Whenever I go to the beach, shopping, watch tv, or take part in online communities, people will usually refer to a particular group of individuals as a certain category. Even casual conversation with friends you’ll hear it. What are some of these?
Let’s see there’s purple people, white folks, immigrants, foreigners, Christians, conservatives, hippies, meat-heads, nerds, among others.
In reality, these terms are ambiguous and arbitrary, but the desire to generalize is understandable. It’s practical and easier to have discussions when we abstract individuals by certain characteristics we observe in patterns, like when noticing three people who don’t speak English and give them the grouping of “foreigners”. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with doing this. After all, what is culture without trying to understand each other’s similarities and differences by experimenting with different labels?
The problem arises when we try to apply these terms to political organization, often done by collectivists for the sake of expediency. Such categories are often based on ancestral, ethnic, racial or national identities. We see it now from the neo-reactionaries and cultural Marxists who insist on making decisions based on such terms, what is known as—identity politics. They’re like little kids organizing lego pieces based on certain colors and shapes, but with actual real unintended consequences.
Ignorance and confusion are rampant over assigning the proper terms for select social categories. Anthropologists can’t even agree on the exact criteria for a race. A lot of times what makes up someone as a member of a category is culturally relative. What people view as “white” in North America is different than how folks see it from South America. But regardless, it’s still done while totally being unaware of the ambiguity when doing so.
The misunderstandings should be clear when you try to analyze the terms. Take the word African-American. How come people from South Africa or northern African nations aren’t really considered African-Americans? What about French Canadian, shouldn’t they be considered Latin Americans? Aren’t all peoples from the American continent, American or from Asia, Asians?
What’s taken for granted is how much these terms are actually created and proposed by those in government statistic offices. Over at Mises.org, there was a recent article about how the census bureau invented the label Hispanic in the 70’s to distinguish peoples from the Spanish-speaking world. In good old politically motivated, divide-and-conquer fashion, this was done to skew our representations of humans and establish group identity. The reason for this seems obvious, it’s a weapon by the State to curb individual agency.
In his book Libertarian Quandaries, Jakub Boyzday Wisniewski writes in the chapter on practical libertarianism:
It is worthwhile to build in our social circles the most cosmopolitan atmosphere possible, an atmosphere that underscores the moral irrelevance of all affiliations that are not the result of a voluntary choice(including, for instance ethnic affiliations), the moral universality of the principles of peaceful human coexistence, and the economic benefits stemming from it. It is important to bear in mind that in all likelihood it is precisely the instinct attribution of moral meaning to ethnic affiliations that is the main driving force of oppressive political entities known as nation-states, together will all the armed conflicts that take place between them. Relegating all sentiments associated with such affiliations to purely aesthetic categories would be a very significant step on the road to initiating the decentralization processes described in the previous point together with all their positive consequences.
This is a very useful suggestion. Countless numbers of conflicts and lack of cooperation between one another stem from government created categories, not voluntary associations or how individuals choose to organize themselves. It’s straight from the state-craft playbook.
The deepest and most important classification is human. Everything else is superficial or aesthetic as Wisniewski says. The human individual comes first.
By understanding the anthropological problems related to social classifications, it still allows individuals to discern possible differences in other humans while at the same time being skeptical regarding the use of terms we classify others by. In a voluntary society such differences might be acknowledged by certain factions, but once you introduce a State, it enacts top-down policies where everyone becomes exposed to the ignorance and conformity these social concepts bring.
Social inquiry without a foundation on the individual is the study of applying collectivist ideas into society, maintaining the Statist-quo. Reject government demographic statistics, detach yourself from identity politics, and perhaps take the fun study of learning some geography.