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 The word “government” refers to the institution that creates and enforces laws, regardless of its outdated construction, and it is the term that I will use to describe that institution as it exists.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.