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December 19, 2003

What's in a definition? The whole world, my child....

Watch the thread titled NRO Gets Dirty II (on @ Matthew Yglesias' blog) devolve into a defense of various definitions of the same word. Funny how internet discussions often evolve to the same end-perhaps there is an Internet God that rigged the teleology.

1) People disagree about substance
2) People exchange a few posts
3) A & B start correcting each other in what they really mean, often revolving around the fact that A means X for X while B means Y for X, etc. etc. etc.
4) You know it's out of control when the sub-definitions that clarify X become points of dispute
5) You periodically have people who try to steer the discussion back to the original substance, but they are ignored

I do it too, not meant as a criticism, just a general rule of internet discussion it seems. Each exchange is like a photocopy-the two parties become more and more muddled what the other is talking about and begin to engage in a self-dialogue, because they know what they think the other's position is.

A few minor points on substance, Matthew notes that NRO people shouldn't talk about evolution to support their arguments seeing as they also give some space to people from anti-evolutionist (no, Intelligent Design!) groups. Well, I think the Right tends to use evolution today as a tool to achieve an end toward convincing the End-User of whatever position they're espousing. So Neocons, who often don't go to temple or church themselves, will attack evolutionary psychology to make common cause with Evangelicals, who disagree in principle with evolution, though much of this is only a symptom of the rage as theological modernism rather than foundational. Similarly, when Nature is on the same page with conservative social agendas, it is a prestigious and appropriate tool to convince the End-User of the non-normative basis of their position.

As for the definition of the word "Conservative," one of the problems is that the world starts getting really fuzzy and similarly alien once you move a few paces from your own spot on the intellectual map. Libertarians can get heated up over paleo vs. Left vs. anarchist vs. minarchist vs. Natural Rights vs. Utilitarian vs. Nozickian vs. Rothbardian vs. Monarchist (you read that right!) debate and disputes. 99% of the rest of the world is like, "Say what?" From the Left, they are all neocons now (I have noticed a trend by Leftist social activists to accuse people on the Right who they disagree with of being Neocons). From the Right, they are all godless class warriors.

Let the War of Words continue....

Godless comments:

Liberals aren't consistent on evolution either. They use evolution to bash Christian fundamentalists over the head, but moot the idea that humans might have been shaped by natural selection and you become one of those evil nazi-evolutionary-psychologist-bell-curve-eugenicist types.

Posted by razib at 03:46 PM