Labeling

These are usually meant to be filled in by the wearer, correct? …Thought so.

People who are all one thing may exist. I cannot prove they don’t. I am not one of them. Those I’ve known beyond the level of acquaintance have all seemed composed of a blend of interests and beliefs, like me. Their bundle of contradictions and idiosyncrasies may be a different size than mine, but I’ve yet to meet the human version of a concrete monolith.

A feature – or is it a bug? – of Western culture is the inclination to categorize and to classify: Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. Thank you, Mr. Aristotle. These main categories are fine as far as they go. The broader the category, the more members. Within each main Classification are sub-classes for further sorting and refining. As the concentric circles of inclusion tighten for each subset, the smaller the pool of members. Inclusion in one grouping down the hierarchy happens simultaneously with exclusion and separation from the others.

The 7 broad brush categories (and their nested sub-categories) are useful for some things, but be honest, prior to reading the category names, how long had it been since you’d thought of them? The classifications aren’t helpful at all in pursuit of self-realization (unless self is broadly defined as that which everything else is not). One doesn’t discover the concept, Species, and cry ”Eureka!, my quest to know myself and my purpose on this planet is over!”, ”I belong to a species!”, ”Glory, Hallelujah!”

Deeper levels of categorization create problems. ”I’m a homo sapiens,” you declare, satisfied with the sub-division distinguishing yours from other species. Is additional fine-tuning necessary? Knowing your species and behaving as such will answer many questions: who can I successfully mate with? Is this why my body isn’t covered with feathers? So, my brain is larger than a lion’s, but I’m slower, so that means I’m supposed to out-think and not outrun them, right? Seems to be refinement enough, because traverse one level down and you’re at the edge of quicksand.

There are several subspecies of homo sapiens, of which Homo Erectus is our home base. At this, the Homo Erectus level, we are one big, happy family of Man (pardon, ladies). And now comes the fun. We divide into Sexes. Used to be no biggie, but now we further divide into Gender (and its definitions – including whether or not one is Cis-Gendered) and Sexual Preference (with its accompanying divisions). We divide into Races. Always a biggie because it includes not only the amount of an individual’s melanin, but also National identity as well as historical atrocities and grievances . We divide by Culture. This one makes us feel threatened because of differences of language and art and world view. (Some of us even take shelter within a subculture.) We divide by Religion. Not content to rest in the security we find in our own, we must discredit, disgrace, and disavow all others, as well as belittle and exile those who neither share our preferred Faith, nor claim any Faith at all. We divide by Socio-Economic class. Because Capitalism, Yo! And…we divide by Political ideas, which is not exactly true, is it? We divide over politicized words, the common person having little to no real understanding of what the emotionally charged ”isms” even mean.

The average person doesn’t know the difference between Communism, Democracy, or Socialism, much less the variants. If pressed to define those terms, could you do so without resorting to a dictionary? Can you confidently say what Conservatism is? Progressivism? What are the rules for inclusion? What you do know is how you feel when you see or hear political labels. You know some people you like, and you want them to like you; and you listen to what they say to believe, and that’s good enough for you. No further thinking required. Peel off the adhesive backing and apply the label.


But what do you call a guy who spent years as a cross-country, touring DeadHead (and who still loves their music), a former drug addict turned street evangelist and full-time minister (who loves Jesus), a father of seven kids (all birthed at home and subsequently home-schooled), a gun owner and concealed carry permittee (who once even had an AR-15), an entrepreneurial small-business owner of an S-Corp LLC, who hasn’t worked in an office in 18 years, a lifetime Republican voter (until Trump v Clinton forced a decision to vote Libertarian, and then Trump v Biden forced a decision to vote Democrat)? What do you label a guy who would rather read than sleep (and often does), and who has accumulated more mostly useless knowledge on such a wide variety of topics that even he doesn’t know what he’s most interested in, but who could therefore convincingly debate either side of almost any topic, and enjoys doing just that? What do you call someone who has only strong opinions, but who is equally convinced that he could be wrong about any or all of them?

Go ahead, pigeon-hole me. 

However, the paragraph above notwithstanding, this essay is not about me. This is about the foolishness of labeling and of dividing over minutiae. I offered my details to illustrate the absurdity of slapping a too-granular, one-word label on another person. If pressed, there is no single label that comes to mind that I would be agreeably comfortable to wear. Your mileage may vary, but is that not also true for you? If yes, then what can we do about it?

We have two choices. One, we can stop focusing so much on the smallest circle of belonging, and widen our aperture of inclusion to the next circle out, or if that’s still too tight, the next. Unity lives in the big circles. It shares quarters there with Understanding, and Humanity, and Love. I know this sounds like idealistic, utopian, liberal-speak, but it’s true. If it’s not, then our second option is to keep digging smaller and smaller circles for our like-minded tribe until we’re down to a foxhole. That’s a tight fit to be shared with one, and only one, other person. I cannot speak for you, but I would be hard pressed to find anyone with whom I am in agreement on all things, 100% of the time…not even myself. 

You may need that level of agreement and uniformity of compliance in order to feel good about yourself and your life. For your sake, I hope that’s not the case. That’s a hefty burden of insecurity to lug around. I don’t want any ideas or beliefs that are so fragile that I have to defend them against all opposition lest they die. The more compulsion I feel to defend a position, the less certain I am of its correctness. Truth and Good Ideas far outlive both their proponents and their opponents. Who wants to live in a carefully detailed, perfectly classified, scrubbed, and homogenized world? That seems more like a taxidermist’s shop, or a Nature museum than the messy Real World we’re in.  It’s not that hard to see that each of us is more than a slogan on our bumper stickers. One rung up the classification ladder, we’re a helluva lot more alike than we are different.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top