Saturday, October 6, 2007

Human Labeling and the Punishment of Public Perception

This article was originally posted at on October 3rd, 2007.

We do not live in a perfect society. People are not always nice to each other. They don’t always follow the golden rule. They don’t always do what’s best for the greater good. They don’t always do what’s best for their family. They don’t always do what’s best for their own selves. This is not earth shattering news. This is life, pure and simple. It is the same in China as it is in the US. It is the same in Africa as it is in Australia. When it gets down to a personal level, to a human level, we all have our faults, and we all have our positive traits. Every interaction comes down to a very personal level. And yet we have a tendency to judge people with only the tiniest bit of knowledge about them, knowing minimal facts which aren’t necessarily the most accurate.
One way this is done is by labeling. As humans, we like to categorize things. We categorize everything from plants to animals, from rocks to clouds. We find similarities in things and group them together such as animals with hair, woody plants, rocks made of certain minerals, clouds with a certain amount of fluffiness. Everybody has a certain idea or picture in their head as they hear these categories. The same is true when we categorize humans. We create labels that instantly put ideas in people’s heads as to what these people are like. People carry a pre-conceived perception of what a person is like when that person is categorized in a certain way. Sometimes that perception can be good, other times it will be bad. Label someone a genius and the perception of a kind, old Einstein might be in order, label someone an adulterer or a Jezebel and the association is not so positive.
Sometimes a label will be give some a positive perception of a person while others will have a negative perception. That is especially true with political labeling. Label someone a conservative and many will think of a rich business man. Some may believe he is a greedy thief ready to prey upon the poor and downtrodden while others will believe he is a hard working guy just trying to do the best he can for his family. The same is true when one is labeled a liberal. Some people might imagine a pot smoking lazy hippie living off the welfare state while others might perceive a rich philanthropist full of genuine concern for the handicapped, the dispossessed, all the single mothers, and the rest of the dregs society has cast aside. Your personal perception of these groups depends on what you’ve been taught and perhaps on where your beliefs fall in terms of the political spectrum.
There are some labels, however, we can all agree have negative connotations. For instance, we label certain people “sex offenders.” Each state has a huge registry filled with these miscreants. They are everywhere. Some may even be your neighbors. Of course, we must ostracize these people. We can’t let them live in certain areas, for we all know these people are uncontrollable. We know they are all the type that will hide behind the nearest bush and just wait for the weakest and most innocent among us so they can pounce on them, run off with them, and take them away to do unspeakable things to them. Certainly none of them are just young men that had a young girlfriend whose mother may have become angry with him for one reason or another and reported him to the authorities. Certainly the registries contain none that may have made a mistake like relieving himself behind a tree when he thought no one was looking. Certainly the registries don’t list anyone that may have been innocent and didn’t have the money to afford a lawyer or took a plea deal to avoid the prospect of being thrown in prison. Certainly no one on the registry has ever been set up. Most certainly there are no over zealous prosecutors in this country who want to make a name for themselves by throwing as many of these perverts in prison as possible. These prosecutors would never consider entrapping a person through devious means to get a conviction. All these deviates most certainly deserve to be listed in these registries, because we all know the government never makes mistakes. We all know the government never abuses its power. We all know that government positions are filled by angels who know exactly what’s best for us and not by humans who are fallible. And we know that listing these people for all the world to see is not really punishment because human perception is such a marvelous thing and everyone looking at the registry is simply going to use it for information purposes and never, ever to ostracize, harass, or otherwise punish someone who is listed on it.
Of all the labels we can give a person, arguably the worst is that of terrorist, AKA “illegal enemy combatant.” These people are the lowest of the low. Their bombs destroy indiscriminately. They kill and maim innocent men, women and children for no real reason. We all know these people are nothing but religious zealots. We all know terrorists are only doing this so they can go to Heaven and receive their seventy virgins. We know they hate us for our freedoms and that they believe ours is the culture of the devil. There’s no way they were just trying to defend their homes. They can’t possibly see us, the bringers of the light of freedom and democracy, as a foreign occupation force. Anyone living over there is, of course, a terrorist. They deserve to be put into a prison compound forever. They deserve to be tortured. These terrorists are sub-humans. They couldn’t possibly cooperate with us unless we tortured them. And of course everyone knows that a tortured person is going to give out nothing but true and accurate information. These people couldn’t possibly be just farmers or normal, everyday people who were trying to get along in life as best they could when they were arrested. Our military, like our government, couldn’t possibly make a mistake. And, of course, these people don’t deserve a fair, impartial trial because we know with such certainty that they are the evilest, most vile of creatures, those labeled terrorists. It’s a good thing they’re not Americans, otherwise the constitution might apply to them. The words “all men are created equal” carry no weight for these terrorists, for everyone knows that Thomas Jefferson meant to include only Americans when he wrote his great declaration. It’s a good thing that no American will ever be accused of being an enemy combatant and that should any citizen ever be arrested he will be assured a fair, impartial trial right away long before he could be subject to torture in some American run prison on foreign soil. We, of course, have nothing to fear from a nation with the power to oppress so, as long as that nation is ours.
Human perception is a funny thing. There are people who are color blind and they do not know it. There are thought processes going through some people’s heads that stop short of reasoning through something completely. Laws should be considered on a case by case basis. One size fits all is never a correct path, for everyone and every situation is unique. To legally label a person is punishment, whether the establishment wants to believe it or not. It is the vilest, most humiliating of punishments. It allows not only the legal system, but the general public to dehumanize these people. Registry laws and the ability to wantonly label people with no oversight not only violates the rights of these people, but it opens the door for the government and their agents to violate the rights of everyone, and there’s more than a good chance that once the door is open the government will step into the home. Those with power will seek to exercise said power. These laws should be opposed vehemently.

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