September 1, 2015

Cultural Libertarians

There's no question that labels can be problematic. If we rely too heavily on them, they can take on too much meaning. We can end up reacting to the label rather than the person or persons we are using it to describe. It is easy to see that labels can fuel tribalism, increase polarization, and drive conflict.

On the other hand, labels often facilitate communication. They give us a shorthand way of saying a great deal with maximum efficiency. Once we have defined a particular label, we can communicate considerable information through its use. If you and I have a shared understanding what humanism means, I can tell you that someone is a humanist without having to list every attribute this entails. When you hear me describe someone as a humanist, you will know a great deal about the person I'm describing thanks to the label.

Another benefit of labels is that there can be something empowering about naming something that is otherwise amorphous. Putting a name on something imbues it with meaning. For a recent example of what this looks like, you might ask yourself what we would call someone who values reason, personal freedom, and the free expression of ideas; someone who chooses facts over feelings and is willing to laugh at the absurd; someone who rejects political correctness, identity politics, trigger warnings, the behavior of social justice warriors, public shaming, and perpetual outrage? What might we call such a person?

In a thought-provoking article, Allum Bokhari (Breitbart) suggests that we might call such people cultural libertarians. This is not a label that would have occurred to me; however, when I read through his list of defining attributes, I see myself and many other atheists I have encountered online. Sure, I don't fit every criterion perfectly. The humor part, for example, isn't something that comes easily to me. And I'm far enough to the left that I don't always feel like I have much in common with the more conservative examples he identifies.

Then again, Bokhari points out that there is bound to be great diversity among cultural libertarians, including where they are positioned on the left-right political dimension.
Cultural libertarians are united only by their opposition to authoritarianism and their robust views on free speech and free expression and cannot reliably be placed on the left-right spectrum.
That makes sense. While I have been on the left of the left-right spectrum for some time, I have moved from the authoritarian side to the libertarian side of the authoritarian-libertarian dimension over the last few years.

I'm not sure if "cultural libertarian" will catch on. I suspect that "libertarian" may have enough baggage that it will be resisted by those who do not understand the difference between those Bokhari describes as cultural libertarians and those we might describe as "political libertarians" in the sense of libertarianism as a political ideology along the lines of Ron Paul. As for me, I think it would be helpful to have a label to describe the sort of people Bokhari is referring to. I'm happy to use cultural libertarian as such a label until something better comes along. So yes, I'm a cultural libertarian.

For more information on cultural libertarianism, here's a video by Lauren Southern:


I wish this didn't need to be said, but I suspect that it does. I am well aware that Breitbart is a conservative platform. And yes, they do periodically publish some things with which I disagree. To anyone reading this who is currently fuming (e.g., "How dare you link to a conservative site!") or something else along these lines, I'd like to point out that my commitment to freethought is far more important to me than any political ideology. I recognize that some people find this difficult to grasp, but I am not interested in blindly accepting any ideology. I prefer to consider ideas on their merit.

Liberals sometimes have good ideas, and conservatives sometimes have good ideas. Both liberals and conservatives have plenty of bad ideas too. I'm going to highlight those I consider to be valuable and criticize those I regard as flawed. Ideas with merit do not magically lose their value simply because you or I might disagree with their source on some ideological points. And ideas without merit do not magically gain it when they are expressed by someone who represents a particular ideology.
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