“Once you label me you negate me.”
Søren Kierkegaard (Danish philosopher, 1813-1855)
It’s been said that no one is born naturally hating other people and that’s something I happen to agree with. So where does that hate come from? I have a few points I’d like to bring up and I want you to hear me out on this because this is important.
Do you ever get sick and tired of those damn liberals pushing their Progressive agenda, blaming government all the time for not doing enough for the poor and minorities while they push for policies that will just further bankrupt the middle class and ruin our country?
Maybe it’s not the liberals. Perhaps it’s all the conservatives who are really to blame, since it’s obvious to anyone who has eyes that they are all marching in lockstep with the corporations and the affluent 1% to destroy the middle class and keep us all in chains of financial bondage?
Then again, it might not be the political system at all, it’s just all these damn foreigners who keep polluting the American dream by taking away jobs and opportunities from honest US citizens who shouldn’t have to compete with these mooching immigrants for jobs they are entitled to.
On top of the immigration problem, when you look at all the lazy poor and welfare queens out there who are just getting a free ride on the backs of the hardworking middle class, the very people who slavishly support these shiftless slackers so they can sit around playing Xbox and yap on their iPhones all day, it’s enough to make me sick.
But you know what makes all of us sick? The fact that toxic babble like all the nonsense I just spewed flies around the airwaves and social media all day long and we take it in and use it to shape how we see the world and how we treat each other. The truth is that none of what I just said has anything to do with real people nor does any of that generalized, hateful rhetoric solve even one of the myriad of social, economic, religious and political problems we all face.
So what’s the problem?
Why We Label
It is an easily observable fact that the human mind excels at pattern matching. We look for patterns or shapes that are familiar to us in our environment. There is nothing wrong with this – it is a crucial element in our very survival to be able to recognize things we have seen before, to have on file the traits and characteristics of things which we need to get along in life.
However , the mind can sometimes be too good at this. Often we can see patterns or shapes in things that are actually just random jumbles of different elements. Examples of this happen every single day, such as seeing monsters in cloud formations, thinking an open shower curtain is a person waiting to pounce on you in the bathroom, or seeing faces on almost everything from a piece of toast to the side of a building. Scientists and skeptics have even coined words to describe this pattern-making trait of human thinking, calling it apophenia and patternicity.
The human mind likes things to be orderly and familiar. It is directly related to our sense of security and control. If things are random or jumbled about or when we are in unfamiliar territory, we feel that we are not in control. When things are orderly and in place and familiar, this alone can have a natural calming or peaceful effect.So, when things are not familiar, the human mind will invent connections or associations that don’t actually exist. This is far easier for most people than to recognize and deal with the fact that something just doesn’t make sense or isn’t familiar or has to be considered in a new light.
To Label or Not to Label
Putting a label on something is a method of pattern recognition or identification. When you have identified an illness as “smallpox” or an individual as “John Doe” then you no longer have any confusion about who or what that thing is. Labelling or naming people and things certainly is necessary or we truly would live in a world of utter random chaos. We would never be able to communicate to each other about anything.
But labeling has a dark side. It can be used too broadly or too generally. This far too frequent practice occurs every day in the media and in our personal lives and actually serves to get in the way of our ability to think. More often than not it leads directly to false identifications, incorrect
assumptions and wildly wrong conclusions about individuals, groups, organizations, religions, social causes and political issues.
Where Labels Can Go Wrong
When a thing is named or labeled, the mind assigns that thing certain characteristics or makes conclusions about it based on the label. For example, I could think that a Ford car is made in America and therefore is more expensive, of better quality and will be more rugged or solidly built than other cars.
I could also think that because a Subaru car is made in Japan, it’ll be cheaper in price, probably has more electronic components, is compact and is not a vehicle I would want to be in if it was rammed from the side by a large truck. These characteristics are all assigned by me automatically to any car with a “Ford” or “Subaru” label on them.
Now am I right in making these assumptions?
An atheist is a person who has no belief in any gods of any kind, is completely intolerant of any kind of faith-based thinking, wants traditional holidays banned, gets into heated “discussions as often as possible with people who do have faith (especially Christians) and is usually a sexist. An average Christian, on the other hand, is completely intolerant of any other belief system, goes to Church every Sunday, believes the Bible is God’s literal truth and is also historical fact, thinks all science is a useless and stupid waste of time and wants everyone on Earth to realize that they are basically evil. If every time I meet an atheist or a Christian, I assign these traits to them, do you think I’d be welcomed with open arms and make some great new friends?
Of course all of the examples I’m giving are completely wrong. The problem is that I am making broad genera lized statements about a whole class of people or things which obviously do not apply to every individual person or thing in that class. You can call these “labels” but another more accurate term would be “generalities”. In the list of logical fallacies, this is called “faulty
generalization” and is a form of “jumping to conclusions.”
Identifying a broad class of people with a label is obviously necessary for purposes of classification or census or statistics. It’s extremely helpful for medical personnel to know how many people have type AB blood in a given area. A medical census could quickly establish this and you could have a broad category of “AB blood types”. It’s also helpful to know how many people consider themselves Christians or Mormons or Hari Krishnas, when one is seeking to get
demographics information for a population sample. This information has certain practical uses in PR and marketing, for example.
It becomes problematic when a broad label, a generality, is applied to individuals or groups as a substitute for thinking or a reason to be intolerant.
Generalities Stop Rational Thinking
Generalities are very dangerous to thinking because they are actually thought-stopping. When someone uses a generality to identify someone, they no longer have to “think” about that person. In fact, the generality serves as its own sort of mental image or picture of the person. So you get this odd phenomenon of people not arguing with the person in front of them and dealing with their ideas and beliefs, but instead arguing with some kind of false generalized
mental creation of a “liberal” or a “Christian” or a “bigot” instead.
This is the basis of almost all predjudice, which by its very nature is faulty logic.
Truth is a specific thing. Joe Jones is a specific individual with his own set of ideas, conclusions and beliefs. You can’t argue with Joe Jones by labeling him as a “liberal” and then coming down on him for every single thing any “liberal” has ever said to you. It might feel good to “vent” against Joe Jones, but you certainly won’t be changing his mind by telling him that he thinks and
feels things that he doesn’t.
Be An Active Thinker
It is easy to be a lazy thinker by using generalities. We do it all the time and it’s a very bad habit.
It takes practice and work to break out of generalized thinking. It will greatly enhance your own ability to think rationally and clearly by recognizing generalities in your own thinking and cancelling them out whenever you find them. Talking about “evil conservatives” or even “evil Nazis” is easy to do but it’s not rational and it’s not any kind of accurate reflection of the real
The real world is complex and full of variety and differences. Generalities are some people’s attempt to make complex issues or situations simple and easy to understand. H. L. Mencken said “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Unfortunately, sometimes things are just not easy to understand and require us to work hard to be able to grasp them.
Generalities more often than not lead to a chain of logical fallacies and wrong conclusions which just bungle up your ability to see the truth. Avoid them like the plague. This is another key element in critical thinking.
Thank you for watching.