Intractability and labels

Intractable seems to be the most applicable description of most discussions people are actually passionate enough to have these days. Intractability stems at least from a failure to appreciate the underlying faults in either side’s arguments. The right seems bent on properly labeling people and issues so that we can determine right from wrong and act accordingly. The left seems bent on removing labels and socially constructed identity from the conversation so that each person can live and let live. Labels are necessary, says the right. Labels are oppressive, says the left.

I’m convinced by research and experience that labels are the only way the human brain can make sense of the world. All possible identity labels represent the acceptance or rejection of labels that are inherited through culture, family, and experience. You can’t perfectly label everything because labels, by their nature, are socially constructed and thereby cannot be static. At the same time, you can’t experience the world or communicate with others apart from the use of those imperfect labels.

Therefore, the right won’t arrive anywhere in their quest for the right labels. And the left won’t arrive anywhere in their quest to end oppressive labels. What matters and what has meaning is relationship. Inside a relationship, the dynamic transformation of accepting and rejecting labels makes it possible to affirm the uniqueness of another person while creating the space in which community empowers more than it oppresses.

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