That which we call a leaf, by any other name would smell as sweet
“I think people are as individual as snowflakes, they kinda look alike but no two are the exactly the same, and all classification is the root of prejudice.” — Craig Ferguson
The idea that no two snowflakes have the exact same shape is a popular one in our society. Though we acknowledge this fact, we still accept each snowflake as a snowflake. To put it simply: each one is different, yet they are all given the same label. Frederich Nietzsche examine’s a similar phenomena by examining how we choose to label things, and how we process a concept. Only, instead of looking at snowflakes, he looks at leaves. As will we.
This leaf, for example. It’s bright green, asymmetrical, flat. The individual stems branch first from the right side, then the left, then back again, over and over.
This one is the same color. But it is curled with more pronounced stems protruding along the spine of the leaf. It’s edges seem smoother.
This one is smaller than either of the first. It’s green, yes. But also has shades of pink. It’s shaped like a heart. It’s still attached to a branch. It’s edges look prickly.
This leaf, then is the most ‘unique’ of them all, for it’s stem branches out to form little bits of leaf, almost like mini peninsulas.
Each of these leaves have more differences than similarities, yet we call them all leaves. Why is this? Without thinking, surely we would all respond with, simply “Well, it’s a leaf.”
But language is more complicated than that. At what point did the first leaf become ‘leaf?’ At what point did all the different shapes of leaves come to share the same definition? The different colors? At what point of abstraction does a leaf become more than a leaf, but a concept of what a leaf ‘should’ be? Do we define by what a leaf looks like, or the function it performs? Are all the leaves above leaves because we say they are? Is there no such thing as leaf, because all of the above images share more differences than similarities in every respect?
To me, yes, of course these are leaves. But much like the quotation this article began with: the labelling of a concept is what begins the processes of prejudice and discrimination. All of the leaves are leaves, just like all humans are humans. The color of their skin may be different. Their attitudes, their jobs, their gender. But they are all humans.
We are all humans, and that is what should make us equal, not what tears apart.
Genevieve Vaughan looks at this same concept of equality. When a baby is born, we name it based off it’s biological sex. We, for one reason or another, choose an arbitrary arrangement of arbitrary letters as the name for this thing that has just begun to exist. We create a gender divide, we create a prejudice. We create an inequality simply because we create two labels for gender. Male and female cannot be equal, because they are not the same. Fundamentally, we are human. At the core and the heart of all of this, we must remember that first and foremost, we are human. That’s something we all share. That’s our equality.
Each leaf has it’s own intricacies.
Each human does too.