Bagged and Tagged

Philosophy, Society

Society is full of labels. Labels, little tags we attach to people based on their opinions. Labels like "feminist", "socialist", "capitalist", "elitist", what have you. These labels serve a small purpose ? they make it easy at first glance to get a fairly good grasp of what someone thinks based on what we know about that particular label from before ? but labels also come with something I like to call ideological baggage.

I'll use myself as an example. If you wanted, you could probably attach all of the labels mentioned above to me: I don't see why men should be treated differently from women as a base case, I think people in a community need to stick up for each other, I think people should have freedom to own things, and I do consider some people more qualified than others. But I would not refer to myself with any of the labels above, and I would prefer it if others don't either.

Now, why is this? If I think men and women are pretty much equal, doesn't that make me a feminist? In my opinion, it sort of does. But not everyone agrees on that definition. Over the years, with so many people calling themselves feminists, socialists or what have you, these labels have accumulated an enormous amount of ideological baggage; preconceptions about what it means to be a feminist or socialist that not all people who call themselves feminists or socialists agree on.

One can probably pretty safely say that all feminists agree that men and women should be treated equally. But many people take this a bit further, assuming that all feminists are also lesbian man-haters, who hate men and everything they stand for, et cetera. This is, as mentioned in my previous philosophy post, an illicit fallacy ? assuming that just because some members of a group have a certain opinion, everyone does. Now, I don't deny that there are people with some pretty screwy opinions that have called themselves feminists in the past, but to assume that everyone is like that is ridiculous.

Fallacy or not, such mistaken notions are widespread, to the point where calling yourself a feminist or socialist is extremely hazardous. Should you do it anyway, and then try to defend yourself by saying that's not what you meant when someone questions your motives, the discussion will invariably deteriorate into a semantics discussion that doesn't help anyone.

So then, why do people surround themselves with labels like this? Why do people still use them, if they are so volatile? Mainly, it has to do with our need to belong. We're born into a society where people identify themselves by which group they belong to, which social clique they move around in on a daily basis. We've come to a point where people aren't judged on their personal beliefs any more, but rather what association, group, religion, or political party they happen to belong to. Peter C�O Johansson isn't Peter C�O Johansson, he's a socialist-feminist hacker-philosopher, and we all know what they are like, don't we?

So, we feel a need to belong. The community offers a kind of security, and most important of all: it's a handy way to push the motivation of opinion on to something else than our own person. People who have read up on existentialist philosophy might recognize what I'm about to say. The community lets the person move motivation for his own opinions on to other people of the same clique, thus relieving him of responsibility of his own self; another way to objectify yourself. If you're a socialist rather than a guy who thinks that laborers need to stand up for themselves, you can easily point to other more well-educated people in case someone question you, relieving you of responsibility and the need to think.

Being "independent", not wishing to file yourself into a folder with everyone else who has opinions somewhat like yours, is certainly much harder than succumbing and joining a group. It forces you to actually think about why you believe what you do, forces you to take responsibility for your own thoughts. But it's worth it.

To quote you: " can easily point to other more well-educated people in case someone question you, relieving you of responsibility and the need to think."

But isn't this the case with any quoting, referring to other philosophers, books, etc? I mean, even you pointed at existentialist philosophy here. Are you pointing at other well-educated people in case someone questions this essay?

Or are you not simply writing an essay that others can quote? Or you yourself? Imagine someone writing the following. "It's important to think for yourself and to take responsibility for your own thoughts. If you don't believe me, see X-G's reasoning on his blog."

What I mean is, isn't this simply a manifesto for independent thinkers and thus a paradox, an oxymoron in itself?

Certainly not. Should someone question this essay, I will be fully prepared to defend it myself, with my own viewpoints. The mention of existentialist literature is there merely as a way to draw attention to the similarities here, in case someone has read them, and to encourage people to read more about existentialism - the majority of it is not within scope of this article. I can't hope to provide encyclopedic knowledge in a mere 3600 bytes.

As for my motivation to write this article, that's mine alone. Why I wrote it is completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand. I wrote it, and that's all you need to know. If someone would see my article as quote-worthy, I would be honored, but as with all quotes I would like to see the quote accompanied by their own thoughts on the matter.

One of the problems with this labeling is that all labels don't carry the same connotation as the ones you mentioned. These, to me at least, carry a negative connotation while labels like "jock", "preppy", "beautiful", etc ... are much more positive labels. (To the majority of people, they are more positive. All labels, obviously, will have some people who see them as positive and some as negative. I'm talking about majorities here.)

With positive labels, what is the incentive for " ... you to actually think about why you believe what you do, forces you to take responsibility for your own thoughts" ?
If I were labeled as a "beautiful" person, very few people would give me grief over that. I would have attention, praise, and recognition. Why would I want to give that up? I fear that without the negative effects of a label, the incentive for the type of people who would buy into those labels to begin with is nearly nil. Isn't it?

The problems with labels is a) Everyone have different opinions about what they actually mean and b) it bundles people together into groups, weakening the invidual. a) is just a practical problem, causing stupid small fights or whatnot, but b) is evil. Condemning all whatever:ists is always easier then condemning, for example, Bill, 26, who is dying of cancer and is a father of a two year old child. Labels is yet another way of grouping people, creating more sides that can fight pointless wars. The label "enemy" is one of the worst things every happened to the human race. Of course, that's not a label anyone have chosen for themeselves, but it's a label, nevertheless, and it can be set to equal other labels.

I tend to not like labels, partly because of that, and partly because I can't seem to bother about it, anyway.

[b) it bundles people together into groups, weakening the invidual.]

Groups tend to exist in order to support their own members and the binding ideas when it comes to points they all agree on, thus I can't see them weakening the individuals within the group.

When it comes to open groups such as, say, the open source movement, the existence of the group itself ensures the evolution and continued existence of the binding ideas and ideals. Groups exist to make a difference in the world, whereas a single individual is rarely strong enough to change anything. Also, when a group has a positive connotation in the minds of the majority, belonging to that group strengthens the position of the individual within the community and doesn't necessarily weaken him in any way.

I'd also argue that this depends largely on the nature of the group, since small groups that are formed on the basis of common interests and where people come together to debate issues serve largely the individual and not the group since the individual gets to present his ideas to the group and the group then helps these ideas evolve through debate. The open source slogan "with enough eyes, all bugs are shallow" applies here as well.

Then again, groups often exist to ensure the survival of the binding idea, not the individual, so any benefits to the individual belonging to the group tend to be secondary.

(Oh and X-G, what about a quote tag?)

Sir Jolle is actually correct. The fundamental principle of the group is to protect the interests of the individual, and as long as the individuality of a group's members is preserved, all is well. The points you bring up are all valid for a group that functions normally.

However, this is increasingly not the case in modern society, especially with labels like these. The group is not supposed to be its own raison d'�tre, but more and more that is becoming the case. People identify themselves by which group they belong to and support the group more and more as an entity of its own, rather than having the group serve the interests of the individuals that comprise the group. Basically, when you move from saying "I am a person with these beliefs" to "I am a communist", you've started giving up on your individuality by reducing yourself from a person to a mere member of a particfular group.

As for quote tags, I'll look into it. I'll see if I can come up with something.

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