Words Like Sieves: Freedom, Relativism and How Everything can be AnythingSubmitted by andysavestheday on Fri, 12/28/2012 - 23:04
I've been a looong time silent reader. I've decided to start posting stuff to get feedback and gain some confidence and push myself to actually finish things.
Super long first post about relativism and the abuse of words and definitions, specifically Freedom. Enjoy!
Words Like Sieves:
Grand words like ‘hope,’ ‘change’ and ‘forward,’ as well as phrases such as ‘believe in America’ or ‘restore America now,’ can and often do hide a dirty trick beneath their simplicity and trappings of red, white and blue.
Whomever is using the vague slogan does not have to clearly define the meaning behind the slogan or what exactly the slogan is referring to; one voter could ‘hope’ for the legalization of gay marriage while understanding that entitlement spending cannot continue to grow, and another voter can ‘hope’ for the unemployment check cutoff to be extended while harboring a strong distaste for ‘gay marriage,’ and yet because they both ‘hope’ for something, they are drawn to the candidate that promises them ‘hope’ if he is elected. And in 2008 so many people, even those ‘hoping’ for a ‘change’ from eight years of war and bailouts and other junk, voted for a guy that either blatantly lied or just never made it clear that he wanted more war, more bailouts and more junk. Perhaps ‘change’ meant something different to the president then and he just let his voters attach meaning to the word so that he himself did not have to define what his true meaning was.
And so votes are cast, not based upon facts about the stance or ideology of the candidate, but based instead upon relativistic, personal feelings projected onto something as simple as a single word by some over-stimulated citizen that only cares about one or two hot-button issues.
This disturbing trend is spreading beyond campaign slogans and infecting the definitions of other grand words like 'rich,' or 'good,' or 'freedom,' so that the potential vagueness of these words becomes an opportunity for someone to fundamentally change what they mean to a segment of society.
Some people think ‘rich’ means someone that makes $250,000.00 a year; for others it is $1,000,000.00 a year; and to most of the world ‘rich’ means living in a house and eating food every day.
It’s all relative. And that’s the problem that is being exploited.
Relativism will destroy the foundations of all that we know if we do not learn to notice it and correct it. Relativism is often applied to morals, but I’m talking about the relativism of something as common (but important) as our words.
It is an ominous sign when the meanings of words change not in the dictionary but in the way that individuals and society understand them, define them or react to them.
Call it whatever you want, but this ‘catch all’ technique of using relativism and vagueness to attract ‘like minded’ people is a sign that people are growing dumber, distracted and are able to be conditioned. Mention the word ‘assault weapon’ or ‘school shooting’ to a parent 20 years ago and they would shrug; mention those same words a few weeks ago and most would begin to weep like Pavlov’s dog would begin to drool at the sound of a bell. I digress…
Our foundations of understanding are crumbling and no Constitution or Bill of Rights or charming Liberty candidate is going to matter if there is no consensus and no objectivity: there will be no solid ground to stand on.
If you aren’t familiar with the technique, or don’t believe in the success of such a strategy, it is most easily seen in the Presidential election cycles of 2008 and 2012, utilized by both sides.
Mitt Romney asked if Republicans would ‘believe in America’ by voting for him. But Mitt Romney never clearly stated what kind of America he was referring to – he simply sought the vote of anyone that believed in America. How many different America’s can over 300 million people believe in? It didn’t really matter if the voter believed in an America with armed guards patrolling the streets to combat terrorists, or an America with government-sponsored healthcare so long as it wasn’t named after the ‘other guy,’ or even an America where the government got smaller or bigger: the creator of the slogan just hoped that by stoking patriotic fires those voters would make up their own definition of America, believe in it, and then buy into the other vague, bland ideas like ‘job creation.'
If you pay close attention to words you can sense that many people have grown accustomed to only using words that provide them with definitional wiggle room so that they can speak while simultaneously saying different things to different people.
When you factor in the gullibility and attention span of the average citizen and couple that with the propaganda and disinformation from the media, it becomes a great strategy to campaign on vague words or phrases: instead of narrowing the base with exclusive things like ideology, facts and plans, the base can be expanded if the message remains vague enough because it allows things like stereotypes (all union members must vote D), propaganda (the other guy is too rich and being too rich is bad…is bad…is bad), and disinformation (the other guy is a felon!) to swallow up millions of fools into a pool of inclusive, collectivist muck where everyone doesn’t actually think the same way or believe the same things, but at least they can all rally around the common feelings they share.
Clarifying Freedom: A Necessary Challenge
And so that brings us to Freedom: Webster defines freedom a specific way, you define freedom a specific way, I define it a specific way, George Washington defined it a specific way, Thomas Jefferson defined it a specific way, Grover Cleveland defined it a specific way, John Kerry defines it a specific way, my Liberal friend defines it a specific way, and so does everyone else: if we could somehow count them all how many different versions of freedom would that amount to?
Ideally Freedom could be whittled down to a consensus and we could all agree on what exactly Freedom is; that means that even if the consensus doesn’t match what John Kerry thinks it should be, the consensus is what Freedom is, and what John Kerry thinks doesn’t change that.
The problem we face today is that whatever anyone thinks something is seems to change the very definition of what it actually is. My Liberal friend would define Freedom differently than I would and even if we went to the dictionary for consensus, Freedom would still mean something different to him.
Consensus, an objective and clear definition of what Freedom is (and thus what it is not), is what we need.
With an objective definition of Freedom we can live in relative peace despite our disagreements – the Founders understood this. Freedoms defined in the Founding documents were clear, precise and limited. There were no restrictions on plants, or food, or sexual preference, or any other personal choice that an individual could make . Rather than list a million and one Freedoms for people to have, the Freedoms defined in the Founding documents were foundational Freedoms that, when left untampered with, naturally resulted in a million and more Freedoms for the individual.
A rule of law, again a consensus, was established to keep so much Freedom from coming unraveled into chaos and anarchy. Laws did not violate an individual's Freedom, rather the laws kept individuals from violating another individual’s own Freedom.
The restraints were not placed upon the individual, rather the limitations were placed on all the things that could limit an individual’s Freedom: things like government, violence, religious institutions, lying, cheating, stealing and the like.
Today we've turned this foundational idea of Freedom around entirely; our world has been and is redefining Freedom to mean something different: for many Freedom has come to mean that anyone can do whatever the Hell they want to, law and order be damned. It has become inconsequential whether an action or a law violates someone else’s Freedom via violence, theft, trickery or force.
Government seems to be very agreeable with this twisted version of Freedom: it is a thing to be regulated and a controlling force to yield against others. Freedom has become slavery. Freedom has become a racehorse in a stable, tightly constricted and always watched.
Freedom has been redefined as the villain of our day despite it being the lone hero we should rely upon to save the day. The individuals that violate the Freedom of others are the true villains, but the new fluctuating definition of Freedom has also shed the old part about 'self-responsibility,' so rather than blaming murderers, guns are blamed. Tax cheats and their own greed aren't to blame for theft and fraud, it was the lack of government regulation and oversight that made them do it!
The relativistic, make it whatever you want, imposter of Freedom we see today has shifted the blame onto Freedom itself and because those that have violated Freedom are not held responsible for their evil actions, Freedom itself has become the enemy.
Freedom, once a thing cherished, is now a thing derided as the ‘cause of all our problems.’ Few seem to understand that when Freedom is not properly defined or followed, this causes violations of Freedom. To combat these perversions of Freedom, Freedom is erroneously limited as a means to ‘preserve’ Freedom.
It’s a messy predicament.
The path we tread will either lead society through the above repeating circle of 'everyone have Freedom, someone violate Freedom, everyone loose Freedom' until there is no Freedom left to loose, or Freedom will gain a new meaning (which it rapidly is) such as ‘being safe’ or ‘everyone having a fair amount’ and society will truly forget what Freedom is.
Rather than take this opportunity to present my definition of Freedom (which likely matches yours, more or less) and argue that my definition is somehow best or right, I’d like to refer you to the Founding Fathers, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, because I believe their definition is a good starting point. And we need a solid consensus.
Coming to a consensus about what Freedom is will be a hard task. Being as broad and precise as possible is key.
I think the Founders were successful in part because in a relatively small population with a small government (or no government) a quibble over something foundational wouldn’t be that difficult to solve; after all, the Founders solved such quibbles over ideologies and definitions and came to a damn good consensus eventually.
But accomplishing such a task in a nation of over 300 million people full of countless ideas, beliefs and influences seems daunting; one word can come to mean almost anything today as everyone attaches their own meaning. Suddenly coming to a consensus on something as vital and foundational as Freedom seems practically impossible. The presence of a centralized Federal government Hell bent on political correctness, uniformity, fairness and control makes it impossible to do on a national scale.
Before we start big, we must start small and do as the Founders did when they defined Freedom and then laid claim to it as their own. They painted a very broad but precise definition and by doing so did their best to make it available for future generations to preserve as time passed.
Freedom should be the one thing that we can all agree upon. We must forget political party – it is truly us vs. them – and we the people must unite again around such foundational bastions as Freedom and Liberty.
As Freedom begins to splinter and mean such vastly different things to different people, the foundation of what Freedom truly is will be gone.
If we can’t come to a consensus about the definition of what Freedom is then we will never convince others and all will give way to Tyranny.
If we ever wish to regain the Freedoms we have lost (Freedoms the Founding Fathers claimed as their own) or even wish to merely retain a tight hold on the Freedoms we currently have, we need to either stand firm on the definition of Freedom provided us long ago by our Founders (it worked!) or work diligently to shape the new definition of Freedom being created today in a way that closely mirrors the Freedom of old.
As a Liberty community we must agree upon a specific definition for things such as Freedom and Liberty and what they mean in today’s world so that we can do our best to help people understand exactly what we mean whenever we demand the preservation of the Freedom we all claim as our own.