Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Daniel Klein's Semantic Efforts

Daniel Klein is really trying to reclaim the word "liberal"

Back in the day "liberal" used to mean "freedom".  Now it means "government".  So if a random person says that they are a liberal...then chances are pretty good that they support a large amount of government intervention.

On the one hand, I'm glad that Klein is looking at the relationship between words and freedom.  On the other hand, I'm not sure if his course of action is correct.

One of my pet peeves is when somebody says that they are a libertarian when they are actually an anarcho-capitalist.

Xero: What are you?
Bob: I'm a libertarian.
Xero: So you believe that congress is partially omniscient?
Bob: No
Xero: So you're an anarcho-capitalist?
Bob: Yes
Xero: Why didn't you say that to begin with?
Bob: Because I'm an idiot
Xero: That's true

Here's what the discussion would look like if Bob was slightly more intelligent...

Xero: What are you?
Bob: I'm an anarcho-capitalist.
Xero: What's the demand for coercion?
Bob: I don't know
Xero: Shouldn't you figure that out beforehand?
Bob: Well...

Here's what the discussion would look like if Bob was really intelligent...

Xero: What are you?
Bob: I'm a pragmatarian.
Xero: Me too!  Hi-5!

What is a pragmatarian?  It's a person who believes that people should be free to choose where their taxes go.  What if, rather than choosing this new label for this meaning, I had simply lumped it under the label "libertarian"?  This would have muddied the waters even more.  That would have been a mistake...given that the goal is clarity...
One doesn't need to be Thomas Gradgrind to be interested in the rules underlying the English language, or to believe that good communication and understanding depend on clarity.  Grammar is not just about learning sentence construction: it's about speaking clearly and plainly and cutting through obfustication. But even aside from that, and most importantly of all, good grammar will help you get laid. - Hadley Freeman, Humanity's future depends upon good grammar
Would it really increase clarity if anarcho-capitalists were to start referring to themselves as "liberals"?  I don't think so...

Xero: What are you?
Bob: I'm a liberal.
Xero: So you believe that congress is omniscient?
Bob: No
Xero: So you believe that congress is partially omniscient?
Bob: No
Xero: So you're an anarcho-capitalist?
Bob: Yes
Xero: Why didn't you say that to begin with?
Bob: Because I'm an idiot
Xero: That's true

We might as well play charades, draw hieroglyphics and have wife-swapping parties every time we need a new blanket.

Right now I'm really comfortable using the word "liberal" to refer to people who think the solution is more government...

The thing is though...there's always room for improvement.  For example, I created the word "chanidget".  A chanidget is a person who believes that nations prosper because of, rather than despite, governments.  What's the difference between a liberal and a chanidget?  Are there any liberals who believe that nations prosper despite, rather than because of, governments?  I don't think so.  So perhaps the word "liberal" and "chanidget" are mostly synonymous.  In the above picture I could have written, "Would Crucifying Chanidgets Stimulate The Economy?"

So if Klein wants people to stop using "liberal" to mean X...then perhaps he should give them other labels for X.  Maybe he could offer them "chanidget" instead.  Or maybe he could create some better words.  

If you're not happy because consumers are using a certain product...then you can boycott it or even try to have it banned.  But you can also engage in ethical builderism.  A knocker (liberal) will endeavor to remove a crappy option from the table while a builder will endeavor to put a better option on the table.  Builders are the source of progress.

The bottom line is that Daniel Klein should engage in semantic builderism.  He should create better words that will help clarify the value of freedom.  If he would like feedback on his new words...then he can share them on Reddit... Linvoid.

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