Last night at the Lowes store (where I am now a valuable employee), during a slow boring stretch on the cash registers while no one was coming through making purchases, I talked to a fellow cashier. I was surprised to learn that she has a full-time job, a very responsible job that requires a college degree, but her husband can’t find a job, and they have enormous monthly payments on student loans. When the work day is over she comes to run a cash register. A couple of days before, I talked with another cashier who is a teacher in the local school system. And when the work day is over, she too comes to run a cash register.
Aside from my own situation, having looked for work for two years, and now running a cash register, I began thinking about the struggle to survive among people who work, pay taxes, and are playing by the rules in this country. I think I am with normal people on the cash registers, people who are willing to work, and who do work, and it’s not enough. At the same time, because I follow political news, from a very different group of people, I hear over and over that the rich need even more tax cuts. Need them. Hell will have to freeze over and then thaw again before I will vote for tax cuts for the rich. This country is broken to even talk about such a thing.
My attitude gets reinforced from knowing who is working the cash registers. The word “liberal” would be used to describe someone who holds a number of my beliefs (or the more stupidly simple-minded word “socialist”), yet I have other beliefs that would be labeled “conservative”. As an example, I find affirmative action to be a problem, fighting racism by institutionalizing an emphasis on race. Summing up complex things, such as how we see the world, with a single word seems dumb if you think about it, yet using such terms is so common that it must have been going on for thousands of years.
It harms us that our inevitable reliance on single words for complex ideas causes us to think less, which would explain why such labels are so incredibly popular in politics. Are you a conservative? A RINO (Republican In Name Only—how’s that name for fanatical intolerance)? A liberal? A green? By using these simple-minded labels I can pretend to know what you think, so that I don’t have to consider that the world, and you, are actually more complicated.
Of course it isn’t just in the nasty, dumbed-down world of politics that we use simple, harmful, labels. I recently heard a very interesting story about a teenage girl who is a vegetarian. She is, as it happens, a very strict vegetarian, and recently she encountered a situation where she unwittingly ate a small bit of meat (or I even suspect she didn’t actually eat it, but detected it and spit it out). As a result she was upset, perhaps understandable for someone that age, but moreso, she was emotionally distraught. Days later she was still upset, and even said she had “lost my vegetarianism”. What the girl had done was take a word that should mean nothing more than not eating meat, and she had turned it into a religion in which eating meat even accidentally was a sin. This is similar to other religions with their strange dietary rules as a measure of holiness.
The incident also led to a discussion as to what the word “vegetarian” means. If I religiously avoid meat but have one piece of bacon a year, am I a vegetarian? Apparently not, according to the strictly religious definition of “vegetarian”. Of course one way to avoid all this nonsense is just to avoid the label and say “I eat what I eat, and I don’t need a name to describe that.” So maybe the only animals I eat are fish, and what is that called? I’ve heard the very unlikely name “pescatarian” used for people who only eat fish (created from the Latin word for fish). People who eat nothing from animals whatsoever (no eggs, no milk, no cheese, etc.) are called vegans. Unless they eat a little cheese once in a while. And I don’t know what that’s called. Bad vegan, maybe.
For our pleasure in this discussion, here are some dumb words used in the frantic attempt to label people based on what they eat:
lacto-ovo vegetarian—just means vegetarian, and they eat dairy (lacto) and ovo (eggs)
lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarian—plus they eat fish
fruitarian—don’t even ask about these crazy bastards
raw vegan—or these
If you happen to be a lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarian conservative who is also gay, you are welcome at my house, but just don’t talk about it. It spoils my meal.