Today’s arguments are wars of definition

Brandon Blue

Where our forefathers fought wars of attrition, we fight new battles: wars of definition.

In Alex Anderson’s column, “Define Marriage, Please,” he points out the problem in context of marriage, “We need to first arrive at a general definition of marriage before we start trying to redefine it.”

The issue I take with most of today’s arguments is simply that people do not care to define things before they open their mouths. Too often people jump right into things without thinking. Ideological zeal is as unappealing as an open wound. It lends your point of view a kind of fanaticism that is to be avoided at all costs.

Let’s use a contemporary example: everybody’s favorite TV personality, Glenn Beck. I don’t care who you are, you’ve got some sort of opinion on the man.

Now, Beck is a good guy, I’m sure. But he likes to call the current administration socialist on such issues as the various government bailouts. That’s his opinion. God bless him for taking a stand.

Merriam-Webster defines socialism in three ways, and the third seems to fit Beck’s arguments in the same way a ghost costume fits a child on Halloween:

“A stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.”

Contrast that with the same authority’s definition of communism, of which I’ll use the second definition:

“A totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production.” 

How many people differentiate between anthropogenic global warming and climate change? Not many, and where climate change might be recognized as a periodical occurrence, it is instead dismissed by otherwise well-intentioned and honest folk as anthropogenic global warming when they hear it.

NASA takes a shot at defining the two terms, indicating that global warming is “the increase in Earth’s average surface temperature due to rising levels of greenhouse gases,” while climate change is “a long-term change in the Earth’s climate, or of a region on Earth.” How many people ever cared enough to go figure that one out?

The responsibility for your education doesn’t fall on Keith Olbermann or Rush Limbaugh’s shoulders. It falls squarely on the shoulders of you, the listener. You must educate yourself. You have a duty to yourself to have a solid definition of the terms in question. Without them, your argument will stumble.

Perhaps nowhere else is this more evident than in the debate about abortions. Whichever point of view you take hinges entirely on how you define a human. Abortion rights have been a hot-button issue since Roe v. Wade, in part largely to the difference between the two sides in defining a single word.

If you can precisely define your argument, and truly understand what it is you’re discussing, you will be successful. But if you just follow the talking points and never stop to think about the terms in question, you’ll fail.