Partisan language has gotten silly.

2012-09-12 01:39

I’ve noticed a thing, which is that angry internet commenters who use “libs” are using it as some kind of code word. It doesn’t mean liberals. It means bogeymen. “Libs” are a large, well-organized, utterly monolithic, group of people who are at all times completely dishonest, completely irrational, totally stupid, totally uninformed, and persisting in being this way out of malice.

Now, the thing is… If this set of people existed, they wouldn’t exist. If they’re genuinely as stupid and ill-informed as they are said to be, they can’t possibly be meaningfully said to be irrational or dishonest; those both imply some kind of functioning cognition and meaningful basis for drawing conclusions.

And yet! Somehow, when people use this word, they use it to refer to absolutely everyone who is disagreeing with them. People say they don’t feel Romney’s budget plans are specific enough? That’s libs! They are not actually under the impression that even one penny of government spending is not completely explained in Romney’s budget plan; rather, they are using their vast supply of filthy welfare lucre to stay home posting deliberately and maliciously deceitful comments at all hours of the day while Republicans work and pay taxes.

What’s amazing is, having prodded a couple of these people, and asked them, I have found that they appear to genuinely believe this. They are somehow convinced that there is but a tiny and very thoroughly dishonest minority behind any opposition whatsoever to any view they’ve identified as “right wing”. So they rant about how nearly everybody is opposed to gay marriage, and “libs” are just making it up. Think schools should cover evolutionary biology and not pretend there’s a “controversy”? LIBS! Think maybe “not allowed to compel kids in your class to join you in prayer in a publically funded school” isn’t quite as bad as “place of worship set on fire by people who think you shouldn’t be allowed to be in their country at all”? LIBS!

This stuff is madness. And lest people think it’s all one-sided, obviously it’s not. I know people who believe, sincerely, that the Republican party line on taxes leads to economic disaster. Okay, you could argue that, certainly there’s reasonably qualified economists on both sides of that one. But wait! Some of these people believe that Republicans also believe that. And that they want it to happen, because they are acting entirely out of malice.

This is stupid.

The fact is, the vast majority of the people in both parties have sincere beliefs about what works and how to make life better for everyone (or at least most people). And of course, people being people, most of them are wrong. Probably nearly all, because all human beliefs about economic systems are pretty much guaranteed to be too oversimplified to be usefully called “right”. But for some reason, people keep imagining that the people on the other side are totally aware of the “truth”, and are acting in malicious ways because they are evil.

So, basically: I dunno what the counterpoint word is; I’ve seen “repubs” used in a similar way, but not so consistently. But if you see someone comment on what “libs” do? That is not a source of information; it is a person who has drunk the kool-aid and is spiraling into madness. Unless you have some kind of very reliable way to compel them to actually hear what you say rather than reinterpreting it within their dogma, you cannot communicate anything about politics to them, and they have nothing to communicate except fear and anger.

If anyone finds a cure for this, lemme know. An ideal cure would also work on the liberal versions.

I do feel obliged to point out: For historical reasons, in the US right now, “liberal” in the sense of left-wing and “liberal” in a more classical free-speech/free-opinions sense have significant overlap. So while there are certainly plenty of dogmatic leftists to be had, many of the groups that they are associated with also have a non-trivial population of people who are quite aware that the people they disagree with are usually acting in good faith, and who make efforts to communicate with them.

Idle thought: I suspect that a major source of this is that the Internet, by allowing people to heavily self-select peer groups, is massively increasing the “echo chamber” effect. People used to talk politics with a variety of people including people they disagreed with, so they tended to be at least basically aware that other people held differing views, and even a little aware of what those views were. And they knew those people to have traits other than those views. Now? Now they spend their time gathering on blogs they agree with and attacking the drive-by trolls — some of whom probably weren’t trolls, but people who really did want to try to engage.

Peter Seebach

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Comment

  1. I realize my sample is different from yours, but I’m one of the letters editors for a group of newspapers on Florida’s Treasure Coast (around Vero Beach) and so I have a rather large sample; 10,749 letters, as of this moment, and “libs” appears in exactly three of them. Once in astroturf reposted from the Internet; once, in quotes, criticizing people who use it as you describe; and once in a press release from someone trying to get on the radio.

    It does not appear that the term is in wide use.

    Liberals, yes, when written with a sneer. Leftists, also, and related terminology like lefty, left-wing(er). Dems. Marxists, commies, socialists.

    From the other side, it’s usually “right-wing extremists” or a variant.

    Linda Seebach · 2012-09-13 10:56 · #

  2. My observation is that it seems to be a very informal usage, so I wouldn’t expect it in letters; it’s a thing I see in comments and message board posts, which are way less formal.

    So browsing the comments thread on an opinions piece on CNN, I see a couple of usages (“We are hear and agree with the story. The problem is the libs have swallowed all of the lies and enjoy watching OB immorally add trillions to the credit card to buy votes from the uneducated folks. Kind of sad.”) which conform to the usage pattern. (Interestingly, the three I found on this particular story are all from a single poster.)

    If you want to see the “libs” thing in all its glory, check out Free Republic.

    seebs · 2012-09-13 13:07 · #

  3. Pardon my brevity, I am responding on my phone.

    I find that anytime either side, in politics, uses an identifier to group people together in to a boogeyman that they usually fail to accurately portray the beliefs of said grouping. I may have more thoughts on this later and I am fairly certain it goes well beyond politics.

    Romeo Sid Vicious · 2012-09-22 11:31 · #

 
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