The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Thursday, October 14, 2004

Labeling People 

No matter how looked down upon it is to stereotype, or label people, we all do it. It's how our brain works. We classify. We group. We organize. We wrap our brains around things by bucketing them, and then working with those buckets. However you want to put it, we do it. At the same time, we all hate to be classified. We look at that classification, and we look at ourselves, and we find it somehow inadequate. I'm more than just white, or male, or a computer geek, or a triathlete, or a conservative, or a libertarian, or whatever. I'm me. More than that, what one classification implies to one person, may mean something completely different to another. Maybe one person thinks that two classifications are equivalent, while another does not. Are a Republican and a conservative the same thing?

Recently Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit fame has had a running series of articles on the Guardian about the U.S. elections. One of his most recent articles entitled Loose Definitions talks about just this issue. It's a good article for which I'll offer a tease:

The Guardian thinks I'm a Republican and a conservative. I shouldn't let on that this belief is based on somewhat shaky ground, because this column is a sweet gig, and - well - why rock the boat?

But in truth, I'm neither - or at least, whatever I am sheds some light on how useful (or not) such labels are. The reasons I don't fit in very well on either the left or right sides of US politics shed some light on that divide, too.

Read the whole thing. Glenn's not the only one that deals with this either. I deal with it all the time. One of my best friends, Nicole... someone with whom I've had numerous heated political arguments, almost always refers to me as a Republican, or even a Conservative Republican. Sometimes I wonders if she does that just to irk me. I'm pro gay marriage (not that I'm gay), pro drug legalization (not that I do drugs), pro legal prostitution (not that I utilize their services), pro legal gambling (ok, I enjoy playing poker)... most of which are usually defined as liberal issues. In fact, in most areas I'm pretty socially liberal. The one exception would probably be abortion (I am not pro-choice which shocked my sister Sarah the other night... apparently she didn't know).

Generally I'm for smaller government, and just getting the fuck out of my life. Let me worry about my health insurance. I certainly don't want a national health care system. Hasn't worked too well for Canada, Britain, or any other European country that has one. What makes people think it will do well here? I also want to be in charge of my own retirement thank you very much. I'm also for the right to keep and bear arms, but I don't think anyone needs or should have a machine gun or bazooka in their closet. What about a hand gun? I sleep a little safer knowing I own one, and don't want that right taken away. Are these issues conservative, liberal, libertarian? I think they're mostly libertarian, but whatever.

I'm also a guy. Women love to say that men always think with their dicks. What I've always found to be ironic is how so many feminists think that women should always vote with their vaginas. Wendy McElroy has a very good article over on Fox News called Individual Rights vs. Identity Politics which deals with just this topic:

Much could be said of the idea that all women have shared political interests. For one thing, it is false. Looking at just one election issue - abortion - there is no consensus among women who seem to be split equally into pro-choice and pro-life camps. Only by demeaning pro-life women as being "unenlightened to their own vaginal interests" can the advocates of shared-identity politics explain this schism.

Women don't seem to vote on the basis of their genitalia. Instead, they vote for the candidate most closely aligned with their view of the world. Indeed, it seems bizarre for gender feminists to argue that a woman should think and vote as a sex organ. Whatever happened to their anger at the objectification and portrayal of women as body parts?

To think that women can't have complicated world views, and hold a vast number of opinions on disparate topics is stereotyping at its worst... yet it's a common theme during election times. Does the gender bucket automatically label you as one type of voter or another?

What about the race bucket? If you're black, does that automatically mean that you should be a Democrat? Colin Powell and Condi Rice would disagree with you. So would Thomas Sowell... and if you've never read anything he's written, you are missing out. Has the Democratic party actually served the cause of civil rights well over the years? If you're black, do you have to agree with affirmative action? Even more than that, if you don't agree with it, does that make you an Uncle Tom? Are you somehow not black anymore if you don't agree with those few things? Some would like you to think just that. They want you to feel guilty for your views. How can you believe x and still call yourself a y? How can you live with yourself?

This whole topic comes more and more into play when election time rolls around. You see it on the news every time a candidate talks to a specific group. The rhetoric gets specific, and special promises get made just for those groups. Sometimes I think that the whole process only reinforces those stereotypes as candidates try to get the attention of one interest or another. When the teamsters endorse one candidate or another, do they honestly believe that all the members of the union or going to vote for him? And if you don't belong to a specific group, are you not being represented any more? It's almost as if "one person, one vote" isn't enough for some people anymore.

Comments:

You know Nick, I rarely comment on your posts, but I read them....I don't always agree with your views, but you make a very good point....I find some feminists just as sexist as the men they "hate". We are more than labels.....but who sees that? Very interesting.....

  Posted at October 15, 2004 1:43 AM by Blogger miss macy  
I think that you are correct that labels are for the most part useless insofaras they don't wholly define people but they are useful when defining positions. Generally, speaking the only labels that fit people are dogmatic ones. Often religions or cults where the members reliquish control to have opinions that differ from those of the group. My cousin calls herself Catholic but believes she has a personal relationship with Jesus. The problem is that you can't belived that and be a Catholic. According to Catholic dogma you have a relationship with God through the church not one on one. The point being that once you break with the tenants of the dogma your label no longer applies. In this case it is a self applied label that people modify their lives to conform with rather than a label applied by others to dehumanize or neuter a group of people. I guess the labels are like sexual harrassment it's not a label if you like it. Most people don't mind labels when they are self applied they just don't like others to label them. If you call yourself a Christian you may do so with pride or to align youself with a set of beliefs but when some one else calls you a Christian(especially an atheist) you may resent it as limiting based on the context even if the label is self applied. I guess I mostly agree with you even if you are a Right-Wing tightass. :)

  Posted at October 18, 2004 5:36 AM by Blogger Shannon McCoy  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.


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