Why Do We Seek Labels?


It’s almost a daily occurrence now. On Facebook or Twitter, in an article or mind-numbing listicle, someone is discussing the traits, burdens and/or pleasures of being an introvert. Based on the unscientific sampling of my personal feed, 90% of the narcissistic self-promoters in the world are actually meek and shy introverts.

When us loners aren’t breathlessly talking about how weird it is that we prefer books to people (haha, I’m soooo crazy!), we’re posting the results of a Briggs Myers personality test (or some generic knockoff).

“I’m totally an INFP.”

“Well, I’m an ENFJ.”

“Oh, I could definitely see that. I guess that’s because I’m an ENTP.”

“I kind of figured all of you were CUNTs.”

And when we get bored with scientific classifications that mostly mean nothing, we fall back on the original sugar pill of personality labels: The Zodiac.

What’s Your Sign?

How is it that a generation raised on “Be Yourself” entertainment is so obsessed with conforming to labels? How can we, on one hand, talk so much about how our race, gender and sexuality doesn’t define our potential and value, and then turn around and say without a trace of irony, “Oh, I’m a Cancer, that’s why I’m so emotional”? Why are we so in need of being sorted?

Hate to break it to you, but you aren’t Harry Potter.

I realize that most people who read horoscopes don’t put much faith in them. They read them for entertainment, they read them because they’re bored, or they read them because it’s fun to see how they match up with their lives. But, like the lapsed Catholic who still crosses himself before entering a scary, black basement, there is an ounce of belief in these people.

It’s not faith in the Zodiac (though, obviously, there are people who truly and fully believe in the bunk), but rather a kind of desperate hope that there could be some truth in the predictions. If the horoscope is true, if the Briggs Myers is accurate, if Muhammad is the Prophet, then there is understandable order in the universe.

There isn’t. At least, not in the way you want.

BleakIntroPerversion

Being an introvert can be great. (Except when it’s not.) There is no question that I fit the label. I fit many labels. I’m shy, I’m pensive, I’m a Wallflower, I’m serious, melancholy, calculating. (Except when I’m not.) I am many things that are really just synonyms for the same trait, which is [fill-in-the-blank].

I imagine, though, that being an extrovert must be pretty great, too.

Except when it’s not.

We have an unhealthy compulsion to be categorized. I don’t like to say, “Because of the internet…” since that’s a very myopic way of looking at the world. I don’t think the internet is fundamentally changing us so much as it’s allowing us to more fully reveal the truest human nature. That said, because of the internet, we are becoming more and more obsessed with telling other people what our label is, presumably so they’ll better understand and accept us.

Am I too quiet? Well, don’t be mad at me, I’m just an introvert.

Am I not assertive enough? That’s just my personality trait, I’d rather create than control.

Am I bad in bed? Must be because you’re a Gemini.

We’re so scared of admitting our failings – of admitting that being less than perfect isn’t a quirk but a reality – that we seek a label for every single possible human personality.

I’m guilty, as well. I am bi-polar. Mostly it’s an affliction I have to deal with to get through day-to-day life and I don’t tend to talk about it in my real world life.* I rarely tell co-workers and don’t bring it up with friends and roommates unless I think they’re someone who will appreciate the conversation, usually because they have a similar struggle. I don’t want to be defined by my condition.

Except when I do. Because at times I do want to wrap myself up in the label. I want to use it as an excuse so that all my worst behaviors and traits can be written off and forgiven. I want permission to be weak.

We are all weak at times, and in those low moments we seek the comforting reassurance that it’s not our fault, not our responsibility. It’s just our nature.

That might be true, but what of it? There are positive traits and there are negative traits. There are qualities to be celebrated and qualities to be corrected. And then there are traits and qualities that just exist, neither good nor bad. I think of it (as I do most things) in evolutionary terms: There is no right or wrong way to be, generally, but there are traits that are more beneficial for particular circumstances.

I have great qualities for being a writer. I have lousy qualities for being a pop singer (even if I do have an ass like Nicki Minaj).

Our incessant need to label ourselves speaks to a great insecurity within us. Maybe it’s because of the constant bombardment of celebrity news and digitally-manipulated images, or maybe that insecurity always existed and the internet is just allowing us to admit it.

Either way, it’s a sickness. Not the insecurity. Insecurities can actually be a gift, a reminder that we are not done yet, that we can always do more to improve ourselves. No, the sickness is the desire to label ourselves, to say, “This is who I am so deal with it.” There are more than 7 billion people on this planet. If the world doesn’t want to “deal with it” they’ll just ignore you, like I imagine most of your friends on Facebook already do.

Nobody cares if you’re an introvert, an INTJ or a Taurus.

We only care what you actually do. So close the Buzzfeed quiz and go create something of lasting value.

Manhattan Sunset

 

*I use this space to talk about my condition on occasion because I want people to understand it, and I want people who are dealing with the same problem to have a place to feel less alone.

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281 thoughts on “Why Do We Seek Labels?

  1. Because language = labels and we are an inquisitive and intelligent species trying to make sense of our world. Choose your own labels 🙂 even if it’s simply ‘human’.

    • I appreciate the comment. Though I think that equation (“language = labels”) is both a little simplistic and literal for the point I’m making. We tell our children they can be anything they want, we say that the world is open to them and that no one should be limited by our gender or our sexual orientation or our race or our nationality… and then we turn around and look for brand new labels by which to define and limit ourselves.

      • I think blahpolar had it exactly right though – without labels we lack an efficient way to describe … anything really. Even something simple like colors – if I describe something as “purple” to 100 people, 50 of them will assume that they know what that “purple” looks like (and they could be wrong), 35 will say “Oh well that doesn’t help, that could be a million different colors,” and the other 15 will take a look and say, “No way that’s purple – it’s actually more magenta. In fact I myself would call it red.”

        But without the label in the first place, we would have nothing to argue about. Without SOME concept of what fits into a label, we can’t even talk about what fits, what doesn’t fit, how to describe others, how to describe ourselves, and the trap of assuming too much just from a label.

        TL/DR: I think we return to labels out of necessity because that’s simply the way language works.

        I also think we find comfort in structure – that’s why traditions and rituals stick around. We also find comfort in being the social creatures we are, and we like to fit in. So … maybe we should get more comfortable with being uncomfortable? I know that’s the only way I grow.

  2. I agree as I have dealt with this kind of experience before. But in the end I realized I just wanna be what I wanna be in life and do the best I can in helping others with more pressing issues such as hunger, donating blood and such.

  3. It is also plausible that many are seeking their “tribe” in online in a way it used to be done with bold fashion, hair, tattoos, or the places you’d go. If I recall, at most, we can keep 100 people straight in our social circle. Online, in my opinion, blows that number up and sometimes the grouping makes it more manageable, at least for some. I find the numbers of people online rather daunting with my already terrible memory for names and personal facts!

    • I think people look for somewhere fo belong, really. And a label sort of admits you to the “extrovert club” or the “Jewish club” or the “nike wearing club” or whatever. It kind of tells you that you matter within that circle if you can fit the label

  4. Wow… So much categorisation hate. Were you abused by a labeller when you were a child? Just kidding. Well-written post, though. Thanks for sharing. If I may share my two cents…

    Categorisation is what we as humans do to make sense of the world. Four well-grounded legs and a base to sit on = something to sit on, large feral cat with sharp teeth = something to run away a from, etc.

    When people use labels as a reason why they can’t do something, I think that’s more a reflection on the person than the concept of labels. Labels (of people) help inform us and help us understand them (or ourselves). I understand that an introvert won’t enjoy going to a big party with lots of people, I’m not going to criticise them for being a party-pooper. I understand that a thinker needs to understand the basis of a concept, I’m going to have to put up with them while they figure it out. And so on and so forth…

    Why do we label people? It’s what we do. What do we do with those labels? That very much depends on the character of the person doing the labelling (i.e. the people who use labels as reasons they can’t do something, would still find a reason not to do it if labels didn’t exist).

    • “Why do we label people? It’s what we do.” is a tautology, but yes it is natural for us to label things. Just as it is natural for humans to have a bias towards our own group and it is natural for us to fear people who are different (because of race, gender, religion or some other categorization). Just because it’s natural (and easy) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand against it.

      In the same way that we as a society have (largely) rejected racial, gender and religious differences (or at least we attempt to), we should reject the lazy habit of labeling ourselves and others with even dumber labels like Gemini and Taurus.

      • “Why do we label people? It’s what we do. What do we do with those labels? That very much depends on the character of the person doing the labelling.”

        The quote is meant to be read as a whole. I believe we are in steadfast agreement… violently so with regards to horoscope labels! Thanks again for sharing.

    • I agree that when people use labels as a write-off, that it is a reflection of themselves, not the labeling. And, yes, labeling is something of human nature. Nice perspective.

  5. You know for whatever reason I have really never been very observant at what others think or thought about me. Names and labels I am sure but the reality is people do what it takes to move along on their journey! For some of us finding a label, for others it is catching a fallen star! So life is filled with many wonderful and bizarre people which means wonderful and bizarre behaviors!
    I do not like labels simply because one label may mean 20 different things to 20 different individuals! Look in the mirror if life define what and who you see and be thankful you are still alive and able to get along by yourself!

    • Yeah somehow I’ve never picked up on other people’s opinions of me, and I never seem to pick up the gossip… it’s probably because I just really don’t care that much. I mean I do care of course to some degree but I don’t think about jt unless someone goes, “Hey April, I think __ about you. “

      • You have a great article that has gotten me to thinking! Inspiration comes when you least expect it! Thank you again! Looking forward to more from you!
        Jim waiting on JESUS!

      • So many people become intimidated by what others say or think about them. If someone says Jim is a tightwad then I immediately play the part to the hilt making them think the comment was right. Generally I never correct them just let them march on believing it really doesn’t bother me because I know who and what I am. For whatever reason I bet you are much like me in this way. Jim waiting on Jesus!

      • Haha well I normally just feel confused if they say something g that doesn’t fit, and then get over it within a day or two and continue with me life

      • Just curious about how creative people feel about themselves! It seems that many folks feel they have very little creative spirit but upon close examination they have a tremendous amounts of creativity in their lives. If this is revealed to individuals they become somewhat supercharged with creativity. Quite often people just need a nudge to get started.
        It is very interesting to know how people that are very active feel about their creativity.

  6. I really appreciated this post, especially by articulating the sickness in such a simple way (a sickness that I indulge in at times) Thank you 🙂

  7. I could literally write a book filled with every label I have ever been given or chosen to identify myself at any particular time. I think labels are interesting, and can offer insight into how someone perceives themselves – or someone else.

  8. Wow it you nailed it for me love this article. We doom and limit ourselves by giving life, sexuality and people labels. Its just different shades of grey not defined labels.

  9. The Internet age makes labels stand out more because, well, a label online is a deviation from the natural online state: anonymity. Because having labels isn’t the default setting in cyberspace, when they exist they are noticeable.

    Two of the greatest human habits are describing and explaining. We’ve been describing and explaining everything for ever. That’s part of what makes us so great. And because we are around ourselves so much, it’s not unreasonable— and seems only natural — that we describe and explain– label– ourselves.

  10. Thank you for such a clear and profound articulation of labeling. I truly appreciate your courage and boldness. Continue to be a fearless voice in this generation.

  11. We explore “labels” (as you call them) in an attempt to better understand ourselves and others. I’ve never met someone who said I’m a Leo and absolutely everything my zodiac says is true, nothing more and nothing less!! I wouldn’t be able to pin point what “movement” is starting all this “don’t label me” stuff, but it’s being taken way too literally. It sounds like hipster bs.

    • That’s pretty circular logic. We take on labels that other people create in order to better understand ourselves? In other word, we define ourselves by letting someone else define us?

      No, I know very few people who put 100% faith in the zodiac, but I do know plenty of people who put some faith in it, at least when it’s convenient for explaining their behavior. A bunch of people have been posting about Mercury being in Retrograde, an absolutely meaningless idea that they nonetheless believe affects the way people act.

      Your idea that this is a “movement” or “hipster bs” suggests that you are less interested in engaging with the topic than setting yourself apart by taking the ‘counter’ point of view. I am not suggesting a movement or saying that labels can’t serve their purpose. I’m pointing out how dumb the labels we give ourselves are and suggesting that we would be better off taking responsibility for our own actions rather than ascribing our actions to some outside force or control.

      • I did not intend to express more interest in presenting an opposite opinion than the topic itself. I intended to generalize it with my “hipster bs” comment. Thank you for pointing that out. I just think the term “labels” is a little elementary because we could never describe the array of characteristics, interests, etc. that make our persona with a “grouping name” such as Leo or INFP. However, there is value in considering the many different personality types (whether they all exist by Myers Briggs declaration or not) and how it relates to us.

      • There is a difference between using something like Myers Briggs to better illuminate one’s strengths and weaknesses (I never claimed there was anything wrong with trying to understand oneself better) and using it as a quick catch-all label to represent yourself. Especially considering the scientifically dubious personality tests that you can do online (and I’m not talking about the Buzzfeed quizzes, though those are a symptom), it’s a disturbing trend that people are so addicted to slapping a title on themselves. In a time when we are making great strides towards breaking down racial and social walls, it’s a bit silly that we then turn around and spackle up new ones. It’s especially silly when we do so using the Zodiac. And it’s downright despicable when we use it to label and thereby classify other people.

      • If you’ll notice my tone in the original post, it’s pretty clear I wasn’t treating this subject like it was some great scourge threatening society. I was addressing the hypocrisy in the way most people will assert their individuality in one post and then give themselves a narrow label in the next. It’s not an inherently evil problem, but it is one worthy of ridicule and probably even examination.

        That said, I do see the abuse of labels almost every day, and I’ve seen it all over this country. People may do so innocuously with no ill-intent, or they may do so with the intention of controlling others (the kind of person who might set limits on a child or teen). Most frequently, though, I see it in people who set limits on themselves, who say “I’m this or that and I always will be” and accept those limitations as a fact of life. It might not seem as insidious as racial prejudice or cultural bias, but it is the same root cause and, if unchecked, it can be quite damaging. I think particularly of diagnoses of mental illness and how a propensity for defining people by their labels (“bi-piolar”, “depressed”, “anxious”) could become a tool for oppression.

        So, no, it might not be a “war”, but it’s not “hipster bs” sloganeering either. There is real weight in the way we perceive ourselves because it can often determine how far we push ourselves in life.

      • Mercury Retrograde is a term astronomers use to explain the apparent backward motion of Mercury in the sky as it revolves around the sun. From an earth perspective, Mercury appears to move backward in the sky three times per year. It’s cycle takes 88 days.

        Astrologically, Mercury retrograde refers to the hightened potential for stagnation and breakdowns in communications Earthside when this celestial event occurs. The planet Mercury is associated with the mythological Roman god of communications. Mercury retrograde is reputed to be a good time to clean out closets and not attempt new ventures.

      • Horoscopes have been used for a cool minute. I cant imagine us stopping now just because we are in a time where everyone is calling everyone else out.

      • I guess I don’t understand your meaning. Just because our species has believed in astrology for centuries doesn’t mean it is unassailable. It’s a belief system that has no value.

      • Just because it is not logical or tangible, doesn’t mean it has no value. Many cultural norms of most societies are not logical, but have value.

      • I wonder what value can be found in astrology. It serves no moral or ethical purpose, it has no tangible meaning and as a system of prophecy it fails even the most rudimentary of tests. Certainly it has no foothold in science.

        It’s only value seems to be entertainment, and even in that field I find it lacking.

      • Mythology and faith based things like magic and astrology and divination and fortune telling and rituals and candle lighting, and sage burning and calling on spirits DO have a place and serve cultural, traditional, and communal value to many types of people worldwide. The attic window you look out of does not understand the pull of the constellations matched with a connection of inferior self to something greater than–and something communal and connective regardless of the labeled stature and class….and yet I’m sure you can see the value some find in following “Jesus” and worshipping his mode of death…There are traveling, nomadic, tribal, native peoples who have been doing these practices and living with these beliefs, and many of these (that were left alone) had the most peaceful statistics a die hard could wish for. Your life has no place for horoscopes. And probably no place for healing crystals and orgonite. That does not make it useless or even detrimental, as you implied.

      • On the contrary, I see no value in following Jesus or Muhammad or any other religious figure (there might be good in their teachings, but that is removed from the faith aspect). I see no value in faith. Just because people find personal value in such things does not meant that they are good for society or humanity. It’s people believing in things for which they have no proof that leads to the greatest ills of society, from terrorist bombings to oppression of women, from bigotry to abuse. And while some good has been done in the name of religion/faith, much greater evil has been done. I know from experience that whatever personal value can be found in religion can still be found in life once you leave faith behind.

        That a wandering tribe is religious and peaceful does not mean that faith causes peace. Boko Haram have faith and they are the farthest thing from peaceful.

        You are correct when you say we are in an attic looking out through a window. That window is science. Before it existed, we all sat in darkness making up stories about the universe based on nothing but our imaginations and what we thought we saw in the shadows. Science cannot tell us everything, at least not yet, but it is the only window we have to the outside world and with it we have been able to understand our place in the universe in a far truer way than any crystal or tarot card could ever guess.

        How is believing that the day we were born on determines our personality/fate any less ignorant than believing that our race or our gender determines our personality/fate? If I were to say that all black people are argumentative and stubborn, I’d be a racist, but if you say that all Tauruses are argumentative and stubborn, that’s fine? I don’t buy it.

      • I am in awe that you just compared White Supremacy to Horoscopes, first and foremost. Not all labels are ranked equal, especially in labels of offense. When was the last time the label of Sagittarius led to a holocaust? There are some labels which, should we choose to identify with them, display our mode of hope, strength, courage. There are some which describes our moods. There are mostly used to uplift and describe. Labels give the warm fuzzy feeling of being grounded in a life which makes absolutely no logical sense when we stop to consider what we all are and what we do and strive towards…I am honestly surprised you DON’T see the benefit of faith and belief, given the enormity of our situation (this thing we call life)…Further, it is mind boggling to me that you are so concerned with the fact THAT we label, instead of being curious why we are content to live in societies where the vast majority feel so unrepresented by their own personhood that they cant identify with simple things like gut instinct, faith, belief, and trust.

      • I’m going to have to read over my last response with a magnifying class so I can find where I supposedly mentioned ‘white supremacists.’ I don’t recall ever typing those words or writing anything even remotely suggesting them, but I’m sure you’re not the kind of person who just makes stuff up so that they can argue with a strawman instead of what a person actually said. You would never do that.

        Anyway, not all labels are equal. That is true. Some labels have value, some labels (like horoscopes) have none. Never in my article did I ever argue that people don’t have a reason to use labels. Some labels are necessary for human communication (male/female; straight/gay; big/small), though often even those labels are too limiting. Many labels serve no purpose other than to give people the “warm fuzzy feeling” of belonging to a make believe group. Being born in the month of February doesn’t dictate who you are any more than being born black/white/Latino does (that was the point I was making that obviously went way over your head).

        No, I do not see the benefit of faith. Most of the problems in this world are caused because people put too much stock in their beliefs, so I think we’d all be a lot better off ignoring our beliefs and focusing on what can be known.

        I wrote this article to discuss how dumb it is to use unnecessary labels. Never in that article did I suggest that it was the greatest ill in our world. But I do see it as a failing of our species. Labels are simple. Labels are reductive. Labels are generally wrong. If you truly believe that there is any one label that accurately defines you, then you must be an incredibly shallow person. I tend to believe that we are more complex, more interesting, more unique than generic labels. But I have no interest in telling you how to live your life. If you like living in a box, have fun with that.

      • You said clearly that it is wrong to call a black man something in general, but not a Taurus. That is an erroneous comparison BECAUSE OF White Supremacy. I thought you would see this immediately when i mentioned it. I honestly don’t believe faith necessarily is corrupt, or is what leads to todays issues. Again, there are MANY beautifully functioning societies with faith leading many of their people. Faith in leaders, faith in healing, faith in signs, faith in weather, faith in patterns, etc. Faith is not simply negative because we live in a world which requires the vast majority of us to be criminals and warmongering to survive. As for the original point of horoscopes, your attitude is surprising. Horoscopes and Astrology usually have positive labels intended to uplift. There is no negative effect of Horoscopes unless you have a person trying to distract himself from many more scary and real issues in society.

        Anyway, i liked your article, it is nicely written, your thoughts amuse… your offense to horoscopes is merely mind boggling to me.

      • I see where your confusion lies. Not all racism is about asserting supremacy. Not all racism is about black/white relations. I used black as an example, but I could have just as easily said Mexican or Chinese. And not all racism is about putting another group down. There is such thing as “positive” racism, such as when people say, “All Asians are good at math.” That is racism. It might sound like a nice quality, it might even sound like a compliment, but when you group an entire race together and claim they are the same, you are being racist. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are.

        For that same reason, when you say an entire group of people are some particular way (whether you’re saying they’re smart or stupid, nice or mean) because of the month of their birth, you’re being just as reductive and just as closed-minded as a racist. Horoscopes and racism do the same thing: They take away a person’s self agency by claiming the circumstances of their birth are more important than the person they have chosen to be.

        As far as faith, most of the criminals and warmongers in this world are people of faith. The vast majority of people in jail are people of faith. Most of the wars being fought right now in this world are because of faith. The Catholic church has thousands upon thousands of cases of child sexual abuse. Faith caused 9/11. Faith caused the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Faith is why the Middle East is in a constant state of self-destruction. For all the good faith may or may not do in the world, faith negates it by all the destruction it causes. Even when faith is meant to “uplift” as you suggest, there are still negative aspects. When you justify your faith in an unprovable, unknowable belief, you justify all faiths in unprovable, unknowable beliefs. If you can argue that your faith is good because it fulfills you, then the Islamic terrorist who blows up a school bus full of children can make the same argument and neither one can be disputed. All the various faiths are incompatible. They can’t all be true. So somebody is wrong. More than likely, everyone is wrong. And since there is no way to test “faith” in any meaningful way, it’s better to assume that they are all wrong and live your life without reliance on something you can’t see or prove.

        I’m not offended by horoscopes, I think they are worthless. I’m no more offended by horoscopes than I am “god” since neither one of them is real. The only thing that offends me is willful ignorance.

      • Racism, as it were at this time is about power. At this point in time, White Supremacy rules and fails the vast majority of the earth. For this reason, nothing said to generalize black people can be equated as something to generalize a horoscope . No one has been systematically killed, raped, tortured, or enslaved for being born a Cancer. Therefore, they do not do the same thing, and not at the same level. A horoscope is something you can choose to divulge. Race is a classification due to appearance that cant be turned off even with silence and may effect employment, living situations, and respect . If an Asian hates a Mexican, at this point in time, this still relates to White Supremacy. Your view of faith is very Eurocentric, by the way. Jails/prisons are the product of certain kinds of community, and your example of the Islamic “terrorist” is erroneous because you fail to recognize that his motivation isnt purely faith based. If an enemy wasnt systematically warmongering his and neighboring lands, would he think the battle required his sacrifice? Your tone reminds me of a few yrs ago when Americans were excited their snipers headshotted Somalian “pirates” who took Americans hostage….turns out they were really just desperate fishermen who had their seas treated as a toxic waste dump by the 1st world…perspective is key.

      • The irony is very high in your comment. On one hand, you accuse me of having a very narrow view, and yet you are reducing everything to “white supremacy.” No, if an Asian hates a Mexican, that is not white supremacy. That makes no sense. There was racism before white supremacy, and there will be racism after it. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you blame all your problems and all of the world’s problems on white men. It certainly seems to be the suggestion of your last point about the Somalian pirates which was a complete red herring.

        If we were having an argument about oppression, then you might have a point (might), but racism is not always about oppression and is the unfortunate byproduct of our species’ tendency to divide into tribes. It exists even when one group doesn’t have power over another. You obviously don’t have much experience among Hispanic groups or you’d see that there is a ton of inherent division and racism within those groups that has nothing to do with white people. Sociologists know of warring tribes in Africa long before any arrival of whites.

        All of that is besides the point, though. You are getting so consumed by your ridiculous white supremacy obsession that you are not even reading my point. Step back and actually read the words on the page. Racism and horoscopes serve the same general function: They define a person by a criteria that they had no control over. No one should be allowed to pre-judge you based on your race or your date of birth, even if that judgment is “positive.” They might not be on the same level, but they are the same problem. Is stealing a candy bar not wrong just because it’s not as bad as stealing a car? (Please don’t get too distracted by that example, I’m not interested on your rant about how candy is a tool of oppression by the White Devil.)

        You call me “Eurocentric” because I mentioned jails, despite the fact that last I checked, jails exist all over the world. Yet, I also mentioned the religious wars in the Middle East which have been going on for over a millennia and well-predate any form of European power. When hijackers flew planes into the Twin Towers, when terrorists shot people at Charlie Hebdo in Paris (and again this week in Denmark), when ISIS or Boko Harem kills and mutilates women and children in the Middle East and Africa, these are acts done in the name of faith. It’s pure faith, too, because these are acts done not in the name of Islam, but in the name of their version of Islam based on their personal beliefs. In many ways, those atrocities are the ultimate example of faith. Even with all the political strife that is effecting Islamic regions, to claim that faith has nothing to do with those actions is mind-boggling ignorant. Unfair distribution of land might lead a man to anger, but faith leads him to strapping on a bomb and killing a bus full of children.

        Are you going to say that the Crusades had nothing to do with faith? Are you going to claim that when a child is raped by a Catholic priest, that is the product of warmongering? How about female genital mutilation which is most often done in the name of religiously purifying a girl? Yes, even without faith, people can be and will be terrible to each other. But faith allows them to claim an authority that does not exist and use it to control others. Without faith, a man may kill a neighbor. But with faith, a man will kill a neighborhood.

        Now to bring it back around to my original point (this is where you should really pay attention; don’t skip a word): When we accept a label, whatever it is, however positive it might be, we are saying, “This outside entity has more authority over me than I do.” When we allow something else to define us, we submit ourselves to a higher authority. But there is no higher authority (I would imagine this is something you would agree with if not for your faith). No person should have more authority over you than yourself, no god should have more authority, and certainly no stars should, either. I don’t care if you say, “Because you’re a Taurus, you must be a genius who can sing like a bird and lift cars with one arm.” I don’t care how “nice” your label is, it’s still a label and it’s still a limitation that you seek to put on me. I do not accept your label, I do not accept your limitation and I do not accept your faith.

  12. I once wrote something on gender/sexual identity labels and was in awe of the sheer number of labels that appear to track any and every inkling of an idea of or propensity toward another being, human or otherwise, on any given day. It was so particulate in the sheer inclusiveness that I could not help but think of stardust…no need for labels. Just be.

    • That subject is a big can of worms that I intentionally avoided because it would have made this essay two or three times longer. But yes, that is another disconcerting trend. On the one hand, it’s great if society can embrace a more open and accepting view of sexuality and gender, but on the other hand the very act of creating such a cornucopia of labels basically defeats their purpose. I appreciate that a label can give us a sense of place or person, but if everyone has their own unique label, what’s the point? It’s like saying everyone is special. That’s nice, but then no one is special.

      • Agreed. I suppose that was my intention with the particulate reference. If we are each so particular, in the aggregate we all look like indecipherable dust. Right, not everyone is soecial.

  13. “close the buzz feed quiz and go do something of lasting value” – can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought that towards particular people. Gawsh.

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