You hear it all the time, even if you don’t notice.
It happens when someone says:
“As a conservative, my stance is…”
“As a progressive, I believe…”
…followed by a position the speaker holds.
There are exceptions, but pretty much any time someone remarks, “As an [ideology]ist, I believe [view]…” they are getting it backward. If you use the label at all, it should come out something like: “I believe [view], which is part of what makes me an [ideology]ist.” But for the most part, it’s best to stick to stating your beliefs, and leave the labels to conversation about the ideology itself.
This applies to adherents of just about any belief system, and almost all of us do it with one or another political, religious, or philosophical designation. We adopt a label for one reason or another — hopefully because it seems to fit views we already hold or develop authentic affinity for, but not always; sometimes it’s even imposed — and then slowly, inadvertently, we let that label influence or determine our beliefs.
My favorite such statement goes something like this:
“As an anarchist,
I believe prisons as we know them
should be totally abolished.”
If you believe in prison abolition, you’d better have an actual reason, other than you’ve chosen an ideology that includes this view in its platform. Just tell us why you believe as you do. (In this case, there’s the delicious added irony of an anarchist treating a belief system as an authority to conform to.)
To paraphrase another of my recent favorites:
“As a centrist,
I’m pretty sure the factual truth is
somewhere between those two positions.”
Surely it either is or isn’t, irrespective of what you call yourself. Sometimes it won’t be in between: will this trigger an identity crisis?
Our understandings of various political and social designations are often wrong because of prejudice. But labels are also a form of prejudice themselves. As generalizations, they don’t capture the views of everyone they might fit — even those who proudly choose to identify by them.
Some people don’t just slip their preferred label into a sentence; they embrace it, lead with it. They’re proud to identify with the ideology or group it represents (or misrepresents). They might say:
“I am a Christian;
therefore, I believe life begins at conception.”
“I am a Democrat;
therefore, I support abortion access for all women.”
But be aware, what dynamic thinkers hear in such a case is:
“I am a follower.”
The concern is not that you necessarily lack reasoning behind your beliefs. But you’re highlighting the external authorship, as if that’s more important.
As with any rule, there may be valid exceptions. It’s worth testing.
The belief label I am most strongly tempted to use for myself is radical. There are two reasons I occasionally let this label slip off my tongue.
First, virtually without fail among the uninitiated, it leads to a follow-up question: “What do you mean by that?” or “How so?”
The second reason I dig the label is my answer to that inquiry: radicalism is the belief that the best way to solve a problem is to seek its root and address it there. Radicalism contains no prescriptive beliefs of its own.
But even this is dangerous. If you know what radicalism means, you might assume I only deal with problems at their root. And that wouldn’t describe me. I’m not a fundamentalist in my radicalism; I’ll entertain reforms and “band-aids” if I think they lead in the right direction.
For instance, I would never say:
“As a radical,
I can accept nothing short of total transformation
of the education system.”
Despite our strong preferences and hopes, most of us aren’t fundamentalist in our beliefs. But if we let any label define us, we risk sliding down that path, or sounding like we have. If we proclaim our labels out front, we should expect some of our audience to assume we believe everything associated with that label, to its fullest.
Even two people who genuinely, wholeheartedly fit the same broad belief designation will disagree at least somewhat on a related issue or two, so it’s never useful to assume a position based on someone’s self-identification.
Maybe I’d make one exception for you:
“As an individual,
you think for yourself.”
If this commentary made you think, please recommend and share it below, and follow me on Twitter for more insights.