Society Likes Labels - Even The Label-Hating Brigade Use Them. Get Over It!

by Vince Jeevar
19th Sep 2018

Society doesn’t make sense anymore. OK, that’s not exactly a revelation I suppose, but when we try to eradicate core processes in our operating system you know we are moving in a wrong direction. Stop trying to pretend labels don’t matter and we shouldn’t use them, they are essential in our development and social identity.

So how much of a stereotyping labeler are you? Don’t judge yourself, we all are and it’s a good thing.

Now, you may be thinking “I’m tolerant of everyone, even idiots who support [insert name of idiot politician]. I hate labels.” But when you actually think logically about it, that’s not entirely true.

EXHIBIT 1 – Your social media profiles
Do you have any of the following on your profile?

  • Favourite music or sports team.
  • Political position, causes you support or your career.
  • Dietary choices. E.g. that you’re vegan.
  • Social activities. E.g. a team you’re on, club you’re a member of, even a fashion brand or celebrity you like.

EXHIBIT 2 – People who hate labels using labels

There, no labels. Well, except for: activist, politician, champion of human rights, and black. Even the people who have only one purpose – opposing labels - are unable to avoid them.

EXHIBIT 3 – Your friends and the people you follow on social media
Do you see correlations between your interests and self-labels and the people you are connected to?

  • What are their political beliefs?
  • Their favourite fashion brands?
  • Their favourite sports teams or bands
  • Their hobbies or group memberships?

EXHIBIT 4 – Your idols
In 1991 the Manic Street Preachers released Generation Terrorists, an album so far ahead of its time it is as epic and relevant today as it was back then. Although it is a raw, punk, in-your-face album, the lyrics are masterful and deep, written as only Richie Edwards could do. One line from Slash n’ Burn in particular has always intrigued me: “Madonna drinks Coke and so you can too, Tastes real good not like a sweet poison should” (Madonna actually had a deal with Pepsi that went sour in the late 80s).

Why would a company like Pepsi pay someone $5m to advertise their product? Simple – If someone popular does it, and I want to be popular, I will drink what they drink. If I want to play soccer like Messi, I’ll wear the same boots. If I want to play guitar like Joe Satriani, I’ll play an Ibanez.

Closing Argument:
I was once walking through London on a Saturday afternoon and I noticed a police car slow down as it passed. It went past a couple more times before finally stopping. The window wound down and the cop said “Do you know the score?” “What?” “You’re wearing a Stevenage Borough (as they were then) shirt, just wondering if you knew the score from today?”

Yep, just another one of my labels, I’m a Boro supporter. But this is a great example of where your social identity finds its foundation. You first determine the labels that apply to you and then you bond with people who share those labels. There is a flip side to this. Back then Stevenage had a huge rivalry with Woking. You’ve probably not heard of them, but Jay from The Inbetweeners was offered the England manager’s job because he took them to the Champion’s League. Lucky for Gareth Southgate he turned them down. Whether or not we would have won the World Cup with Jay in charge is debatable, but the point is that Stevenage and Woking supporters had an unfavourable view of each other, and hating Woking was just part of being a Boro supporter.

When you create your identity and choose the groups you want to belong to, you are not only deciding which groups you belong to and who else belongs to these in-groups, but by default you are also deciding who does not belong. Like it or not, when you choose the labels you want to associate with, you exclude others. Don’t feel bad, we all do it, and the people you excluded? They’re excluding you back.

The proof… Thinking back to your social media profile, consider viewing two profiles. The first profile has three or four of another person’s labels in direct opposition to your own. Do you think favourably of that person? Can you even think neutrally about them? Be honest. They are in opposition to things you hold dear, and without even knowing this person you have, at best, a below average opinion of them. On the other hand, if you stumble across a profile where you have a lot of matching interests you may follow that person and choose to interact with them in a positive manner.

Two complete strangers that you know very little about with the exception of a couple of lines where they present the labels they want to show the world. Which one are you more likely to follow and interact with? 

I rest my case.

It’s OK – It’s your social identity. It’s how you survive in the world. We’re built like this, and no movement will ever change it.

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