Labels. Why do we need them? At first it seems like a natural outcome of people trying to understand their surroundings: good/bad, light/dark, wet/dry, etc. It makes sense to start with a simplified model of reality when it is all brand new. However, as we grow, we soon realize that God/Devil is in the details, that taste is more a matter of subtlety than brute strength and that labels, as useful as they have been, sometimes need throwing away. As the old adage says: a beginner needs to learn the rules, an expert knows all the rules, a master knows when to break the rules.
So how come, with such a general and all encompassing principle, proven many times over millennia, we still cling to labels? And not only to understand the world around, but to understand ourselves and, ultimately, define ourselves? Not only internally, but externally, as a society? Codifying them in laws and unspoken yet strongly enforced rules?
An innocent example
Let me give you an example. When we enter adolescence we start getting sexually attracted by other people. So this imaginary adolescent (A) likes one girl, then another, then another. After three girls he decides, with the tacit and active approval of his relatives and friends, he is straight. Another imaginary adolescent (B) likes guys, so he's gay. And now, so that we can identify the usefulness of these concepts, we add a third adolescent (C). A sexy young stud that likes... girls, let's say, and has managed to not only like them, but successfully have sexual encounters with them. He has had sex with 20 girls. So tell me, who is more like who in this triangle of adolescents? How do you split this hyperplane of three people into two parts? How do you cluster these people into two groups? Because to me it seems that A and B are far more alike than any of them is similar to C. Moreover, is the sexual attraction pattern that has been established in early adolescence even stable? What happens if the next person A likes is another guy? Is he bisexual now? By how much? Is he 75% hetero?
Leaving my personal thoughts aside, can anyone tell me what these labels are for? Because if you find yourself sexually attracted by someone, then for sure you don't need a statistical model to analyze that. Is it for the benefit of the other person? "Sorry, but I am straight", which would translate to something like "Oh, I have to tell you that, based on the statistical evidence for sexual attraction I have gathered, I seem to be exclusively attracted to girls. So don't take it personally. I have nothing against gay people, I just have a biological reason to reject any of your advances". Does that sound in any way useful? Especially since we are being taught that one does not refute another's reasons for sexual or romantic rejection, that they have the given right to unilaterally refuse, regardless of any rational reason.
One might argue that these labels are like armor to define and strengthen the identity of people. You don't just observe you are straight or gay, you define yourself as such, thus avoiding confusion, minimizing internal conflict and adhering to a community. Then, collectively, one can fight the inevitable "You are weird and must die" situation in which all people find themselves in, at one time or the other, when facing people different from themselves. But then, isn't clearly defining a group of people painting a target on their back? Look at the LGBTQ... whatever community. They are actively combatting the discrimination and disrespect that is thrown at them by finely defining the specific sexual group they belong to, then bundling them all together into a community of completely different people. Because they have a common enemy, you see, the cis people (a term they had to invent to define the majority of people, so they don't have to define themselves as not normal). So if I am gay, for example, I am the G person, not the B person, which also accepts sexual encounters with people of the other sex. Why is that important?
Why can't I fuck whoever I want to fuck, assuming they agree? Why do I need a label which will restrict my choices in the future?
People managed to somehow debate gender now. And not in terms of "why does it matter?" but in "you didn't define it correctly. It's spelled Phemail, as per the new gender atlas of 2022!"
A less divisive topic
And what I am saying is not related just to sexuality. Say race, to take something less divisive. Am I White? How do you know? Because the color of my skin? What if you found out that my parents are both Black and I have a skin condition? Is it ancestry, then? The proportion of genetic code from various (very vaguely defined) groups of people in my own? Then we get to the same thing: if my grandfather is Black, am I 25% Black? What if he was Japanese? What the hell does that matter anyway? Why do we need labels like "Caucasian", "non-White", "person of color", "African American"? Am I a European Romanian as opposed to a South Asian Romanian because his Indian-like race was enslaved in Europe a bunch of centuries ago? Who needs this crap? Is it to define values for eventual retribution for perceived historical slights? Is race an accounting concept?
I identify as a software developer. I am more alike people writing software that with the majority of men, Romanians, sun deprived people with terribly white skin, guys who like girls or humans in general. And there are a lot of software people that are nothing like me. Is it a useful identity, then, other than for HR people? I would say no. No one cares anyway, except when meeting new people and they ask what I do, I tell them, then there is that awkward "Oh..." and they go ask someone else.
The hell with it
And the holy trinity would not be complete without religion. Religion is a concept you choose! It's the only thing you are protected by law to believe despite any evidence and to act accordingly. It is the same as the identity shield portion of race or sexuality, but that's where the buck stops. No one can prove you are a Christian or a Buddhist. It's a completely arbitrary belief system that is codified only when interacting with other people. You do to Church and if they start singing, or doing strange hand gestures, you better know the lyrics and the gestures or they won't look positively on you. It's like the secret handshake of the gang in your neighborhood. But when you are all alone and you think about God, it's sure that you are thinking of it slightly different than any other person in the world. So why do you need the label? Why can't you believe in two gods, hedge your bets so to speak? You go to the mosque and then to the synagogue. Surely double dipping would be a worse sin than not believing in the true God, wouldn't it? And then, what God do you believe in more?
Even nationality is stupid. Does the place where I was born define me, or maybe the one I lived the most in? It certainly influences my culture, my values and one can statistically infer many things about me from them, but they are just influences on the path of my life. Some may be important, some not, I may have rejected some or grew out of them. Other than administrative and bureaucratic reasons, nationality is again a mere choice!
I agree with people who choose to define themselves in certain ways. I respect every personal choice as long as it doesn't hurt others. I am not against self-defining. What I am against, though, is about giving social and legal power to these labels. And then to redefine them again and again as times change. Think of the tortuous etymology of the word "antisemite" for example. You want to define yourself, fine! Don't impose it on me, though. "I identify as a serial killer. Please don't disrupt me in observing the rituals of my people and let me stab you!"
So what's your point?
We live in a time where everybody and their grandmother decry divisiveness, extremism, polarization. It seems to me that if we want to minimize that, we should at least renounce placing people in disjunct boxes. One shouldn't care what my race, religion or sexuality is until it's relevant to some sort of interaction. And if they find out, it shouldn't be any more important than any other trivia about my person. I say fight the entire idea of labeling people, as a general principle, whether you do it to hurt them or to declaratively protect them. And if you want to build an atlas to categorize the weird and beautiful human species, do it from a place of observation, not coercion.
Which brings me to the last point. Some people religiously defend their belief in ... imaginary characters and stories. You hear stuff like "In reality, Star Trek canon says that...". No. I have watched everything Star Trek. There is no canon. Canon is used in the concept of religious writings, where people arbitrarily decide what part of a religion is correct and for which part one should burn other people for supporting. It has no place in fiction. Good writing needs to be consistent. If it spreads over multiple decades, multiple writers, multiple IP owners and different times, it needs to adapt. You can say that something is stupidly inconsistent or that adapting old ideas to new times sometimes is detrimental to those ideas and you'd better start anew with fresh stuff. You might even call people idiots for the way they chose to do any of these things. What you cannot expect is canon for imagination! If you do, you are only helping lawyers carve out the landscape of human fantasy and parcel out terrain and capital for the people who care the least about your entertainment.
Exploring a new domain always requires defining labels, as a simplistic model for charting the unknown. People are not a new domain, nor are they unknown. They may be unknowable, but they certainly don't belong in nicely shelved boxes in the warehouse of politicians, accountants or lawyers, people lacking all imagination or passion. If you believe the current model of interacting with the world is wrong, maybe the surest way to fix it is to renounce and denounce the labels that define the model.