This is very nice of Conor to say, and his larger point is something a lot of commenters here have been saying for quite a while – labels are unimportant, they simply can’t define who we are as well as our ideas and words do:
But it’s worth remembering that what a writer ends up calling himself shouldn’t ultimately matter nearly as much as it does. An insightful mind remains so regardless of ideological affiliations. Arguments should be evaluated on their merits, as opposed to whether the idea therein or the proponent advancing it is authentically liberal, conservative, or libertarian. Heretic hunters on the right and the left very much resent it when dissidents lay claim to an ideological label. Almost always it is irrational when they do so.
So long as Mr. Kain persists in offering intellectually honest writing that advances conversations, I’ll follow his stuff wherever it’s published, regardless of whether he calls himself a liberal, an independent, a socialist, a centrist, a neocon, a neo-liberal, a conservative, an atheist, an Islamic bridge builder, or a centaur advocate. The thoughts he expresses on any given issue are themselves a lot more important and informative than whatever label he finds most accurate, and I don’t see why I’d ever rely on a vague proxy to judge one of his pieces when I could just read it and agree or disagree as appropriate.
For some reason, labels have mattered to me – and perhaps not because the label itself is so important, but because we live in a world where the people who have already laid claim to a movement or an ideology will always do their best to hoard these labels and their definitions, and use them to lay claim to the entire debate, the narrative, everything – because society is simply structured this way. We label everything, categorize everything, and whoever does it best, wins.
In order to speak accurately about our ideas, in order to make those ideas accessible and coherent, we are forced, to some degree, to adopt these labels and these definitions, or to turn them on their head. If not for ourselves, then for the wider world – either to explain ourselves better or to understand ourselves better or as an act of subterfuge. Reclaiming pieces of our language is like reclaiming pieces of our identity. This is why the N-word looms so large in our culture, as a word reclaimed by those who were once defined by it in the most negative light possible. In a sense, this is an act of cultural subterfuge, of linguistic revolution.
Never underestimate the power of words and especially the power of words that define who we are and what we believe. Language is politics, and vice versa. And the beauty of English, I suppose, is that it can be vague, it can be loaded with double-meanings, hidden meanings, new meanings. We can coin words as fast as we can think of them. Perhaps I shouldn’t worry so much about what to label myself, but on some level we should all always be thinking our way through – and out of – these tight ideological corners that we’re supposed to sit quietly, unthinkingly, in.