One of the benefits of being an opinion columnist is the opportunity to apply labels to other people and things while not sticking them on myself.
I don’t ever want to be known as a conservative, Republican, jingoistic, pizza-lover because once I’m branded, it is hard to shake that persona. It wouldn’t change even if I develop an intolerance to gluten, dream of moving to France with Alec Baldwin when the political current turns away from me, and basically change my mind about things over time.
For the same reasons, I don’t like applying permanent labels to others. Probably the topic I’m the most opinionated about locally is the plight of the old PTL Tower, and even in that case, I don’t want a crowd of incensed locals to surround the dilapidated building and heave Molotov cocktails towards the loosely organized pile of bricks. I just want something to happen – either tear it down or rebuild it into something useful.
In my opinion, there is much more harm done by forcing oneself to keep a label rather than taking a different stance once in awhile and slowly peeling the sticker off. Look at Al Sharpton. His rhetoric after each event that even remotely contains racism usually doesn’t advance the dialogue, it prevents it. Rush Limbaugh is just as bad. He creates a war on every topic of conservative vs. liberal when a great deal of the population happens to be firmly entrenched in the middle of the road and gets run over by 16-wheelers carrying buzzwords and catch phrases.
Whenever people staunchly proclaim themselves as a defenders of something, they tether themselves to a viewpoint that will be really difficult to change. Sharpton and Limbaugh don’t want to change because it has been hugely profitable for them to rile others up. Evangelists who have built mini-empires through mega-churches don’t want to change, even when their fiefdoms crumble due to adultery allegations or money scandals. If I had a dollar every time people said they wanted open dialogue on a subject where they truly are trying to squash dialogue, I’d have an empire of my own to destroy one day.
In my eyes, there are very few people who want open dialogue. What they really want is a forum to preach their own agenda. Does anyone really believe Al Sharpton wants to discuss racism openly? He wants to point fingers at alleged racists so those he panders to will fill his coffers with donations. Does anyone really believe Rush Limbaugh wants the country to come together? No, because a happy, unified country eliminates the need for polarizing talking heads on the airwaves (or Internet).
Division exists less because of actual resentment, and more because it is good for business. I don’t want to ever be labeled because my opinions are ever-changing. I want to be able to condemn a suicide bomber without denigrating an entire culture. I want to be able to speak out on religion or politics without insulting an entire denomination or party. I want to point out stupid acts without having to label the people committing them as serially dumb.
Labels are made to eventually be peeled off. The sooner the better.
You can reach Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org for an assortment of permanent labels.