I’m doing this for the Centaurs

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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16 Responses

  1. Ken says:

    I like that you identify the tension between the perfect (pursuing ideas regardless of labels) and the practical (how labels actually impact real-world politics).

    I think, for the most part, that most social and political labels are corrosive to actual reasoned debate and worthwhile inquiry. Too much time is wasted on whether a person, or idea, is conservative/libertarian/liberal/whatever, to the exclusion of whether the idea has merit. It encourages tribalism and sloppy thinking — we’re all wracked with cognitive dissonance, and it’s too easy to say “I must agree with X because libertarians believe X and I think of myself as a libertarian and therefore I have to accept X or else engage in the scary and complex inquiry over whether I am actually part of the group with which I identify.”Report

  2. One the one hand, I see the value in labels because they can define in someway what you are and maybe it’s the fact that we need some way to ID folks. I remember in discussions about race that when a white guy said something like, “I’m a human being,” people would get rather upset, because his being white and male did mean something, in the same way that being a black man has connotations good and bad.

    Where I think we get into trouble with labels is when they stop being loose garments that define us and turn into tight straightjackets. When we start to think that a conservative MUST think this way about the welfare state or that a liberal MUST think this way about the military, then we have stop seeing a label as a guide and it become a tool of oppression.

    Labels are okay. It just matters how they are used.Report

  3. IMO as soon as one aplies a label to themselves, they pick a team and completely objective discourse goes out the window. You find yourself defending positions you don’t agree with because that’s what your team believes in.

    There was a quote from Kyle Cupp some time ago which I reported on my blog because I loved it so much. It kind of relates to what we do when we have labels to defend:

    “Much to my disappointment, I notice that I, on occasion, passionately hold opinions about matters of which I have little to no knowledge. On these occasions, when I come upon a view contrary to my own, I almost instinctively draw my sword, raise the banner, and launch a thousand ships, ready to battle in a fit of Homeric rage. Of course, my opponent has but to breathe the slightest breath in support of his position, and my sword is shattered, my banner is torn, and my fleet is lost to the stormy sea. I retreat and seek shelter in the labyrinths of Wikipedia or Google, hoping against hope that I might find some posthumous support for my uninformed opinion.”Report

  4. Jim Booth says:

    The thing that occurs to me is that labels may be important to establish context. Just as taking a quotation, either written or spoken, without establishing what group he or she is addressing and he or she may be representing, that persons remarks may be wrongly interpreted. By using labels such as liberal, conservative and etc. it allows the hearer or
    reader to more correctly interpret from what mindset the remark is being made. Time, place, and to whom something is being addressed all play into our ability to comprehend the meaning. Labels may be important in that way.Report

  5. Mike Farmer says:

    I just hope you’ve decided on something so we can all go forward.Report

  6. Sam M says:

    I don’t know. I think labels and affiliations matter a great deal in assessing someone’s argument.

    Take, for instance, the recent disagreement between Randall O’Toole and Donald Shoup regarding parking. I think it has been mishandled a bit, as O’Toole actually supports getting rid of minimum parking requirements. But generally speaking think that O’Toole’s “free-marketness” as evidenced by his affiliation with Cato actually matters. I mean, he’s commenting on planning issues, which are inherently tied to government regulations in today’s environment. I think it’s useful–important even–to view his opinions through this lens.

    I mean, when Phyllis Schalfly starts talking about abortion or sexting or gay marriage, I think it matters that she is coming at these issues from a very specific part of the political spectrum.

    This idea that we can apply some kind of “New Criticism” model of political punditry, in which context doesn’t matter, strikes me as pretty misguided.Report

    • Mike Farmer in reply to Sam M says:

      @Sam M,
      I agree. A label associates you with an ideology — not the scary kind, but simply a set of guiding ideas. The new intellectuals are resistant to ideology — it allows them to support a Democrat Party which continues two wars and corporate welfare without anyone accusing them of being just like the Republicans. They can claim “progress” when they are just as conservatively reactionary to innovation, non-intervention and progress in a free market as the Republicans –just as willing to use the military for intervention and nation-building — just as willing to particpate in cronyism and block competition.
      They want to be free to pragmatically implement policies diconnected to principles in order to justify forcing their values on others. But, if conservatives gain power, labels will be very important, because evil has to be identified clearly — then wars are abominable/rightwing and corporate welfare is capitalist/cronyism/rightwing. You can also reverse this with many intellectuals on the right regarding different issues where there is hardly any difference between the two forms of statism.Report

      • dexter45 in reply to Mike Farmer says:

        @Mike Farmer, I don’t consider myself an intellectual and I definitely don’t consider myself new, but I do not like President Obama’s interventionist tendancies any more than I liked President Bush’s. One of my major problems with this administration is the similarities with the old one. The problem with the Republicans is that the kowtow to their base and the problem with the Democrats is that they kowtow to the Republicans..Report

  7. Rufus says:

    Well, to be honest E.D., when you called yourself a “conservative”, it sounded to me a bit like those married guys in the suburbs who don’t work out, but collect physique magazines and insist on reminding you that they’re “straight”.

    I certainly don’t think of you as ready for a drumming circle in the UC Berkeley quad yet either. You’re sort of betwixt and between- I often think that people like you would have better luck throwing in with the Democrats and pushing them to accept some conservative ideas (which many of them have anyway), than throwing in with the Republicans and trying to convince them that you’re a conservative. But, to be honest, by “better luck”, I don’t mean you’d have very good luck either way.Report

  8. Mark says:


    Have to get a little tough on you here.

    No, not for deserting the Conservative cause.

    Instead, I find troubling your apparent need to almost apologize for acknowledging that you have decided to step away from Conservatism due to your reasonable, logical, respectful disagreement with some or many of the current views and tactics of its leaders, the Tea Party, talk radio, and various other entities.

    I respect and applaud your desire to remain professional, civil, and congenial with your readers and to especially do so with members of the Conservative movement. Your attitude, as such, remains one of the chief reasons why I have read your website. I do not agree with you on every issue,but I so welcome your mature, decent approach to every topic and to your readers.

    E.D., you are, whether you want to be or not, something of a leader in your own right and a very “old school” leader at that. You offer guidance not by platitude or sophistry but by example and reason. You encourage opposing points of view and discourage this blog from becoming a site filled with the threads of “yes men” and “yes women”. You care deeply about your political and policy viewpoints and clearly employ the necessary hard work and research – rather than mindless polemic and endless “talking points” – to outline and explain your positions.

    You have nothing for which you need to apologize. Labels, I respectfully submit, are meaningless and belong buried deep in the scrap heap of group think. You are who you are, just as I am who I am. Neither of us are perfect. Life doesn’t work that way.

    You have opted to break with the political group with which you had identified yourself. That’s difficult enough. You made the break tougher – and far more meaningful to your readers – by explaining why and doing so in a sincere, realistic, honest, and direct manner. Walking away, that’s easy; walking away AND providing the reasons for your decision in such a way, that’s a true challenge.]

    Some people will desert you because you acknowledged your departure and the reasons behind it. Others will seek to become your new associates due to no other criteria than you’re one of the former “them”. When it’s all said and done, there’s really only one person who has to be satisfied with your decision.


  9. Patently ridiculous. Without labels we’d have to treat everyone and everything on a case by case basis. Who’s got time for that? I’m way to busy twittering, and I’m sure you all have more important things to do as well.Report