Truth in Labeling


So Arlen Specter is now a Democrat. Or is he? Is it more that what he believes is more in line with how Democrats are identified than how Republicans are identified? Or perhaps he switched parties in order to stay in the Senate because it appeared that the Republican party of Pennsylvania was looking to find someone to replace him in the next election?

Is it so critical that he made the switch? After all, Richard Shelby, the senior senator from Alabama, was originally elected as a Democrat in 1986 but switched to the Republicans in 1994 when the Republicans won control of the Senate. And let’s not forget Strom Thurmon, who switched from the Democratic side of the Senate to the Republican side in 1964 and was the vanguard in Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”.

The thing that always amazed me, growing up in the south, was how different Democrats in the north were from the Democrats in the south. On the one hand, you had Democrats who were very liberal and Democrats who were very conservative. And at the same time, you had a similar mixture of conservative and liberal Republicans.

Now, of course, the mixture of liberalism and conservatism is almost gone, though I am not sure that what is left serves the people of this country very well. And that is the point of this piece.

It seems to me that we are more interested in the label we attach to a person than we are the quality of his or her ideas. It is a division that transcends political boundaries. If I should even mention that I am a Christian then my qualifications as a chemist and a chemical educator are considered suspect. And if I say that I am a chemist/chemical educator, then I must be some sort of secular humanist.

Conversely, in saying that I am a Christian, many people view me as a close-minded troglodyte while those who see me only in terms of being a scientist/educator put me in the same vein as a Vulcan.

And our labels of other people are as equally extreme. It makes it so much easier to attack another country if we somehow place “godless” before their name or suggest that they are somehow “sponsors of terrorism”. It makes it so much easier to send our children off to war if we can somehow make the enemy less than human.

What would happen if, on the next form that we had to fill out, we put “human” in the spot where it asked us for our race? Would the people who ask such questions understand what we are saying? Would they accept what we are saying?

I am not certain that we need labels in our lives when it comes to working with other people. We need to know what they think and what they mean; we need to know more about what drives them and what they seek in life (though all people, no matter who they are or where they live probably have the same goals in life).

As I said last Sunday (“The Order of Things”), the world is in a crisis right now. And while I spoke of the crisis of faith on Sunday, I could have added that it is a crisis of thought as well. We know very little about our neighbors and are quick to react because of the labels that we place on them, just as they place labels on us. Perhaps if we took the labels off and looked at each other as individuals, neighbors on this planet, then perhaps this world will be a better place.

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