Thursday, April 8, 2010


I absolutely detest labels. It is the bland generalization of a label that disturbs me so. I’m not talking the label on your frozen burrito or jar of pickled pig’s feet. I’m talking about the labels we place on our human selves – black, white, male, female, married, single, liberal, conservative, pragmatist, idealist, gay, straight, christian, atheist – these are some big ones. These code words are so limited in their description of a person, even in combination with other labels. Why do we abide this practice of labeling? To be sure, these words are descriptive; perhaps even necessary (male, female) when describing oneself or another. There seems, however, to be a general willingness to let a word or two in combination suffice as basis for a full description of an individual. What’s worse is that some labels connote something particular to you, and something particular to me. There’s no true consensus. This causes problems.

On the other hand, labels make things easier for us. For instance, I could tell you that:
I’m a male human of Irish, German, Italian & Romani descent. I’m sexually attracted to female humans, but have an appreciation of the beauty in both the male and female human form. I have been with the same partner for nine years, but we have yet to sign a contract formalizing our partnership. I am at times an artist, a musician, and always an aficionado of the creative spark. I have a strong work ethic, and believe that if a person needs to work to support oneself, that person should work! I typically vote democrat, but reserve the right to pick whoever I deem best for whatever position is in contest. I strongly support things like marriage equality, green and conservation initiatives, health care reform, and higher taxes for improved services. I attempt to live a life based on reasoned observation of the universe I inhabit. I require evidence for phenomena I cannot explain with simple observation; therefore, I have no belief in the supernatural (but I still like reading ghost stories…).
Or, I could say:
I’m a single white straight male liberal atheist.
And, damn! That’s much easier. It just doesn’t give the full picture. But neither does the longer-winded description.

So, this is really a long way of saying that though labels are irritating, limiting, and occasionally offensive, in our world, we need a simple indicator to tell us how to proceed. That’s the function of these types of words. It pays, though, to look past the word and find out what’s behind it. Sort of the, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” idea.

Having now given myself permission to use labels as needed, I have to say, the wingnuts were out in force in my home state of Minnesota last night.

[Jerry Holt / Minneapolis Star Tribune]

Please, please, please, oh denizens of my beloved Minnesota, vote with your minds and not with your hearts. Get rid of the stupid once and for all!


  1. Thank you for the definition link to Wingnut. I like the term Wingnuttery very much.

    As for labels...It's a funny thing. If you say or rather, if I say that I am a female semi-straight liberal agnostic - I know that the other "cool" kids will want to play.
    I am so intolerant of people that have labeled themselves Teabaggers or conservatives because I've seen what that stands for - especially in the media (which is so convoluted so there ya go)that my head immediately thinks...RUN! They are CRAZY! But really, if I took the time to get to know someone that is a Wingnut (hee) I may actually like them. the very least learn something.
    And as I write that last bit I cringe.
    I think I've made your point though.

  2. Thanks for making my point...

    Also, don't forget that there are liberal wingnuts too.

  3. Yeah...I'm a Libby Wingnut.
    As for making your point...not so much. PROVING your point is more like it. Yah.

  4. There is a heuristic value to labels, and I'm not sure that the damage done by them is worse than the benefit (I have no sources to support this, it's simply blind conjecture). In an ideal world, I suppose, it would be possible to fully grok all people as individuals rather than members of a group, but humans are inherent pattern-seekers. Classifying by group frees us precious mental resources required to take in new useful information. Not only that, but useful social interaction can and does spring from group affiliation, regardless of how otherwise dissimilar two individuals may happen to be.

    In my mind, a practical goal is to keep the labels, divorce them from emotion, and be consistently self-critical to see how use of the label affects our decision-making.

    Re-reading what you've written, I'm not sure we disagree on that.