Monday, August 25, 2008

Compromising, Categories & Labeling

Political "Ooching"

Writers, talking heads and so many others reference categorizing terms with names like conservative, liberal, ultra conservative or ultra liberal, just plain left or right, far right, or far left, extremists – left and right, radical right and left, religious right (is there a religious left (?) and I'm sure there are more such labels. Frankly, I don't think many of these terms are very well defined despite the efforts of various groups to do so. Individuals and groups devise their own criteria, which are fine if clearly stated so that everyone who encounters them understands.

I've taken several of what I call "whiz-bang" Internet short tests with questionnaires purported to determine which of certain labels applies to the test-taker. Most I've seen must be considered fun experiences at best, but I've enjoyed taking them just out of curiosity. Sometimes I take a test more than once varying one answer just to see how easily the resultant designated label can be altered. The tests value is questionable in my mind other than for entertainment purposes.

I've always had a problem with how readily we variously categorize people and their beliefs or behaviors, but then trying to find common grouping characteristics is one system by which we try to make sense of our world. Also, those kinds of groupings are one of the ways our brain stores much information we gather into our memories.

I was prompted to think about the language of categorization when I read Bob Frank's recent blog at "Eclectic World."

Bob refers to one publication's approach to making their point about political positions. They make a strong case that presidential candidate Barack Obama should be very careful to not waver on his previously stated positions. They caution there are great risks to his election should he do so. They present positions they state as being Obama's. (Another blogger questioned in a private email exchange with me whether the publication's position list in some instances may actually be a projection of what the publication and supporters want Obama's positions to be, contrary to what has been stated on his website as his position on some of these issues. You can decide for yourself by checking links there.)

The emphasis in this post is on political labeling and candidates wavering. I read print and hear broadcasters views suggesting the other candidate, John McCain, is wavering on some of his positions, also. The "why" of altering or "ooching," as I call it, on issues is an election campaign activity sometimes used in the belief the candidate will attract a new voter group hesitating in endorsement, or one previously not supportive. Often the issue move is toward the middle or more moderate view. Is there a middle of the road or center view on issues?

I've thought of myself as being independent, generally having moderate views on many topics. Yet when I state my view on some issues there are those who would label me as having a liberal viewpoint. Other issues I support would garner me a label by some others as being conservative. Naturally, I think my views have been formed from intelligent, well-considered information resulting in logical conclusions. I believe labeling me by applying to all my beliefs and political positions the same, but only one, all-encompassing label is a false description and can be a gross misrepresentation of my views. Yet, often that is what occurs. Individuals are labeled on the basis of one or a few positions alone.

My focus of interest here is the link in Bob Frank's post to some ideas expressed by George Lakoff, professor of linguistics, in his book Thinking Points. He argues in chapter two entitled "Biconceptualism" that the existence of an ideological center is a myth. Don't let this academic-sounding terminology discourage anyone from considering reading this online short 6 pgg accessible chapter. (Note: excerpts of this chapter are also currently accessible on "The Huffington Post" with a repeat post there from 9/27/06.)

Frank says at his blog with links to George Lakoff's discussion on biconceptualism and the "Mythical Center":

"Compromise is a mark of a skillful politician. But not compromising on core values or on issues that appear to be core values. It appears that presidential candidates want to move their positions to an ideological "center". George Lakoff, professor of linguistics, in his book "Thinking Points" argues that this "center" is a myth. He claims that progressive candidates weaken themselves by moving to the "Mythical Center" because people vote, "...on the basis of values, connection, authenticity, trust, and identity with issues used symbolically to reflect values."

I want my candidate to be strong in presenting his core values. I want there to be no question about the issues for which I am voting. I think in this election, perhaps as in none other in my lifetime, most of the voting public agrees.

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