Labels. We all use them, we all love them. It’s our way of categorizing our lives, a way of making sense of the plethora of information that floods us every day. Unfortunately, it’s also our way of imparting our biases and prejudices on every incoming piece of information. Every label we use carries the metadata we have assigned to it. We used to call them stereotypes, now we use terms like racial profiling. Liberals, right-wing, Jews, blacks, Christians, immigrants, politicians, Wall Street, big business, Congress, hero. They all conjure up images in our minds, whether positive or negative, which have nothing to do with either the piece of information we are receiving or the individual conveying it. We have, usually without thinking about it, sorted the information by the labels we have assigned them. We gravitate toward the information we like and dismiss the information relegated to the negative labels we have created.
By flushing the information we have assigned negative labels, we simplify our lives, but dismiss the value of discussion and argument, with the availability of our growing, understanding and altering our opinion obliterated. It also leads to two other destructive results. First, we harden our position to the point of dogmatic excess. We don’t allow any discussion of our position. We don’t allow any subset of our position to be challenged, lest we question our position and allow other tenets of our position to be challenged. Second, we allow single-minded institutions to speak for us. In our busy lives, we allow institutions to carry our position for us. We believe their rhetoric. We adopt their position as ours. We believe the notion that an attack on one of our positions within a topic will lead to the “slippery slope” of ultimate defeat. Pick a topic: gun control, abortion, religion or politics. Our labels and intractable positions have lead to a stalemate. There is no longer any discussion, no debate, no discussion. The “other” side has been labeled “evil” and the conversation is over. Unfortunately, this stalemate leads to paralysis. Congress enjoys a 14% approval rating. A Republican controlled Congress makes a Democratic President impudent. Likewise, Republican Presidents have been made ineffective by Democratically controlled Congresses. The game plan seems to be that a President is only in office for four years, so, we in Congress, can just wait him out. Paralysis.
We, as individuals, need to be able to move the bar on our labels. We need to see them and acknowledge that they exist. We need to allow for the notion that not all of our positions are infallible. It is the idiot who claims to know it all. We need to stop allowing single-minded institutions to speak for us. We need to encourage discussion and engage in debate. In our case, the United States is in a state of self-inflicted paralysis. We are better than that. Our children deserve better and they are learning from us, while the world watches.