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21 May 2010


Michael Anderson

Here is an interesting view that the so-called Progressive Left is actually a 90-lb. weakling, constantly getting sand kicked in its face: http://www.sfgate.com/columnists/sirota/

PS Just as I no longer use the term "liberal" to describe anything or anyone, I am becoming increasingly convinced that "progressive" has become a similarly useless term. Political terminology should be used to edify, not pigeonhole.

George Rebane

Michael - what terms do you suggest be used in their place that would edify?

'Pigeonholing' is an extremely valuable communication tool in its power to quickly summarize a known set of attributes. Of course, it can be used incorrectly and/or with malice.

"... edify, not pigeonhole." Are these not semantically orthogonal?

Michael Anderson


The terms would be orthogonal only if the term "pigeonhole" was not so derogatory in modern usage. Your known set of attributes are different than mine, particularly when it comes to the term progressive.

I was listening to Rush Limbaugh the other day and here is a paraphrase of what he was saying: "You see, that is who liberals are...they hate life, they're better than you, they want you to fail."
I have been just as irritated when hearing people like James Carville say (once again, paraphrasing): "You see, that is who conservatives are...they hate life, they're better than you, they want you to fail."
This is my definition of pigeonholing. It reduces organic complexity.

My great-great grandfather Ollie Anderson came to this country in the 1860s from Norway, and carved out a life for his family in the Pacific Northwest. My great grandfather left his wife and babies home in Seattle in 1897 to join the Klondike Gold Rush. When his family later joined him in 1902, my grandfather was born in Dawson City on the second story of their nascent hardware store.

I tell you this because my family history fueled my interest in American history, particularly the history of the western United States. Our western breed of populism that you may want to describe as "liberal" or "progressive" comes from a long history of economic, legislative, and cultural abuse from powerful interests in Europe and on the east coast of the United States.

So George, I offer you a challenge. Find a term for me that more correctly "pigeonholes" my following belief set (this is only a brief synopsis, I can give you many more levels of complexity that you also might find surprising):

1. Disdain for our current iteration of the federal gov't and the ongoing corruption of our unconstitutional Two-Party System.

2. Disdain for the unholy alliance between Big Gov't and Big Business that has Wall Street and K Street operating like a brothel.

3. The belief that gov't bodies do have a role in busting up monopolies and immoral trusts, and overseeing industry to ensure they operate safely and don't destroy The Commons (but that role must be measured).

4. The belief that unions and NGOs do have a role in holding capitalism accountable (but that role must be measured).

5. The belief that the US Constitution continues to hold the key to a successful society and economy, particularly as described in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 10th and 14th Amendments.

6. The belief that the American system of justice, and our unique form of capitalism, is the worst system for organizing humans on the planet, except for all of the other ones.

In closing, I will say that the above set of values and beliefs are held by most of the "progressives" and "liberals" I truck with on a daily basis. My point is that mainstream "conservatives" and "liberals" have a heck of a lot more in common than most people think. And our corrupt Two-Party System does more to divide us than any other aspect of our country's politics.


Michael A.

George Rebane

Michael – I accept the common definition of ‘pigeonhole’ from a modern online reference such as dictionary.com (“to assign to a definite place or to definite places in some orderly system”), and do not accept half the modern (mis)uses of English which elsewhere I have argued diminish the information carrying capacity of our language. Pigeonhole is simply the vernacular for assigning a labeled and broadly understood set of a priori attributes to some target object, notion, or person/people. And as such, ‘pigeonhole’ and ‘edify’ are about as orthogonal as they can get, since a pigeonholing can also be very edifying or not. Pigeonholing is commonly done for semantic compression, and can be used maliciously/humorously to assign added attributes to someone who evinces some of the attributes of the complete pigeonholed set.

Re what label to call you or someone with the attributes you outline. To begin, at first blush I have no problem wrapping myself in those tenets with the most exception taken to #4 – I don’t understand the notion of “holding capitalism accountable”, sort of like “holding chastity accountable”, both are modes of behavior that some people believe in and practice. In themselves they feel no pain or reward, which are felt by people who practice them.

We all know that labels are a two-edged sword, absolutely necessary for the progress of civilization, but also can/do cause more heat than light, especially in multi-cultural societies that do not acknowledge a default culture for the public round.

Say, we want to attach labels to any combination and number of attributes selected from a superset of five attributes. Even if we firmly agreed on the semantic of each of these five attributes, we would be forced to come up with 5C1+5C2+5C3+5C4+5C5 = 31 labels to precisely parse those classes (xCy denotes the combination of x things taken y at a time). And this explodes as the number of attributes in the superset grows.

Nevertheless we can’t dispense with labels. The apparent custom we have adopted to solve the combinatoric explosion is to say ‘well, if he’s got any three out of the five that in my book define a hicklelooper, then the sumbich is a hicklelooper’. Quite frequently this results in some dust-ups, but we seem to have gotten by. Maybe you’re a hicklelooper ;-)

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