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How can we think out of the box when you're destroying the box?

leamirella's picture

This is something that Aybala50 said as we popped outside English House for a quick breath of fresh air. We think of things in boxes, or categories. It's difficult to imagine a world without them.

But what is it about categorizing that provokes such negative responses? I feel that it's the connotations that we associate with the categories. I honestly don't believe that we can live in a world that has no categories - it takes away from who and what we are individually. If there is no way to describe in words what we are, then who are we?

However, is the category system flawed? Sure. We've seen various examples of this. Our modern day definitions of categories in terms of race, gender and religion have evolved over time. What may have been something at one point in history is now something else. Those that may "cross barriers" at this point in time may find a specific category to fill in the future.

But it categorization necessarily bad? I don't think so. I feel we dislike categorizing people because of the connotations that each category holds. To say that we should eradicate all categories for the sake of social justice and equality  seems to be a little extreme. What we should be working on instead is to make these categories seem less negative.

Going back to Aybala50's quote about destroying the box, I feel as though she makes a very good point. To attempt to live in a label-less world is a foreign and weird idea but that's only because we come from a society relies so heavily on putting people 'into boxes'. It's weird because we're coming at this with our own personal experience. Should we have started life in a world with no categories, this would not have been an issue. However, these categories are here, have been here and will be here for a while. But that is not to say that they will not change and that there will not be a point where everyone is treated equally.

I rambled on a little bit here but what I'm trying to say is that we should look at labels in a more positive sense. Instead of trying to fight them and get rid of them completely, we should try to make the system work better instead.


aybala50's picture

a "boxless" world

Ok, I know that I said a lot of things while getting fresh air. I still stand by the fact that I do not see it as a possibility...that is getting rid of those annoying boxes. Our brain automatically categorizes things, we put everything into boxes and yes they may serve some purpose and have some positive outcomes. I do pride myself in being a thinker, a learner, a woman, a caring person and whatever, but I also struggle with a lot of the boxes that I either put myself in or that I am placed in by others. 

 I wish that I could live in a world where we don't have boxes. I wish that even the positive boxes that could possibly have no negative meaning attached to them didn't even exist. I don't believe that I have very much wiggle room in any of my boxes. Ok, yes I do think that I am a caring person. What does this mean? I care about others, I want to help people, I want to do good...but sometimes, I don't want any of this...I want to stop caring, I want time, I don't care about anyone..does this mean that I do not belong in this box? Or maybe I just don't fit it completely? 
Or maybe, I make myself do things that I don't actually want to because that is what I am SUPPOSED to do according to my boxes...

I agree with so much of what is said here...but I hate that each box comes with so much baggage. I want to identify as a happy person, but I can't be happy 24/7, I want to say I'm smart, but I'm not always what does this mean? We may not be at a point of knowing just how to rid ourselves of boxes, but I don't want to say that we will never get to a point where we are able to have a "boxless" world. There have been so many changes in this world that were seen as impossible, so maybe, hopefully, one day this will also be a possibility.  

Gavi's picture


I was also struck by Wilchin's treatment of sex and gender "boxes" and the implications these labels have on our lives and perceptions. Thinking about a "boxless" world is a fascinating and (as Katie Randall pointed out) almost impossible exercise--our intellectual and imaginative facilities can no better envision a world without gender of some kind than we can dream up a new color. We are trained and retrained to categorize, and the boxes we create are often narrow and cruel and trap certain individuals while excluding others.

However, like leamirella says, I don't think categorization can be viewed as a wholly negative human disposition. Categories of all kinds can be a wonderful source of self fullfillment and community. Self fullfillment, I think, comes from the intersection of the qualities of some sort of "box" and the ambiguous, bio/cultural concept of a self. From my own experiences, I think some of the boxes into which I put myself/am placed--such as "woman" and "Jew"--have been identities I've shaped for myself. They don't define me, they enhance me.

(Of course, Riki would shudder at everything I've said in that paragraph. According to Foucault, there is no transcendent Self, only a composite self formed of available descriptives, modifiers, boxes. And if the Self is a construct, how can (constructed) boxes "enhance" it?)

As for community, I find it very difficult to imagine a world where individuals could interact on a meaningful level without some deep, roomy boxes at their disposals. On what grounds would connections be formed, and how would they grow roots and spread? Is the entire concept of branching social connections one antithetical to a world without categories? I think a boxless world could be a sad place, with minimal social currency and empathy.