Love me, I'm a liberal, er, progressive, er, radical, er …
Labels, particularly political labels, can be quite misleading, especially when they’re applied by someone eager to trash someone else. Sadly, the corporate right-wing slime machine has quite successfully used the human tendency to label ourselves against us. Check out the damage from toxic assaults on “liberal,” for instance. Or “far leftist,” a term broadly applied as a smear to people whom actual far leftists don’t think come close to what that label supposedly describes.
Some people think the whole concept of political labeling is ridiculous, and would never apply one to themselves, much less permit one to be applied to them by their enemies. I understand and sympathize. Our labels aren’t ourselves.
But while labels shouldn’t matter, shouldn’t be needed, our species seems determined to apply them, no matter how accurate, on others and ourselves. But what is really gained from descriptions like “centrist,” “liberal,” “progressive” or “radical”? Shouldn’t I’m not a fascist nutcase be enough?
Ideological map for questionnaire at The Political Compass.
Apparently not in most minds.
Trouble is that sussing out the appropriate label to identify where people stand on the political spectrum is slippery business. When you dig down into the roots, my personal political philosophy stems from my belief every living thing is sacred in a secular way. And one-word labels, like “moderate” or “liberal,” or “leftist,” just don’t cut it to describe that. Most people I know who willingly label themselves politically are hyphenates, usually multiple hyphenates, and even those qualifiers don’t fully explain where they stand even when they constitute a mouthful like “tree-hugging-anti-imperialist liberal-feminist.”
A serious obstacle to anything close to effective political labeling is the changed meaning of the words being chosen. “Liberal,” “progressive,” “radical,” and “conservative” all have different meanings than they had 100, 50, or even 40 years ago. For instance, many 1960s activists felt “liberal” was tainted, and not a good label to choose to describe ourselves, as partially explained by this 52-year-old ballad written by Phil Ochs (sadly including a slur against lesbians). The fact that “Cold War liberals” were some of the most prominent supporters of the Vietnam War tainted the word even more.