Against the rectification of names of the enemy

Since the beginning of this weblog, a particular tick that is common to humans emerges over and over. A tick that is seductive, inevitable, and which I periodically react negatively to (and surely do engage in). That tick is the one where peculiar or exotic terms, or common terms in specific senses, are deployed to demarcate ingroup vs. outgroup.

This is clearly illustrated by example. Libertarians will often call non-libertarians statists. In some ways, this is a defensible term descriptively. But statists never call themselves statists, and often are confused what that even means. Really the term “statist” is just a way you can tell other libertarians that this person is not of the tribe. It’s not about communicating with the statist in question. It’s about labeling them…a witch!

Another example is ally. This is a banal and general word, but on the cultural Left it’s become transformed into a very specific thing. If you are a white male, you are by constitution an oppressor with privilege, so you must by necessity aim toward being an ally. Ally here means those with privilege joining the struggle against oppression and the liberation of marginalized people.

Almost all of the above terms are pretty standard English words, but bundled together into that paragraph you know the perspective and Weltanschauung it’s expressing.

In the United States those who oppose the right to an abortion because they think the fetus is a person define themselves as pro-life.  Those who support the right to an abortion define themselves as pro-choice. Pro-choice people sometimes call pro-life people anti-choice, while pro-life people call pro-choice people pro-abortion. The terms themselves are not important as descriptions. Rather, they’re about tribal mobilization.

On occasion, I’ve seen the term TERF, for trans-exclusionary feminist. The people who are called TERFs never call themselves TERFs. Often people who are denounced as TERFs don’t see to be TERFs at all.

When someone brings up the term “civic nationalism,” I’m usually pretty sure that that person is probably a white nationalist, because that’s a term that they seem to use a lot (to describe non-racial nationalists). People who are civic nationalists don’t describe themselves as such in normal conversations.

Because my views are generally more conservative than liberal people on the Right often believe that I am aware of all the tribal divisions and lexical nuances deployed by conservatives today. Or, more honestly people who spend a lot of time reading and discussing politics online with the tribe. I have finite time, I don’t really really track of all the new fashionable terms. Political philosophy and history interest me, but the contemporary ephemera, not so much. One of the most irritating aspects of “Neoreaction” was that they had all those terms which made no sense to outsiders without a glossary.

This sort of behavior makes sense ingroup. But when you start spouting off in public forums with new-fangled vocabulary accessible to the initiates you exclude them. Which is fine, but you also make it clear you just want to hear yourself talk.

Though sometimes scientists are guilty of this sort thing, by and large the utilization of words in a peculiar context has a precise meaning which is clear and distinct. For example, the term heritable. Transformed into heritability, it is the proportion of variance in the phenotype explained by variance in the genotype. Now could say “the proportion of variance in the phenotype explained by variance in the genotype” every time, but it’s usually easier just to say “heritability.”

I’ve made it pretty clear I take a dim view of the prospects for this liberal democracy of ours over the next generation or so. A day shall come when you stand with the Frost Giants or you stand with the Aesir. There’s really no avoiding a choice. I would recommend on that day pick you pick the strongest side, not who you think is the right side. Power is truth, truth is not power.

But this day is not that day. Until then there is still time to listen and cultivate one’s mind. Let’s dispense with bleeding private language into public. It’s just unseemly.

23 thoughts on “Against the rectification of names of the enemy

  1. I would recommend on that day pick you pick the strongest side, not who you think is the right side.

    Let Thomas Paine answer: “Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man.”

    By the way, I call myself a civic nationalist – I think it’s an accurate description of my ideal. And I am no white nationalist… obviously.

  2. And yet Thomas Paine, Diest, devoted much of his first great tract arguing that Christianity demanded he and his readers abandon their king.

    He’s not exactly the man I go to for advice on when or when not to ‘whore one’s soul.’

  3. That tick is the one where peculiar or exotic terms, or common terms in specific senses, are deployed to demarcate ingroup vs. outgroup.

    The problem with definition of terms these days is so bad that we don’t even need to find exotic and peculiar terms. One can easily find arguments regarding whatever adversary of America’s threat to “democracy” and “liberty”, terms that are banal by this point. Applying the term “liberal democracy” apparently truly can convince people that there’s a lot in common between India, Japan, and America! At this point it is almost as dumb as some conservative thinkers trying to apply modern “democracy” to Athenian “democracy” simply because the terms are the same as if there’s anything in common between a slave economy and our modern economy.

    Personally I think all of this is inevitable. If we are to believe Scott Atran’s argument that all morality are fundamentally absurd, then obviously the words used to describe morality must also be absurd from a logical point of view.

  4. What do you foresee? Complete takeover by SJW left and suppression of alternative cultures or fracturing into various political tribes that each practice intolerance?

  5. What do you foresee? Complete takeover by SJW left and suppression of alternative cultures or fracturing into various political tribes that each practice intolerance?

    major shift left politically in 2018. that will push culture to the left as democrat/liberal political/social elites won’t rein in their radicals. probably in the mid-2020s we’ll see another swing back to the right or major fractures breaking out.

  6. Speaking of annoying tics, this is your third most annoying tic:

    “I have finite time, I don’t really really track of all the new fashionable terms”

    And it’s close relative “I don’t have time to follow politics closely”.

    Bull. Anyone who has heard of “TERFs” follows this stuff _very_ closely. Certainly much more closely than a normal person. Who inhabits both trans sites and WN sites? Is this a good way to spend “finite time”?

    (And the top two annoying Razib Writing Tics (aRWTs)? one of them is also in the post above, the other in your tweets in the past week. We can revisit them another day)

  7. Civic nationalism is a pretty common term in the political theory I usedto read. Ignatieff’s book, blood and belonging, was pretty much all about (good) civic versus (bad) ethnic nationalism. Tom Nairn set out the framework before that, I think. It was an important part of Canadian self conception during the second referendum period (these days you hear more about kymlicka’s multicultural nationalism).

    I did not know that white nationalists also use the term. But gnxp is the only WN site I visit…

  8. Bull. Anyone who has heard of “TERFs” follows this stuff _very_ closely. Certainly much more closely than a normal person. Who inhabits both trans sites and WN sites? Is this a good way to spend “finite time”?

    one of my closest friends from undergrad is a woman’s studies professor and queer theorist, asshole. i see her FB updates about these issues.

  9. I think “pro-abortion” would have been a more effective label in the long run than “pro-choice”. If your position is that abortion, especially early on, is not that big a deal, it doesn’t help that it looks like you’re afraid to even use the word.

    FWIW I tell people who happen to ask that I am pro-abortion, I guess ’cause I’m in favor of it being legal but don’t identify with the pro-choice tribe.

  10. he’s been around since 2002. he’s like the scorpion. his nature is to asshole.

    also, unless he lied/spoofed, i know his real name from when he’s emailed me. if you are not an anon-asshole i tend to be more liberal.

  11. I have just become way too aware of all of the leftist versions of this type of demarcating terminology from reading Jacobin and following a bunch of Digital Media people on Twitter (ever since 2016, it genuinely feels like digital media has largely moved to the left). It’s almost kind of fascinating how much of it appears to have come out of British leftist terminology.

    But it is so, so tedious to read it over and over again. I’ll second your closing proposal.

    Because my views are generally more conservative than liberal people on the Right often believe that I am aware of all the tribal divisions and lexical nuances deployed by conservatives today.

    I’m a little curious about that. In terms of stances and policies, where do you differentiate from liberal folks?

  12. And yet Thomas Paine, Diest, devoted much of his first great tract arguing that Christianity demanded he and his readers abandon their king.

    He’s not exactly the man I go to for advice on when or when not to ‘whore one’s soul.’

    I assume you meant “Deist.” Yours is classic ad hominem. Yes, Paine was a nasty person and died alone essentially. But what he wrote of making a whore of one’s soul is true. At least he recognized that we have souls.

    Now, let me elaborate more on what I meant and mean:

    With the rather obvious caveat that I only know him from the Internet, I generally respect Mr. Khan’s opinions. He strikes me as an intelligent, erudite, and reasonable, if occasionally irritable, person. He usually has a unique insight into the intermix of history and genetics, and I learn many good things on this blog of his.

    But the advice to pick “the strongest side” is both immoral and unintelligent that I must object in the strongest terms.

    In the first place, conflicts do not present perfect information. In other words, there is always the “fog of war.” No one can predict outcomes of wars (for the same reason Machiavelli said “Wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you please”). Picking the side that is seemingly “the strongest,” especially for most people who lack understanding of civil conflicts and requisite expertise is far from foolproof – it can be downright foolish. It’s bad enough to join the moral side and lose (and be the proverbial “noble loser”), it’s doubly worse to join the immoral side knowingly and still lose.

    Second – and far more important – is the issue of morality. In my observation, most human beings have an innate sense of what is good and bad (I am not saying that this sense is accurate necessarily). Once you experience pulling the trigger and putting rounds into people, you realize very quickly that you have to be at peace with yourself – with your motives and your actions. In other words, you have to be able to sleep at night with yourself. I don’t think that most people – certainly most people who consider themselves decent – would be at peace aiding and abetting the side they know to be immoral. Sure, they may survive, but the society people like that build is going to be hollow and soulless, a nightmare on earth.

    Lastly, his advice to join the strongest side only makes sense if one is a rootless alien who has to pick based on “reason” alone (or as the Soviets would say, “the correlations of forces”). Most people – still – have families, friends, school chums, neighbors, co-workers, parishioners, and so on – their primary social groups. In times of strife, people tend to (and generally should) bond strongly with and support their concentric primary groups. This isn’t simply nostalgia or emotion. The side full of people who are ready to switch allegiances when fortunes of war turn is not likely to possess the cohesion necessary to persevere through difficulties and reverses and emerge victoriously in the end.

    So, I would advice exactly the opposite of what Mr. Khan suggested. Join the side you believe to be right. Defend your families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers – in other words, your community. And if you don’t have these ties of an organic community, start creating them today.

  13. I think “pro-abortion” would have been a more effective label in the long run than “pro-choice”. If your position is that abortion, especially early on, is not that big a deal, it doesn’t help that it looks like you’re afraid to even use the word.

    That’s because “abortion” polls badly. It’s one thing for people on the left to support the legal right of abortion in the abstract, but it’s another for them to welcome or celebrate the actual act of murdering a baby in the womb. Hence, the slogan from the left, “Keep abortion safe, legal, and rare.”

    By the way, how many of those of you who support “the right to abortion” have seen the aftermath of one, let alone seen the procedure itself?

  14. Generally agree with the sentiment in this piece. A slight quibble of sorts:
    “When someone brings up the term “civic nationalism,” I’m usually pretty sure that that person is probably a white nationalist, because that’s a term that they seem to use a lot (to describe non-racial nationalists). People who are civic nationalists don’t describe themselves as such in normal conversations.”

    This generally comes from the Alt-right and they use it against two types. Standard conservatives and another group known as alt-light/New Right. The former don’t use the term to describe themselves and I guess that is what Razib is getting at. The latter probably would though. And they include significant media personalities like Milo/Bannon/Gavin Mcinnes/Cernovich. I mention this point only because the latter group is gaining influence on mainstream right so I suspect it will become a more relevant term of self-identification in the next 5-10 years.

  15. Funny that Ikram writes about how annoying Razib’s writing is when he’s apparently been hanging around to read that writing for 15 years. That’s dedication!

    Moving along, I’m curious if Razib has any objective markers in mind say for 2025 or 2030 for the deterioration towards the end of our democracy, which is a significant percentage of the time involved in a “generation or two”. I’d be potentially interested in making that prediction slightly more interesting with a token bet amount.

  16. Razib, I am sorry. I had the wrong facts, and thus a bad argument.

    Brian- it’s a thankless task, but I expect to be rewarded in the next life.

    I wish you all a pleasant holiday in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. Unrectified.

  17. Some day I would like to see Razib make a more serious attempt to explain his “libertarianism”. Libertarianism to me seems like an idealism that can never work in practice, so not really his style. State withers away, and some guy with ambition says “Great!”

    But coming back to this blog post, I tend to agree that a swing to the extremish left is quite likely next in many western countries, and is indeed already starting in some. I see no reason to think this will be the end of liberal democracy. I do understand that it might be dangerous and have been saying the same thing.

    This is simply because we currently see that there is a right wing minority in the USA which is using force instead of reason. (Despite claiming to be defenders of western civilization.) At the same time the scientific debate about things like economics is, if you would spell out the implications, like a definition of what an American would call normal left wing. (And most of the rest of the world, centrist or even right wing. I am thinking particularly in terms of economics, where rational debate is relatively definable.)

    So it is likely there will be some payback. The danger is that this swing to the left can go beyond sensible left/centre, and rational.

  18. Libertarianism to me seems like an idealism that can never work in practice, so not really his style. State withers away, and some guy with ambition says “Great!”

    replace ‘libertarianism” with “socialism.” you seem to be taking a very narrow and high-toned view of what an ideological orientation can be.

    This is simply because we currently see that there is a right wing minority in the USA which is using force instead of reason.

    yes, as opposed how reasonable the left is!

  19. This is simply because we currently see that there is a right wing minority in the USA which is using force instead of reason.

    Who are these right wingers to which you refer?

  20. “But coming back to this blog post, I tend to agree that a swing to the extremish left is quite likely next in many western countries, and is indeed already starting in some.”

    Please provide examples.

    “This is simply because we currently see that there is a right wing minority in the USA which is using force instead of reason.”

    Please name these murderous right-wingers.

    As a conservative reading conservative websites I continually see examples of leftists endorsing violence or committing violence against their opponents. I note the attempted mass-murder of Republican elected officials at a Congressional baseball game, averted only because the House majority whip happened to be attending with his security detail, and the relentless cheerleading for the so-called “resistance,” dedicated to overturning lawful election results. I also recall one thwarted mass-murderer who bought Chick-Fil-A to stuff into the mouths of his victims, because he couldn’t tolerate the mere existence of the right-wing Family Research Council.

    So if you can name a conservative who attempted to murder a score of Democrat Congresscritters, or enlighten me about when the Republican party en masse advocated overthrowing the lawfully elected government I’d genuinely like to know about it.

    Again, please enlighten me.

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