Tag Archives: emotion

Labels everywhere


Liberal.  Conservative.  Christian.  Atheist.  Feminist.  Humanist.     As you read each of those words, did any thoughts come to mind?  Did any of those words make you feel a flash of some emotion?

Classification is the key to human speech.  Our ability to identify and categorize things is what allows us to assign words to them.  Some of those words are used to describe a particular item, while others are used to describe a set of beliefs or values.  They form the basis of our communication structure.

Words are useful for simplifying conversation.  When someone asks you about yourself, rather than go into a long-winded explanation of your belief structure, you can simply tell them, “Oh I’m a [x].”

At a glance there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that.  But what if the person you’re speaking with has a different understanding of what [x] means and what it stands for?  Sure all of the words I listed above have an accepted dictionary definition, but how many of us actually know what those formal definitions are?  Each of us assigns our own meaning and interpretation to those words.  Some words even have more than one definition.

Liberal.  Does that mean a supporter or member of the Liberal Party of Canada?  Or does it just describe a set of social values?  Is it the modern interpretation of the word?  Or does it refer to classical liberalism?  How I respond to someone who says, “Oh I’m a liberal” will vary greatly depending on how I choose to interpret their usage of the word.  How I interpret it may not be how they meant it.  They may have a completely different concept of what the word means, unique to only them.

Apart from the obvious misunderstandings that can arise from different definitions of a word, there is the larger issue that comes from how people use those words.  It’s one thing to use a word to describe your beliefs.  It’s quite another to turn that word into a symbol of your beliefs.  Too often I see people find a label that fits them, and then immediately internalize that word.  They make that label a part of their identity.  Once that happens, all rational discussion on a topic ends.

It’s no longer a description of an idea, it’s now a key component of their very being.  Any attempt you make to criticize the idea will be viewed as a personal attack instead.  People become defensive and stubborn and dig into their position.  They fight tooth and nail to defend themselves and their label, without giving any more thought to the ideas behind that label.

To give an example, I recently became involved in a short-lived discussion with someone who called themselves a feminist.   When I said that I didn’t like the level of misandry that seemed to be so prevalent in modern feminism, the attack that followed was immediate and brutal.  She berated me for accusing her of hating men, then went into a long tirade with examples of how she didn’t had great men in her life whom she loved and didn’t hate.  She called me a disgrace to women and a traitor to the sisterhood for daring to question the holy word of feminism.  Eventually she ended her rant by storming off in a huff.

This is what happens when people internalize their labels.  I entered that conversation wanting to have an open exchange of ideas with someone about their beliefs.  I was looking for an open and honest discussion of the pros and cons of the feminist movement, and its place in our society.  Instead, that person took a simple question as a personal affront.  Rather than engaging me in discussion and perhaps pointing out where I was mistaken, she immediately became defensive and locked into her position.  In her frantic attempts to defend her label, she lost a perfect opportunity to educate someone who was willing to learn about her beliefs.

I see this scenario playing out time and again in all areas of life.  People are so caught up in defending their labels, that they have completely lost sight of the ideas behind them.  By using these words to define themselves, instead of just to describe a set of beliefs, they can no longer hear criticism of the idea without seeing it as a criticism of their identity.  When people become entrenched in defending a label, they are closed to any discussion of the idea.

Without open discussion of ideas, our society is doomed to failure, permanently divided.  Labels are an integral part of human communication, and that’s never going to change.  All that I can ask is that people be aware of how they use them.  Remember that the label does not define you.  It only describes one part of you.  Well-intentioned criticism of an idea that you believe in, is not a criticism of you.

The War on Freedom


I’ve been stateside for the last week, and after spending hours in various airports listening to “Homeland Security Advisories”, dealing with airport security and watching American newscasts, I’m now more convinced than ever that the Fear Industry is very real.

For reasons that I can only speculate on, there seems to be a concerted global effort to create a culture of fear throughout the developed world.  In countries like Australia and Canada, this industry is more subtle, but in the UK and the USA, there seems to be little or no attempt to hide it. 

As I type this, I’m actually sitting in the airport and listening to the “Security Advisories” being announced.  Has anyone else noticed that since they started doing these threat level announcements 8 years ago, the level has never dropped below “Orange”?  Be vigilant, they say.  Watch for suspicious activity.  Inform the police or Transport Security officers of any perceived threats.  Oh and while you’re at it, why don’t you subject yourself to our overzealous and ineffective security screening process?  You don’t mind do you?  Sure it violates a couple of your rights, but it’s in the name of public safety in the “War on Terror”, so you really shouldn’t complain.

What really disturbs me though is the number of people who truly believe that by carrying 100mL bottles of shampoo, the world, or at least the airport, is a safer place.  They truly believe that by taking off their shoes, they are thwarting the next 9/11. 

“Most people want security in this world, not liberty” ~H.L. Mencken, Minority Report, 1956

Especially here in the United States, the people are constantly inundated with messages of violence and fear and possible terrorist attacks.  All of the major news networks flood their viewers with information.  There’s the news anchor with pictures and videos of some tragic story that they repeat ad nauseum for days on end.  There are the scrolling panels that are impossible to follow and leave the viewer feeling overwhelmed and anxious.  And my personal favourite, has been the gradual shift from reporting facts to intentionally eliciting a specific emotional response in the viewer.  “There was a motor vehicle accident on the highway this afternoon involving multiple vehicles that left one person dead and several others in hospital with minor injuries” has been replaced with “There was a horrific crash on the highway that took the life of an innocent young mother, left several others clinging to life in hospital, and left witnesses traumatized”.

The news writers carefully word the stories to guide the viewer to a precise emotional response, be it fear or grief or worry, etc. Whatever that emotion may be, it will very rarely be positive.  CNN hasn’t been dubbed “Constantly Negative News” for no reason.  This phenomenon is by no means limited to the US – it’s just far more blatant here than in other countries.

As I mentioned earlier, I could speculate endlessly on the reasons for this constant fear factor, but I think that would serve little purpose.  What’s more important, in my opinion, is being aware of what has been, and could be, done while people are in this state.  You see, when people are feeling afraid, or hopeless, or anxious, or overwhelmed, or stressed, they have a tendency to give up rational thought.  They’ll listen to anyone who claims to be able to make those uncomfortable feelings go away, and damn the consequences.

The consequences, however, are huge!  What I see happening on almost a daily basis is a gradual erosion of our rights and freedoms.  Every day we trade a little bit of freedom for the illusion of safety.  I’ll repeat that last bit: the illusion of safety.  All of the endless new laws and security screening procedures simply make us think we’re safer, while doing nothing to actually address the underlying issues. 

What many people fail to grasp, is that we live in a world of duality.  Light and dark, hot and cold, up and down, love and hate, good and evil.  You can’t have one without the other.  All the rules, regulations, laws and security procedures in the world will never, ever change that.  If someone is determined enough, they will always find a way. 

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to make the world a better place.  I’m saying that we need to carefully consider the wisdom of our current path.  Do we really want to live in a world where everyone is presumed guilty?  Do we really want to live in a world where people are punished because of what they might do?  Is legislating safety really making us safer, or just making us feel like we are?

Lastly and most importantly: what’s the point of fighting for freedom, if you’re going to use that freedom to create laws that take it away?

The puzzle starts to make sense


Michael Bryant is the former attorney general of Ontario and was tipped to become the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.  Note, I said was.  That was before he was involved in a road rage incident last week that left a 33-year old bicycle courier dead.

Bryant is perhaps best known as the author of several controversial pieces of legislation.  He’s the King of the Ban in Ontario.  Problems with aggressive dogs?  Ban dogs.  Street racing an issue?  Ban speed.  Gang crime getting you down?  Ban legal shooting sports.

I’m not going to go into the details of any of these laws.  Instead I’ll invite you to take a wander with me through some of my random thought processes:   

  • Bans of any form are nothing more than a fear response.  Period. 
  • Projection: Projection is a form of defense in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. A common form of projection occurs when an individual, threatened by his own angry feelings, accuses another of harbouring hostile thoughts. [emphasis added by Jayde]

What is Michael Bryant afraid of then?  Following on with the two points I made above, the pieces slowly start to come together. 

  • Bryant decided it was was best to ban aggressive dog breeds rather than punish the owners who don’t take responsibility for their pets.  Not too much of a leap to assume that Bryant doesn’t think he would be able to handle a more aggressive dog.  And since he can’t do it, nobody else could possibly do it either.
  • If you’re caught speeding excessively you immediately fall under the purview of the new street-racing laws in Ontario.  Your car is impounded and your license is suspended on the spot.   Perhaps Bryant has difficulties driving in a safe manner, and could only be stopped from driving this way by having is vehicle and license revoked.  Again, because it’s true for him, it must be true for everyone else.
  • Working to enact a gun ban to reduce gang crime is actually the easiest to peg out of these three examples.  Bryant is one of those types who think that owning a firearm automatically makes a person a killer.  He’s afraid that because he wouldn’t be able to control his temper/emotions and shouldn’t be trusted with a firearm, that nobody else should be trusted with one either.

Now let’s go back to the main story.  I’m not going to discuss the likelihood of a Liberal politician getting off scot-free in Liberal-dominated Ontario.  I’ll leave alone the probability that even after this incident Bryant will still go on to lead the Liberal Party.  I’m not going to go into why Bryant chose to hit the accelerator rather than the brakes with a person hanging off the side of his car.  I don’t know the details of what happened on that road, and I honestly don’t care.  It’s irrelevant. 

The key is this: Bryant was involved in a road rage incident that involved aggressive driving.  Once again, let’s take a look at two of his fears from above: an inability to drive in a safe manner or to control his temper.  Hmmmm.  Pattern? 

What’s my point?  Politicians are not immune to human emotion and psychoses, and projection is one of the most common human defense mechanisms.  So the next time you hear someone calling for any type of a ban, pause and ask yourself a couple of questions. Who and What are they really afraid of?  Is society at large really the problem?  Or are they?