An interesting post on Earth Day over on KarenJoy’s blog got me started on a long commment that I decided to convert into a post after it reached its second parenthetical aside.

Her post reminded me of some of my early experiences when we moved here from the liberal east coast. One thing about the culture of Arizona that struck me was how fiercely people resisted any label that smacked of, oh, how shall we call it– non-conservatism. On several occasions I heard people say, “I’m no _________ (fill in the blank with your favorite term, liberal, environmentalist, feminist), but…” and then share a deeply held belief or lifestyle choice that, to my mind, fit quite comfortably in that category.

Does this happen because people associate those labels with the most extreme ideas within those categories (For example, the tiny number of feminists who believe we’d be better off without any men at all)?. Abstract terms like these are catch-alls that hold a wide variety of ideas about a certain theme, and people who do identify with these labels often do not even agree with each other (Consider the label “Christian,” which I gladly accept, even though I share it with a few people who march around with signs that say “God Hates You”– an idea I do not agree with, to say the least). Is there guilt by association? Let’s take the term “environmentalist”. Some, if not many, environmentalists are motivated in their efforts at conservation by philosophies which are not Christian and in fact may be antithetical to Christianity. Should I eschew association with such a label due to the differing motivations among my fellow label-ees? I admit it’s not really a fair question since I had an answer before I even wrote it.

I’d describe an environmentalist as anyone who seriously considers, and tries to minimize, the environmental costs and consequences of their use of resources. If someone asked me if I were an environmentalist, I’d probably say yes. But in terms of actual choices about food, purchases, and use of water and energy, I suspect that my friend KarenJoy, who does not want to be called by this label, is actually more of an environmentalist than me.

I think it would be a fun experiment to take some of these assumption-and-association-prone terms and get a bunch of one-sentence definitions from people. Do you think it’s been done already?

Liberal
Conservative
Enviromentalist
Feminist
Politician
Emergent Christian
Fundamentalist Christian
Evangelical Christian
Humanist
Activist
Evolutionist
Creationist
Spiritual
Religious
Intellectual