Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Labels mean things [updated]

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Atheist/Godless ambigram

This is one of those throwaway posts that occur to me in the middle of the idle night, but I thought it was worth sharing. With all the various labels being thrown around (and so often in complete ignorance of their actual connotations), I thought it would be useful to set the record straight on what they actually mean. In addition, many people tend to conflate many of these labels, when they actually denote distinct traits that can be either complementary or contradictory.

So, what does being an <X> really mean? Well, I can’t use anyone else by means of example, so I’ll just use myself and explain why I proclaim to be the numerous labels I assign myself:

Update: 12/01/12 1:50 AM ET – Added the “Atheist Plus” label and made a few minor stylistic edits.

  • I am an atheist/non-theist, as I do not believe in any one or more god(s).

  • I am an Atheist Plus, as I believe that since religion is detrimental, not only should it be opposed, but we should also strive to rectify the the societal injustices it perpetuates.

  • I am anti-religious/anti-theist*, as I believe that organized religion, and the zealotry that fuels it, can only end up acting as a detrimental force in human society.

  • I am an agnostic, as I do not believe in the possibility of anyone possessing true, absolute knowledge regarding the existence of any one or more god(s), and that anyone who claims otherwise is either misleading or deluded.

  • I am also an ignostic, as I believe that any attempt(s) at debating the nature or existence of any one or more god(s) is futile in the absence of any coherent definition of said entity(s), and that any given definition that cannot be disproven is logically invalid, and therefore, discredited.

  • I am a secularist, as I believe that government and society as a whole are much improved by the absence of institutionalized religion.

  • I am a skeptic, as I do not believe in claims that do not have sufficient credible supporting evidence, be it material or logical.

  • I am a rationalist, as I do not believe that the metaphysical or supernatural is required, or at all helpful, in determining what is true or not.

  • I am a relativist, as I do not believe in any absolutes, and hold that any given thing, be it material or ideological, is better than some and worse than others.

  • I am a naturalist, as I believe that everything has to do with the natural, physical, scientifically understandable world.

  • I am a materialist, as I do not believe in the existence (and/or importance) of the metaphysical, spiritual or otherwise ethereal.

  • I am a freethinker, as I believe that everyone has the right to believe in whatever they want, regardless of socio-political conditions.

  • I am a humanist, as I believe that what is best is that which contributes to humanity’s overall welfare.

  • I am a pacifist, as I believe that goals are best reached through pragmatic nonviolence. (And because violence is the sign of the intellectually bankrupt.)

  • I am an egalitarian, as I believe that all groups of people should be treated equally, regardless of any caste or creed.

  • I am pro-choice, as I believe that people have the right to do whatever they wish regarding their own bodies and well-being (be it resorting to abortion, using recreational drugs, engaging in prostitution, etc.)

  • I am a liberal, as I believe that the greatness of society is measured, not by political or military might, but by how much freedom and well-being it ensures for its people, and that the old ways of tradition are not necessarily the best.

  • I am a progressive, as I believe that any amelioration is best achieved through peaceful reform.

  • Finally, I am a (moderate) statist, as I believe that a centralized and wide-reaching purveyor of social order and security is better thanks to unity and shared resources.

What’s rather amusing, though, is when cranks then come up and start throwing these very labels at their ideological opponents as if they were pejoratives – as if they were bad things. One could laugh at the ignorance and foolishness of using any of the aforementioned names as epithets, but in reality, even the ones most commonly used (these days, anyway) as insults – “communist” and “socialist” come to mind – really aren’t bad things at all. In fact, given the right context and connotation, they can be very desirable things. (After all, communism and socialism are actually excellent ideas on paper. It’s just that human nature prevents them from being concretized whilst retaining whatever idealistic characteristics making them so beneficial to begin with. But, that’s another debate.)

The point (as best as my tired mind can make it) is that resorting to labeling ourselves and others with pithy little nouns is a great way of measuring ourselves and comparing our ideals, at least at face value. But it’s always a good idea to make sure you actually know what you’re calling yourself and others, whether you mean it in a positive or negative manner. (And, in the end, there’s no such thing as using too many labels to describe one’s ideological views, even if we tend to stick with broader ones to designate the general idea of what we believe in.)

So, what are you? Do you disagree with any of the aforementioned statements, or do you have others to add? As always, sound off below. I always like to know more about my readers.

* Should not be mistaken as opposition to religious people. I am also not a misotheist, because I do not – cannot – dislike that which I do not believe exists.