Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Norway and our worn out political terminology

On the events in Norway a couple of thoughts:

a)      It is generally being described as an act of terrorism, and yet seems to not quite rise to that low level.  Consider the PLO’s kidnapping of Israelis athletes at the ’72 games.  There you had a sizable group, a political objective, and an action, however despicable, with some chance of forwarding the cause.  In this case you have a political motive, but nothing else.  The political angle of this doesn’t change it into something other than mass murder.

b)       The NY Times write up describes Breivik as a “right wing fundamentalist Christian” and a “gun lover.”  No doubt there were Times readers who would use that trifecta of “errors” to describe conservatives and were left wondering when our own right wingers would go off.  This is of course nonsense, and another example of the muddle that results from our standard political terminology.  In truth it is almost impossible to speak of politics in any short hand way without using terms like left wing, right wing, liberal, conservative.  But the thought under those terms have undergone so many changes and the historical associations are so numerous and varied as to make them virtually meaningless.

For example in the current debt ceiling negotiations we have one side intent on keeping all current programs in their existing form and the other trying to reduce some of these programs with the intention of maintaining or increase the liberty of individuals.  A person familiar with the historical and philosophical roots would conclude that the former are the conservatives, the latter the liberals, and they would be quite wrong.   Sadly donkey and elephant symbols now work as well or better than our political terminology as they have the advantage of not leading us into making invalid associations of the kind that right wing and fundamentalist Christian invite. 

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