I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

I’ve never liked identifying as liberal or conservative. It’s not that I’m apolitical (I probably hold a number of liberal positions, being young and all that), but because these terms carry way too much baggage; I’m in favour of the death penalty and a bigger military budget, for example.

Labels make us assume things about one another that aren't true. I’ll give you a personal example.

 The pitfalls of implying "Hey, I think you're nuts."

The pitfalls of implying "Hey, I think you're nuts."

I’m not religious, but I once went to church with my mom, who is. Afterwards, I marvelled to her about how different I thought it would be. This got us talking about different Christian denominations and who does what when I uttered (in an admittedly spiteful tone), “There are some weird groups of Christians, like Pentecostals, who speak in tongues.”

“But Marty, people in my church speak in tongues,” she said to me.

I went red-faced, stammered out an apology and tried to walk back on what I had said. I had tried so hard not to offend. No wonder we barely talk about it. It’s so easy to make an ass of yourself if you assume what things do and don’t mean.

But therein lies a problem. Let’s go back to the political sphere, as it’s a good place to find these package-deal terms. Libertarians are a great example. They either support Ron Paul, or they don’t. They support the gold standard and/or Bitcoin, or they don’t. They love Ayn Rand, or they don’t. They’re all over the map in terms of what they believe.

So if you identify as a Libertarian or a Christian, it's a good idea to break down what you actually believe to whoever you’re talking to. People have very different ideas about what those are, and so you’ll end up spelling it all out anyway when they inevitably mischaracterize you.

Another more insidious application of labels is using them to dismiss someone’s position. I've been called a Social Justice Warrior for supporting various feminist and multicultural ideals. I don’t have much to say here; people who do this are barely worth talking to but, when I must, I tell them that they haven’t actually argued against my position, just over terminology.

Sometimes labels are a rhetorical shortcut. But other times, they’re like heading halfway down the road and just stopping.


Martin Dash was born a rather urbane country boy. A chronic underachiever in his youth, he is now channeling his untapped brilliance in writing.

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