Posted by: Raiun | January 15, 2013

Labels and Identity

My original intent in starting this blog was to make it sort of an online portfolio, where I display things I have created and projects I am working on. Since I ended up not really working on anything or creating anything, it fell apart very quickly. Now I guess I’m just going to use it as a more personal thing, where I just talk about whatever is on my mind, and maybe eventually I’ll get back towards projects and other things, when I start working on anything like that.

I’ve had a lot of things on my mind lately, so I thought I’d start posting my thoughts on some of them.

People love labels. We love to give other people labels, and we love to take them on ourselves. It makes a lot of sense, really. We all spend so much time in social situations, we meet new people almost constantly, even if only briefly, but in those brief meetings we need to impart so much information. The most common questions people ask during introductions are all about discovering who you are. “Where are you from?”, “What do you do for a living”, “Who do you know?”, “What are you into?”, and so on. Labels provide us good ways to answer all of those questions in a relatively accurate manner, leaving out a lot of the fine details. In a way, during introductions, we sacrifice a lot of who we are to describe ourselves, with the understanding that if this person REALLY cares, and really wants to know us, they will learn who you really are over time with  more interaction.

This poses a bit of a problem as well. Often people can describe themselves using labels that, under further investigation, they don’t really fit into (or at least, from someone’s perspective they don’t). This happens all the time, actually. The problem here is that no labels are rigidly defined, if they are even really defined at all. Some labels are, like ‘student’, meaning someone who attends classes and studies at an institute (of some kind), or ‘librarian’ meaning someone who works in a library. However, any attempt at reading further into a person beyond those definitions based on those labels is worthless stereotyping. Most labels don’t even have that level of simple definition. For instance, ‘hipster’. What is a hipster? I have my ideas about the kind of person that describes, and other people may have similar ideas, or maybe wildly varying ones. The fact is if someone introduced themselves to me as a hipster, that would tell me almost nothing because I have no idea what they think a hipster is. There’s kind of a social construction of it which might give me a broad idea of what they mean when they call themselves a hipster, but when it comes to the fine detail, it’s useless.

This sort of discrepancy happens all the time when it comes to religious labels. Religions come in many, many forms, but at the core, most of them are a structure of beliefs. That structure is usually very obfuscated underneath layers and layers of translations and interpretations and centuries of being passed down between generations. At the end of all of that, people have a tendency to pick out only the pieces of the belief structure that they really like and agree with, and ignore (or at least place less priority on) the pieces that they don’t like or they find inconvenient. This means even two people who share the same religion can disagree about what the religion is all about. No two will have exactly the same views on what the label means.

It bothers me that if I play videogames I am a ‘gamer’, whatever that means. To some people it’s a good thing to be a gamer, to others it means you are a brainwashed crazy person who is inches away from shooting up a school. Why should I accept that label if the meaning could vary so greatly from person to person? Why should anyone? This is where the convenience of labels falls to pieces. We treat labels as a written in stone template of how people are, and when we come across someone who identifies themselves using ones we don’t like, we don’t pay as much care to them as we maybe should. I know I’m guilty of using labels just as much as anyone else, but it’s upsetting to me, and I wish it weren’t the case. It’s just too easy, too convenient a social construction, it’s just a shame that society both benefits and suffers because of it.

I’m not really sure where I was going with this, but thanks for reading anyways. I hope it gave you some stuff to think about.

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