Predictable Identities: 19 – Labels

After consistency, the most important feature of predictable identities is a good label, a pithy description that tells others (and yourself) what to expect of you. 

Let’s say that you are consistent in the sentiment that individuals should be free from government intervention, and thus oppose business regulation and gun control. What should your position be on abortion, immigration, or campaign finance? It’s difficult to extrapolate a coherent position from your basic values, and often not worth the effort  — your take on campaign finance likely has zero impact either on government legislation or on your own life. It’s uncomfortable for your political stances to be so unpredictable.

On the other hand, you may simply adopt the label of “Republican” and acquire a set of stances on all political issues. The Republican position on anything is common knowledge, and anyone who knows that this label is part of your identity should not expect any surprises. Sticking to the label is often valued much more than consistency of actual opinion:

People strongly dislike labels that don’t actually help prediction, as illustrated quite hilariously by the recent backlash to “sapiosexual”. From what I can tell, here’s what people who call themselves that mean by it:

  • 10% are sexually aroused purely by intelligence, not appearance (yes, they exist).
  • 20% like hot people but only if they’re smart.
  • 30% weigh personality more than physical attributes in romantic partners, relative to others.
  • 40% use the term merely to signal their own intelligence.
  • 1 person (me) insists that it should mean “attracted exclusively to Homo sapiens”.

The end result is that people who haven’t met a single self-identified sapiosexual write articles titled You’re Not Sapiosexual, You’re Just Annoying in their frustration at the unpredictability of the label.

Self-labeling is a powerful tool for shaping your behavior and the reactions of others, to be used with care.

Series Navigation<< Predictable Identities: 18 – Self-consistencyPredictable Identities: 20 – Self and Other Labeling >>

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About Jacob Falkovich

Jacob is so proud of his blog, putanumonit.com, that it's on his online dating profiles. He also tweets @yashkaf.

Comments

  1. I get what you mean about people liking labels with predictive power. The challenge I see is in communicating one’s nuanced set of beliefs absent that set of beliefs already being codified into a label. Damnit why cant I live in a society with lots of guns and lots of abortions?

    • I tend to agree with DTM that the pool of labels is kind of weird and arbitrary. I know that to the Republican, or Democrat, or whatever, it’s so consistent and coherent, but there’s no good reason one cannot or should not like both guns and abortions.

      I think Nassim Taleb said he was totally libertarian at the Federal Level, Fiscally conservative at the state level, socialistic at the local level, and a total communist wrt friends and family. There’s no label for that, but it’s totally coherent. If you just don’t, for example, trust a large beaurocracy to do anything right, “I’m liberal but the federal government couldn’t score a run hitting the ball off a tee in deep left field.” That’s just one, but I can think of other similar reasons to have those Taleb-style opinions.

      So, are people limited for some reason to a field of labels?

    • If we lived in a world where philosophical consistency was the driver in assigning meaning to a label, your proposed “lots of guns plus lots of abortions” position would [at least on the face of it] have a clear line of logic about personal freedoms, and thus a common label. As it is, cultural forces shape a mish-mash set of values into a shared term, and we have known labels for incoherent positions like “massively intrusive governmental regulation but only sometimes.” I find it personally difficult to find standard labels with a consistency beginning to end: nearly all of them have been stretched to fit a bigger constituency, bastardized beyond initial intention, or simply appropriated by culturally-louder voices.

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