On the Use of Labels

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Jcecil posts an interesting article of "conservative's use of language," by which he seems to aim largely at the very intemperate language Mr. Shea tends to use at his blogspot. (Direct linking not available, look for the article, "The Misuse of Language by Conservatives." The very title begs the question--then language is not misused and manipulated by "liberals"?)

I have a number of problems with the reasoning of some of the portions of these posts, as it seems that the source of the information on Africa is largely the Portland Baseline Essays on Multiculturism with their emphasis on warm "Mama Africa" and icy cold "Eurotrash." Much of what is said is simply not substantiated, nor, is it likely substantiatable. (One could point out innumerable examples of cultures in Africa, such as the Ik where what is said is patently untrue). But let me reserve those comments for another time. Something I did want to bring to notice is this:

from Jcecil3's Progressive Catholic Reflections

Look throughout Catholic blogdom and we see "heretics", "dissidents", "feminazis", "bleeding hearts", "lefties", "commies", "racist", "nazis", "bullies", "fascists", "brownshirts", "fuzzy wuzzies", "cafeteria catholics", etc...etc...all thrown about rather loosely, with little discussion of facts and little in the way of a coherent and logical argument.

I am not denouncing the use of labels in general, such as "liberal" or "conservative". This is not name calling so much as trying to locate an opinion on a spectrum. Nor do I mind an occassional playful verbal jab done in humor (I post many of the Curt Jester's playful spoofs on liberals in my humor section).

I agree wholeheartedly with the first paragraph, and have substantial disagreement with the second. I do not think labels "locate" something on a spectrum because the labels themselves are largely meaningless out of context. For example, Mr. Jcecil3 himself labels me as "conservative," but nearly everyone else I know thinks that I have rather liberal attitudes on most things. What Mr. Jcecil3 may mean by this is that among adherents to the true teaching of the church, I tend to be on the conservative side of Catholic Issues. As Catholic Teaching at root tends to be on the "liberal" side of politics (a preferential option for the poor, restricted or eliminated Death Penalty, etc.), the labels become hieroglyphics, interpretable in any number of ways. They more often than not serve as a shortcut for dismissing an opinion. Many of my friends label anything they don't care for "fundamentalist." Now that it is well and properly labelled, it can be shoved on the far side of the table and ignored.

So, I suppose I simply nuance Mr. Jcecil's noble sentiment (and I do not mean that sarcastically or sardonically). It is better to eschew a label that has no real content. In fact, it is better to simply deal with the idea at hand and not use a label that contextually may be perjorative of its very nature. Just as Mr. Shea would do better to exercise some restraint in speaking of people whose views differ from his own, we might all do well to consider that we should deal compassionately with a person and ruthlessly with an idea, without labeling the person for holding the idea.

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To the extent using a label is "trying to locate an opinion on a spectrum," it can be useful. Of course, that implies that we know what the opinion is and what the spectrum is.

When we start using labels to try to locate *people* on a spectrum, we're moving into a doubtful area, especially when the spectrum is actually multidimensional and we're only looking at one dimension. That's like saying the point (1,2) is less than 5.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 17, 2003 2:03 PM.

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