Part one of this series discussed how we are on a trajectory of increasing transparency, thanks in large part to information technology. Our current task is to continue to embrace this transparency, because transparency is aligned with truth. As transparency increases, we demand more and more transparency of each other. The growth of humanity in the direction of increasing transparency is inevitable now. If you want to thrive in this world- especially in the long-term- you must embrace transparency.
Revelations About Each Other
As we all reveal more of our lives to one another, it is becoming overwhelmingly obvious that most of us most of the time do not fit into labels, and black-and-white thinking tends to be inaccurate.
Up until this point, people have generally expected one another to fit into clean and easy-to-label identities and situations. Here are a few examples of how we have typically categorized one another:
He is a welder.
They are boyfriend and girlfriend.
He is a man.
They are Christians.
That Republican is on the right. That Democrat is on the left.
Those people are evil.
I am a good boy.
The above are rather harmless statements. However, such statements tend to be partial truths: they paint overgeneralized pictures of reality.
That wouldn’t be such a problem if people were generally aware of that, rather than assuming that such partial truths are indeed the whole and complete reality. In turn, the assumption of such partial truths being reality wouldn’t be such a problem if it didn’t lead to people conflicting with one another.
Labels have a way of bringing out unconscious reactions in people. There are people who get consistently ridiculed and who are distrusted all because they have the label Muslim attached to them. The people who criticize them have never attempted to talk to them and have no idea of what their lives are actually like. Instead, they simply react- and unintelligently so- to a label that they have come to associate with another label: evil.
Labels and Religion and Politics
I’m lumping religion and politics together because they are affected by labels in similar ways.
The application of labels to religion and politics is downright foolish. This is because labels, in these arenas, assume that people do and ought to have clearly defined belief systems. Oh, how it pains me to think this.
It is so very ridiculous that we expect one another to adopt pre-made belief systems. On the one hand, many people who appear to do so actually don’t. Think of the hordes of people who claim to subscribe to the Christian belief system, yet don’t live in accordance with that belief system 100%. If you’ve ever been a Christian, recall the last time you decided to eat meat on a Friday during Lent—or even the last time you actually participated in Lent. Great Goodness, I don’t even remember when Lent is anymore!
On the other hand, it’s simply unintelligent to subscribe to a belief system. When someone attempts to persuade you into the ways of a particular religion or political party, they ought to begin with this brutally honest statement:
I am about to inform you as to not only how the world works, but also how you ought to perceive and interact with the world—down to the last detail. In order for this process to go smoothly, you cannot think for yourself at all. You can’t put your own special twist on anything that I tell you: to do so would make you a traitor. You must accept what I say 100%, down to every cross on the t and dot on the i. As long as you do that, you can be a member of our in-group. I’d love to say that you would be a trusted member of our group, but the reality is that we people in such groups never do fully trust one another. The leaders of such groups make great efforts to control us, keep us in line, and reinforce the ideas of our belief system over and over again. They try so hard, it seems they expect us to fail to listen, to disagree, or even to leave entirely at some point. Members take similar attitudes with one another. We say hello to each other with friendly faces, but underneath that façade we’re constantly looking out for mistakes and watching for one another to slip up. And when someone does say or do something that is out of line with our belief system, woe be unto them! They may still try to be a part of our group, and may even beg for forgiveness if the mistake was big enough. But things will never be the same again. The way such a person is punished depends upon the belief system that he has violated. In some groups, such a traitor would be killed. In other, more civilized groups, no one would say anything to the infidel directly. Instead, members of the group would talk about him behind his back and inform one another that he is no good. He wouldn’t necessarily be kicked out of the group, but he would certainly be avoided, and he would be left to suffer in the coldness of silence from his fellow group members. Whatever the group members do to such a person, the point would be to let him know without question that he did something wrong, and to make sure he suffers because of it.
So, do you still want to hear about my belief system?
If everyone used independent thought as their primary mode of forming ideas about the world, few people would subscribe to belief systems. The truth is that there is no pre-established, ready-made collection of beliefs that, on its own, is particularly beneficial or accurate. Belief systems are just too rigid and slow.
Instead of relying on beliefs we chose years ago, we need to think on our feet, acknowledge what is so, and refrain from being so quick to judge in a particular way what we observe. When we apply judgment to our observations, our observations become distorted, and they do not represent reality.
If we did without belief systems, it’s quite possible that we would refrain from black-and-white labels and judgments such as bad and good in the first place. In other words, without belief systems, we wouldn’t be so preoccupied with morality: and if we weren’t preoccupied with morality, we could instead work together to focus on functionality. Instead of worrying about what some old rulebook says, we could stop worrying about things that aren’t actually problems. We could accept one another as we are, and have intelligent conversations about life and about the state of the world. Once we can view each other as free, conscious beings, rather than as henchmen of some religion or political party, we won’t need or expect each other to fall into such rigid lines of behavior anymore. Instead of following rules for their own sake we can cast morals aside and agree to what works and what doesn’t work, given where we decide that we want to go as humanity as a whole.
That’s the other problem with applying labels to religion and politics. Not only does it lend itself to belief systems: it also identifies people based on those belief systems. When we use labels in these realms of society we forget that belief systems are just that, and we instead regard a belief system to be our identity.
Of course, a belief system does not make a useful identity. A belief is simply a lens through which to view the world. You can try on different beliefs at any time of your choosing, and take them off when you’re done with them. You can simultaneously hold two apparently conflicting beliefs in mind and see where this leads. You can turn on a belief whenever you decide to see the world through it, turn it off when you’ve had enough, and then turn it on again later. You can explore different beliefs and figure out how you are to integrate them into your approach to life.
Beliefs are choices. Beliefs are experimental and experiential. To identify yourself with a belief is to miss out on the incredible power of believing freely—and, therefore, to deny your humanity. Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t say that you’re just a belief system. You’re a human. You’re awareness itself, and you’re free to think and feel whatever you want, whenever you want. Don’t you think that there are important and amazing things to be seen outside of the confines of any one belief or belief system? Why limit yourself, then? Refuse to identify yourself in such a manner, and reclaim your intellectual freedom.
If we are to forge a more functional and harmonious world we must transcend belief-based in-groups and out-groups and choose to think freely. Only then can we relate to one another as the intellectually-free beings that we really are.
Of course, you will only experience people as being intellectually-free beings if you believe that they are. Choose your beliefs wisely.
From Labels to Freedom
Overall, labels lead us to think of each other as being smaller than we really are, and they close us off to experiences of the world that we might actually enjoy, if only we opened ourselves to them. Labels lend themselves to a view of people as limited automatons and victims or villains of a story, rather than free and conscious beings. Labels also have a way of dragging the past with them, keeping alive obsolete and dysfunctional ideas. By lowering our consciousness and making us forget the truth about each other, labels enable us to confine, punish, and hate one another, all because of our alignment (or lack thereof) with a label. Labels lead us to focus more on morals than on what works, and consequently predispose us to pass judgment more than we seek functionality.
In short, labels cause us to miss the point of life’s endeavors, whether they be social, sexual, intellectual, or emotional, and withhold from us the bigger picture of life, which is that we are here not to pin-prick one another and weave limiting stories about ourselves, but instead to grow together.
The increase in transparency among all people has made it obvious that black-and-white labels simply do not apply to humans thinking freely and behaving naturally. Humanity’s next step is to accept that truth and to re-relate to itself accordingly. The first step in this process of re-relating is to drop silly and inaccurate labels. That way we can finally think and speak freely enough to one another to actually have intelligent, love-based discussions and coherently decide what it is that we would like to create together, as a united whole.
The topic of labels and career warrants its own article, so stay tuned.
The Full Series