Information & Labels
Language can be used to describe, invoke emotion, express emotion, and deceive. When trying to have an intellectual conversation, it makes senses focus on describing. That is, focus on communicating information. To do this, you often have to move passed abstract labels, to less abstract details. For example, if you ask someone if they are a theist or atheist (are without a belief in God), the answer won't tell you all that much about the person.
An atheist could be someone that believes god does not exist, or someone that believes no one can know if God exists, or someone who believes there is no current reason to believe God exists, or someone that simply hasn't been introduced to the concept of god. These are all reasons why someone may "be without the belief in a god". The concept of "being without a belief in God" is more abstract than the concept of "believing it's impossible for God to exist". The latter is more specific, less abstract.
Whenever we use abstract labels that bundle things together, we are losing information. Imagine there is a questionnaire that asks you to choose one of the following:
- I believe God cannot exist.
- I believe God may exist, but there is no reason/proof to believe that God does exist.
- I believe that it is impossible to know if God does or does not exist.
- I am not sure if God exists.
- I have never been introduced to the concept of God.
- I believe God may exist but I am not sure if God does exists.
- I believe God exists, because I believe there must be a higher power.
- I believe God exists, and that it requires faith to know this.
- I believe God exists, and it has been proven.
All of this information can be summed up in two abstract labels: theist & atheist. So when reporting your findings, you can just publish how many people are theists and how many are atheists. The details are, of course, lost in this report. Information is lost.
This applies to our everyday use of language. When we ask questions, give answers, and describe things, we leave out the details to some degree. When having an intellectual conversation, you need to start including more details as time goes on. You don't want to get stuck at a certain level of abstraction.
Information-Centrism vs Label-Centrism
Imagine you and a colleague are arguing whether another employee is lazy or not. You both know that this employee is often late and often takes a slightly longer lunch break. You both know the details and agree on the details, but when it comes to the more abstract label of "lazy", you do not agree if said details justice the label of "lazy". This is a label-centric argument, rather than an information-centric or detail-centric argument.
E-Prime (short for English-Prime or English Prime) is a version of the English language that excludes all forms of the verb to be, including all conjugations, contractions and archaic forms.Wikipedia.com E-Prime
There is a language called E-Prime, which essentially promotes information or detail-centric behavior, by eliminating the verb "to be". It's an interesting idea, because we often get so focused on labels, that our conversations become more about labeling than about clearly communicating.
Information-centrism is a focus on clearly describing, clearly communicating, and the details. While label-centrism is a focus on the labels themselves, how we should define them and apply them, without regard to their usefulness, but rather how we personally want to use them. Abstraction is useful. Labels are useful. We need these things, but when communicating, you want to be aware of what your focus is on.
Label-centrism tends to occur with labels that are abstract and/or ill-defined. One good example is the label "best". Who is the best actor, what is the best car to buy, who has the best fashion sense, etc..