Political statements prove vague, cliche

If someone told you “be a good person,” how would you respond? Okay? Well, I wouldn’t know how to respond except with the question: what do you mean by “good?”

Words are deceptive. They have multiple possible meanings. “Good” can mean many things. Yet some of us seem to treat words as though only one definition exists.

One need only glance at any newspaper to notice the confusion that arises from not treating words with respect for their complexity.

For example, take the new group “Young Americans for Liberty,” mentioned in last week’s paper. To them, their message seems so clear; they stand behind “freedom, liberty, individual choice.” To me, their message leaves me confused.

My befuddlement starts with political philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between “negative” and “positive” liberty.

Let me explain. Negative liberty refers to “freedom from.” Positive liberty refers to “freedom to.”

An example may help clarify the difference. Consider giving someone the freedom of reading a book in Spanish. One who adheres solely to negative liberty would hand another person the Spanish book and assume that once the person has the book in her hands, she will read it.

On the other hand, one who values positive liberty would hand another person the Spanish book and make sure that the person reading the book has the ability to read Spanish. This type of “positive freedom” thus focuses on capability as a prerequisite to being “free.”

Point being, “freedom” is one complex idea. Then I read in a BG News column on March 23 about a new organization spreading its “word.”

One of the leaders of the Libertarian student group is quoted, “Through your own reason and choices you lead your own life …” But what does such a statement even mean? Is “choice” not limited in some capacity to the context upon which a choice is made? Simply put, does an affluent, white businessman have the same “choice” as an impoverished, migrant worker? I doubt it.

Or take a look at the following use of the word “Liberty”: a leadership representative from Columbus said he was looking for “liberty minded students …” to start Young Americans for Liberty. Oh really? “Liberty-minded.” I don’t know one person on Earth from one side of the political spectrum to the other who would call the abstraction “Liberty” a “bad” thing.

But soon, we learn what was meant by “liberty-minded.”

He states, “A lot of campuses are very liberal, but I feel that’s just because libertarians haven’t gotten to them yet.”

So I guess liberals don’t like “liberty.” That’s new to me.

Or he’s assuming only one type of “liberty” exists, and he is God’s messenger (the young Libertarians as his disciples) enlightening us with the correct definition.

Finally, Eric Eberly is quoted as saying, “Taxation by the income method is theft …” Taxes certainly fund some things we detest; for example, a large portion of money goes into attacking innocent civilians in other countries. But taxes also help fund schools, roads, courts, bridges, public transportation, research, hospitals, fire departments — I’ll just stop here. You get the picture.

All of these things help give us the capability to do many things. They give society the “freedom to” go to school, travel on safe roads and be healthy.

Yet to them, taxes could not support “Liberty” because they represent “theft.” Because only one type of “Liberty” seems to exist.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s something important behind Ludwig Wittgenstein’s quote: “Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.”

Respond to Facundo

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