My New Year’s Resolution? Ditch Labels As Much as Possible.

Yet another hiatus broken. 🙂

 

Here’s something that likely applies to anyone who comes to hold well-defined views: We start off broad and less than certain, yet over time we begin to narrow our views down to an overall perspective that’s more rigid. From that point on it’s only a matter of filling in the cracks, or making up our minds about subtle nuances that are pretty trivial compared to what we think as a whole.

 

Okay so that’s probably not the best way to word it but you get the idea. In my case, my political orientation went from a kind of weak neoconservatism (I didn’t even know half the issues listed on many popular Nolan Chart quizzes existed) towards full fiscal and social conservatism – that was after I learned what the terms “capitalism” or “free market” even meant. Then over time, I slowly began to realize that conservatives were simply dead wrong to try and centrally plan moral values, engage in foreign adventurism, or endanger various civil liberties in an effort to fight “terrorism.”

 

By then, I noticed that I was scoring in the upper quadrant of two major Nolan Chart quizzes. You can clearly see from the image below that the label “conservative” no longer applied to me at that point:

 

Nolan Chart

Probably the best illustration of how the major political persuasions relate to one another.

 

So there I was in the summer of 2008, suddenly realizing what the hoopla over Ron Paul was all about and suddenly becoming fascinated by the Bob Barr campaign. I was a full-blown Libertarian of the Stossel variety – more or less. As a general rule of thumb, I felt that the market was able to provide many goods and services more effectively than government could ever dream of. I also was in favor of scrapping pretty much all victimless crime laws, and wanted the military to focus entirely on defending our borders – nothing more.

 

Yet even this took a turn within a few months. After spending more time surfing the net and coming across arguments in favor of “Anarcho-Capitalism” (or Market Anarchy, Voluntarism, etc), I started to consider the possibility that maybe all “necessary” functions of government could be provided on a profit/loss basis rather than a compulsory one based on your zip code. Yes, that included police, courts, and thus law as a whole.

 

Since that time in late 2008, my views haven’t really changed much. I’ve become more confident over time that they have merit and continue to feel more confident about how to articulate them. But small details within that framework continue to be worked out every day. In particular, I’ve had a hard time deciding how to label myself. On a casual basis, I just tell people my views happen to fall under the Libertarian camp of thought. And I no longer feel a need to be up front about labeling myself at all if I can help it.

 

I could go on for several paragraphs with examples of why I take this approach now, but just a few will suffice. Have you ever seen a profile page or description of someone who had views you strongly disagreed with? Maybe you just saw the ideological label(s) they adopted and immediately attributed all the most negative things about that political camp to that individual. You know, “them is fighting words.” If anything, whatever exchanges you ended up having with them would’ve gone a lot more smoothly if you were forced to find out for yourself what they actually thought about the biggest political issues of our time rather than projecting your own prejudices on them.

 

That sums up the biggest drawback of political labels – they can often do more to mislead and shut down discussions before they can really take place. Take a look at the image below:

 

Pew Political Polarization

Pew’s questions may be imperfect, but it gets the basic point right about growing ideological disparity.

 

Considering that I don’t fall under either camp mentioned in that pic, and that people who do will assume I do as well, making it harder for them to jump to conclusions about me seems like a pretty good idea. And what better way to do that than to just avoid labels altogether? Well, labels obviously aren’t useless. But when people associate things with labels that discourage them from wanting to hear you out, what’s the point? Why not force them to have to ask you questions before they can even begin to make bogus accusations about how you’re a bad person for not having the same views they do? For me, that meant changing my Twitter description to begin with, “Let’s discuss policy issues and see where we agree” a couple months ago.

 

What about terms like “feminist?” Do we go by what the dictionary says or do we look at what is commonly characteristic of people who actually apply that label to themselves? I would think the latter gives you a better idea of what someone truly stands for. And it’s that process that encourages two people who label themselves entirely different things to actually find where they are similar.

 

This issue goes beyond political labels. What about economic systems? Capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism, social democracy, anarchy, etc. With labels, most people accuse everyone else of having bad or stupid intentions rather than explain in clear concrete terms why their preferred system does or would deliver better results. Folks, this is an area where you can raise the level of discourse in no time simply by ditching labels, and explain how resources are to be allocated and why. If you rely on a lot of tautologies to defend your preferred political/economic system, then having to explain how it actually works without giving it any kind of label will expose your flawed reasoning in no time.

 

So now that 2015 is about to kick in, I’m going to take it upon myself to focus more on individual policy issues and the principles behind them before I mention a word about what my views are as a whole. I’m doing both myself and any potential critics a massive favor by doing so.