Labels and identity

Hank Green is going to post a video on Vlogbrothers tomorrow about gender identity, sexuality, attraction, and all that other stuff.  I've been thinking about those labels lately, because I just recently re-read the afterword in 1984 -- the one that explains that the point of NewSpeak was to suppress heretical thought. The theory goes like this:  If there isn't a word for oppression, then a person can't think, "I'm oppressed."  If there isn't a word for justice, a person can't think, "This is unjust."  In fact, in writing 1984, George Orwell gave us a lot of the language we need to defend ourselves against the oppression the book describes.  We have concepts like thoughtcrime, doublethink and "Orwellian".

In the afterword, it's pointed out that in NewSpeak, there was no word for "Science," everything that science could possibly mean being covered by "IngSoc" -- the means by which we determine information aren't a set of independent tools that can be employed by anyone, that practice is explicitly an aspect of the society.  Other countries, therefore, couldn't be rational.  A person who spoke only NewSpeak couldn't possibly articulate, maybe even couldn't think, the idea that other countries also possessed the ability to pursue reasonable conclusions by methodological experiment.

So when I hear people complain about how many different words, distinctions, and categories there seem to be now for gender, sexuality, gender presentation, romantic orientation, and so on, I find it annoying.  The reason I find it annoying is that they're implicitly (though they generally don't realize this) attempting to enforce use of a labeling system that cuts down any individual's ability  to express the distinctions they're trying to make.

This isn't exactly new ground.  As I've pointed out, Orwell covered it extremely well, and he was very far from the first.  Unfortunately, it seems to be one of those kinds of topic that a lot of people just never get around to grasping:  Thinking happens in language, and we can only think roughly as well as our language allows.  At best, we can create new language to speak new ideas, but that only allows us to push just outside the borders of the language we have now.

So it's not okay to suppress the creation of new language because it's difficult to keep track of it.