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Forget the Labels

Entry 1613, on 2013-12-31 at 17:18:32 (Rating 3, Comments)

I often don't find labels or classifications useful, especially when it comes to complex human beliefs. For example, I resent being labelled as an atheist or socialist, even though I don't think there is a god and tend to the political left. And saying that "atheist philosophers" have a fixed set of beliefs which preclude them from reaching certain conclusions is just a cop-out.

Reality is a bit more complex than that. I don't think that not believing in a god makes me something, it just means I'm not something else. I don't need to belong to any particular belief system to not believe in something for which there is no good evidence. So for the vast majority atheism really doesn't exist. There might be a few people out there who insist there is no god (which is different from not believing there is one) for ideological reasons, and maybe they might be called atheists, but I don't know any.

But even then the label becomes confused. If I say I'm an atheist many people say I just refuse to believe or am certain I am right. But that's not true, I just don't think there's a god based on the evidence I have seen at this point. If that changed so would my opinion. Discovering that there really is a god would be absolutely amazing and fascinating!

And regarding socialism. I don't even know what the official definition of a socialist is, I just know that I believe in balanced political policies and think the current ones we have are too far towards what we usually think of as the right. For example employers have too much power over workers, taxes for the rich are too low, corporations have too much influence, etc.

So if wanting to back away from some of the more extreme policies of the last 30 years makes me a socialist then call me that, but it's not really an accurate or fair description. I don't belong to any political party and have voted for many different parties over the years depending on their policies at the time.

Of course, I have occasionally used labels to describe some of my opponents! The word "creationist" appears about 200 times in this blog! And that's not even counting the comments. But that's different! :) Creationists really do believe in an ideology which is tediously alike from one adherent to another.

But to be fair I suppose I really shouldn't use that particular label and should criticise a particular belief instead. It's just that the label creationist is a good proxy for someone with all of (but not limited to) the following utterly ridiculous beliefs: the origin of the universe is described in the Bible, evolution is not primarily responsible for the variety of life on Earth, and the Bible is literally true.

Anyone who believes this sort of stuff when it can be easily shown beyond any reasonable doubt that it's not true, is not only a creationist but also an idiot!

So maybe labels are OK but we should be a bit more careful about how we use them. If labels are over-used they lose their meaning and often become a sort of de-facto ad hominem attack (not always because sometimes a label is relevant). We just need to be rationalists and pragmatists about this!

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