Labels are susceptible to misuse. More often than not, they increase confusion rather than illuminating the situation.
Thomas Knapp sums up how I feel about Glenn Reynolds’ silly threats against opponents of war: http://knappster.blogspot.com/2006/06/seven-days-in-june.html . He also makes me think about my self-identification as a “pacifist”. I won’t initiate aggression, but I will defend myself and my loved ones and my property with lethal force, if necessary. I am not morally strong or courageous enough to obey the stricture to “resist not evil” in every case. In the right circumstances, I might even be willing to take up arms with like minded folks in furtherance of the cause of freedom or in defense of my community.
Despite my willingness, if cornered, to fight, I reckon that I am a “pacifist”, and I aim to increase my peacefulness as much as I can. Violence sickens me. Strife annoys me. I see so much untapped potential for cooperation and collaboration, and I celebrate the unheralded cooperation and collaboration that we engage in every day in peaceful commerce and relations in civil society.
I aim to love my neighbor, as my Lord commands, and the more I love my neighbor, the more committed I become to individual freedom. When I did not love him so much, I reckoned that my neighbor was not to be trusted with too much freedom, that he wanted watching and regulating lest his thieving, murderous true self become manifest. When I grew to love him a little more, I reckoned that my neighbor deserved solicitude and regulating for his own best interests since he probably was not as well positioned as his betters to judge what these interests might be. Now, I love my neighbor enough to let him alone to do as he pleases. The more I love my neighbor, the less I am able to contemplate the application of force of any kind against him.
BK Marcus has a good point about the label “extremist”: http://www.bkmarcus.com/blog/2006/06/i-extremist.html . The term extremist has come to have a pejorative connotation as if moderation for its own sake were the highest virtue. Like BK Marcus, I am a political extremist. I want as much freedom for myself and my fellow man as possible. I want an extreme amount of peace in the world, not a moderate amount.
But the term “extremist” is one of those conversation stoppers that help to suppress any ideas out of the “mainstream”. The charge of extremism is enough to preclude a discussion of the merits of the supposed extremist’s ideas. Can you imagine criticizing a dish because it was too delicious, extremely delicious? Extremely salty, yes, but food can never be too delicious. Or criticizing a work of art because it was extremely beautiful? Extremely loud, perhaps, but never extremely beautiful. Aren’t political ideas the same? It may be bad to be extremely stupid, but it is good to be extremely well reasoned. It’s not the extremely part that should concern us; it’s the adjective that is modified.