My working titles for this post were “Defying Labels” and then “Denying Political Labels.” Later, I realized that defying or denying labels gives too much value to labels. I came up with “Deflecting Political Labels” – an action which seems much more important and essential.
Political labels and phrases to indicate postions – or perceived positions – in American life are ubiqitous.
Here’s a roll call, just off the top of my head: “on the left”; “the left”; “left wing”; “left-leaning think tank”; “liberal”; “progressive”; “Democrat”; “Democratic Party”; “Blue Dog Democrat”; “on the right”; “the right”; “right-leaning think tank”; “Libertarian”; “conservative”; “neo-conservative”; “Republican”; “log cabin Republican”; “Tea Party”; and “Tea Party activist.” The latter two are the most recent additions to this lexicon of polarization. New versions of these terms (e.g., “the Democrat Party”) are created to denigrate politicians and public personalities.
There are iterations and combinations of the above terms such as “Liberal Democrats” and “Social Democrats” (e.g.) in coalition governments in European countries.
Further afield – and around the world – we have “Fascist”; “Neo-Fascist”; “Communist”; and “Socialist.” In the first decade after World War II, the word “Communist” was used heavily in the United States.
In the U.S. today and recently, there has been a resurgence of the use of the words “Socialist” and “Socialism.”
Political labels are used to classify, pigeonhole, simplify, and then dismiss and discredit positions taken by politicians and other people. Normally, simplication is good; however, trying to simplify a political position tends to lead to a simplistic label.
All political labels divide us and polarize us. Ultimately – and perhaps most importantly – political labels will not save us.
“They came first for the Communists, / and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. /
Then they came for the trade unionists, / and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. /
Then they came for the Jews, / and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. /
Then they came for me / and by that time no one was left to speak up.” ~ Martin Niemoller (January 14, 1892 to March 6, 1984)
[Statement made before a Confessing Church in Frankfort, West Germany on January 6, 1946. Wikipedia. Source for quote my personal knowledge, verified through use of Wikipedia].
Martin Niemoller was a German Pastor who was imprisoned by the Nazis. He narrowly escaped execution. After the war, he expressed his deep regrets that he hadn’t done more to help those the Nazis persecuted and murdered. [Dates and biographical information from Wikipedia, accessed August 11, 2010].
In the United States at the present time we are in a period of deep polarization. However, what we need – more than ever – is less polarization. We need a return to civility in discourse and debate.
In his book Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the World is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings (2005), Rob Brezsny writes about the “Four Dignities of the Warrior’s Path” (from Tibetan Buddhism) on page 159.
“The fourth dignity is inscrutability, or a skill at evading the pigeonholes and simplistic definitions that might limit the warrior’s inventiveness while fighting for his or her moral vision.”
Denying No, not denying – deflecting! Deflecting political labels is essential!