Monday, July 9, 2012

Freethought and other non-literal words

Freethought Blogs kicked out two bloggers who were misbehaving.  Some people pithily said that it goes against freethought to fire people for thinking freely.  (See comments here for examples.)  Plenty of people have already piled on them for making such a stupid argument, but I wanted to put this in context.

"Freethought" is not the same as "free thought".  Freethought is a collection of ideas, a movement of people.  There's actually some substance to freethought beyond its name.

This is likewise true of words like "conservative" and "progressive".  In a political context, conservative doesn't actually mean cautious, slow-moving.  Progressive doesn't actually mean moving towards the future.  They describe a set of political stances, some of which have nothing to do with change vs tradition.  I'm sure that conservatives have at times supported forward-looking policies, and liberals supported the continual of existing policies.

It is a shallow argument indeed to attack conservatism on the basis of its caution, or to defend conservatism on the same basis.  It is totally missing the point to attack "new atheism" for claiming to be new when it's not.  It is a lazy person's argument to say that the skeptical movement is right or wrong because doubt is right or wrong.  It represents a fundamental misunderstanding to act as if homophobia really means a fear of gays and lesbians.

Long story short, if all you can talk about is the name, I'm going to assume that you are incapable of making a substantive argument, and are instead substituting your impressions of words.