Greetings, well met, all that rot. Hope all are well today! I’ve decided to touch on a subject that’s way up there in importance to me — Labels, and specifically, how they can create and/or enhance divisiveness. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m referring to “Labels” with the following description (thanks, MW!):
Label: A descriptive or identifying word or phrase
Labels are important; they help us understand the world around us, and they help us communicate. In fact, without labels and their application, we’d probably be completely unable to communicate. I mean, let’s say I want to tell you about my trip to the ocean. How would I describe it without labeling aspects of it? I could label the water as smooth and calm, or rough and choppy; blue, or green, or red with plankton. If I were to talk about a tree, and its lovely drooping branches, would you know what kind of tree I was talking about without me saying it’s a Live Oak, as opposed to say a Weeping Willow? So, labels can and are used as descriptions, adjectives if you will. In this form of their usage, they’re not the least bit divisive!
But then we have to start looking at the labels we apply, to ourselves, and to others. For instance, I see myself as largely conservative, simply because I believe that the government needs to stay the heck outta my home, my bedroom, my wallet (except for infrastructure, thanks!), and my morality. But because I’m also friends with many people who identify themselves as gay, or queer, or male, or female, or trans, or gender-neutral; in other words, if you didn’t know the parts about my preference for small government, you’d think I was incredibly liberal.
Then, let’s talk about those people I mentioned above. You know, the ones who’re labeled as “deviant” because their sexual preferences and/or gender identification are “abnormal.” So already, in just my second paragraph, I’ve touched on the labeling of people due to sexual preference and gender identification. This is a really key important part of this entire writing, right here, folk; when we seek to identify people on these issues, rather than as a facet of who and what they are, we dehumanize them.
Read that last sentence over again.
All of a sudden these human beings have been devalued and are placed in a position of “less than” or “worse than” I am. Wanna chat politics? Look at the increasing furor in our country over the last decade or so. No subject is undivided, and hate-speech, nasty names, and those horrid epithets “Filthy liberal” and “Bible-thumping conservative” are flung about willy-nilly. So a woman who is pro-life is derided for a belief she holds dear and a woman who chooses abortion is derided for making a choice she felt was necessary but others morally object to. Wanna chat class-separation? Anyone in a suit is “The Man” while anyone not in a suit is a lazy bum who’s not willing to do the work to get a “real job.” Wanna chat racism? Anyone who’s not my skin color is automagically less human than I am. Wanna chat sexism? Anyone not sharing my gender is obviously unable to compete — all men are pigs and all women whores, right?
Are you seeing the point I’m making here? There are literally thousands of ways we can apply labels to people that will allow us to feel a sense of superiority, and allow us to treat those around us as “lesser.” Now, why on earth would anyone want to do that? Weeelllll … let’s do a bit of ‘sploring, shall we? Let’s assume I’m insecure, and I don’t want anyone else to know it. I can either A) pretend to be secure and confident until I feel secure or confident, or B) bring you down a notch or two so I can feel less insecure about my own place in the world.
Now, let’s explore our society a little bit. It can’t be overlooked or forgotten that we began our societal urges when we were hunter-gatherers; someone, somewhere, figured out that people went hungry less if people worked together to actually build communities centered around mutual support and, of course, farming! So we went from straight-up competition; being a better hunter/gatherer/food producer, etc, to cooperation; working together to meet more peoples’ needs than just our own, or our immediate family group.
But we never lost that competitive spirit, now did we? Rather than having to out-produce that other hunter, though, our competition now took on the form of city-states aligned against other city-states, or communities, or whatever you want to call it. Yes, I’m glossing over vast amounts of history here, but there’s one common theme I think needs to be made here, and that common theme seems, to me, to be competition. If we can’t compete individually, then we compete as groups. And in order to compete as groups, we must dehumanize the other group. Those other people on the far side of the valley? They have apples growing over there, and we don’t have apples! Forget the fact that we never initiated direct trade with them — we want their apples! So, what kind of labels can we apply to them that will make attacking them and taking their apples more palatable? They’re vicious apple-hoarding jerks who won’t just give over their bounty to us! We must take it, and to take it, we need as many of our people riled up about the apple-hoarding; the easiest way to sway popular opinion is to provide information, or misinformation, that supports your policies and goals.
So, how does that apply to today? Well, let’s look at some of the labels people use to divide themselves from others:
I regularly hear men — and women! — referring to other women as bitches, hos, psycho-bitches, bimbos, twats, and more. So my question to this is if this is now common usage, what do we expect our daughters to think of themselves if they grow up hearing their gender referred to this way? Further, when it’s common to refer to oneself in this manner, how do we not think it’s going to impact the way we, and everyone around us, sees us?
I regularly hear alternative lifestylers referred to as confused, queer, deviant, perverted, and other such epithets. Again, question: How are these labels not intended to strip away commonalities and instead parade forth differences? Further, to parade forth these differences as though they make the person less, somehow?
I regularly hear the label “entitled” bandied about to refer to men or, more specifically, white men. That, again, sets them apart from “us,” because we’ve never been entitled in our lives, now have we? Obviously Mr. Entitled-White-Dude should be made to feel guilty for things he’s never even taken part of, just because he’s different than I am.
It goes on … and on, and on, and on. I could probably come up with a veritable plethora of labels and appellations that different groups have for each other — or I can ask you, what’s your favorite one to use? Stop and really think about that. I mean, even me, who’s super aware of the ways in which labels can be used to cause harm — even I’m known to call people “idiots” when I’m driving and having to endure them! Bottom line is that those instances are, in fact, ways to separate myself from the “sheep” around me and thus indicate I’m better than them. Smarter, more open-minded, a better thinker, a better driver … you get the idea, right?
So what’s the answer? How about something really simple. How about, when we meet anyone, we reserve judgement on them beyond “Human.” Oh, wait, we can’t help but notice that they’re male or female, right? Ummmm … sometimes, actually. Sometimes that dude you’re chatting with may in fact be a chick, or vice verse. So why not just start with “Human.” Oh, then? How about how they’re presenting themselves? If someone’s presenting as a woman? Treat her as a woman! If someone presents as a man? Same thing, treat him as a guy! It really is that easy. You see, the judgement of who or what a person is comes from our end, not usually theirs. If a male identifies strongly as a female and dresses that way, why should I treat her any differently than a biologically-born female? Is it because it defies my sense of what’s right and correct? Probably. And that’s where the judgement first enters the scene: “I wouldn’t tolerate that in my children!” or “What, you’re so confused you can’t figure out what gender you are?” or “Oh, you dress like a woman, so you must be a fag.”
In short, the ability to label things, and then relegate them to lesser status due to those labels is what allows hate-speech. It is what allows us to willfully cause harm to others; if they were more like us, we wouldn’t want to, but since they march to a different tune, they’re less than me. So it’s perfectly acceptable to perpetrate outrage against them.
It begins with that first drive to make ourselves better, or feel better, folk. It goes from there to being a tool used to divide our society, and it ends in a sense of dissociation from anyone who’s not “like me” or “like my people”. And if we allow it to continue, it will absolutely rip our society apart.
Start looking at your peers as humans, first. Explore them from that perspective. What’s their favorite color? Their hopes, their dreams? What are the things that are important to them? Can we find commonality, or do we desire to be superior to this person? Why or why not?
Each individual interaction can be its own individual interaction; me talking with Joe can be a different conversation than me talking with Bryan, simply because while Joe & Bryan are both men, they’re radically different men, and they have very different lifestyles and lives and histories. If I just label them both as “men” or “scumbuckets” or “dogs” because they both have danglies between their legs, then I’ve chosen to absolutely disregard all the wonderful things each one brings to the table. I’ve chosen to assume that they’re going to act and react the same to issues, just because of those danglies.
For me? Even though I do slip, and yes, I admit, driving’s the worst time for that for me; but even though I do slip, I still prefer the joy of getting to know each and every human I meet and interact with as that person, not as some label I feel safe applying to them.
That actually does take more effort … but it’s also immensely more rewarding! Further? It’s less destructive to this community we live within. Our current society, you know? It’s broke, but it’s not irreparably broken. It can be fixed … if enough of us care enough to step up and start doing the work to fix it. In my mind, one of the very first habits we must break is seeing others as less-than. And that means changing how we allow ourselves to see, and name, others.