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On Short Labels

Whether it's because of websites like Twitter, with its limit on character counts, or whether it's something else, the use of short labels is astonishingly common online, in both tweets and headlines.

What do I mean by "short label"? Things like:

  • Democrats
  • Republicans
  • Liberals
  • Conservatives
  • White people
  • Black people
  • Men
  • Women

These are all examples of short labels. They are like SQL queries that return a very large number of rows (each row representing a unique individual).

How often do you see yourself or others using short labels like these to make statements?

  • "White people are __________"
  • "Black people are __________"
  • "Liberals are _______"
  • "Conservatives are _______"

It is almost impossible to construct a true statement using short labels, because there will be an exception to the rule. You will find people who fit the label you use, but don't fit the generalization you've made. The size of the population sample you're describing is simply too large, and you don't know 99.999% of the people in that sample.

So why do some people continue to do this?

Ask yourself that question the next time you're tempted to make a generalization using a short label.

Instead, think of some way to be more specific. You might get fewer retweets and likes for whatever new statement you come up with, but on the upside you also won't alienate a large group of people for no reason. Some might call this being more pedantic, and they are right. But it's also more honest.

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