Friday, February 24, 2012

You Just Replaced a Bad Word with a Worse One

I'm tired of the word "progressive." It's become the self-identifier of people who may have used to call themselves liberal, and has become pretty much the de factor monarch of terms used to identify a rather nebulous group of people who are defined by "Not being conservative." In a weird Mircea Eliade way, conservative is likewise defined in that via negativa: conservatives are those who are "not liberal/progressive/commies."

I discussed with Anna perhaps a couple of days ago, and we both agreed that it didn't make any sense to call oneself a liberal: it hardly stands for what the term originally meant. I mean, I suppose liberals of our day share some with Locke and Smith, but when economists like Hayek and von Mises also fit that category (and perhaps more closely), it's time to get rid of a word like that. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like that was the reason that people fled from that word. In fact, the reason why is because conservatives somehow managed to make their self identification a negative thing, and so they promptly ceded ground and ran away from it, to "progressive." Not even to mention things like "socialist."

Progressive wasn't really a new word though. It really actually recalls an attitude and movement starting in the late 1800's. The fact that we are recalling the good old days of that time period is a little depressing in and of itself. But I want to critique why it is that we might be using this word (if it is anything more than simply nostalgia).

I think my main problem with the word "Progressive" is that it has this whole Western teleology feeling to it: there is obviously Progress (with a capital P) and we will continuously get better until our society is some sort of utopia. This implies that anyone who happens to disagree with a progressive happens to be 'regressive' or a backwards person. We have certainly never heard this rhetoric in colonialist thought before. Oh wait, yes we have. So apparently there is some sort of objective measure that progressives all have the innate knowledge of, and will assist all the other people in achieving.     

You know, Liberal is a terrible word for someone with the vague area of politics that I occupy: I disagree with much of what would be called 'liberal' thought. But at least it actually refers to a system of belief- it actually says something about the person who claims to be a liberal. With the word "progressive" you simply have a political notion based upon the vague idea of "Progress," which is not only something completely unfalsifiable (and therefore improvable) but also sound and fury signifying nothing. It's basically like claiming to be a "Good People" political group. Who wouldn't want to progress? I mean, even neoconservatives think that they are enabling progress by giving their version of it (democracy) through wars. I mean, you only have to look at the collection of groups in the world that call themselves "Progressive" to realize that the word has basically no worth. And not only does it have no real meaning, the only true depth it has is one that is a concept generally used to further things like cultural imperialism. So... great choice?

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