I'm not sure if this is a (relatively) recent trend or not, but I feel as if I notice it more than I used to, and that is people who reject the use of labels, particularly in reference to people and even more particularly in reference to themselves. I notice this label rejection most often by people who fancy themselves as 'Freethinkers' or 'Nonconformists', but it seems to have spread amongst the broader population as well. (but then again, seeing oneself as a 'freethinker' and 'non-comformist' seems to have become pretty popular in it's own right. Even car commercials are trying to appeal to a person's sense of non-conformity. Car commercials! It is hard for me to see how buying a mass produced automobile could be an act of rebellion).

I suppose I can understand, somewhat, why a person might feel resistance to the use of labels. After all, labels are reductionistic. Describing someone as a 'surfer' or 'new yorker' doesn't capture the complexity of the individual. It may lead to incorrect assumptions about that person, that because they may fit within a certain category, people might incorrectly conclude they share other common attributes with people in that category.

However, this is a problem with almost all words! All nouns are essentially labels. To say anything about anything we must use labels. And yes, it will be reductionistic and yes it will lead to assumptions some of which are incorrect, but that is the nature of language, it is imperfect.

To deny the use of labels in describing people seems like an unnecessary obstacle, that, if anything, is more inconvenient than helpful.
Of course some descriptive words will conjure biases in people, but most people are able to realize that while a person may be a _____ they also have other attributes as well or that not everyone who is ____ is also _____. (but maybe a lot of them are) And while labels might lead to incorrect assumptions, they can also communicate a lot of information succinctly.
Plus, when people respond to a question by saying they don't like labels, they almost always go one to describe themselves using some other sort of label, albeit one slightly longer and perhaps something they made up. For example you might ask someone 'are you a skater?' to which they would reply 'I don't label myself. I like to think of myself as a person who has fun riding on a skate board'. This is still a label, it just uses more words.

These label rejecters seem to have an unnecessarily large concern with how others perceive them, going so far as to choose the words with which they can be described and thought about. I guess my general feeling about the subject is, lighten up, labels have their drawbacks but are useful as well.

1 comment:

Fish Nat!on said...

In my education program, we are learning (or, i might more aptly say this is being ground into our skulls)
that people first labeling is the only way for a harmonious, happy, healthy society to exist. For instance, rather than an autistic student, a student with autism. Or a student with a disability. Or whatever. I think larger society could benefit greatly from this. Like, rather than an asshole, I'd rather be known as a person who is an asshole. A person who is happy. A man who enjoys eating mostly vegetables.

It gets old pretty fucking quick.