Saturday, September 20, 2008

Limits of Labels

Lazy labels and pretentious presumptions....

"So little do the people understand me that they will not even understand my complaint that they do not understand me."
–Soren Kierkegaard

"Man cuts out for himself a manageable world."
–Ernest Becker

"The very purpose of ideal types is to simplify a complex reality."
–Patricia Crone



"You don't know me!" How many times has the immature reactionary teenager been quoted with such an emotional statement of hyperbole and yet as Gerry Spence can attest to, "The wise man listens even to the village idiot."
Humans have an affinity toward labels because it assists the species in coping with a world and universe that does not operate by the rules of manmade systems. When an earthquake under the ocean takes place and produces a Tsunami it does not think of country, race, ethnicity, or politics. The Tsunami kills what is in its path with no labels to direct its course. But in the human order labels become extremely important because it gives humans the illusion of control. Humans want to understand and in their rush to understand they come to lazy conclusions and generalizations to comfort their lack of control and knowledge in a chaotic and overwhelming universe. People like to judge not necessarily because they are self-righteous but rather like a computer program they process information immediately…no matter how small or limited the information might be. The bigger the gap in knowledge or experience the more necessary it is to rely on the illusion of labels that is based on little or no reality.

A little knowledge mixed with a compulsory need to understand in real time leads to pathetic and cartoon like conclusions. Instead of taking the time and resources to study and understand something thoroughly it is easier to rely on the crutch of labels to once again ease your troubled mind. Complexity, ambiguity, and mystery do not give comfort to the human who lives in a bubble of his or her own prejudices. Life is a dichotomy of necessity and possibility and those who ignore either one do so at their own peril. Necessity is more difficult to ignore but possibility still exists only waiting for the person of daring to take advantage of it.

Things that usually fit nicely into boxes are not living things and if they are they usually are forced there. We clip a bird's wings to force them into cages and we clip our own thoughts to imprison ourselves in the secure confines of ignorance and prejudice. Kierkegaard stated, "Once you label me you negate me." For instance expressions such as "well he or she is _____ therefore…" Fill the blank in with religion, ethnicity, political or cultural identifications and you see the apparent presumptions. Once people label someone they become prisoners to their own prejudice. So psychologically they are able to negate the other no matter what truth or logic is being communicated. That is the paralyzing impact of label pushers but unfortunately some would rather be paralyzed in ignorance than take on the burden of free thought. The label becomes the filter and only information that coincides with the label is able to come through, thus the arrogance of ignorance is reinforced. It is safe and comfortable in the cage of prejudice and pretentious thought but you are only negating yourself in the process. When Kierkegaard said that by labeling him you negate him there is a boomerang factor in this process. Negating and labeling others also limits your own possibility and intelligent inquiry. You retard yourself and in doing so only wrap a chain around your own mind. In truth one negates oneself by imprisoning ones own thought possibility. You imprison yourself when you prejudge others based on shallow information. You limit yourself to the shallow waters of labels and presumptions instead of daring out into the deep ocean of possibilities.

People have more of a diverse and intricate background than their skin, religion or country of origin suggests and those who do not have the intellectual fortitude or courage to know otherwise are only allowing themselves to sink deeper into their own mental prison.There are people who will judge a man with as little information as his skin color. That is the height of hubris. Ignorance always attaches itself to arrogance.

I am skeptical of those who speak with certainty on whole groups because unless they have lived a thousand years in a thousand different worlds and experiences they are limited by their minute time and space on this earth. It is important to accept and admit ones own limitations in order to accept the wisdom that only comes by patient observation over time. The fountain of wisdom does not flow like the Niagara Falls but rather drips incrementally and painstakingly. People who rely on generalizations and labels are handicapped in their knowledge and proceed to assist their weakness with judgments that are as lame as their ego. People are afraid of not knowing so they rely on hearsay or one previous experience to ease the pressure or tension of complexity and possibility. Humans should be able to reflect and not simply react. Some people actually base their judgments of whole groups of persons based on meeting one person they consider part of that group…and usually the connection is a shallow one at that.

Some people have made an issue over Barack Obama's middle name. The same people who come to anemic presumptions over a name are also the same ones who were tantalized by a news report that Mr. Obama went to a Madrasah as a child not knowing that Madrasah is simply an Arabic word implying school. Barack Obama went to school and that was an issue? This deluge of information in the modern world is not being absorbed perhaps because of human limitations of time and space. There is too much information and not enough time to process it properly

Between necessity and possibility humans unnecessarily trap themselves into fixed ideologies ironically making it impossible to experience life in the chaotic yet freeing realm of possibility. Kierkegaard wanted this epitaph on his tomb "Here lies an individual." Being part of a group or identifying yourself with something larger may be a biological instinct but it can also be an intellectually limiting force. Groups can give you security but in doing so the herd can also limit your realm of possibility. To not have identity or origin or "home" can cause anxiety and dread as Kierkegaard knew but the opposite impact can be a life of diverse experience and greater expansion. Lil Wayne spit this lyric that "if you are not flying you might as well hate." To second that I say if you are not flying with your thoughts and the possibilities that come with it you might as well hate in your ignorance. Haters are very skilled at critiquing those who fly. To paraphrase Immortal Technique, "Your opinions of me are like little kids throwing ice cubes at the sun." Again I second that to say that you label pushers are wasting your time and your mind with the ice cubes of presumptions compared to the gigantic and expansive heat of reality and possibility. (Here is a possibility and that is we don't even know ourselves much less that someone else does or is capable to.) Know thyself the ancient Greeks proclaimed…a much more worthy endeavor then prejudging others. Think out of the box and others who put you there can stay there. ***



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