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Guest Writer

We are snowflakes
A different look on individuality
by Steven C. Benjamin

iversification is both wanted and called for, but "they" expect it to be quantified.

You see, I can agree with Foucault’s analysis on society necessitating a perpetual economic calculation of productivity and always insisting on productivity – mistaking progress for productivity and, therefore, assuming that "progress" can be measured.

They institute a method of labeling – naming – to facilitate their statistical analysis and they permit no exceptions. If the public calls for something, anything, then that thing must be accounted for, measured, and the proponents of the system in place must be able to present their quantified evidence to the public to prove their demands are being met (else a reformation may be in order, and a little cleaning up of otherwise useless facilities).

So when the public demands diversification, the mechanisms of our societal machine don’t show even the slightest hint of hesitation or preponderance or even confusion.

It clicks and turns, calculates and quantifies, and then presents its own demand that labels must be made to define diversification – the better to see you with, it says in a wolfy voice. Labels are created and, thus, diversification is no longer a simple conglomeration of randomly chosen and celebrated differences. It instead becomes a series of precise statistical percentages all done in the sense of fairness to each, each with a label.

Thus, diversification came to mean 20 percent African-American, 20 percent Hispanic-American, 20 percent Asian-American, 20 percent European-American, 20 percent other-types-of-American.

Naturally, there were some who weren’t satisfied with their labels. So the machine heard their demands and made more. You can have all the labels you like, it said, so long as labels you have. And the people did not revolt, because now they had their diversification. And the machine could prove it with very clever statistical computations.

I’ll call you gay, you Christian, you Japanese, you a liberal, and you – you who refuse to wear your label, you who insist on being a broken cog in this well-oiled machine – you shall be an outcast. Everyone must have their label. Thus we have diversification. Thus we are individuals.

But something here feels crooked to me.

Foucault describes the individual as a collection of identifying paraphernalia that follows each member of our very modern society throughout their lives. Identifiers that are specific to the individual person, such as a Social Security Number, a birth certificate, dental records, transcripts and prison records are precisely the sorts of labels that he means. These, he claims, create what is today’s coveted conception of the individual. He says the individual did not begin to exist until the inception of these and similar devices.

And he has a point, I think. But he has also missed something I consider very important.

Our society loves its labels, adores and cherishes its labels. People cling to labels and titles with a sense of pride. They earned these distinctions, and these distinctions speak volumes for those who carry them. It's as if people have bought into this sense of the individual as something that can be classified.

But I say that no true individual can be classified as anything but an individual. The very word necessitates a lack of classification. How can one be unique if they bear a title that classifies them into any category that exists outside of that person? The simple fact that there is already such a classification negates its uniqueness.

Yes, people love their labels and embrace them as if they are defining symbols. But I say that you cannot know a person by reading their labels and studying the traditional characteristics of their classification. I say that you can only know a person by knowing the person, and not at all by what he or she is called.

You cannot know me by even the most poetic of descriptive terms. You can only know me through the magic of individual interaction. What you will find is not something that can be summarized in distinctive categorical labels. What you will find is something unique, something that, in its precise and incalculable sense of humanness, exists nowhere but in me.

And I would dare to suggest that any human on this planet who is pursued as a true individual would show that same uniqueness, that same distinctive thing that only they have. We are snowflakes, and you can classify us only by calling us snowflakes, by calling us human. You cannot divide us into any other classification without finding that no truly distinctive lines will stay once the human factor is taken into account. Even those distinctions which seem the most obvious, because of their assumed correlation with observed patterns in nature – such as male and female – will find themselves crossed time and again.

If you want to find yourself, I say do not look to labels. Do not look to categories or classifications, to groups with common interests, belief systems or even astrological congruencies.

If you want to find yourself as an individual it will require the acceptance of the unclassifiable, often unpredictable, human factor that is you – unique to the degree that it is unlike every other in existence.

You've been given a number, but do not think that number defines you, describes you or even announces who you are. You are not the number. The number is not you. It is a surveillance device attached to your person for the sake of quantifying productivity. It is not what makes you an individual.

E-mail Steven at nyn@prodigy.net, and find more of his work in our archives.

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