It seems important to me before any serious discussion that the words to be frequently used be given a proper meaning. Many words are overused and tend to carry meanings with them to some people but not to others. Examples I think most people reading a political blog would be familiar with are the terms “liberal” and “conservative”. In a political context, to some, “liberal” may imply, among other things, social responsibility, bringing to mind images of feeding the poor or sheltering the homeless, or a love and acceptance of all people, faults and all. To others, this same word may imply such ideas as licentiousness and approval of what they might consider unsavory or outright evil behaviors. In the same context, the word “conservative” may to some people evoke images of greed, bigotry, selfishness, and hypocritical self-righteousness, but others might hear the word and think of good old-fashioned family values and work ethic, moral rectitude, independence and self-reliance, etc.
It may be easy, especially if one has strong ties to one of these words one way or the other (as I’m sure any potential reader of a political blog does), to simply throw away any other definitions, to dismiss the other side as ignorant, blind to reality, or “just not getting the whole picture”. One must keep in mind, however, that elections are almost always very close, at least here in the USA, meaning roughly half of the people are, in fact, on the opposite side, and each side includes all types — wealthy, poor, religious, agnostic, educated, uneducated, and so forth. If so great a number of people are wholeheartedly willing to be “greedy” or “bigoted” and feel no shame at it, it may very well be possible that there is something to be said of their argument that they just believe in good old-fashioned family values — some truth to their definition of the word “conservative”. In fact, maybe (just maybe) they aren’t greedy or bigoted at all, at least not all of them, surely. On the other hand, if so many people see absolutely no moral compromise in their “permissiveness” and tolerance of “deviant” behavior, maybe there really is something to be said for social responsibility and acceptance of others just the way they are — some truth to their definition of “liberal”. Maybe (just maybe) they aren’t immoral at all.
The converse to these is also worth noting — if literally millions of people see conservatives as “greedy, hypocritical bigots”, perhaps there is some truth in that assessment. Maybe (just maybe) some or all conservatives are hypocritical to one degree or another and ought to spend some time in self-reflection. And again on the other hand, if literally millions see liberals as “immoral sinners”, perhaps there is some truth to that as well. Maybe (just maybe) some liberals condone immorality to some extent. Perhaps both liberals and conservatives may be wise to consider what their critics have to say.
Given these possibilities, I think it would be prudent to avoid casually writing off an alternate definition for a word simply because I don’t think of it that way. There will be plenty of time to debate the merits and shortcomings of liberal and conservative ideologies in the future, however; in my next posts, I want to discuss words a little more fundamental: good and evil. Without a good definition of these words, we have the potential for some serious problems.