Labels are powerful. Merely by labelling an ideological cause 'justice' or 'equality' legislative battles can be won before they even get started. Everybody is against socialism because it doesn't work, but nobody is against 'justice' or 'equality' or 'morality'. By renaming socialism 'justice' and 'equality' it becomes possible to pass all kinds of socialist legislation without the hassle of any debate. Would you be willing to stand up and argue against a bill that has been titled 'Equality' and promoted as the 'moral' thing to do? Would you vote against a bill titled 'Hate Crime' when we know that both hate and crime are immoral? The label itself tells everyone how they must vote and allows dissenters to be denounced as evil. There is no point promoting 'unity' when those on the other side people are evil - nobody wants to be united with evil.
Henceforth you can only discover what words mean by evaluating the reality behind the words. We must look behind the label because words are cheap. Words like 'morality' or 'justice' or 'society' or 'progress' no longer have any meaning. They are mere weapons to signal that everyone must buy your snake oil for justice and morality and to keep all our communities safe. You must simply follow any charlatan who informs you that what he offers is 'justice'.
This is how the new racists have managed to sell you segregation and apartheid repackaged as 'anti-racism'. Everyone opposed apartheid when it was called 'apartheid', and called for sanctions against the hapless South Africans, but now that apartheid is labelled 'equity' we are all happy to endorse it. Guess nobody told the Afrikaners about labels. Had they labelled their apartheid system 'Equity' or even better 'The People's Democratic Republic of African Equity' they'd still be in power, doing whatever they want, and nobody would complain. Instead, they would be praised.
The idea that words have a meaning, and that concepts are capable of precise definition, is nowadays viewed as simplistic and stupid. Words mean whatever you want them to mean! This explains how one person's 'silence' can easily be interpreted by someone else as 'violence' - if neither 'silence' nor 'violence' are words with any meaning they can easily carry the opposite meaning from one person to the next. You might as well cast your dictionary on the bonfire, the one you lit to burn all your colonial books.
Thus a 'progressive' is typically someone who is against progress, wants to destroy stuff he doesn't like and hurt other people who dare to disagree with him, perhaps by getting them fired from their job or better still locked up. 'Progress' means 'valuing money over people's lives'. This is why progressives are against progress, and also explains why they are always angry. A 'liberal' is someone who is typically angry all the time, and gets even angrier when he encounters anybody who is not angry. How can you not be angry at all the 'injustice' and the 'unfairness'? the liberal cries. 'Silence' is the hallmark of evil. Staying silent really winds up the progressive. They do feel a bit silly going on marches when other people are silent, and so of course silence is a 'threat'. It threatens to make them feel ridiculous. 'Equality' means you have advantages I lack, and I will use force to take some of your advantages away so that I don't have to suffer the torment of living in a world where you are better off than I am.
Thus 'justice' and 'fairness' do not mean what you suppose, they mean the opposite.
It is difficult to write about words such as justice or equality without bringing along the baggage of the meaning that other people ascribe to the same words. Nor does ideology carry any agreed upon meaning. 'Socialism' means having moral values, and a socialist is a moral person who values the lives of others above his own because he is not a selfish bastard. Conversely 'capitalism' means having no moral values; a capitalist is a selfish person who tries to stab others in the back when they are not looking. 'Moral values' means my subjective opinion of how the world should work and the 'public good' means my private preferences for society.
When words can mean anything you want, and by words such as 'progress' and 'morality' you mean the precise opposite of what the other fellow understands these words to mean, communication becomes impossible. Conflict is not far off. If I claim as a 'right' anything that I wish for or want, then I would readily go to war to defend my 'rights' without stopping to consider whether a right is anything I wish a right to be or whether 'justice' simply means my dreams for how society should be.
To say 'I believe in liberalism' or 'I am an individualist' means nothing specific - it could mean anything, really.
Some writers try to bring clarity to their work by avoiding contested words altogether. Perhaps loaded words no longer have value when they carry inherent meanings that are the exact opposite of each other, and should simply be abandoned. This is true of words like 'terrific' which used to mean 'frightening' and now means 'wonderful'. Or the word 'awful' which used to mean awe-inspiring and worthy of respect and now means 'ghastly'. It would obviously be silly to use these words in their old and forgotten usage because you would be completely misunderstood.
Should words like 'liberal' and 'individualist' be abandoned, if it is intended to use them in their old forgotten sense? 'Liberal' has come to mean oppressive and intolerant; 'individualist' used to connote self-responsibility and personal integrity, but has come to mean greedy and selfish. Capitalism used to denote markets based on free exchange, but has come to mean cronyism, monopolistic protectionism and government bailouts for being 'too big to fail'.
But we use language and words as tools of communication, and it is difficult to invent new words and still be understood by those with whom we wish to converse. 'Individualism', for example, is often used as a synonym for greed and selfishness, yet there is no better alternative word than individualism to describe what Pinker denotes as 'the well-being of individual men, women, and children over the glory of the tribe, race, nation or religion' and to express the idea that the life of each person matters for its own sake and not simply as a tool to promote collectivist ideals.
Taking the time and making the effort to define words is unavoidable, otherwise one simply abandons words to their distorted meaning and becomes unable to clarify their own meaning.
Similarly, with Pinker's effort to define the meaning of 'progress', to distinguish 'progress' from merely following the science wherever it might lead, or from technocracy, bureaucracy and brutalism.
And similarly with anyone who tries to define capitalism, to highlight its association with the values of freedom and individual liberty, and distinguish it from cronyism and other forms of corruption.
Ayn Rand battled with this challenge in her books, and in the end decided to use words like 'selfish' to mean something close to Adam Smith's idea of self-interest. She chose to depict rationality and morality as words which, properly understood, were symbiotic and not contradictory or mutually exclusive. Much of the bother about her being a Wicked Witch comes from people who assign meanings to such words completely divorced from the meanings she ascribed to them. If 'selfish' means stabbing your neighbour in the back and stealing all his stuff, then anyone who advocates selfshness would be wicked indeed. Define your premises clearly.
Values worth defending always lead towards what is good and beautiful and true - that is the test and the only way to know the real meaning of words. The dictionary is not of much assistance here, and the meaning of words must be tested by the outcomes they produce. Words like 'justice' and 'fairness' are poison if they lead only towards oppression, anger, despair and death. Words like 'progress' and 'development' are meaningful if they lead towards prosperity, happiness and a meaningful life.
Even 'freedom' itself, a value to which we would all aspire, must depend on what it is we wish to be free from, and what meaningful goals we wish to attain with that freedom.
Scholar, Writer, Friend