The Harms of Categorization

by Jon Wisniewski | 11/21/05 6:00am

Humans are categorizing creatures. For whatever Darwinian reason, the ability to distinguish similar entities in our minds was a trait that contributed to our apparent victory in the survival of the fittest. However, what was for millennia a positive survival tool has outlived its use, and the time has come for us to use other powerful tools -- intellect and reason -- to defeat the enemies of modern freedom.

There is today a gross misappropriation of what is most often said to be "discrimination." Modern American culture is obsessed with ending so-called discrimination, and radical elements would have us believe that some groups have nary an action that cannot be counted as vile, filthy discrimination.

One example of this can be found in the debate that occurs here and elsewhere over the use of an Indian mascot. Opponents would have us believe that Dartmouth Reviewers and others who sport the villainized Indian head are complacent with and supportive of the actions of our national predecessors who engaged in what amounts to genocide and theft on an epic scale. The truth, however, is that those of us who wear or support such a mascot do so with absolutely no connection to those unfortunate and repugnant actions. We do so as individual actors, entirely separate from all of history and modern society, because we have made a choice that on some level, aesthetic or otherwise, the mascot is pleasing to us. This is not because it looks down on Native American culture, a culture as deserving of respect and admiration as any, but rather for the exact same reasons that we support a fighting Irishman mascot or a minuteman mascot. No amount of blame-placing or waxing eloquent will ever change this fact. There is of course a fine line here -- a mascot that is condescending rather than neutral is a possible crossing of this line. But nothing about the current university-mascot debate, short of some of the cheers or chants associated with the mascots, approaches this line.

The modern obsession with diversity is another example of a group mentality trampling basic individual liberties. To be certain, a responsible institution has no business discriminating against any minority group. However, these same institutions have no business discriminating for these groups either, because doing so ignores other important factors. A correct approach to diversity is desirable, because a liberal arts education is, among other things, an education in diverse outlooks. And this purpose is obviously best served by diversity. However, the modern definition of "diversity" is one that plays off of our most basic categorizing instincts and ignores the finer distinctions that could create actual diversity. Modern diversity is a code name for viewing the world as a spectrum of colors. Ignoring real distinctions and diversities in lieu of an animal-like obsession with color is insulting to the intellect. Each group cited by the system -- such as so-called "whites" or "blacks" -- are actually quite a diverse bunch. The idea, also, that other cultures can be classified in neatly packaged terms such as "European" or "Asian" is insulting to those individuals. Descriptions such as these span at least a continent, if not more, and the focus on those terms in the pursuit of so-called diversity tramples the uniqueness of each individual member of those cultures.

It is terribly tempting at times to take note of a few beliefs or actions of a person, and in order to save precious time and effort, mentally file them away under a label -- "Jew," "white," "conservative," "liberal." I will be the first to confess that I fall prey to this. None of us are innocent. However, imagine yourself being categorized that way by another person -- I know that it gives me goosebumps just to consider it. It is important for us to never forget that every actor within those groups, or any other group, remains an entirely independent person whose actions and beliefs are grounded in their personal experience and not in a larger historical or cultural setting. They may share certain characteristics, but similarities do not need name tags. What we need to do is pragmatically approach each individual, invite them over for a cup of coffee, and have a candid discussion about differences without treating them as a member of vast any-wing-conspiracy, remembering that they, like we, are self-sufficient and removed from any higher influence.