The word “socialist”

Godwin’s law states that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches one.” I have observed a related but more limited phenomenon that operates at a much higher speed.  As an online discussion of Bernie Sanders or Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Venezuela and/or Cuba approaches one. Conversely, in an online discussion of Venezuela or Cuba, the probability that Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez will be invoked also approaches one. Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders are, of course, democratic socialists who generally invoke Sweden and the social democracies of Western Europe as their model. Venezuela and Cuba are as irrelevant as Hitler usually is in most discussions.

The word socialist has too many meanings. Not only does it refer both to authoritarian states like Venezuela and democratic ones like Sweden, it has lately merged with words like Communist, Marxist, liberal, progressive, etc. to the point where they are all just empty epithets of abuse that convey no information beyond the speaker’s disdain. I think we would be better off if we simply dropped these terms and used descriptive terms that do convey information. For example, instead of saying, “I oppose Medicare for all because it’s socialist” (and then going down the rabbit hole of arguing whether it is or is not socialist), simple say, “I oppose Medicare for all because it means higher taxes” (or whatever your real beef is although taxes seem to be the point of contention almost always). Instead of talking past each other, we would at least be on the same page and, who knows, we might even get somewhere. Anyone who can’t tell the difference between Venezuela and Sweden is a moron. It’s akin to not being able to tell the difference between a certain winged mammal and a club used in baseball and cricket because they’re both called bats. Dropping the word socialist from our discourse would, if nothing else, make that particular stupidity harder to achieve.

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