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Shifting Meanings

Language evolves

Shifting Meanings

Let's look at the word fascism:
Fascism is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism[1][2] characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, as well as strong regimentation of society and of the economy[3] which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe.[4]
The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I, before spreading to other European countries.[4] Opposed to liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism, fascism is placed on the far right within the traditional left - right spectrum.[4][5][6] Roderick Stackelberg places fascism - including Nazism, which he says is "a radical variant of fascism" on the political right by explaining:
"The more a person deems absolute equality among all people to be a desirable condition, the further left he or she will be on the ideological spectrum. The more a person considers inequality to be unavoidable or even desirable, the further to the right he or she will be"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism

This way of thinking about fascism is pretty clear and distinguishes fascism from, say, communism, or socialism or democratic capitalism.
But now the word fascism has become a catch-all pejorative term.
A government is fascist if it passes regulations that force people to behave in certain ways. So a regulation about humane treatment of farm animals is deemed fascist by farmers who think they can make more profit if they are cruel.

As a pejorative it amounts to an ad hom attack on whatever regulation is disliked. The idea is that the regulation is bad because it's fascist which prevents discussion of the merits of the case. So we get an inversion of meaning. We get right wing people calling left wing people fascist.

When the meaning of fascism degenerates into a pejorative we lose the ability to speak clearly of things like it being "a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, as well as strong regimentation of society and of the economy."
"authoritarian"
"ultranationalist"
"dictatorial power"
"strong regimentation"
A hundred years ago we saw the rise of the Fascist movement in Italy, Germany and Japan . We got a good look at the sort of society fascists create.

"We" fought against them - the democracies of the world and even allied with Communists to do it. All that emotional baggage is lost when 'fascist' becomes a mere pejorative. I notice that as the meaning of fascism shifts to being a meaningless pejorative that ideas like "white power" are more and more acceptable.

Stackelberg's take on the left-right spectrum is interesting: For him that spectrum lies along a social equality dimension. The more you are into equality, the more left you are. The more you are into inequality, the more right you are. I can see that - but it's also a shift in meaning. For me left-right dimension has always been about who owns and controls and benefits from the means of producing the goods and services people need to live. If you think that the means of production should be owned by 'the people' then you are on the left. If you think that the means of production should be privately owned then you are on the right.

For the meaning of "the people" let's go with the US Constitution: " We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

At the time the Constitution was written, a lot of people were excluded from 'the people' of course. Slaves and Native Americans and women and people without property were excluded Over time 'the people' encompasses more and more people. But a smaller and smaller proportion of those people own private property let alone private means of production.

Looking back at the history another inversion emerges. Once 'the people' was a fairly exclusionary group but a high percentage of those people privately controlled their own means of production. Now, a higher percentage of people is included within 'the people' but the percentage of those people who control their own means of production is very small. Let's not forget that in practice, those who control the means of production are the powerful people in a society. And the interests of the majority of people are less and less aligned with the interests of those who control the means of production. Who knows what happens then?

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.