Dear Homo Sapien who Does Not Like to be Labeled and Feels that Labels are Restrictive and Result in Stereotypes and Boxed-In Self-Images,


I think your stance is faulty, for reasons that will become obvious in this post. Short words or phrases that are descriptive of persons, groups, intellectual movements, so on and so forth, have their benefits. These benefits are apparent to most people, but they seem to elude you. As we could go on forever and ever again arguing these points, I will try to illustrate them here.


This website is a community for persons who lack the belief in a deity, who are unsure about the existence/nonexistence of a deity, who are open to different views/opinions about the existence/nonexistence of a deity, and/or who have a worldview that focuses on human values and concerns without regard to the existence/nonexistence of a deity. The need for such a community is quite a shame; for many members of this community, this is their only escape from a world dominated by persons who possess the belief in a particular deity, namely the deities as described in the Bible and the Koran, and who insist upon the literal interpretations of these books be an all-compassing aspect of everyone's lives as the books themselves prescribe. We all can agree that the world should be a place where our daily lives are free from such restraints and crazed expectations, and where beliefs are kept out of objective legislature, keeping everyone's laws free of bias. But until the rest of the world sees this, we can all meet here and discuss these topics.


However, these topics are not the only topics discussed. Science, art, and literature are also discussed, as are psychology and philosophy. Although I am partial to the variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and rejects the importance of belief in god, many people I've met hold a view that reality exists independently of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest, that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in laissez faire capitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform man's widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which he can respond emotionally------and I can see where they are coming from in many aspects, though I disagree about most.


Topics are not limited on this website to those of study. Other topics include parenting, personal experience, and even sexual orientation. Today, I was told of an article about parents who are not telling their child what his/her sex is so that he/she will grow up without gender identification and can decide for himself/herself. I've met many people of different sexual orientations: some are attracted to the same sex, some are attracted to the opposite sex, some are attracted to both sexes, some are attracted to others without regard to sex or gender. I myself am attracted to both sexes, though I wouldn't want an emotional romantic relationship with someone of the same sex as me.



Politics and economics are also huge topics for people who lack the belief of deities on this website. Many people who lack the belief of deities on this website advocate an economic system in which the means of production are either state owned or commonly owned and controlled cooperatively, though many are supportive of an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit, usually in competitive markets. While most people who lack the belief of deities seem to hold the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights, I have met some that think a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society, is the best system.


There is a wide variety of different individuals on Think Atheist; knowing the labels they relate to or closest to helps others know, at a glance, who they generally are and where they generally stand. Very few people adhere to any set of views to the very definition provided by wikipedia; we all have our own opinions and we all deviate a bit from our stated label. To know how much, you have to value people enough to discover their nuances. But to proclaim that labels are bad and shouldn't exist is a faulty position; we are social creatures and tend to follow. This has been tested and shown to be true numerous times---for example, the famous Milgram study


Labels give people options. Without ever hearing the label "secular humanist", I would've never read of Epicurus, or read the Humanist Manifesto(s), which helped me mold and concrete my own views. Hearing about objectivism and considering what that entails exactly helped me question my own views. Knowing the difference between sexual orientations helps me understand others better. Yes, stereotypes and forced self-images are horrible results of having labels. But the problem is not the label....the problem that needs to be addressed and corrected is the stereotype and/or forced self-image. I think that learning the history and function of specific labels helps us understand them more, and use them better. Unless, of course, you're against education as well....


Views: 512

Comment by Kim on September 8, 2011 at 11:54pm

It wouldn't have been so long had I used one to two word labels for the underlined parts.  That's the point.

Comment by Jason on September 9, 2011 at 12:08am
Be modest now Kim you just love showing off your brain power!
Comment by Unseen on September 9, 2011 at 1:20am

Often, not always, a label is simply shorthand for a concept. The same is true for stereotypes. Yes, labels, concepts, and stereotypes have their downside, but thinking and reasoning would be impossible without them.

Comment by Kim on September 9, 2011 at 1:35am

I once identified as a Christian; after being exposed to contrary ideas and beliefs, I changed my mind.  I accepted that I had been erronous in the views I once had.  I admitted that I had been very wrong.  What is so terrible about admitting that one was wrong?  Growth and change are also difficult for those who refuse to take a stance or identify so that they can avoid having to "change their identity".  Just because my identity as a Christian changed doesn't mean that *I* became a different person.  I'm still Kim. The "box" of Christianity that I was in, as iron-clad as it was, didn't prevent me from accepting new views, learning new concepts, or growing as a person.  But the "box", if you will, of secular humanism doesn't keep me from exploring and considering other philosophies.  However, the label does help others see the common ground we share at a glance.  It's hard to find others who share views in common with you without labels.  If someone is so weak-minded that a simple label will prevent them from looking at opposing evidence, I hardly think that is the label's fault.  Some people are not likely to bend from their views due to their very own personality.


I agree that it can be uncomfortable not having a label for an aspect of yourself.  I have personal aspects of myself that I cannot label and have to contend with, just like you.  As a result of this, I do not know if I have a "problem" or if it's just my character.  But if I had a label for it, I could find others that relate and could discuss such internal conflicts, finding a solution or accepting myself.  We all feel this way about some aspect or another of ourselves.  Before I took on the label of secular humanist, I learned about it.  Others had put into clear expression almost exactly what I felt to be most accurate given my view of the world.  I don't have to practice how I respond to such questions....I just answer honestly.  If my words are contradictory to what the label entails, if my emotions and responses don't jive with the definition, maybe I'm conflicting with that label....and maybe it just isn't for me.  And I can accept that as well.


I have NEVER heard before that a bisexual is a gay person who hasn't completely come out yet; you are the first person I've heard that from....I really am not sure if that is a stereotype of bisexuals, as I am not a bisexual and am not familiar with the stereotypes associated with bisexuals.  Also, if I had a question about your blog, I would've asked it there.  My blog was not directed at you namely.  I've had this conversation with several people online about "anti-labelism", which I happened to jokingly coin about 2 days before your post in the chatroom.   Your argument about not wanting to be labeled is also a common argument for agnostics and atheists that don't like the labels.  It's quite one thing to say, "I'm not sure if I fit that label," or, "that label really doesn't satisfy what I think/feel/believe," or something like that.  That is honest and fair. But to say that others accepting a label is a bad thing and that we are closing our minds is unfair.  How could you possibly know?   

Comment by Robert Karp on September 9, 2011 at 9:32am

I think labels, like definitions, can be and are warped to benefit one's agenda. Theists love to call things as they see them. I for one am proud of the label I have. I could care less if other people see me in a different light. Great article Kim.

Comment by Rick on September 9, 2011 at 10:30am

Yes, labels can be a good thing. They give specificity to broader categories. This, however, only works when one is educated as to the meanings of such labels. Since this is an Atheist site, let’s look at the word atheist. It means: Lack of belief in a god, one who hates god, one who worships satan, satan himself, liberal, sinner, evil, hateful, lacking in morals, etc. Only the first definition is true, yet, if you ask any believer, you may get any or all of the other definitions as well. Part of the issue is indeed education. We aren’t doing enough to educate the masses as to the actual meaning of the word.


The other issue is that there will always be a dichotomy of meanings for certain words/labels: Atheist, faith, theory, god, Christian, etc. There will be the academic/textbook (real) definition and then the religious definition. Whether or not we like it, this has come to be the case. You can argue the meanings of words until blue in the face and never come to a consensus.


Let’s not forget that personal experience also affects the meaning we assign to a label. Cute, loving, funny, gentile, and kind might be words used to describe a dog, unless you were brutally mauled by one, in which case they might be, mean, vicious, evil, hateful, etc. While there may be an official legal or scientific definition, that will almost always be paired with some sort of emotional label as well.


The other problem with labels is that no matter how specific you try to make them, they can never account for all of the individual variance (there are 30,000 + sects of Christianity for example). There might as well be an individual label given to each person that adequately expresses their belief system. The problem is that this muddies the waters.


To further confuse the matter, it’s also worth mentioning that labels may have diametrically opposite meanings depending on the culture and context. Most of us on TA will be speaking from a Euro-centric view, but by no means is it the only valid view of the world.


While labels have their place and practical function, there is a certain point where the system breaks down and loses practical functionality. I don’t know where that point is, but it’s at this point that attempting to slap a label on something becomes counterproductive.

Comment by Unseen on September 9, 2011 at 12:26pm

@Kim @Kasu   I have heard or read people saying that a bisexual (typically a male) is a gay who hasn't come out many times. But it's silly, because the way most people think, gay is as gay does. Recent science seems to prove that some males have a bisexual gene.

Comment by Pierre H. Vachon on September 9, 2011 at 2:38pm
Comment by Helen Pluckrose on September 9, 2011 at 2:54pm

Being formally also a person who believes that Christ is their Savior and that Jesus of Israel was/is the Son of God and was everything He claimed to be and within this belief being one who

believed in the sole authority and inerrancy of the Bible, in salvation only through regeneration, and in a spiritually transformed personal life and now being one who is concerned with the interests and welfare of humans in a way that is not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred, I agree that labels can be useful when used to encapsulate a position without being verbose. I claim the right to label myself as a secular humanist, an atheist, a feminist, a men's rights activist (these last two are not mutually exclusive if their definition is to be taken literally as I insist on doing) a dog lover and, to me most importantly, a mother. I also would like to be able to call someone online at Answers 'a bloody fundie' when they particulalrly annoy me and happily admit to being politically incorrect in this case. In real life I will let people label themselves. I did not know what to call myself until I heard the term 'secular humanist' and this led me to the British Humanist Association which has been life changing. There is a use for labels and misuse of them.I get annoyed when someone calls a woman who hates men a feminist. I feel that as long as labels are correctly understood and every effort is made to find out how people would label themselves, there is a place for them. I had quite a job translating a couple of your definitions!

Comment by Great Dane on September 9, 2011 at 3:00pm

@Kim, sorry to be the science buff now but strictly speaking it should be "Dear Homo Sapiens Sapiens" as "Homo Sapiens" went extinct some 30.000 to 50.000 years ago! But don't worry, it's just a label ;)


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