The Function of Labeling Things

Labeling is a function of the ego’s desire to categorize, define and otherwise put everything in its proper place relative to everything else. At its essence this desire arises out of the ego’s fear of its inability to appreciate reality as a whole. When a thing has been labeled the ego feels like it has  a certain power over the thing. The thing is now confined by its label. However, labels are not the thing that they label even though the ego tends to proceed as if the thing and the label are one.

Despite their inaccuracy, labels can and do serve useful functions. For example, labels can diminish fear. When a fear is labeled it seems to become something less than what it was. The labeler now seems to become (in a sense) more powerful than the fear. The fear thus becomes less scary. Another example is that labels allow for the communication of information from one person to another. The transmission of information is less than one hundred percent accurate but effectively more information is communicated with labels than without them. Labels serve these useful functions by digesting reality into usable chunks. As such, even though they are not perfect they make reality more understandable than it would otherwise be if left unlabeled.

Understanding reality is the chief function of the ego which has taken on the task of making a livable space within reality. Two paths an ego can take to understand reality are science and religion / spirituality. Science seems to rely heavily upon labels. It defines things and in doing so it makes them less than what they actually are. But by doing this it allows scientists to work with the information and arrive at answers.  Theories and equations (for example) are labels. This is the language that science speaks. Religion and spirituality, by contrast, while using labels symbolically also attempts to appreciate at the whole of reality itself. This is its language. As such science and spirituality don’t speak the same language. Because of this they tend to become dismissive of each other.

The ego is an ally in that it seeks to navigate the vast ocean of reality. But unchecked the ego can run amuck. An unchecked ego does not lead to happiness. There is a balancing act between the ego and the truth of reality. The ego desires to make truth understandable. But by doing so through labels the ego makes truth something less than what it actually is. At the same time this function is necessary because without it there would be much less understanding or perhaps no understanding at all.

The self comes to understand that labels are not the truth through observation. Under normal circumstances the self thinks of the label as the thing itself. This is perhaps the best the self can do under the circumstances. Meditation seems to be a way to take in the whole thing or perhaps to take in something more than just the label. But for most people life cannot be lived in a state of meditation. As such labels are useful and necessary but perhaps should be appreciated for what they actually are from time to time.

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One response to “The Function of Labeling Things

  1. Pingback: Where do ideas come from? | Winston Scrooge

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