In which I deride labels and explain why.

Today, I’m inviting you to join a celebration. I’ve talked frequently about the Speakeasy Scribe box set to which I’ve contributed a story. Tomorrow, the authors and others from the Speakeasy Scribes are going to be hanging out on Facebook to chat about their books, their lives, and their ideas. They’re neat people, and we’ll have fun. I hope you can join us.

If you don’t want my philosophical meanderings, and just want to read about the wonderful book and its journey through time with the denizens of the Final Draft Tavern, then go to my second post for Sunday, here.

If you’d like to know why the label of the party bothers me, read on.

The party is called ‘Leftist Literature and Libations’, which is a clever piece of alliteration. But the term leftist gets up my left nostril, and I want to explain why.

I have a deep distaste for language that divides people along a single dimension. When we call a person left or right, liberal or conservative—or even (in some contexts) black or white, male or female—we speak as if we can predict the full complexity of a human being from a single label. We are, all of us, more than the few attitudes and opinions that we share with others in any one of the multiple overlapping groups into which we could be directed according to such labels.

If I accepted any label, it would be centrist, but even that would be misleading. Many of my ideas and views count as radical. Others would be pigeonholed as deeply conservative. So centrist is not a description but a default; an average of all the positions I might take on all the many issues that face us.

I am, however, more or less centrist on a scale a two dimensional scale of my own invention: a four cell scattergraph matrix that I think more nearly represents the differences between us. For lack of a better name, Let’s call it the Fear matrix.


The matrix has two axes.

The vertical axis is Our attitude to resources, and it runs from Scarcity through Sufficiency to Plentitude. An attitude of scarcity is one that says ‘there is not enough, there will never be enough, and if you have it, I won’t.

The horizontal axis is the Spectrum of confidence. It runs from Despair through Cautious hope to Reckless optimism. An attitude of despair expects the worst.

I suggest calling it the fear matrix, because people (left-leaning or right-leaning) in the bottom left quadrant are reacting out of fear (of loss, of death, of the Unknown) when they withdraw into a mental or actual bunker, guns facing towards those not in their inner circle.

The inner circles concept is the third dimension of the scatter graph. Rather than placing yourself on matrix as a dot, place the circle of the people you would trust and protect without question, and make the circle the size of that group.

We naturally define the world into ‘Them’ and ‘Us’. Everyone does it. Some of us fight it, some of us embrace it, some of us are utterly unaware of it. But the ‘Us’ concept differs, and since we define ‘Them’ in relation to ‘Not Us’, the consequences are huge.

For some poor souls, ‘Us’ is a single person. They may have disciples, or family members, or servants, but those people are adjuncts to the ‘Us’ that is, in fact, the single individual at the centre. A failing adjunct can expect to be amputated without compunction.

For others, ‘Us’ is a small group, defined by shared ideals or beliefs or interests, or by family connections, or by some other criteria that makes sense to a person with our family of origin, experiences, and personal circumstances.

I have often thought that a person can be judged more or less civilised according to the width and breadth of their ‘Us’ circle.

What we do with ‘Not Us’ depends entirely on where we sit on the Fear matrix.


3 thoughts on “In which I deride labels and explain why.

  1. I read somewhere a long time ago that the definition of a person’s degree of civilisation (for want of a better word) depends on how wide you draw your definition of a human being. At the narrowest it’s “Me and my wife, my son and his wife”. Or even just “Me”. Then it widens out to my extended family, my tribe, my country, my continent, and ends up with “the whole of the human race”. I know which end I try to fall on.

    • Yes, and I think that definition of civilisation is a good one. Gandhi is reported to have answered, when asked what he thought about Western civilisation, that it would be a good idea.

  2. My issue is when labels are believed to convey the whole truth. Even on a tin of flour, a label can be misleading. Is it wheat flour or corn? White or brown? Organic or grown with chemicals? People are much more complex than ground cereal crops.

    I am a Catholic. People read those labels according their own circles of intimacy, and from their own position on the Fear Matrix. To another Catholic, my religious label might say ‘family’. To someone of a particular religious bent, it might say ‘devil-worshipper’. Some people would believe, on the basis of that label, that I hate women.

    I accept the value of labels to identify characteristics. I don’t accept them when they’re used to divide and oppress.

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