to be the downfall of the entire welfare system.  Because of even the possibility of one rather exceptional-sounding case of abuse, poor argumentative form leads to the alleged conclusion — which is invalid — that the entire system must be sacked, ignoring the needs of the millions who are not abusers.

The real point, though, is that labels in and of themselves do not always cause stereotypes.  For instance, I am a member of a group of people who trace their roots to a certain region of the world where intra-marriage was often necessary due to very small local populations.  They could not stray far because of social injustices related to their beliefs, and thus remained isolated.  As a result, this group often suffers from various physical and mental health problems related to the limited genetic pool resulting from marriages of, say, first cousins.  Is referring to the resulting current-day sufferers in this group a kind of labeling or stereotyping, or merely a scientific — and likely valuable — observation?

The labels “Left” and “Right” are only stipulated definitions I am using to describe two very observable and measurable distinctions among the human population.  And certainly it is true that stereotypes may and will necessarily arise as a result of the mere use of these terms in political discussion.  We might avoid some of the worst fallout from this if we keep our minds clear on the purpose of the existence of the terms “Left” and “Right” as descriptors, attributes, quantifiers for our observations of attitudes found among groups and individuals along the political spectrum.

“Left” and “Right” are just labels or semantics for real and observable distinctions in the way people express their political ideals.  They are distinct political tendencies — which I argue are mutually exclusive — and can be demonstrated to serve very different outcomes (and will, in subsequent posts here).  Moreover, they are the basis for understanding the causes of our social and economic problems, and are probably integral to discovering and implementing possible solutions.

I believe that terminology is important, that words matter, and that how we think and how we use language are infinitely intertwined.  I hear a lot of people saying that words are unimportant, and that they are all just labels.  The part that puzzles me the most is why some people think that all labels are a bad thing.

How we label or categorize things, places, and people helps us to make sense of the various issues we encounter in our lives.  Categorization helps us to identify similarities and differences, and also relationships between people and issues.  If we were only to discuss matters inside our own heads, perhaps language issues might not matter.  The trouble is, when it comes to expressing our ideas, words  do become important.

I admit that the way many concepts are framed and the terminology surrounding them can lead to more confusion than help.  In the political realm, the way language is used has lead to endless confusion and misinformation about what are actually very basic issues; most are words that ultimately affect our ability to obtain employment and enjoy a clean environment, for example.

Dismissing all terminology as being mere labels is absurd to me.  Some people may be right that we may have a tendency at times to overemphasize a particular trait or attribute of something or someone, and that might somehow obscure other more immediately relevant aspects of that thing or person.   However, I think that may stem from a lack of sufficient information to make accurate assessments of things and people, and maybe less an issue of overapplication of the terms themselves.

One example of this can be found in the way some people use terms like “socialism” and “welfare.”  Somehow, over time, the word “socialism” has become to mean, and is even equated with, ideas like authoritarianism and rigid state control of people’s lives.  But the word socialism does not derive from those ideas at all.

Instead, it has been some very unfortunate events in the history of socialism that may have tainted it.  And it has to be pointed out that this limits the concept unfairly, since the references that people use to make that equation between socialism and some form of totalitarianism rely too much on early 20th century socialism, and reflects almost nothing of other efforts, such as many of the short-lived programs of the New Deal.

Another example is the absolutely mind-numbing redefinition of the word “welfare.”  The word, according to the dictionary, derives from two obvious roots intending the meaning, essentially, of caring about how well others are getting along.  This is all that word has ever meant.  In the most modern sense of the word, welfare generally refers to government programs that help people when they are in need, such as in times of unemployment.  But to the best of my knowledge, there was never any program named “welfare” as such; there were a number of different programs — now mostly gone or reduced to insufficiency — much to the chagrin of those opposed to assisting others in their time of need as they no longer have much of a claim.  The so-called “welfare” system has been gone for nearly two decades now, ironically eviscerated by the supposed foes of these opponents!

But to many people, rightwing diatribes not based on facts or accurate understanding of public policies inevitably make their way into the minds of listeners who are lured into believing them by twisted humor, pictures, and other methods.

These go on like “Single payer health care will lead to terrible health care, just look at Canada!  It’s socialism!  It’s big brother in my medicine chest!” leveraging unfounded fear that creates hysteria among the least knowledgeable and the least politically aware.  Of course, the upcoming health “care” reform is nothing like a single payer system at all, and is actually the extreme opposite.  PPACA aims to expand our long-existing private health insurance system into an even larger sector of our economy.  Canada’s system is a true single payer system.  And despite all the hysteria the rightwing attempts to foist on the public about single payer, nations with single payer programs have less expensive health care per capita than our for-profit system.  The fact is, the unknowing are not knowing enough to check the integrity of the information they are being fed.

These examples could go on and on.  Rather than rehashing our troubles with the rightwing, I propose a different approach.  My idea is based on a concept involving 3 related aspects of human communication.  It does not dismiss the importance of words, particularly as they distinguish the nuances that could unmask the intentions of the rightwing.  We already know the danger of allowing the rightwing to control, frame, and lead the conversation about public policy.  It inevitably drives misinformation leading to decisions that are not in the best interest of the public at large.

These are the 3 aspects of communication I refer to:   (1) Clear and unmistakable definitions of words, (2) accurate statements relying on those clearly-defined words, and (3) sound argument forms.

The first aspect means that we need to choose the clearest, most obvious word usage.  Sure, there may be some arcane or lesser-known meanings of certain words, but I propose we dispense with them for the sake of clarity and ensuring no errors in transmission of MidLeft ideas and concepts.  In fact, I actually prefer to drop words altogether if they have several meanings, whether those meanings are close to each other or not.  I’d rather we find other words that are clearer, or somehow make sure we clearly stipulate the precise meaning of a term and forever be consistent with that one meaning.  Otherwise, confusion is likely to ensue.

The second aspect involves fact-checking, but more importantly, is actually a sort of language enforcement where no one in a communication is permitted to abuse word meanings.  For instance, in a conversation (or debate) over “welfare,” it would be good to make certain all participants are using the word in its most basic singular meaning.  Otherwise, there is little point in proceeding in a conversation that will not transmit a clear understanding of the topic.

I also think that sorting out what the facts actually are should be prepared prior to their application to any discussion.  Time may be needed to research the exact sources of facts.  We may need time to determine how those sources’ terminology equates to our own.  Where the differing words do not align in meaning could call out faulty information right away.  An example of this is in a discussion of government over-reach, which could be the intrusion of privacy with respect to a person’s most intimate affairs versus the imagined horror of higher federal taxes on wealthy citizens.

Finally, I think we should ensure that we are building our arguments in the best Aristotelian tradition, avoiding the usual pitfalls of the informal fallacies (such as ad hominem and overgeneralization, etc.) and not employing invalid deductive forms.  Any such violations should be called out immediately since they are toxic to the accurate extraction of truth.  And the truth may be the difference between public policy that helps or hurts us.

Keep in mind that these 3 aspects apply as much to our own discussions among the MidLeft as they do when we are attempting to rescue people’s minds from the endless barrage of disinformation put out by the rightwing.

I’d be interested in hearing other MidLefters’ reactions to what I am suggesting.

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