Antigone’s Box

A good friend of mine once told me about how he thinks other people view the world. He sees people constructing boxes around themselves that are given any number of labels–“Christian”, “Buddhist”, “Atheist”, “Male”, “Female”, “Homosexual”, etc., in which we place ourselves and other people. We like to think that by being in our little box we are in an exclusive club of sorts, and others who are in different boxes should either stay put in those boxes and get away from us (especially if that box happens to fall within the realm of social undesirability), or should be forced to leave their box and conform to ours.

We do tend to categorize other people, don’t we? We even do it to non-human entities and ideas as well. But why are we like this? I can easily see how this urge to categorize arose through our evolutionary descent–those who were quicker to put predators in the “danger” category were more likely to survive. It also allows us to make swift judgments about particular circumstances without giving it too much thought. But could this categorization be the downfall of society?

I think I’m beginning to sound a bit too hipster for my liking, so let’s get back to Antigone’s Claim. How do we categorize Antigone? One of the core topics of the book is that we can’t simply dump her into easily recognizable categories. Is she a woman? Is she a man? Both? Neither? The more we try to define her, the more undefinable she becomes.

That, I believe, is one of the great terrors of humankind: the inability to easily put people into familiar categories. The inability to judge leaves us helpless.

One final point to mention: I find it slightly humourous that we’re even discussing the fact that people don’t always fall into categories! Isn’t it obvious that this is the case? I know for a fact that most of us say that we are all “special” and that we need to emphasize “individuality”, and yet go on to continue to stereotype, generalize and categorize. Hypocrisy of the highest calibre.

Much love,


One Comment

  1. Excellent thoughts here, Brendan. I agree that there are probably benefits to putting things into categories, at least to some extent, and it does seem to be something we tend to do regularly. I don’t know if it’s thereby natural, though, since it may be a behaviour we learn through our upbringing. But still, it’s useful generally for thinking about the world.

    But yes, it can be harmful when we do it to people, who should be able to define themselves. And good point that we both talk about individualism and also reject it in this way. If someone were truly individual in the sense of not fitting into any categories, they would likely NOT be celebrated in their individuality.

    I was talking to one of the other students in the class the other day, and we were also remarking how people, even when departing from norms, sometimes (often?) try to define ourselves as part of a group, no matter how small. Maybe we feel the need to belong in some way at the same time as we want to be ourselves? Well, this is all rather speculative, but interesting to consider, I think.

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