Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:



Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.



Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.


Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.



Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.



Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.


The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.


The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.


Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income



Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market



Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.



Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.


Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.



Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.



Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.


Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President



Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Satanic Knighthood

Salmon Rushdie has been nominated for a knighthood in England. This has caused even the "moderate" nations of the Muslim world to erupt in protest. And some British citizens are calling for the offer to be revoked.

Rushdie was born in Bombay in 1947 to a Cambridge educated lawyer and British citizen. He later also studied History at Cambridge and, after a brief stint as a television actor in Pakistan, he returned to England to work for two British ad agencies (Salman is a British subject). Although his father was Muslim, Salman did not come out publicly as a Muslim until 1990 (perhaps in a (failed) attempt to appease his critics?).

Rushdie's first book, Grimus (1975), is the story of a Native American girl who gains immortality and searches the world for the meaning of life. His second book, Midnight's Children (1981), is the story of an illegitimate boy who struggles with Islam and Hindi life in India and Pakistan, it won the Booker Prize for Literature and was an international success. His third book, Shame (1983), is the story of a Pakistani woman who is so ashamed of her country's history that her blushing boils her bathwater.

The Satanic Versus (1988), is the story of two men who survive the terrorist bombing of their jetliner while traveling to England from India. These two characters spend their time falling to earth discussing secret missing lines from the Koran which name three goddesses along with the singular male god Allah. This book earned him a death sentence from the Ayatollah of Iran in 1989. His subsequent hermetic life of hiding also cost him his first marriage.

Rushdie's following books, Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), and The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) have been subject to the scrutiny and publicity of an internationally known public figure due to the Muslim outrage over his writing (more on his books and biography here).

How do people earn Knighthoods today, what does it mean to be a knight in the modern United Kingdom, and does Salman deserve the honor?

Knighthood is awarded to a person of any nationality by the British government through the Queen as a reward for service to the country (or today, more broadly, the world) in various fields that may include military service, art, science, or politics (since 1997 it has been granted to anyone who donates more than one million pounds to the ruling Labour Party).

The award of knighthood grants no special privileges to an individual (except bragging rights and better dinner reservations). It is not a hereditary title and does not allow one to sit in the House of Lords. However, a person thus recognized is allowed to ask to be addressed as Sir or Dame (if of certain ranks of knighthood and only by those who care about such things) and to put initials after their name noting the Order of knighthood (except for Knights Bachelor - who are not of any particular Order or for actors, like Sir Sean Connery, who traditionally leave them off their film credits).

Each Spring the individuals to be knighted are announced in the Queen's Birthday "honours" press release. The people on the list are nominated by British subjects, vetted by selection committees, and approved by the queen and the government.

The British literary group Pen was probably responsible for putting Rushdie's name in the list. This group gives vocal support to over 1,000 authors who are persecuted as a result of their writing.

Other committee members have said that they specifically ignored the politics of this award to focus only on merit. They note that Rushdie's books have been worldwide best sellers and have raised the profile of the debate of religion and world values.

Others complain that this award is inherently political (especially when granted to Party contributors) and was bound to stir up anger in the Muslim world. They want his award revoked before it is even officially granted... they even want Rushdie to decline it out of politeness (or fear).

A Pakistani MP on the BBC today equated Rushdie's Knighthood to Holocaust denial (he also proudly reminded the audience that he banned Dan Brown's The Devinci Code in the interest of the 1% of his country that is Christian). He said that he felt that insulting Islam was the same as insulting the Jewish people.

However, there is no corollary. To insult Islam is to insult the ideas of a people (bad), while to deny the Holocaust is to deny their history and their common humanity (much worse). More to the point, Holocaust denial is only a crime in countries directly effected by it and it only applies to citizens of that country.

When Muslims decry the free speech of other people in other nations, make threats against them (or murder them in the streets such as Theo Van Gogh), or attack foreign embassies (such as the Danish embassy in Beirut) they are attempting to impose their ideas (and their history and their future) on the world.

When citizens of the Free World worry about the public opinion of nations with out a functioning democracy or free press, whose political and religious ideas remain stuck in the late Middle Ages, they do not do them a favor, rather they are supporting the continued retardation of those people's rights and culture.

This is similar to the worry about racial tensions released after the death of a dictator (say in Yugoslavia or Iraq). It is not a good thing when a nation is "peaceful" due to violent repression. In fact, the clash of cultures released by the waning of government power (in either example) are ugly but necessary steps in resolving differences and learning to live together (or apart, if necessary).

Here in the US or in the UK it can be easy to take our freedoms for granted. It seems like such a small step to consider the feelings of others or the public opinion of other nations. We seem to forget that our freedom was hard fought and it clashed violently with the values of most other nations (in 1815 the rulers of Prussia, Austria, and Russia formed an alliance to stop the spread of Democracy).

Non-Westerners (and some in the West) are sometimes confused that discord is tolerated and even encouraged (in Islam it is the opposite, in Arabic the word "Islam" means "submission", both to the will of God and to society, in Islam one of the greatest evils is "fitna" or social unrest). But in the West this dissent is how we refine and assess science and culture. Salmon Rushdie's novels, offensive to some, are part of the cacophony of voices that produce our best ideas and most cherished art.

In this case I think the Queen has proved some of her relevance in the modern world. Her recognition of Salman Rushdie is a poke in the eye to some and a long over due honor to others. It also forces everyone to reexamine our values and our associations (is Pakistan, the most vocal critic, really an ally against terrorism?). Someday the Muslim world may accept Free Speech as a cultural value alongside Freedom of Religion. But even if it never does, we still should.

Meanwhile I hope God will continue to save the Queen and Salmon Rushdie from their critics.

Sean: Thursday, June 21, 2007 [+] |

Copyright (c) 2003-2008 Sean LaFreniere


Copyright 2003-2009 by Sean LaFreniere