Defense-word Identity

FortWhat labels would you defend?

In a previous post I tried to illustrate that “identity” is a relatively new invention and that people use it in very different ways. I won’t argue the various meanings of the word and for sake of argument I will assume it has some sort of pragmatic uses.  As I have written here, adding an adjective to slippery abstract words can help separate different meanings.  So let me invent the adjective-noun phrase “defense-word identity”.  My operational definition of that phrase will be:

defense-word Identity: something you call yourself which, if someone accused you of not really being that thing, you’d be offended or feel a rise in a negative emotion.

So imagine someone being accused as follows:

  • You aren’t a real Christian
  • You aren’t a real American
  • You aren’t a real Atheist
  • You aren’t a real Man
  • You aren’t a real Feminist

To some folks, this would be offensive or disturbing.  You get the idea.  We all probably have defense-word identities — some stronger than others. But “Atheist” and  “American” are definitely defense-word identities for me.  Yet theists and atheists have both demanded that I recognize them as identities.  But if they are, they certainly are defense-word identities.  They will have to build other identity phrases with operational definitions if they want to claim I have identity in being an “atheist”.

Finally: Beware, if you are discussing a defense-word identity with a person, there is a greater challenge of productive dialogue.

Request of readers: Do you have any defense-word identities that come to mind?  Have you seen any disappear over the years.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

8 responses to “Defense-word Identity

  1. This leads into the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy whereby people protect their established beliefs in the goodness/badness of a particular group by dismissing others from that group if they don’t stick to predetermined types of behavior.

    Our local SMART reading program (volunteers who read to kids) has been trying to recruit more men, and one ad campaign is “Real Men Read.” I understand why they did that, but it seems like a setup for a backlash (even if just emotional/mental rejection by the target audience).

    And I still can’t hear the term Real Men without remembering that 70’s book which told Real Men what they don’t eat…

  2. Ian

    Good clarification of ‘identity’. I think it is an excellent criteria.

    I do get annoyed if someone says I’m not a ‘real’ atheist. But I’m not sure why. More, I think, because it betrays a kind of arrogance that annoys me. I can imagine having certain types of conversation where I’d freely admit I’m not a ‘real’ atheist, should the right definitions be used, etc. It is the disrespect for my autonomy of self-description, rather than the accuracy of the label, that is annoying.

  3. @ Abel:
    Interesting story about “Real Men Read” , thanx for sharing.

    @ Ian:
    Yeah, I deleted a part of my post which talked about “the way someone says something.” I get your point. Even still, I think it is tell-tale about which labels we are prepared to defend. What I have noticed, is that as I have gotten older, my reflex to defend of labels has dropped off tremendously. It seems I find much less identity in categories then I did in my past.

  4. TWF

    Love the definition there. It’s been so long since somebody told me I wasn’t a real ____ that I’m not sure what my defense-words are now. In my old age ;-), I’ve become much less likely to react defensively on labels.

    The one that I had much of my early life was “straight”, as in not homosexual. I’d been self conscious that my body was a bit more on the feminine side. (Though not where it matters… 😉 It took me a long time to get self-confident enough to not really care what people thought. And, from what my gay friends have told me over the years, I apparently put out the opposite vibe, anyway. So it was all pretty foolish of me to be that defensive! Just another way I’ve played the fool in this life. 🙂

  5. Interesting! I don’t think,such accusations ever bothered me. Even with labels I prefer. Really, it’s a matter of opinion. Who gets to decide which of us are “real” Americans or “real” feminists?

    There is no such judge or jury.

    Coffee and Conservation blog had a great article called “When Birders Drink Foldgers”. It makes a good point; we can’t define who’s a “real” birder. But if they’re buying sun-grown coffee, they’re not very good birders. Or at least not good conservationists.

  6. @Abel I liked your comment.

  7. @ TWF:
    Thank you for sharing the personal story about “a real straight man” — I am sure it is not uncommon. I am curious how various homosexual men feel about the phrase “a real man”. The phrase to me is totally bizarre, but I must admit I often use it in joking too — my inner bigot, I guess.

    @ amelie
    “You are not a real environmentalist” may stir your emotions, no? Distinguishing between a “good birder” and a “real birder” seems very artificial to me — either way, it is the “No True Scotsman” that Abel mentioned, I think. It is a rhetoric trick to push your preference while feigning logic. What do you think?

    Mind you, I am not against pushing our preference but I am against pretenses. [hmmmm, cute maxim, eh?]

  8. Yes, cute! 😉

    I don’t consider myself an environmentalist, so no. I mean I do speak about conservation. But I am a nature guide and biologist and that’s part of our job. And as I mentioned, I don’t see why some arbitrary person gets to decide who is a “real” this or that. Is ther some mysterious committee?

    The diff between “good” and “real” is that “Real” sounds like some popularity club. “Good” to me means responsible. Birders do have a standard for each other (have you ever met a hardcore birder? They’re intense)!

    And if they’re going to use birds for enjoyment and happiness then they have an obligation to be more informed and responsible than the average person. That’s just my view of course

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