I have been thinking about labels. A very useful concept. A stack of boxes with no labels is a nightmare of exasperated searching. When there are labels, it narrows the search, saving time.

Labels are a short cut to anyone searching, like signs on a map.

Labels on people work the same way. Conversations are edited, information to be shared is steered in one direction, information received is processed by a filter based upon the label.

All this is helpful if the label is correct. Unfortunately it is rare that the box generates its own label. People are mostly labeled by other people.

So, mislabeling is probably the most harmful action to real communication. It’s a useful short-cut only if it is correct.

A list of current important labels…

1. believer & non-believer. Something to watch for is the hidden bias. Defining a whole group of folks as “non” tends to invalidate their position.

2. Liberal and conservative. There is a difference, but the differences are not fixed by the words. People apply the specifics, and they change over time.

3. Democratic and autocratic. The same thing apples from above.

So maybe we need to use different labels

1. Loving and hateful. Now this is a really useful label if can be proved true.

2. Good and evil. This is great, if we can actually find folks who honestly embrace evil.

3. Moral and immoral. Same problem exists, who champions immorality?

Perhaps in the comic book universe where superheroes and super villains exists.

I have been asked often about where I stand. What label that is self defining?

Periodically my children ask who I voted for? I declare that I took an oath to defend our right to a secret ballot. The problem is that the secret ballot hasn’t always been central to the constitution.

In fact, there is ample evidence that democracy depends upon knowing exactly where a representative stands by a simple yes or no vote n public.

I am not a label, it would not be easy to place my beliefs in one camp or another. I am not an independent, although I tend to think independently. I have registered with a party where I believe I can have a larger impact, not because I am surrounded by lockstep thinkers.

My wife has a genealogy that is missing. There are grandparents and cousins that basically disappeared in 1941. I have taken that to heart as an analogy.

The most basic label is… there are people that will put you on the train… because they are evil, or frightened, or unthinking, or mistakenly patriotic, or apathetic, or just plain asleep.

And then there are people that would never, ever, on the pain of Death, even consider putting people on the train.

I know where I stand in this labeling and it is my first consideration when I look at the labels of others.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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5 Responses to Labels

  1. Hans De Keulenaer says:

    Well John (cracking knuckles), labels simplify. The Brussels library classifies Leonardo da Vinci, scientist, engineer, inventor, sculptor, architect, … as a painter. They have to put him somewhere. Stefan Zweig’s autobiography translated in Dutch is put under literature. Librarians must very aware of the limiting, simplifying, problematic nature of labels.

    Websites and blogs allow tagging to capture a little more complexity. This helps search engines telling them what a page is about. Very quickly, marketers have turned this to a dark side, tagging an article with every possible label they could think of. Rather than labelling the essence, tags capture not only every remotely touched upon subject but even their 2nd and 3rd degree associations. Sometimes one wonders why a search result for a very specific term is included. Like antibiotics, we’re abusing tags to the extent that they rapidly loose their effectiveness.

    Applying labels to people can be often used in a dismissive manner at best and for hostile stereotyping in the worst case. Unless one absolutely has to label, better to think thrice about them.

    • johndiestler says:

      I so completely agree. We should think trice. Except we don’t. We are out there in the world throwing Post-it Notes on ideas, words, groups, people… it’s a blizzard of information. Mostly in an attempt to know, acting from fear often, rarely for clarification. DaVinci is a painter!! Indeed!!

      So, in the face that it is actually used so poorly, what do we do? We work with it! Go basic, and find the ultimate “divider”. Safe and unsafe. Life or death. Thinking and unthinking. The Force or the Dark Side. Ha!

      Brings to mind William Morse’s great illustration of God as the Great Divider.

      • johndiestler says:

        William Blake! Haha

      • Hans De Keulenaer says:

        As with many of the concepts of general semantics nowadays, it seems to be almost impossible to go against the tide. But this should not stop us from trying.

        There was some good in Darth Vader and a little dark side in Luke.

        God as the great unifying force? Atheism appears to me as a different definition or the divine or an alternative origin story.

    • johndiestler says:

      Two basic truths, we are heterotrophs, and we need to procreate. All of our gifts are mutations that support this fact. Some are obvious, but music and art as a technique to attract mates? I dunno. Mutations take on a life of their own

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