As I was writing yesterday’s post, I was reminded yet again that I do not have the necessary words to say what I want to say about politics and culture. The problem is that these words – left, right, conservative, progressive, liberal, leftist, traditionalist – don’t seem to have precise meanings and instead are used in any given situation to denote the speaker’s or writer’s affiliation with or opposition to some particular group of people.
I was reading through a CNN article while drinking my morning coffee today and thought of this problem again
“The significance of the Oklahoma City bombing, in terms of its service as a warning about right-wing violence, became greatly lessened [after 911].
This is a lesson that Americans must now recall and recover.
Radical Islam, whether abroad or homegrown, represents a serious threat to the safety and security of Americans. But right-wing extremism did not disappear after September 11. Its history since the Oklahoma City bombing has consisted of a steady stream of plots, conspiracies, terrorist acts, and hate crimes. It, too, represents a serious threat.”
The article warns that while yes, “radical” Islam is a threat to our security, a huge and ignored problem is the domestic “extreme right” as personified by Timothy McVeigh, Ruby Ridge, and the Branch Davidians. These are all incidents from the 1990s and the lack of anything similar in the past twenty years is chalked up in the CNN article as being due to American right-wing extremism being ignored by government and the media.
I started thinking about who or what exactly comprises the “extreme right”. The above groups/individuals are the only ones named, and the only ideology highlighted in the article is “white supremecism,” which is another term that has been rendered nearly meaningless. It used to mean people who held a particularly violent hatred for non-whites, but now the term is used for people who even point out that there are averaged racial differences in performance on standardized tests such as IQ tests, so saying that the “extreme right” is comprised of white supremecists is mostly meaningless, though it does make one suspect that when CNN uses the terms “conservative” or “the right,” they mean those phrases to be all-purpose insults toward Caucasians.
So what is right-wing extremism? What is the “far right”?
Does it mean being religious?
No. Timothy McVeigh, the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombings, was an atheist.
Does it mean supporting small government? Or constitutional democracy?
No, monarchists are generally lumped in with the “right” or “extreme right” but don’t believe in small government or constitutional democracy.
Does it mean being a capitalist?
No. Hitler is considered the personification of the extreme right, but his party was socialist.
Is it all about maximal personal “freedom”?
No. Some libertarians identify themselves with the right but more libertarians self-identify as liberal and were former Democrat voters. Some people who get labeled as being the “extreme right” are Christian “patriarchalists” who don’t support maximal personal freedom but rather a defined hierarchy of leadership and submission to leadership.
Does it mean being anti-semitic? Pro-semitic?
No. You’ll find both pro-Israel and anti-semite voices among those labeled “the far right”.
Does it mean espousing traditional sexual morality?
No, you’ll find both Christian traditionalists and pick up artists listed as being “on the far right”.
I have no idea what is meant by “right-wing extremists” or the “far right,” but I actually have a lot of trouble pinning down exactly what the boundaries of liberalism are, too. After all, I don’t support a complete deregulation of the natural world because too often that ends up benefiting large corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens. But as I’ve mentioned before, most liberal environmentalists are human-haters, which I am not.
So to talk about politics, we have to use these grossly inaccurate terms that don’t really mean precisely or even approximately what we want to say. We end up sounding like teenage girls gossiping about their frenemies instead of mature adults using wisdom and good judgement to decide upon a course of action.
I’ve been called a right-winger, I’ve even been called the Christian taliban, but I don’t think of myself as a right-wing extremist in any way. In fact, I no longer consider myself on the right or the left. This political model does not encapsulate my beliefs nor the beliefs of many people I know. I oppose the commercialization of all areas of public life, the way that unfettered capitalism in a liberal democracy leads to the break down of the extended (and even nuclear) family, I am pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, I believe in some environmental regulations when they are grounded in a love of rather than a hatred for humanity, I am a Christian…do I fall on the left or the right? I don’t fall on either side, yet I’m certainly no political kin to the centrists. And I am meeting more and more people who seem to think as I do.