Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Left-Right confusion promoted

In a posting on Pajama Media David Steinberg, in critiquing Judge Sotomayor, makes the claim that "leftists" are actually not charitable or empathetic. He starts the confusion by mixing nouns from different categories.

In the quote below you will note that his bullet points are "Conservatives", "Independents" and "leftist". Each item from a different set or category. "Conservative" is an ideology (in the USA). "Independent" is a political party (in the USA). "leftist" is a relative adjective that only has meaning in relationship to some fixed political position or public person's political view. See my earlier rant about the use of "leftist".

"Conservatives give more — much more — to charity, both in terms of total dollar amount and in terms of percentage of income. Conservatives also give much more of their time to volunteerism.

Independents give less and leftists give the least. This is true for both religious and non-religious causes.

But leftists believe in government redistribution as the best form of charity — that’s what leftist empathy is, correct?"

Despite the sloppiness of turning an adjective into a noun, "leftist" does not loose its relative meaning. Just what is meant by "leftist" can only be known relative to a reference point that is identified or defined. Giving Mr Steinberg the benefit of the doubt, lets take his first bullet as the reference point.

If a conservative who is charitable with his time and money is the reference then a "leftist" is anyone who is not charitable with his time and money. If this assumption is good then uncharitable people are to the "left" of this charitable conservative. I have my doubts since "left", "right" , "rightist" and "leftist" are usually used in a political context, particularly in modern "bloggism". (Oops, got sloppy myself.) The problem may not be Mr Steinberg's but the reference he has been quoting. If so, then we can only fault him for using someone else's fuzziness without challenge.

The challenge I would bring to the conclusions of his posting is based on my experience of being classified as "Liberal" (note, from same category as "conservative')precisely due my dedication of time and money on behalf of others. Most often the labelling was being done by self identified conservatives. Occasionally politically uncommitted folks offered the same labelling.

In fact I personally know some self identified liberals who, as far as I can tell, are not charitable. Likewise I know many conservatives who are charitable and some who are not. In any case, short of actual knowledge of individuals, the charitable (religious or non religious) are almost universally classified as "liberal" by strangers.

Just to put things into right-left perspective, lets remember that since the early 1990s the Democratic Party has been in the control of conservatives who are politically to the right of us charitable people who are labelled as liberal and, yes, politically to the left of Mr. Steinberg's charitable conservative.

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