Language, Words and Thoughts;
A Journey from Beliefs to Action:
What it means to be liberal
By John W. Robinson
© July 18, 2004
Revised September 2012, and
Oct. 31 2014.
I owe the evolution of the ideas presented in this article to a seed that was planted in my mind back in the late 70's when I first read the book Language In Thought & Action by S. I. Hayakawa. I heartily recommend reading this book to anyone who desires to understand their self and the language they use and the "news" they accept.
The current motivating force that overcomes mental inertia and compels me to write this now is the open abuse of language, as it pertains to the negative propaganda, in the subjective media, trying to re-define the meaning of the word liberal.
To anyone with an open mind, the evidence is in-your-face every day on network and cable "news" as it tries to redefine political candidates specifically and anyone who supports them in general and en mass. They do it using short sound bites, 24 hours a day with planned, spaced repetition; one of the most important tools in promoting propaganda. As you will probably see in this paper, more than short "sound-bites" is needed to communicate.
The pundits attempt to associate the word liberal as a label that means un-American, unpatriotic, supporting terrorism, pro-Communist, socialist, traitor and many other negative connotations. The National Republican Political party and their pundits including the “religious right” have become experts in propagandizing their "message" with disregard for truth. It appears that their supporters accept these opinions without critical thinking applied before the acceptance of such ideas into their core beliefs.
In researching the implied meaning of the word liberal, I will cite definitions as recorded in 3 different dictionaries published during different time periods. This is important to consider, as you will see.
Webster's New World Dictionary - The Everyday Encyclopedic Edition, (Published & copyright by the Southwestern Company, 1965 Edition.)
Liberal is from the Latin root liberalis, free - liber, free.
1. Suitable for a freeman: not restricted
2. Giving freely: generous
3. Ample: abundant
4. Not restricted to the literal meaning
6. Favoring reform or progress; not conservative
Webster's II New Riverside Dictionary - Published & copyright 1984.
(Berkley edition published by arrangements with Houghton Miffin Co., 1984)
2. Abundant & ample
3. Not literal; loose
4. Pertaining to the Liberal Arts
5. Respectful of the ideas or behavior of others; tolerant
6. Favoring democratic reform and the use of governmental resources to effect social progress.
7. Of or belonging to a political party that advocates liberal views.
Note the first reference to "government"
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary
(Copyrighted and published 1991 by Merriam - Webster Inc.)
From the Latin root liberalis; suitable for a freeman, generous; liber; free.
Akin to Old English leaden; to grow
From the Greek root leathers; free
1. a). Relating to or based on the Liberal Arts
b). Of or befitting a man of free birth
2. Generous, open handed, giver
3. Obs* - lacking moral restraint, Licentious (Note: The temporal label obs is for "obsolete" and means that there is no evidence of use since 1755).
4. Not literal or strict, loose
5. Broad-Minded; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy or tradition
6. a.) Of favoring or based upon the principles of liberalism
b.) Of or constituting a political party advocating or associating with the principles of liberalism; esp of or constituting a political party in the United Kingdom associated with the ideals of individual economic freedom and greater individual participation in government, and constitutional, political, and administrative reforms designed to secure these objectives.
*Note: The reference to government was more detailed and the first negative connotation mentioned, albeit obsolete.
I think it is interesting and maybe not a coincidence that the changes taking place from the research period of 1983 to 1990 are a reflection or correlation of the political ideology that was evident during the Reagan-Bush I era. It is also the period of the Republican Party and the Christian-Right's emphasis on the take over of Government and the educational processes and curriculum in this country. Some of the current pundits' talking points are continuing to give the idea of liberal an even more negative association in an attempt to redefine the meaning.
In looking at the word liberalism, the first source (1965) simply defines it as "the quality or state of being liberal as in politics or religion or as holding liberal principles and ideals.” The second source (1984) does not give a specific separate definition.
The third source (1991) defines liberalism as:
b). A theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market and the gold standard.
c). A political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of man and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties.
d). The principles and policies of a Liberal Party
In the same source (1991), a Democrat is defined as an adherent of democracy or one who practices social equality (as in how rules are applied or opportunities are available). The 2 source (1984) defines democrat as one who advocates Democracy or one who belongs to the Democratic Party. The first source (1965) defines democrat as:
1. A person who believes in and upholds government by the people
2. A person who believes in and practices the principle of the equality of rights, opportunity, etc.
3. A member of the Democratic Party.
There are some significant definitions that I will point out that are repulsive to the current Republican Conservative Right, and are I think, the basis of their constant attacking the ideal of the historical meaning of being liberal. I also refer you to the end of this article and footnote , which discusses how words are given their meaning.
I am going to digress for a moment to talk about the Two-Valued Orientation in Politics. For reference, the idea of Good versus Evil is a Two-Valued way of thinking and believing. Everything that follows and in quotes is taken from Language In Thought & Action by S. I. Hayakawa.
"Under a two-party political system such as we have in the United States, there is abundant occasion for uttering two-valued pronouncements. Fortunately, most voters regard this two-valuedness of political debate as "part of the game," especially around election time, so that it does not appear to have uniformly harmful consequences. Overstatements on either side are at least partially canceled out by overstatements on the other."
"Nevertheless, there remains a portion of the electorate - and this portion is by no means confined to the uneducated - who take the two-valued orientation seriously. These are the people (including the TV & newspaper journalist) who speak of their opponents as if they were enemies of the nation rather than fellow-Americans with differing views and ideals as to what is good for the nation."
"On the whole, however, a two-valued orientation in politics is difficult to maintain in a two party system of government. The parties have to cooperate with each other between elections and therefore have to assume that members of the opposition are something short of fiends in human form. ( Note added by me: The congress under President Obama, is the first in my life time to show such juvenile behavior in the form of obstructionism, in the hope that the nation will suffer and the voters will blame the President. I do think that most rational thinking people will see through this, and vote with a compassionate heart next week.)
The public, too, in a two-party system, sees that the dire predictions of Republicans regarding the probable “tragic” results of Democrat rule, and the equally dire predictions of the Democrats regarding Republican rule, are never more that partially fulfilled. Furthermore, criticism of the administration is not only possible, it is energetically encouraged by the opposition. Hence the majority of people can never quite be convinced that one party is "wholly good" and the other "wholly bad."
"But when a nation's traditions (or its lack of tradition) permit a political party to feel that it is… so good for the country that no other party has any business existing - and such a party gets control- there is immediate silencing of opposition. In such a case the party declares its philosophy to be the official philosophy of the nation and its interest to be the interest of the people as a whole.
"Whoever is an enemy of the National Socialist Party." As the Nazis said, "is an enemy of Germany," Even if you loved Germany greatly, but still did not agree with the National Socialist as to what was good for Germany, you were liquidated." (From Language In Thought & Action by S. I. Hayakawa).
We also have the below from the Nazi Germany era:
"Anyone who dares to question the rightness of the National Socialist outlook will be branded as a traitor," Herr Sauckel, Nazi Governor of Thuringia, June 20, 1933.
" The official national Socialist orientation never permitted a relaxation of the two-valued conviction that nothing was too good for the "good" and nothing was too bad for the "bad," and the idea that there is no middle ground,
"Whoever is not for us is against us!"
This isthe cry of intolerance armed with certainty."…
Does this sound familiar? This was the mantra of the Republican administration after the events of September 11. 2001. It was used to justify an invasion of Iraq based on false accusations.
In the movie Outfoxed (www.outfoxed.org), there are numerous examples of the subject I am addressing. Fox News Network and the pundits who "speak the news" are clearly illustrated to be "experts" in this arena of pushing RNC propaganda. I urge everyone to see it and make up your own mind. You don't have to take my word for it. Fox News as a source proclaims to report "fair & balanced" news. There are many who believe it to be a voice of the political extreme right.
If you look at the 3 definition from the third source, you can see a clear example of how "labeling" from the Conservative Religious Right during the eighties and their effort to greatly influence the educational system in this country resulted in a negative connotation being entered into a dictionary.
If you are aware what was happening during that period, you will know that the political agenda of the Christian Coalition led by Ralph Reed was to infuse government with Ultra Conservative Fundamental Right Wing people ("true believers") and their beliefs. This was well documented. They have made it clear that they want to force their doctrine and dogma onto society, by law, as soon as they can take over all branches of the government.
I believe it was no coincidence that Ralph Reed stepped down from the presidency of the Christian Coalition when he became an adviser to President George W Bush and a paid consultant to Enron. I am not sure what skills he took to an oil / energy company that was the most corrupt and devious corporation in recent times. It may have been a reward for a job well done. And, it is not surprising that in 2012, Ralph Reed has resurfaced to support the effort to get Mitt Romney elected. The evangelical right now proclaim Mitt to be one of them. But, Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on every major element of the RNC policy platform since his time of running for Governor of Massachusetts in order to get the backing of corporate money and the religious right in this country.
And the latest continuing saga of Ralph Reed is highlighted below.
“The true surprise at the Tampa convention in 2012 was Ralph Reed’s resurrection. When the former head of the Christian Coalition was discovered to have raked in millions of dollars from the super lobbyist — and eventually convicted felon — Jack Abramoff, Reed wound up in political purgatory. But outraged by the election of Barack Obama, and responding to what he describes as God’s call (via Sean Hannity), Reed returned to start the Faith and Freedom Coalition with the aim of toppling Barack Obama from the White House. To succeed, Reed needs to win the allegiance of many of the trusting Christian followers he had duped and double-crossed while working with Abramoff.
While Romney, Ryan, Rubio, and Eastwood (talking to a chair) got the lion’s share of attention during the Republican Convention this week, three one-time college Republicans who are now the party’s real power-brokers — Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, and Grover Norquist — were busy doing what they do best: leveraging their political, "religious", and financial resources to back pro-corporate, anti-government objectives at the core of the conservative agenda.” They were producing and spreading their own brand of propaganda.”
It is very well advertised, that no Republican candidate for President of the USA can ever hope to be elected to office without pledging to do the bidding of Grover Norguist and the billionaire backers of his efforts to take over the US government. As usual, Karl Rove is one of the “point men” in this effort.
They only need someone smart enough to “hold a pen” as Grover Norguist put it, because they (their elected President) will only be doing “what he is told”.
I think we could say that as a Mormon, Mitt has “sold his soul to the devil”, to put it in the terms of the religious.
In a search of 18 separate sources on the web, all were similar to those already cited except one that really stood out, put forth by the Republican power brokers, indicating more revealing propaganda attempts in labeling their opposition party. The one standing out so blatantly is as follows.
A liberal is “One who denies some of the basic truths of Christianity”. (By a far right pundit)
This is the perfect example of trying to re-define the meaning of words. This idea is still shouted out in 2012 by the ones who belief that only their beliefs are truth and everybody else must be governed by them.
I have to ask, if the person who put this definition up was around 2000 years ago to witness and record what was "TRUTH"? Maybe the Roman Emperor Justinian who put the current form of the Bible together in about 535 AD, and decided, on his own, what would be recorded as TRUTH, was a friend of this persons. (See footnote 2. at the end regarding the current Bible's origin).
If I take the attack on "Liberals" as coming from a group who basically oppose the words officially used to define liberal then I may conclude that they oppose the concepts of:
·Giving freely, generously and in abundance…………a clear Biblical teaching.
· Being broad minded : they prefer narrow minded & limited thinking instead without critical judgment.
Making progress………they want stagnation, regression & rigidity to be the rule.
·Being respectful of others and tolerant…they believeothers don't have the right of a differing opinion.
·Democratic reform…it was real important when Caesar or Hitler had the power, but not if they get it. All though the "church" was not not strongly outspoken against Hitler.
·Using governmental resources for all……they believe only corporate and religious welfare should be allowed.
·Non literal acceptance……they want others to be ruled by their myths and non truths.
·Not giving in to all authority……..only “they” can define & be the authority for all others.
I think you get the point. I think you can see how words can be used. I have even done it myself. I also think the attempt to include the suggestion (3rd definition, 3rd source) that a liberal is lacking in moral restraint and disregarding of sexual restraint is a blanket, irresponsible, slanderous accusation of a group of people. Of course they may think I have committed the same "sin" by expressing my opinions. Its just that I favor progressive instead of regressive politics.
In modern media, news events there are reported numerous records of these so-called “religious ones” displaying a “lack of moral restraint” This seems to be the only method at which these people (ultra radical right wing conservatives) excel.
It will be their own behavior that defeats them, not an opposition party – in my opinion).
On a positive note, when I looked at four different dictionaries published that are on the shelf this week in 2012, there were no negative connotations defining liberal in any of them. Maybe fair & balanced defining does exist after all once again.
1. Language In thought & Action by S. I. Hayakawa, Fourth Edition. The book was first copyright in 1939 and updated in 1978 with new current examples. Published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc. S. I. Hayakawa served as President of San Francisco State College from 1968-1973. In November of 1976 he was elected United States Senator from California
2. From these two sources: The Religions of Man by Houston Smith. Harper & Row, 1958 and, Edgar Cayce on Reincarnation by Noel Langley, Warner Books Edition, 1967.
As for the Bible, the current form came into being about 535 years after the death of the historical Jesus.
From all the various writings of the time that chronicled the Hebrew history & mythology and the reported Philosophy of Jesus, a Byzantine Roman Emperor Justinian held what was called the Fifth Ecumenical Congress of Constantinople in 535 AD.
"The purpose of this congress was to condemn the teachings of Origen (185-254 AD), that until then, had been held vital to preserve the "original gospels". Councils had been held before, but none had the impact on the future teachings that would be allowed. In the year 325 the Emperor Constantine had summoned the Council of Nicea (three hundred Bishops attended) to "settle" the question of Jesus' divinity or humanity.
Later in 380 AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. This fifth council/congress was more secular than religious. Many documents believed to be significant and containing truths that Justinian did not want to include were discarded.
Pope Virgilius, the Pope at the time, was excluded from the meeting as well as all but six western Bishops. There were 159 Eastern Bishops attending, the ones that apparently were Justinian supporters. The Church of Rome at the time was powerless against the military supremacy of the Byzantium. With only 6 western Bishops attending, the vote naturally went the way Justinian wanted, and the basic form of today's Bible was set.
All the early gospels (writings) were either in Latin or Greek, and were never allowed getting into the hands of laymen. Religion became a puppet of the state.
There was an effort to destroy all previous documents that were not aligned with the decisions of the Council and the desire of the Emperor Justinian. All documents that contained ideas contrary to the “official line of consciousness” were sought out and burned. Those who voiced opposition to what was happening and did not convert were killed.
For another 500 years, much disagreement continued between the early Eastern & Western Church, until 1054 AD when the Roman and Greek churches excommunicated each other. It became the Eastern Orthodox Church in the East and the Roman Catholic in the West.
The next great division took placed in the sixteenth century with the Protestant Reformation and the breaking away from the Western Roman Catholic Church."
Splits in the Church of course have continued until the present day. There are now more than 250 denominations in the United States alone, offering over 250 variations of the "Truth".
3. From: Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 1991)
"Perhaps the first thing that we need to remind ourselves of is that when we speak of the meaning of a word we are employing an artificial, if highly useful, convention. Meaning does not truly reside within the word but in the minds of those hearing or reading it. This fact alone guarantees that meaning will be to a great degree amorphous: no two people have had exactly the same experience with what a word refers to and so the meaning of the word will be slightly or greatly different for each of us.
It is obvious, then, that a dictionary which set itself the task of defining the meaning of words in their entirety, will undertake foolhardy enterprise. Therefore, the dictionary editors invoke the traditional distinction between--
(1) Denotation-- the direct and specific part of meaning, which is sometimesindicated as the total of all the referents of a word and is shared by all or most people who use the word--and
(2) Connotation-- the more personal associations and shades of meaning that gather about a word as a result of individual experience and which may not be widely shared.
I don’t claim to know the Truth with capital “T”, but I do think this so called democratic civilization may not survive with the divisions and social inequalities that are prevalent in today’s society. Wealth is once again being concentrated via preferential laws, and it appears that to effort to give money voting power is at its greatest. The problems can only be solved by an attitude of compassion and cooperation - and a complete overhaul of our basic systems; political, religious, and educational.
Think about the language you use and the meaning you place on words; they reflect you thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. Change will come. Will you be on the progressive side of conscious evolution? Or will you be stuck in the dogmatic doctrine of dis-empowering beliefs?
© John W. Robinson October 31, 2014
Conclusion for this Op Ed - October 31, 2014:
Although I first wrote this treatise 10 year ago, I have reflected on the significance of the subject as another election cycle comes upon us. This is the first time it has been publicly published.
What got me thinking again about how I felt in the period 2000 - 2004, was the desire to write some comparisons of various contrasting world views that still guide groups of people, including me of course. My world views have changed over the years and I think have been moving in a direction of greater understanding, love tolerance, and compassion for all people. My focus currently is in spreading the "good news" as I see today. That being: We all create our own personal reality, using our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and intents; as an artist uses colors to create a picture on canvas. We are the producers, directors, actors, casting agents, and critic of our own lives.We are here to learn that we contain a powerful creative force that can be used for good, constructive purposes (for all), or for destructive, purposes.
It seems that nothing has really changed in the efforts of a certain political group that really avoids an evolution of consciousness and progressive change that benefits all humanity. This is a group that will find themselves in the minority, within a couple of decades at the most. They recognize this fact and fear the coming changes. This fear will most likely lead to more irrational behavior, even more than in the past, because fear is debilitating.
Little do they realize that their incessant focus on this fear will only give the positive changes more power and help bring them about! Even in the
Old Testament you find the caution – I believe it was Job who is quoted as saying “the thing I feared the most has come upon me”. Even back then they understood the Law of Attraction and the process of personal reality creation.
If you read all of this , I say Namaste" to you.