Predictable Identities: 20 – Self and Other Labeling

The last post set up the motivations and trade-offs of applying identity labels to yourself and to others. One can choose to oppose this ubiquitous labeling or indulge in it. With these two axes, we can sketch out the blogchain’s first (though inevitable) 2×2:

The anti-label corner is exemplified by Paul Graham’s famous exhortation to keep your identity small and Scott Alexander’s reminder that categories are just (occasionally) useful abstractions. This corner sees other-labeling as a distraction from more pertinent questions of what someone actually does or believes; they see self-labeling as a sacrifice of clear thinking for tribal conformity. “Nerd” is a bad label for this corner, but being resistant to labels is its very nature.

Identity politickers sit at the top right corner. They reinforce the centrality of identity built by stacking labels (intersectionality) and demand that others be loyal to their identity markers, as in the quote about black faces and voices. Identitarians are not fans of rich white guys like Paul and Scott, but these two at least stick to their expected role of adversary. They have much more contempt for identity traitors like Candace Owens.

On the top left are people who gleefully toss labels at their outgroup to reinforce its homogeneity and overall wickedness. This usually serves to distance oneself from a label. On the bottom right, a person can attach a self-label to some conventional opinion to demonstrate how nicely predictable they are and to associate with a group. 

These two corners are less of a committed stance and more of a tactical application of labels, but the same is true across the board – people change their willingness to label themselves and others depending on the situation. Labeling is a political tool; we should expect hypocrisy to be the norm rather than the exception.

Series Navigation<< Predictable Identities: 19 – LabelsPredictable Identities: 21 – Enlightenment >>

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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. that’s a nice 2×2 you have there 😎

    And yeah, that picks out something important… there tends to be an assumption among pomo types that the more universal-subject-blank-slate you are, the more powerful/high-agency you are, but that’s not strictly speaking that true. Often the bottom right self-labelers can be the most powerful if they pick the right labels rather than putting themselves into low-agency boxes.

    Like “I’m craaaaazy” robot Roberto on Futurama, who is predictably always all stabby https://futurama.fandom.com/wiki/Roberto

    (stochastic predictability is still predictability, as in Robert or Trump)

  2. I think self labelling could be made into a consistent position, at the risk of making you very gullible, where you accept everyone’s self-labelling in a very unfiltered way. In contrast, embracing outgroup labelling without filtering probably makes you some brand of nihilist or generalised misanthrope; everyone is “those other people”, including yourself.

    I actually don’t think either of these are nonexistent positions either, generalised acceptance of identities and universal respect, without imposing any standards, probably because you work in some low trust field or have taken generalised precautions against trust and connection itself (like in acting for example, where everyone is wonderful and a genius, and your agent handles the suspicious stuff for you) is something I can see working.

    Similarly, embracing self hatred along with hatred of all others is could conceivably be good for a career where you deal with the worst in everyone, and false accusations and ubiquitous racism is covered for, so self hating security guards or people working in certain kinds of internal organisational policing could probably achieve it quite well, owning the position of being despised, if there’s some structural reason they can avoid consequences for it. You could even, in an earlier era, have become a stand-up comedian or writer, and play to everyone’s outgroup biases at once.

    Though in practice I suspect if they exist, both are most suited to people who are fundamentally without power, and whose livelihoods are constrained by outside forces to neither exploit them too heavily nor put them in position where their extremes are consequential.

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