Labelmania I

Written on March 25, 2008 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui

Serbia One of the great accomplishments of both Greek Philosophy and Roman Law, followed by modern Rationalism and positive science, was the effort to label things and concepts with distinct words. Western civilization has progressed greatly due to its capacity to isolate concepts, to separate very similar species and, at the same time, to find the deep identity of several apparently different entities. Be it through concretion or abstraction, Aristotle, Papinianus, or Linnaeus are examples of the benefits brought by categorizing different things with different labels. These three great men, like many others, were devoted to the knowledge of reality, and when they found a distinct entity, they coined a distinct word for it. Thus two identical things (in the ontological, legal or botanical spheres) received the same name, while two different ones, however similar they might be, received different labels.

Labeling is a gigantic task, which takes centuries and efforts of many genius who devote their lives. Labeling mistakes are devastating, as anybody who has eaten a poisonous mushrooms, or who has been diagnosed the wrong illness, knows. But many people have an instinctive horror vacui which cries for instant labels everywhere. And the all-too-human tendency towards fixing definite conceptual boundaries for everything, sometimes harnesses into inadequate simplistic patterns new complex realities which perhaps do not match any known category. This happens above all in our contemporary world in constant change, where labelmaniacs find themselves at home.

A clear case is the European Union, which was advancing at a good pace without pompous words until labelmania imposed talking of Federalism and Constitution, with subsequent brilliant results known by all. But that is self-evident. Today I will just comment an instance which is particularly sorrowful: the sudden transformation of Kosovo in an independent state. I know that not everybody will agree, but criticism is welcome. I will try to take it dispassionately as a theoretical case. I will avoid, therefore, considerations on the obvious illegality of the whole process. Let us suppose, for the sake of the argument, that international law did not matter at all. Neither I want to enter into the deep geopolitical reasons that have guided this operation, which are possibly not known to the public. Let us also forget for a moment about what happened in Europe in the last century, and take the case as an entomologist takes a butterfly.

Let us, therefore, go back to the situation of three years ago, when the so-called Ahtisaari plan was being elaborated. I just want to focus in one argument which was (and is) much repeated around as if it were a self-evident truth: “Kosovo cannot not go back to Serbian control. Therefore it has to be an independent State. It is the only solution”. I am afraid that this fallacy has been present not only among superficial journalists, but also in the decisive circles.

Perhaps it is not always a conscious ill-minded fallacy, but an unconscious mistake of honest minds. This is just an example of label-mania, that is, the impulse to disambiguate fluid realities through solid names, thinking that this brings inmediately order amidst confusion. This is not the case, of course. Order is brought by names which are adequate to reality, and giving wrong names just contributes to further confusion. Some people think that names change reality: but this is just wishful thinking, or, if we become less polite, blunt magic. And magic usually does not work.

Three years ago, Kosovo needed the presence international troops to avoid that Serbia took it back by force. And exactly the same happens now that it has the flamboyant name of Sovereign State: troops will stay there for many, many years. The (in)stability in the region is the same, with or without embassies. Nothing (or nothing honest) has been won, apart from a restful peace of mind for labelmaniacs. Of course, one could say that it has brought satisfaction to Kosovars, but it has also brought dissatisfaction to Serbians, so from that point of view no advantage has been “won”. And yet much has been lost by this irresponsible labeling: Serbian offence, Russian offence, division of the international community, loss of protection for the Serbian minority, dangerous precedents for other multi-ethnic countries, and comparative injustice for other regions with ethnic minorities, to name just a few consequences.

If troops were to be maintained anyway, and effective control of the territory was not going to be Serbian in any case, was it “impossible” to keep indefinitely the status of Kosovo in a terminological obscurity? What was the hurry, apart from labelmaniac urgencies? Serbia would have accepted any solution which saved its symbolical sovereignty, and thus it would have encouraged Serbian pro-European currents. And if Kosovars had been told they would not be supported, they would have looked for other solutions, and subtler labels, than blunt independence. But it was not even contemplated, for it was thought “impossible”. And yet Kurdistan in Irak is (as it has been after 1991) almost independent de facto. But nobody, even if Kurdistan has much more titles than Kosovo, thinks of promoting its independence de iure, for Turkey is firmly opposed. Does anybody feel that this is “impossible” or “illogical”? On the contrary. It is possible precisely through the terminological limbo that the situation demands, until an acceptable label is found. But there is no need to hurry to find it: Aristotle or Linnaeus never hurried.

Can then labelmaniacs only repress their baptizing libido when confronted with a threatening army like Turkey’s? Hopefully not, perhaps there are other medicines: against l’esprit de geometrie, Pascal proposes l’esprit de finesse. But that’s for next Tuesday.


No comments yet.

Leave a Comment


We use both our own and third-party cookies to enhance our services and to offer you the content that most suits your preferences by analysing your browsing habits. Your continued use of the site means that you accept these cookies. You may change your settings and obtain more information here. Accept