Thursday, January 7, 2010


By Mister Curie

This post is a continuation of the discussion on labels we have been having all week.

Why do we, as humans, use labels? Here is my take on it: life is an essentially chaotic existence and humans seem to have an innate need to make sense of that chaos. I think that humans use labels and categories as a method of reducing the complexity of chaos down to manageable bite-size portions.

Animal, plant, mineral.
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.
Labels are useful to humans so that we don't get overwhelmed with the complexity of existence.

When it comes to other humans, we seem to find labels and categories that split society into us vs them.

Christian vs non-Christian.
Member vs non-member.
Black vs White.
Heterosexual vs homosexual.
Labels serve a useful purpose of allowing us to function effectively in an essentially chaotic existence without getting distracted by unimaginable complexity. We use labels to build alliances and to create enemies. But life is messy and no label ever fits anyone perfectly. I am convinced that if we could know even a single person in all of their infinite complexity, we would go crazy.

And yet, I think that labels are a double-edged sword. While they are useful for understanding existence and developing alliances, they also obscure the true nature of existence. When we are on the "them" end of a label, we feel unjustly judged because we know that we are not what they are judging us to be. A single label has as many meanings as there are people who use that label. As EvolvingLesbian commented and others agreed with: "The best approach is to use a label when it fits you, but to assiduously avoid trying to fit yourself to a label."
We should embrace labels when they help us to make sense of the world and unite us with others, all the while remembering that others will use those labels in different ways from our own (and sometimes entirely at odds with our own). Furthermore, we should not grow too attached to a label and be ready to discard it when it no longer fulfills its purpose.


  1. Well put, Mr. Curie.

  2. I'm loving the use of the color purple you have chosen in the last two images, Mr. C.

  3. Purple is the color of bisexuality . . .

  4. LOL, don't you wish you'd realized that when your mom got us our matching purple towels? When we weren't even engaged yet??? What do you think she was trying to tell us???

  5. It is interesting to see the use of labels. I am in the midst of reading a book called Everything is Miscellaneous that discusses the way we label things like animals and the Dewey Decimal system. It is very interesting to read and I think you would like it Mister Curie

  6. @BB - thanks for the reading suggestion, I may just add it to my list.

  7. What struck me was not the labels, but the "vs." we automatically put between them.

    Particle and wave is truth.

    Particle or wave is convenient.

    Particle vs. wave is usually entirely inappropriate.


  8. I can really stand behind FireTag's comment here.