We have names thrown at us every day. Big Oil, The Bankers, Wall Street Barons, The Rich, Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives and the list goes on.
We are looking at abstract names for groups of things, not individual items. This analogy will make more sense, if we picture ourselves making cookies in the kitchen. These cookies are going to be very different. We might use a hubcap as a cookie mold for making Democrat cookies. Follow me here. For Republicans, we might use a Jello mold. What we are doing is taking a container and stuffing it full of cookie dough and the shape represents our visualization of the group we are talking about.
There is where the problem lies. If the two of us were both discussing Democrats, the only part of the concept we share is the word. I’m using a hubcap as a mold for Democrats while you may be using a mop bucket.
Let’s make up a group. Combine Banker and Gangster and you get Bankster. For this cookie mold, I will use a cigar box and lace the cookie dough with bullets and a couple hundred copper pennies. Someone else may choose to use a chamber pot for a cookie mold mixing in expensive cigar butts and a 100 or so Mercedes car keys. We both end up with a cookie, with the same name, but mine won’t have that hint of ammonia fragrance. The thing to realize here is that we are talking about imaginary groups or abstract concepts. We created a container in our mind, given it a name and stuffed it full of cookie dough and whatever else suits us. The guy next to you is doing the same thing.
So when we all get together to discuss a concept like government health care, you wonder what rock some of these people crawled out from under.
We need to be very careful of using words that are abstract. They give us a false sense of understanding that isn’t shared. For example, many Americans probably believe that the rest of the world should encompass Democracy with open arms. We lost the Viet Nam war because of that abstract concept called Democracy. The villager could point to his wife, kids and his land, he couldn’t point to Democracy. In undeveloped countries, you have a very hard time selling life insurance; it’s an abstract concept that sounds more like a con game to the average person.
The other day I was reading about a Congressional investigation of the oil industry. They wanted to know why the consumer was being gouged 4 dollars a gallon for gasoline. The answer is plain enough, inflation. But what is inflation? To most people, that’s where prices rise every year. But if you are worth your weight in salt, you know Congress is spending more than they are taking in. Inflation is a very abstract word. It’s kind of like the lost Viet Nam war, all over again. You can point to the price of gas, it’s real, but you can’t point to inflation.