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Monday, February 15, 2016

The Concept of Labels

Let's dig right into it!

It would seem as though a lot of boxes had to be checked, in order for this entry in my blog to come into existence; I had to think of what to write about, which already happened several weeks ago; I had to tell a lot of people I would be writing this post (and a few had to tell me to write it too); I had to read OneSketchist's post about his blog's fourth anniversary, and realize that February the 11th would be my own blog's third anniversary, and even so, I am late in writing this.

That is, because I have so many other things I should do; I should write that home-exam which I have been neglecting and postponing for weeks; I should finish a commissioned composition that I've been working on for more than a month, but haven't been able to finish; I should read tons of books for school; I should plan my next piano lesson, and so on.

I have also been sleeping without a schedule, and far too little during several nights. I just finished an anime that I strongly recommend, called "Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso". I've been listening to podcasts and the like; just lying in bed listening with my eyes closed. And just now, I spent half an hour in the shower, in complete darkness. And after all this and much more has been done, it would seem I am finally ready to write, and thus sacrificing any dreams of sleeping this night, as it's already late, in more sense than one.

So I guess you could say that everything in my life is fairly normal, as it always is.


Well, that's not entirely true. I haven't been doing nothing at all, nor nothing out of the ordinary. For example, I've spent several hours this weekend by drawing, which is definitely unusual. Someone also said something to me a couple of days ago, which gave me a lot of energy. So now, I am going to take a break of half an hour, and finish a debate featuring Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens - among others-, whereafter I'll finally tackle the topic at hand, and try to cover it in quite an amount of detail.

And of course, you won't notice that break, as I am now already back from it. But I felt a need to mention it anyway, in order to break the illusion of flow which would've otherwise been created. Now however, I will get into flow for real.

"Normal". That's an interesting label, don't you think? But even if I could, I'm not actually going to talk about normality, nor our perceptions of it, at least not this time. But instead, of the way I used the word normal (intentionally, as it works a perfect segue for the topic). I used it partly as a joke, to make fun of my own procrastination, and other things that seem to constitute some of my habits in general, whether good or bad. Yet, consequently, I also used it as a sort of a lazy excuse, to dismiss the impact of my actions, or rather, lack of them.

Essentially, I was saying "that's how I've always been, thus it must be right". Now, to some extent, I can see the logic behind that, from an evolutionary standpoint. My lifestyle seems to have been working quite alright for me thus far, which is why it could be logical to assume that it will do so in the future as well. But with a certain amount of extra knowledge, an argument of such nature could easily be debunked. For example, I still currently live at home, with the support of my parents. The second I move away from home, there will be a huge list of new responsibilities laid on my desk. To add to that list, I can't say that my studies are getting easier. To sum it up, I need to accomplish more things, in less time. Taking those facts into consideration, is it really true then that I can keep on going on like I always have, and still manage all those things? Most likely, not to the full extent at least.

Now, all that could've been, and has been said by other people, in ways somewhat similar to this: "Life doesn't get easier the more you grow up". But that is actually not my point! This post isn't going to primarily focus on me either, but rather, on how we just seem to accept certain things for what they seem to be, when maybe we shouldn't really be that hasty.

As I mentioned, I could easily avoid thinking about the implications of my current lifestyle in the future, and give up any hope of improving upon myself in any area, by excusing the intrusion of even the start of that thought with a simple label: "normal".
What if instead of accepting what I do for what it is without a second thought, I allowed myself to have that thought, and decided to do something about the situation?

Well, quite obviously I have, and I haven't stopped there. Not only am I being productive right now, thus countering my normal procrastination, but I've been mentally digging deeper into the subject of, and causality of labels in general. Because "normal" or "unusual", are far from the only labels we use. Same goes for entire concepts. Let's get into what those two words really are.

Concepts and labels can be extremely useful tools, which is why they are so prominent in our languages. They are used to explain, and categorize. But they can also work as shortcuts, as they once they become known to us, are used to chunk a lot of information into just one word, or one concept, and thus, speeding up any process. So in general, you could say that it is wonderful that we have so many labels, and so many concepts. In fact, more than any person could ever count, because we can create new ones just for ourselves with a single thought. Quite ironically, this blog entry is in itself, discussing a concept, or rather, several different ones. They are inescapable, as they are building tools for examining reality.

Look to your left! What do you see? I'm sure that you could come up with several words to explain what you see. A table, one side of a room, etc. Maybe you could even add an adjective or two to what you see. An "ugly" painting, or a "small" pencil. And if you dig deeper, you could get into why the object/s you see is/are there. You are most likely in a room. A "room" in itself, could be said to be a concept. And if you are outside, "the outside" could be said to be a concept too. You just need to mention any word, and a plethora of associations will enter our minds. And some of the associations could be perceived as neutral, wheras others could be assigned value, or may even already have some sort of positive, or negative value to you.

We are constantly blinded by the limitations of our minds. We cannot be objective (well to start with, I don't think that objectivity in its most ultimate form exists). Not that life would be any fun at all if everyone would be objective. Some mathematically inclined people may think that there is a certain beauty to specific kinds of objectivity, and I have no intention of arguing against that, as I can see where these hypotethical (albeit, very real) people are coming from. But I think - and I hope - that we can all agree that life would be meaningless if absolutely everything was objective. Or rather, if we perceived it as being that way. We might live in a deterministic universe with only the illusion of free will, but I won't get into that now. But it doesn't really matter, as long as we can sense subjectivity in one sense or another.

We all have our subjective experience, and no one can actually know what it's like to be you. They can only imagine it, as a concept. And they might even explain aspects of your existence using labels. She's attractive, he's smart, they are stupid, etc. In one way, it works as a shortcut to relay certain (often subjective) information about you. Not necessarily to others, but people might just be thinking those associations in their minds. On the other hand, it "allows" the labeler to move on without digging deeper into what lies behind the label. A shortcut indeed. It is a short thought, that completely cuts away immeasurable quantities of information, and ignores it, focusing on but one aspect. Now again, I see the use of this; in fact, if we didn't use it, the first thought we ever had would take up our entire life, because every single thing can in theory be analyzed for an eternity (if not longer). But clearly, as with anything that can be used, it can be misused?

What I want you to be, is aware of how we use labels in our everyday life. Especially for and by ourselves. Labels are often used to avoid critical thinking, and that is where the shortcuts can become damaging. We take things for granted, because we are used to doing so. There's a very apt saying, which in Finnish is written "tapojensa orja", which roughly translates to "Slaves to our Habits". And that is pretty much what we are. Non-surprisingly, really; it makes sense if we consider anything in existance. We can find clearly distinguishable patterns in most anything, and even in biology things tend to repeat time and time again.

I think that our ability to think critically is something we should nurture, and hold very dear to us. That said, I also realize that we need those breaks from critical thinking. I realize that much more than I probably portray in this post. But if you doubt me, I urge you to go back to the beginning, and read about my habits. They don't seem very critical to me; lying in bed, watching entertainment, procrastinating, etc. In fact, I am a major escapist. But I still do my best to be open minded. I always try to think about even casual things from new angles rather often. Because time and time again, I've noticed things that should've been obvious to me, but simply weren't, because I had never analyzed them in any kind of depth before, whatsoever.
As I mentioned earlier, this inevitably happens to all of us, because there is a limitation to the amount of information we can take in at once, at any given time. This means that we are forced to overlook an abudance of things. This is the very reason that a word such as "focus" needs to exist in the first place.

Of course, the shortcuts that concepts and labels grant us aren't the only things that cause us to ignore critical thinking (apparently, it is something we like to do quite a lot, as a species). One of the things in this world that scares me the most, is herd mentality. If we are actively, or even passively taking part in any kind of congregation, we tend to accept things with much less effort, than we would were we alone. This is true for large groups. Take faith for example. I'm sure I don't even need to explain what I'm referencing here, so I think I'll take myself a little shortcut.
As another and even more scary example, we can take political movements such as the national socialists, a.k.a. nazis.

Now, this kind of mob mentality may take on much more innocent forms, and it exists in smaller followings as well. Take a group of friends. I bet that most of them will have several "inside jokes" which will only make sense to them (and I see as a beautiful thing). As a counterpart though, there are things that will likely be said or done in that group which one member would never think of doing himself/herself. Imagine five friends, who are sober (except for on... Herd mentality), but one of them gets the brilliant idea to walk on the ice during a time at which it is actually dangerously thin. Chances are, no one will object to said masterplan, and they all end up drowning. This is a rather innocent, yet very real scenario that can take place because we abandon our critical thinking. Chances are that any single individual (take note of the particularly subtle Valentine's Day joke) wouldn't dare to break the ice, without the push of said friend. Not even that friend would do it of his own accord.

You get what I'm saying. Now lets combine the two, and we are like to get hate speech. A large group of people, assigning labels to themselves, as well as to other people. The "us against them/the world" mentality. Easy example: "We are united in Christ, as Christians, and we hate the Homosexuals, because they are evil."
Of course, there aren't many people who actually talk like that, and I actually used the label "Christian", and automatically made use of a negative association (homophobia) for my example. You can see how this phenomenon goes full circle.

What goes around, comes around, as they say. Which is quite fitting, as we were talking about habits earlier. I don't consider myself to be a very structured person, but even so, my habits are unmistakably clear to me. I try not to associate myself with too many groups either; no particular political party, no religion, and so on. But I too, am part of many, many groups. Whether I want to or not. And don't get me wrong. Many good things can come from togetherness too; I don't shun it with every bone in by body. But as an extroverted introvert (label spotted!*), I tend to prefer smaller groups, with people I know and trust.
*Lest we forget, labels are indeed useful much of the time.

A couple of posts ago I talked about Bisexuality. That too is a label, which is probably (on the more minor scale) one of the reasons as to why I don't necessarily participate in the "coming out" process all too often. There are many misconceptions and associations that follow such a word, in today's time. And they kind bug me. If there's something I generally dislike, it's being misrepresented (whether ill meaned or not). But in this world, human interaction is necessary (and healthy), so we have to live with always being misrepresented to differing degrees, as as I mentioned earlier, our subjective experience is unique to ourselves.

Other labels that could fit me, are "pianist", or "weird", both of which I take pride in. Or one of my favorites which only I tend to use, which is that I say I am more or less "always happy". My definition of happiness is probably a bit different than most people's though. But at large, what I mean is that nothing seems to be able to keep me down for long periods of time; I recover from most things quickly without taking much damage.
Notice that I mentioned "pride". Let us now switch the weight onto the opposite side of the spectrum, which is "shame".

To be completely honest, I rarely feel shame (which is probably both a benefit, as well as a minor character flaw), not because I am a narcissist (some people have joked about it, but I really am not), but because I don't tend to measure everyday occurrences on a scale of "shamefulness". What I mean is, I rarely allow that word to hold any important meaning to me. Shame is, afterall, a subjectve experience. We sometimes hear "you should be ashamed" if for instance someone has offended a person. But that only refers to a general association between an action and a subjective value, which sometimes is tied to herd mentality. A certain group may dislike the use of certain words, leading to a kind of social space where you utter them at your own risk. The people that hold very specific values may feel that what you say is shameful, but is there really any reason you should feel so?
I also know of some darker examples, which manifest in interactions between just two people, where one uses shame as a tool of control over the other, but I don't want to delve into detail regarding that topic, right at this moment. Just be aware that this is a documented, and unfortunately, a relatively common phenomenon. It can be a priest and a follower of a church, a mother and a child, or two people in a relationship of any kind.

I just stripped a large following, into a small group, and into just two people. Now, we get to you, in particular. Are you excited?

This is where I wanted to get all along. I aim to tie together habits, labels, and our subjective experience. I've noticed an alarming rise of depressed and anxious people these past years. There are plenty of reasons for this, and I may or may not go into them in another post in the future. What I do know, is that the reasons are to an extent a side effect of our global political, economical, and social state. Either way, it's a sad reality, yet a true one; people at large are simply not feeling nearly as "happy" as they could feel. But aside from all external explanations, let's take a short look at what is happning inside some of these people.

I've spent a lot of my time by listening to depressed people, both online as well as "IRL". And I don't think it's any secret that most of them have a kind of voice in their head which tells them how much they suck, how they should feel ashamed, and how they will never accomplish anything. The voice in the head is more literal for some people, and more of just general thoughts for others. However, it is not quite like the auditive hallucinations that schizophrenics suffer from. Do not be mistaken; people who are not depressed can have similar thoughts as well. Maybe some people suffer from a kind of lesser value complex, and others just have a very vivid internal monologue, which points out things that said person thinks could be improved in him- or herself.

But for many people suffering from depression, this inner voice can be more constant, it can feel unavoidable, and I would like to claim that it is to a huge extent "delusional". Of course, that voice is a part of said people, but I refer to it as a separate entity, both because it's easier to write, and because it is also a generalizable symptom of a real psychological disease. It will use labels such as "worthless", and attack sufferes from every angle that they have a fear attached to. If you want to hear a rather short and a very good example of what it can sound like, I strongly urge you to take a listen to this.

I called the voice delusional, but as it is a part of people, it knows just where to strike, and just like a good lie, it may combine words into a sentiment based on partial truths. Or in other instances, it will not; a common example would be "no one cares about you", which simply is statistically, extremely implausible for any given individual. But whether what the voice says is true or not doesn't always matter to the listener. Some listeners may be well aware of what is true and what is not, but it's still far from a pleasant experience. Or state of mind, rather, as it can go on for days, weeks, months or years.

How do you fight this?
Well, most people can't (nor should they try to) do it on their own. Friends can help, psycho the rapist (perhaps preferably written as one word) services are strongly recommended, and in many cases, medication will be used on the side. What worries me is when people are only given medication and are then left to their own devices. Rarely is that enough to get you through depression.
But this blog post is not in essence about how you deal with depression. There are several thorough "guides" or articles that any of you readers who either have a need of them, or simply take an interest in, can go read up on online.

What I wanted you to take note of, was the labels that are used, and how they become a habit, in a form of an unhealthy mantra. If we do any activity for a long time, we physically develop from it. If we go to the gym, our muscles develop, if we draw, our motoric skills improve, if we learn arithmetics, we develop new neurological patterns.
If every day, you can't help but draw attention to negative aspects (as perceived by you, or "the voice") of yourself, you eventually turn that into a habit, and your brain will be affected physically by it. Now, I don't want you to be afraid of any permanent "damage" to the brain or anything. What can be created, can be destroyed, reshaped, or avoided; a new path can be built around it, etc.

Either way, thinking in such patterns easily becomes an "evil", self-fulfilling circle. And that is essentially, the power a few labels can have on us, whether external, or internal. Quite naturally, depression is not that easy to summarize, nor so simple, functionally. In fact, there are at least 9 different kinds of depression, if not more. And each kind, can still be a unique experience. But the fact still remains; labels affect us every day, both positively and negatively.

However, if things were "that easy", I would suggest that a large part of the problem lies in how much weight people grant those labels. Because to me, words such as "worthless" mean nothing, in terms of value (when spell checking, I realize how ironic that sentence became). There is no worthless person on this planet. As a label, it seems arbitrary to me. I guess that what it is implying is that the person in question feels that he/she will not amount to anything, or at least not to her/his dreams and desires. Or once again, it can refer to the delusional belief that other people don't care about them; they "hold no worth to others".
The labels can blind people, and they become much, if not everything that they worry about. Am I pretty? Am I fat? Am I liked? Am I a good person? Am I stupid? Do I deserve this? Do other people think this and this about me?
Am I "normal"?

For some reason, we can get stuck on those arbitrary labels, instead of thinking about things on a larger scale, or from a differt perspective. But this is all easy for me to say, as I have never really worried much at all about any of those things. I think a lot of our thought processes are tied to our upbringings, and I might simply have been lucky. I do have a conscience, of course, and I DO feel shame from time to time. But usually, that is only if I've done something I really regret, or if I think I got too carried away in a social situation, and hurt someone's feelings, without good reason.
But on any given day, chances are I haven't spent a single thought on worrying about most of those labels, and if I find myself doing it, it's usually accompanied by some irony. Even while thinking about writing this post, and when I'm actually writing it, I have been thinking more about how labels affect people in general, than on how they directly affect me. I do have labels of my own though (I know of one in particular, which my friends will know I often use as a sad joke), but none that tend to leave that negative an impact on my life at large. To give an example, I do to a certain extent care about how I look. So I guess that I actually shave once a week or so... yeah...
Please, don't misinterpret this as me fellating myself (a skill I wish I had; not even ashamed to admit that). What I'm trying to say, is that it is possible to think of things from different perspectives, and more deeply and truthfully than you ever could by just attributing a label to something. And chances are that if you manage, you'll overtime get a more stable sense of self.
For those of you that don't know, a lot of unhappines is born because people's imagined "self", and real "self" are quite far apart. That, or the "self" they hope they could be can feel (or in some cases be) unachievable. Hence, when people say things such as "finding yourself", it can actually be directly associated with psychology, in a rather concrete sense.

But as I said. Things aren't that easy. Even so, taking all that in mind, I recommend that you think a second time when you excuse an action with a label, or especially, if you beat yourself up about some perceived aspect of yourself.

As for this week, I think I'll go with the "just do it" mentality (which is another thing that someone told me a while ago). I'm starting by writing this post. As I've decided not to sleep tonight (I would only get 3 or so hours of sleep, so I'll sleep during the day tomorrow instead. Don't worry... It's normal...), I'll probably just keep on rolling all the way until I get back home after school today. I have several hours of "nothing" between classes, so I'll use that time to plan my piano lesson, and prepare some things for the exam, as well as return some books to the library.

If you have a label you constantly apply to yourself that particularly worries you, but you know you could do something about, I also recommend just doing said thing. Because if we can develop "negative" habits, we sure can develop "positive" ones too. And even more so, we can use labels that we associate positive things with, to motivate us further. Be creative!

I am mostly finished with the topic now. I feel like I started of well, but somewhere near the end I may have dropped my handle on my writing to a greater or lesser degree. I guess that is understandable, or at least somewhat excusable, as I have already managed to write more than 4000 words. You can be the judge of that, because as we've established, I rarely put serious effort into judging myself.

However, I want to mention a couple more things. It should really be clear from my text, but I wanted to give a more specific example of how the associations that tag along labels can be damaging to entire concepts. I once wrote a post on here, about "Taboo" (and morality). We may make horrible moral judgements if we use a label instead of critical thinking. Take something such as "polygamy". The associations around the word are to a large extent, negative. Yet, if you read my post, you may find that in several cases, the concept doesn't have to be as bad as we at first might assume.
But, to pick an even less relevant and less controversial example, think about the witch-hunts. A huge amount of people were labeled "witches", and were killed for no good reason. Think about what "jews" have had to go through, through history. Or the impact of "niggers", as a label. Of course, it's not only the label itself that causes all those problems, but what lies behind them. But they certainly don't help, and they certainly make it easy for people not to think critically. The other thing is that we occasionally do something without really knowing why, because that's how we've learned to do things. We forget the reason behind our actions, if we even ever knew them. We can be "nice" just to be nice, or "loyal" to a brand just because. We see ourselves as "loyal" customers. Just look at the X-Box versus Playstation, or LoL vs DotA 2, or Microsoft vs Mac subcultures that are sometimes at each other's throats without good reason. In most cases, I don't advocate doing something without knowing why. That is, don't decide upon an opinion and then look for reasons; instead, first find reasons and then conclude your opinion.

And now, I am really done with the topic. I hope that the read wasn't boring.

I feel as though this was quite an apt post, for celebrating my blog's third anniversary. Not only did I procrastinate and postpone it to the point where I was late, but I watched an anime instead of writing it on time, and I made it a long, kind of philosophical mess of a read. I've been listening to classical music during the entire time too. I started with quite a bit of Chopin, because the anime (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso) that I mentioned in the beginning really got me into a classical mood. I am thinking of learning how to play "Clair de Lune" on the piano now too.

If you want to know how good the anime is, I give it three tears out of three:

This is not even the first time that I take a picture of myself weeping (the last time was probably documented as proof that I do have emotions [because the 'tears' are clearly not tap water *cough* *cough*]). It's such a rare event, that I wanted to capture the moment. That's what the final episode of the anime did to me, so I urge you to give it (or anime in general) a chance. This was naturally a drama anime, which tells the story of a pianist, and a violinist, among other characters.
If I really wanted to, I could probably worry about how my hair looks super messy and ridiculous (I'll be getting a haircut soon though), about how I have a very slight yet noticable (and unpleasant) amount of beard showing in this picture, or I could even care about how I have a weird facial expression. But I choose not to, because I don't really think that it's important for me to do so. Those may all be true facts, but I don't think it's all that healthy to be afraid of what you look like all the time, at least not to the extent where it has a serious impact on you. I definitly take several pictures at times when I take selfies though, and choose to keep the best one (which often just means the funniest), so I do get the other side of that aspect too.

Unfortunately, I haven't made much original music lately, because of the reasons I mentioned up top; time, other priorities, etc.

BUT! I have started uploading videos of me playing the piano onto youtube. I'd be happy if you checked this one out:

Thanks :)
I will be uploading every now and then, so if you like it, stay tuned for more!

I am glad that I finally wrote this post. No matter how others will like it, I feel a sense of accomplishment. It's now also one less thing that I feel a need to do. Writing it was rewarding! Now, I will just have to spell check it, which will take quite some time... And trust me, there will be several errors that are left in.

If any of you really read this far, thank you for sticking with me! I'm glad that I've been keeping up with this blog for 3 years, and even if I've not written all too regularly (I even stayed true to my New Year's Resolution of not stressing myself out over my "ocd" in regards to productivity, and skipped out on writing an entry this January), I am happy with what I have achieved. I hope I will continue to write long and convoluted posts about just about anything, in the future too (this one reached 5000+ words, which is a bit insane, especially as it's not even my longest entry). I also hope that you'll return here and check by every now and then!

However, until that now and then, I think I'll wrap this up for now. Don't forget to comment if you feel the urge. Remember what Nike and Shia said: "Just do it" ;)

I hope you'll have a (insert optional label here) day!