Specifying labels

“Left” and “Right” and their synonyms are recognized as labels, or names with some unspecified but glaring inadequacy. To specify:

1.) They’re relative. In their likeness to the left and right of position, the meaning of the one is bound up with its opposition to another. But it’s a strange sort of opposition since neither side thinks the other is unjust. Part of the distinction is acknowledging the reasonable limits of disagreement. That’s just the puzzle, though. Why such strong opposition? Why the sense that one’s identity is tied up with nothing more than one side of the reasonable limits of disagreement? The relation, however, wouldn’t be so bad were it not also the case that…

2.) They’re highly variable. Not all relative terms are variable, but all senses of Left and Right are. Today’s Left is tomorrow’s fascism, today’s Right is tomorrow’s progressive vanguard. One and the same action gets rebranded as different beliefs. All this would be bad enough even before…

3.) They get applied willy-nilly to everything. So there is a (conservative or liberal) parish, country club, grade school, homosexual organization, recruiting policy, approach to blitzing… and this is before we get to anything directly political like health care, warfare, welfare, prison policy…

In general, the terms are a case study in the worst elements of the demos: the muddled thought mixed with volatile passion, the historically limited field of view, the indiscriminate and breezy binary universal classifications, etc.


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