On Labels

This will be far from the last time I write on this subject. I've added a new sidebar to the side of my page, titled "My Labels."  It says,

Writer, blogger, atheist, apatheist, transhumanist, humanist, geek, nerd, philosophy major, journalism major, gender neutral, bisexual, steampunk, Whovian, existentialist

I'll probably add more in the future.  I'll be adding a link to this post when I've finished it.

I've had this conversation dozens of times, and I'm sure I'll have it hundreds more.  I think labels are a good thing.  Or, more precisely, I think labels serve an extremely valuable role, and are not intrinsically bad.  Even when you apply them to people.

Søren Kierkegaard is frequently quoted as having said, "Once you label me, you negate me."  I get that line quoted at me a lot.  I recall being told that he wanted his gravestone to read, "That individual."  Nothing else.  Just that.  (I can't find a source at the moment.  I'll look into that more later; if you know a reliable source, feel free to post in the comments.)

I know few people who are prepared to go quite that far.  (I'm pretty sure I don't know any, but I don't make a policy of asking so I don't want to assume.)  Most people just object to the use of words to describe, well, what they are.

There is a very good reason to make this objection, and I want to be clear here about what I'm supporting and what I'm not.  The very good reason to prefer not being labeled is when the label represents a cultural bias or bigotry.  Attempting to reduce a person to a single label, or insisting that the label you're using carries more information than the bald descriptive fact of it, is wrong.  I do not support it.  I'd love to go into it more another time, but I want to wrap this post up at some point today, so I promise I'll come back to that.

On the other hand, there's simple descriptive labeling.  I may be offended if you draw the conclusion that, for example, because I say I'm a transhumanist that means you can draw conclusions about my dietary decisions (I don't eat food pills or take a steroid regimen), my heroes (I'm not actually a big fan of Ray Kurzweil), my beliefs about the future (I'm not strictly convinced of the technological singularity), or anything else -- apart from assuming that I believe it's a legitimate goal to improve oneself in whatever way you prefer, by whatever means you like.

But I'd also be annoyed if you tried to insist that it's not appropriate for me to admit to being a transhumanist.

The popular aversion to labels strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction to the very legitimate aversion to prejudice.  The latter deserves to be stamped out.  It should be consciously avoided and assiduously fought.  The former is a basic necessary function of a working society.

More later.