Wednesday, February 6, 2008

My Origin for Disliking Labels

First, when I'm talking about labels, I'm talking about the general, all-encompasing type of labels, like the kind attributed to people to label one's politics.

I want to explain that the reason I get so annoyed by them is that in years past, when I was in undergrad, I'd participate in a discussion group (online) that argued endlessly about politics. I know, it was mostly a waste of time, but people enjoyed "scoring points" - or at least thinking they did. And what annoyed me the most about that, and why I finally stopped participating (among other reasons) was the annoying use of labels over substance pretty much for every single freaking thread of discussion. It seemed like, particularly from the Republican side, there was an attempt to pigeonhole every thing into a label that could then be used to discredit. If someone brought up an article criticising some Republican position, for instance, every effort would be made to try and label the author as a "liberal" and then that author could be safely ignored. Similar things would happen with participants. Though I never called myself a liberal and, in fact, had many positions exactly opposite what liberals would supposedly have, I was repeatedly labeled a liberal simply because of disagreement on a few narrow issues with the very conservative Republicans in the discussion, and then pretty much every time I said anything, I was dismissed by them as a "liberal" not worth listening to - while none of my salient points were ever addressed. And that annoyed the hell out of me.

That's why I prefer talking about the issues, not the freaking labels, and not using them, particularly where they are done in a dismissive way.

I do acknowledge that certain positions can have, inherint to them elements of sexism, for instance. And if they are extreme enough, one could make a reasoned argument for why certain positions are inherintly misogynist. But in my mind, those have to be pretty extreme, given the meaning of misogyny - hatred of women. Because I somehow doubt that half of the population actually hates women. I think there is a vast gulf of difference between sexism and hatred. One can have the (completely wrong and stupid) notion, for instance, that men are better at most professions without actually hating women. Sure, it is sexist as hell, but sexism does not automatically mean hatred. It annoys the hell out of me when the proper term is sexism and misogyny is used instead.

It is interesting when this dynamic is used in the other direction - for instance, where some people label certain radical feminists (and perhaps even all feminists) as "man haters" (or misandrists) - this is a huge no-no (and I think it is stupid and wrong when applied to all feminists). People get rightly upset about this. But this is no different than the overuse of misogyny - because again, it is accusing people of hatred where that simply isn't the case.

I'd much rather argue the merits of a position than slap labels on it. I'd much rather argue the merits of an individual's rights to gun ownership than argue whether I'm an "NRA nut" or I'm a "neoconservative" or I'm a "liberal" when it comes to guns, for instance. A discussion on the merits of the position is interesting and useful. A discussion on whether one's views on a position dump you in that hated group or this hated group is bullshit.

1 comment:

Larry Hamelin said...

I understand your frustration. But, like I said before, the problem is not the labels, it's the stupid.

And there's nothing to be done about the stupid except to chip away at it bit by bit until we actually get rid of it, or the universe ends (or we blow ourselves up). In any case, we'll at least be able to keep ourselves entertained for the foreseeable future.