Originally posted by Skyfloating
OK, since everyone seems to be filling in the blank:
What would happen if we quit defining ourselves as anything and just stick with "I am" or "I am me", period?
But what are you
. We would all just be a collection of 'me's'. Much of how we self-categorise will involve much of the self-evident and also
what we find important - the hobbies, roles, beliefs, and features we value. What makes us an individual.
Wouldnt that mean we´d be more flexible to take on any given role according to situation?
Today I can be a business person, tommorow I can be a hippie, the day after tommorow I can be a good boy, and then a bad boy.
We would do so anyway. I could list many more 'I am's', but I just used the most important to me. Sometimes I'm more student than teacher,
sometimes I'm more parent than lover etc etc. Sometimes I'm a good teacher, othertimes a bad one.
Would it be a bad thing if we couldnt categorize people anymore and everyday delivers something unexpected to us?
Too much for a brain to handle - to try to hold individual foibles for every single person you ever meet? Or to not associate this sort of information
- would be like social amnesia. You can try to fight the unconscious mechanisms, but as soon as we meet a new person we are attempting to categorise
and simplify, or understand the complexities. Just the way the brain works - we are consistently running our social inference systems (also applies in
general - e.g., categorising nature, tools etc).
It also wouldn't change the reality. Why would someone define as 'liberal' or 'conservative'? Why define as 'theist' or 'atheist'?
I think they signal something about ourselves, about our values. I don't take the label 'liberal' first and then conform to it, it is a descriptor
of my values. Only a general one, but it would give you a rough idea of where I come from without me having to write a two page screed about my
socio-political orientation. Thus, I'd label liberal, and then perhaps outline the more idiosyncratic complexity.
It also helps signal what behaviours are relevant. Thus, we would probably behave differently to a doctor than a lover, than to a thief and a
Or in other words: Wouldnt people then become un-controllable?
It would just make social cognition very wieldy. The labels we give ourselves and others are either descriptions of roles or behaviours etc. They tend
to come first, labels follow.
Other times the labels help outline our expectations. Thus, when you go to school and see a new teacher, you wouldn't expect this individual to make
you spend the lesson putting stamps on envelopes, or dress as Hitler and start giving you fascist indoctrination. Similarly, when I go into a class, I
play the role of teacher, I won't spend this time talking about the magnificence of Nando Torres - well maybe for a bit, heh. The category label is
The skill is being able to be flexible in how we use social information. Thus, such categorisation can readily lead to stereotyping - often such
stereotypes contain a kernal of truth, many other times they don't. Using the labels without further thought would be a problem. For example, we
might expect a science teacher to be a stuffy male boffin, but be faced with a buxom lass.
I see where you are coming from, I just don't see it as generally plausible. I think as long as we remember that under whatever simplistic category a
complex human resides (i.e. a teacher is more than a teacher, a black person might be a crap dancer), not so bad.
However, we will try to understand more about the things that are most salient. They used to say humans are 'cognitive misers', but it is more a
case of 'motivated tacticians' - we apply our brain glucose selectively.
[edit on 19-8-2008 by melatonin]