Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

(This post inspired by, but not intended to be a direct response to, recent events.)
We all need to be one, people say.  We need unity.  We need to stop defining ourselves by labels.

But the labels are important.  Without the human desire to label the pieces of the world around us, we wouldn't have language.  We would be unable to distinguish between tigers and trees.  The language, the labels, are also how we organize and classify the overwhelming deluge of information around us.  It makes the world manageable ... mostly.

Labels are how we, as an evolving species and throughout our history, identify and manage what we should consider a threat, what might be an ally, and what is neutral.  We categorize and classify as a survival strategy, and did so long before formal taxonomic systems.  It's why things that don't belong in one distinct category (or belong to several) cause tension on a primal level.  Much of mythology, superstition and folklore deals with these liminal forces.  By defining and naming them, they become an evil that can be fought, placated and understood.

People also use labels on the personal level to recall and manipulate information.  For those with a visual memory, they might picture the person or object in question instead, but others often need the words.  Without a tag, an identifier, a position on the association tree, that person, thing or concept cannot be accessed by the brain - cannot be considered, contemplated, understood.

So to say "stop using labels" flies in the face of human evolution and neurology.  Luckily, however, we also have the capacity to realize that the label is not the thing - that just as "Suzie" represents a person of immense complexity, to say that someone is Jewish, Swedish, bisexual is only one piece of their truth.  Naming is the first step to understanding; it is not the last.

The word liminal means "on the threshold" and we can stand on that threshold - despite our deepest fears, fortified by our power - and be all things at once.  We can use the words, the labels, to speak about what we must ... and know the rest in a place beyond words.

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