A Fundamental Misunderstanding Of Words (And Reality)

I found this week’s silly meme on the Facebook page of a friend who normally publishes pro-liberal items, so I was taken aback. Later, he edited his post to say he didn’t agree with it and just wanted to start some conversations.

A Silly Meme
Click the image to see a legible version

The text (inexplicably saved into an image file instead of a text field) was written by someone with a fundamental misunderstanding of words — especially the word “liberal”.

Used as a noun, liberal is defined as “a person with liberal views”, which simply reuses the word as an adjective to modify “views”. As an adjective, liberal is defined as:

LIBERAL (adj.)

1. Willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas… Favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms… favoring individual liberty, free trade, and moderate political and social reform…

2. (of education) concerned with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training.

3 (especially of an interpretation of a law) broadly construed or understood; not strictly literal.

4. Given, used, or occurring in generous amounts… (of a person) giving generously.

A “person with liberal views” therefore wouldn’t do any of the things this meme says a liberal would do. Even if you could find a rare case of a person otherwise described as a “liberal” who wants one of the things on this list, it would not be for the reason listed. For example, you probably can find someone in today’s “liberal” camp who claims she “wants all guns outlawed” — but it would not be for the reason: “doesn’t like guns” — it would be for the reason: “guns are inherently dangerous, designed to be deadly, and cause more harm than good”. You would also probably find that this person doesn’t actually want to ban all guns; more likely is that they don’t want firearms in the hands of untrained and unregulated civilians.

The meme further displays a fundamental misunderstanding of reality, almost certainly caused by consistent ingestion of far-right “news”.

Because it is the extreme right propagandists who paint all liberals and “leftists” as wanting to ban all guns, wanting to ban all meat products, wanting government support rather than work, censoring TV shows, banning religion, demanding “free” health care, and randomly deleting or blocking because “he’s offended”.

(To be fair, there are far left organizations in the U.S. who paint conservatives with similar brush strokes: “ammosexual”, wantonly killing and abusing all manner of animals, favoring cessation of all forms of government assistance, censoring TV shows, forcing religion on everyone, denying healthcare to everyone but the wealthy, and constantly deleting or blocking because “facts don’t fit his worldview”. Although, to be extremely fair, some of these things ARE in the official GOP platform, and many conservatives DO vote for GOP candidates.)

My immediate comment was “Doesn’t know the definition of ‘liberal’.” This blog entry is my longer response, after further contemplation.

The meme is also a Gish gallop, a debating technique that attempts to overwhelm the opponent with a rapid series of poor arguments, logical fallacies, half-truths, and misrepresentations in as little space/time as possible — knowing it would require much more effort, time, and/or space to refute each of them individually. Each line in the meme is fundamentally flawed in a different way. To address each flaw correctly would require more effort than the average person is willing to put in. Someone who agrees with the meme can simply click “like” or type “I agree!”, while someone who disagrees is left with the choice of either putting up the effort to debunk the entire thing or just moving on.

Most of the lines are also straw man arguments as well as drastic oversimplifications of complex issues — both very common logical fallacies.

For example, the church/belief line is both a strawman and an oversimplification.

It’s a strawman because it misrepresents the argument of political liberals in the U.S. No liberal “wants any mention of God and Jesus silenced” — we very specifically have said we don’t want our government preaching religion at us, funding religious practices, or banning/allowing things simply because their religion says to ban/allow them.

And it’s an oversimplification fallacy for many reasons. The typical liberal positions is that public school athletes are free to pray in the huddle before a game, but the coach (a representative of the government; his salary paid by taxpayer dollars) can’t lead or encourage the prayer. Conservatives often simplify this to “banning prayer in schools!” We believe Vice President Mike Pence or Texas Lieutenant Governer Danny Goeb (stage name: “Dan Patrick”) are free to be fundamentalist Christians, attend any church they desire as often as they wish, and speak about God and Jesus and deity-impregnated virgins as often as they want — on their own time — but that they mustn’t govern via their religion or publicly favor any religion over another while they are acting as representatives of every citizen within their jurisdiction. Conservatives often interpret this as “wants any mention of God and Jesus silenced” (as the meme said). Further, it’s an oversimplification because (as I noted last week), most liberals are actually religious, just as are most conservatives. (The person who wrote this probably ignored how many times Hillary Clinton referred to God, prayer, and her Christian faith during the 2016 campaign.)

Go through the meme line by line; every one contains at least one logical fallacy, and most contain at least one untruth or at least oversimplification. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the meme is that I only found one grammatical error in it (the comma after “A liberal” about halfway through).

If I were to respond point-by-point, I might do it thusly:

On guns: Surveys consistently show that almost all Americans are moderate on this issue (very few advocate banning all weapons, and very few want absolute freedom for everyone to own all weapons). The differences between liberals and conservatives on guns are actually very minor; liberals tend to err on the side of safety and seeing all guns as dangerous, while conservatives tend to err on the side of thinking guns will keep them safe.

On herbivore vs. omnivore: Almost all Americans are omnivores. Only 3.2% of U.S. adults are vegetarians — and not all of them are liberal; the first vegetarians I ever knew were — and still are — conservatives. I couldn’t find a single instance of an American liberal wanting to ban meat products (though I did find multiple right-wing sites claiming liberals want to ban meat products). Almost all bans of meat products in the world are religiously inspired (usually Muslim or Hindu), in conservative countries.

On being “down-and-out”: This one is too vague. Does it mean sick? Or depressed? Or “fallen on hard times”? (Please be more specific if you’re going to dishonestly try to make liberals look bad.) In all cases of everyone I’ve known, both liberal and conservative, when people are sick, depressed, or financially struggling, they have done both: try to better their own situation and look for help from others.

On talk show hosts we don’t like: In my experience, most radio talk show hosts are conservative, and liberals do change the channel (or avoid AM radio altogether). And in my experience, most television talk show hosts range from centrist to “not worth being watched by anyone”. I honestly couldn’t find anyone anywhere advocating for any of them to be shut down for political reasons, though I personally think the “talk show” format is one of the worst ever devised, and I won’t listen to or watch any of them.

On non-believers: Most Americans are believers, whether they are liberals or conservatives. Atheists and agnostics are still a very small percentage, though they do skew liberal. Liberals, by definition, advocate for freedom of religion — and just as importantly, for the government to be free from religion. Conservatives tend to want more religion in government (as long as it’s their own), though this isn’t always the case. The primary disagreements arise over what exactly constitutes government endorsement of religion, and when religion has too much influence in government.

On health care: First, “decides he needs health care” is disingenuous. Literally everyone needs health care — regular checkups, preventative care, etc.; no one sits around deciding if health care is a good idea. Secondly, no, the conservative doesn’t “go about shopping for it”, because clinics and hospitals don’t list their prices or policies anywhere; you have to be treated first to know what you’re shopping for. Third, no, he doesn’t “choose a job that provides it”, because zero jobs provide health care (unless your job is actually at a hospital or clinic). Fourth, no, liberals don’t “demand that the rest of us pay for” their health care. This bullet point appears to have conflated “health care” with “insurance”, which are entirely different things. Both liberals and conservatives know health care is expensive, and 70% of Americans think the government doesn’t spend enough to help out (Ibid). Both liberals and conservatives complain regularly about the cost of insurance too. The only difference in opinion here is what they think the solution is. Conservatives tend to think the solution for bringing down costs is to regulate the industry less than we do now; liberals tend to think lack of regulation is the problem, or that some sort of universal insurance or single-payer option would be the best solution. This is not “demanding” that “the rest of us pay for his”; this is ensuring that everyone gets coverage via everyone pitching in — which is kind of the idea behind insurance in the first place.

Oddly, the last bullet point insults conservatives as much as it does liberals. It indicates a conservative thinks dishonest insults deserve “a good laugh”, and that his friends do too. I hope it’s not true; I hope that at least some conservatives remain who are honest enough to admit the flaws in this meme. And the fact that I saw this posted on a liberal friend’s page proves the final sentence incorrect. As a liberal, I can easily and honestly say I wasn’t “offended” by the meme as much as I was saddened that so much misinformation is still going around, and frustrated that so many still fall for it so easily.

  1. Dana says:

    I’m not sure why anyone would proudly wear the label conservative. To me, being a conservative means you are one who likes to “conserve,” i.e. preserve the status quo (of course, that status quo likely being the height of white male power, circa the 1950s). You are someone not only adverse to change but someone who is ill-equipped to deal with it. You find new ideas and cultures to be a threat to your very existence.

    I agree entirely with everything argued above (and thank you for taking the time to do so), but even if the meme were true, I’d still prefer the liberal label over conservative.

    On a tangential note; I listen copiously to am radio. I’m even a paid subscriber to my favorite am radio station. (I do not, however, listen to conservative talk radio.)

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      “…I listen copiously to am radio.”

      I will assume, for sake of brevity, that coastal elite AM radio is entirely different than “heartland” (flyover) AM radio. LOL. Here, it’s entirely conservative talk radio, sports talk radio, or just random preacher dudes.

      “I’m not sure why anyone would proudly wear the label conservative.”

      It’s only possible if you’ve been lied to your entire life and never made an effort to find out whether those lies were true. “We believe in fiscal responsibility”, for example, is one of the first defenses a “conservative” will trot out, because they’ve been told this lie throughout life — by parents, teachers, news personalities, etc. They can think of many (untrue) examples to support their (untrue) claim. If the claim was actually true, then that would be one reason to be proud to be a conservative. Most of the other defenses work the same way. Usually, both the claim and the supporting arguments are untrue. “Most of America’s problems are due to moral decay; we need to get back to being a Christian nation.” Utterly untrue, of course, but repeated ad naseam from birth until you can’t conceive of it not being true.

      (Speaking from experience.)

      This is the major reason I reject the “liberal media’s” recent calls for “just hear them out” — because I grew up hearing “the other side” and am currently surrounded by it. They really have nothing to offer in the way of successful policy, moral leadership, or substantial arguments.

      • Dana says:

        I have heard them (the conservatives) ad nauseum and have yet to be swayed by any of their arguments. A conservative colleague recently said to me, “the Democrats only want to help non-citizens; why don’t they care about the poor who were born in the country.” My reply was that we do care about both, but the Republicans (conservatives) have put the DACA recipients in immediate jeopardy and furthermore, the Republican party cares about neither. Republicans just passed a tax bill that only benefits the 1% and next on their agenda is doing away the social services safety net (welfare, medicare, etc.).

  2. Well written, once again.

    I don’t think I’m entirely “liberal”, at least not when it comes to religion. I think it needs to be stamped out like a fire in your carpet from a dropped cigarette. (Except the fire has been going on for 10,000 years and humans just keep bringing it more fuel.)

    I’ll stop just short of saying we should *force* religion out of existence, because bans and prohibitions don’t work for this sort of thing. We know for example that Christianity flourished in underground churches in the Soviet Union and are currently doing so in North Korea and China. But we can certainly put more effort into it.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Not every liberal is going to be “liberal” on every position or tenet. I hope I didn’t imply that. Each of us will certainly vary on each topic. (Just like every conservative doesn’t take a hard-line conservative stance on every subject.)

  3. michaelzeiler says:

    I read through the meme the first time and was completely puzzled. When I’m at a lose on how to read something and whether or not it makes sense, I often try to make a negative of it and see if I can make sense of the opposite. So I switched liberal and conservative on all the bullet points. It made much more sense that way. In fact, I’m not sure that it wasn’t originally written in that view. Try it for yourself.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Wow, it does work better that way — except for the guns one, I guess.

      “When I’m at a lose on how to read something and whether or not it makes sense, I often try to make a negative of it and see if I can make sense of the opposite.”

      Interesting tactic. Perhaps I will add it to my repertoire. :-)

  4. Here’s my (hopefully friendly) response to your religion claim : https://andcon73.wordpress.com/2018/01/26/stamp-out-religion/

    While I am liberal in almost all ways, I don’t think religion needs to hang around any longer.

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