The rules of political correctness tell us that labels are bad. Sorting people into categories is discriminatory and unkind, and it results in prejudiced and even bigoted treatment of other people. The phrase “There are two kinds of people. . .” should only be used as the beginning of a joke and not as the introduction to an observation about real people in real life. That rule is not contingent upon the number used; it’s just as wrong to claim that there are three or ten or seven billion different kinds of people. (For the record, here is a website where you can find an estimate of the world population and the population of the United States. As you can see, there are more than seven billion people in the world. That is a fairly recent development. Last I had known, there weren’t yet quite seven billion.)

As you might have guessed by my slightly sarcastic tone, I disagree with this rule of political correctness. Of course, it’s wrong, in both senses of the word, to make assumptions about people based upon things like race or socioeconomic status. But that doesn’t mean that generalizations are always wrong. (If they were, it would be wrong to say that generalizations are always wrong. Because that’s a generalization. Just sayin’.) I think that some methods of categorizing people are valid, particularly in cases where a person is somewhat responsible for putting themself into that category.

According to my logic class, this Venn Diagram is upside down.

Take the label of “nerd” for example. That’s a term that implies certain stereotypes so strongly that there isn’t really any correct way of using it without intentionally drawing upon those preconceived notions. The accompanying Venn Diagram helpfully shows that nerds are people who are intelligent, socially inept, and obsessed. The other accompanying picture shows that nerds are people who wear funny glasses and plaid shirts. For further explanations and definitions of nerdiness, I refer you to this webpage. The noteworthy thing is that there really are people who fit this stereotyped definition of nerd. In fact, for the most part, I would identify myself as a nerd, although this classification does not extend to funny glasses or other elements of fashion choice, and I am about as technologically knowledgeable as a pineapple ring. (No, there is no particular reason that I chose a pineapple ring for this comparison. There doesn’t need to be a reason. I claim writer’s prerogative on word choice for my random comparisons.)

According to Google, this is what hipsters look like.

Of course, there is a semi-infinite number of stereotyped labels like that. (Note: I claim personal ownership of the term “semi-infinite”.) There are dumb blondes, hipsters, goths, rednecks, gangsters (otherwise known as gangstas, which I notice that spellcheck considers to be a valid word) and all sorts of others, which I’m not going to take the time to list. Although, come to think of it, it would be really fascinating to conduct opinion polls to come up with an exhaustive list of stereotyped labels and to define each one with a concrete list of personality traits, habits, interests, and preferences in music, fashion, and art.

Here is my suggestion. I think that these labels should be considered appropriate to use in describing people, but according to a spectrum rather than to a binary. In other words, I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am or am not a nerd, but I might say that I’m more or less nerdy than someone else, or I might say that I’m more of a nerd than a hipster and more of a hipster than a redneck. Basically, the difference between my proposed system of stereotyped labels and the normal system of stereotyped labels is the same as the difference between the Myers-Briggs personality types and the Big Five personality traits. As I think I have indicated before, I am a much bigger fan of the Big Five system than the Myers-Briggs system, mainly because it acknowledges that there are subtle differences between all individual people.

This is where the data from the aforementioned hypothetical polls would be useful. Just as personality can be measured according to a personal survey, a person should in theory be able to measure things such as their nerdiness or hipsterness (etc.) according to such a survey. I don’t mean an internet or magazine quiz that somebody quickly wrote up just for the fun of it; I mean a scientifically accurate questionnaire. But that would require a very specific definition of each stereotyped label. And since these labels are socially constructed, it would take a sociological study with a large number of participants in order to properly define them.

Someone needs to organize such a study. If I was a sociologist, I would totally do it. If any sociologists are reading this, I request that you do it, and I hereby volunteer to participate. You’re welcome.

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