If seat belts work, why air bags?
If air bags work, why brakes?
If brakes work, why defensive driving?
If defensive driving works, why power steering?
If power steering works, why do we care about visibility?
If windshields help, why road signs and traffic lights?
If road signs and traffic lights work, why guard rails?
Please, apply more cognitive horsepower. The cult of oversimplification is gaining membership at a staggering rate. Idolatry and the worship of simple labels has a stranglehold on a lot of Westerners. Please, rescind your membership.
Risk, danger, possibility and probability coexist in complicated relationships. No one thing or groups of measures takes risk to ZERO. No one thing or group of measures takes risk to 100%. The discussion isn’t about the risks of seat belts weighed against the freedom of no seat belt. It’s about the degree of total risk reduction by implementing a matrix of safety controls.
Six years ago I joined Facebook to find that once someone has committed to a moniker and label, he or she doesn’t care to engage with the complexity of life anymore. “I’ve got my label, thanks - no additional thinking needed”, seems to be the message. Every communication has to be distilled into a purposely inaccurate oversimplification like the if-then statements above. Digging deeper into causal relationships isn’t just uninteresting to people, it’s offensive, because they fear they might have to change labels. Have you considered NO label? Have you considered two labels instead of one? Have you never felt like one label in the morning and another in the evening of the same day?
“I’m a vegetarian.”
“I’m a see-food dieter.”
“I’m a capitalist.”
“I’m a democrat.”
“I’m a 'fill-in-the-blank'.”
I don’t know. I’m not so sure these and other labels are moving us forward. Maybe there was a time. But I’m unconvinced. They seem more like shackles than freedom. One, most people don’t actually know what the terms mean. Two, the remaining minority don’t care. Yet people will fall on their swords for their chosen idolatrous label.
I don’t drink alcohol. I’m not abstaining. I just don’t care for it. Debates over alcohol regulation or laws pull no emotional reaction out of me, because I have no label toward it. None. I don’t care. At all. We could raise the drinking age to 25 or lower it to 18, change breathalyzer tests, permanently revoke drivers licenses on first offense, whatever. I feel nothing. Impose a tax. Change sales rules. I don’t care. What I can tell you is I can listen to and entertain any side of any discussion regarding alcohol, because I just don’t have a label I worship. I’m not in a cult with regard to drinking. I don’t vilify it. I don’t love it. It seems that the Prohibition merely increased the prevalence and wanton abuse. So, banning something which we know has detrimental effects, though seemingly a good idea, doesn’t seem to work very well. Sadly, the complexity of life requires uncomfortable and nuanced management of risks. One blanket label doesn’t get it done.
I yearn for people to get themselves to this with response to other topics. I pray for it. I wish for it. I hope for it. I realize the very simple if-then statements above are tempting. The simple memes are tempting. The oversimplification of risk and benefit is tempting. Fatalism is tempting. Idolatry is tempting. Othering your “opponents” is tempting. But man, it just isn’t getting people anywhere.
When I work with people on coaching, we cover the very uncomfortable aspects of their labels. Why? Because all I really care about is empowering them to find a pragmatic way forward. Labels hold people back. Thinking of themselves as a fixed product, a demographic chart, an identity designation, they’re stuck. They can’t move, by definition. That’s not joyful. Being stuck sucks. And we all know it.
So, if we know that sticking to a fixed label doesn’t work well for our own personal health and fitness, why do we think it’s a great idea for society?
People, we all know that we have trapped ourselves inside of a label at some point in life, and it was awful. “I used to think” is the greatest speech anyone ever makes. “I used to be.... but then I realized” is the greatest opener or closer to a sermon, motivational speech, commencement, civil rights proclamation, declaration, song or poem.
Why, then, would it rationally follow that we need to impose simplified labels on others? Or broadly across society?
We have to go the other direction altogether. How do we shrug off the chains of label? How do we shake off the weight of monikers? How do leave a life of idol worship? How do we liberate ourselves from simple if-then statements whose only purpose was to reinforce a narrative for our chosen label?
Then, and only then, can we engage. Whether we are looking to better ourselves or help our fellow man better himself, a life obsessed with labels ain’t getting it done.