Symbol Vs. Reality

We can't do without symbols because they're how we communicate. Humans are first and foremost social creatures, and we socialize with one another by taking reality, turning it into symbol, and giving it to one another. It's a way of plopping an idea into another person's head. We use a red light to tell you to stop. We use a heart to indicate love. We say, "sad" to communicate a feeling. We wear suits to express conformity and class. We wear t-shirts to communicate leisure and uncaringness. etc.

That's why our society is covered in symbols. language, traditions, signs, written words, flags, holidays, rituals, clothing, gestures, advertisements, and facial expressions are all symbols. We're so immersed in symbols that we automatically translate symbols to reality without even thinking about it.

We transmit and read signals just fine most of the time, but we're prone to misread signals when they're given by our enemies.


Humans are social creatures, but they're also tribal creatures. We cooperate in order to compete. Our ingroups are defined by who we're outgrouping. When we see the other side's signals we like to misinterpret them to score points with our team. Mistranslating the enemy's signal is itself a signal of loyalty to your own side. None of this is conscious. We turn off our usual symbol-interpreting software when we view the symbols of our enemies. We let our hate do the interpreting for us as we convince ourselves that we know what they really mean, even if they won't say it.

Some partisans read the hand gesture of the woman behind
Bret Kavanaugh as a "white power" hand signal.
Normal humans think that's stupid.

Obama allegedly waving the "Shahada" Muslim gang sign
Normal humans think that's stupid too
Per usual, when we want to believe something we ask, "can I believe it?" when we don't want to believe something we ask, "must I believe it?" This leeway in the standard of proof gives us wiggle room to maneuver for our biases without seeming irrational. While this mechanism allows for flexibility to misinterpret the enemy's symbols, it's not unbreakable. For even most partisans, the hand gesture thing pictured above is too far.

Yet, the left read's Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" to mean "let's go back to the era before civil rights." And the right read Obama's slogan, "Hope and Change" to mean "Hope for liberal elites and change to socialism." Neither of them mean that because the enemy's leader isn't always Satan.

Intellectual empathy is the key to unlocking the enemy's code. Do you know what it's like to be a conservative? Do you know how a liberal actually thinks? Could you pass an ideological turing test?

We can't do without symbols, but we're hurting out society when we misinterpret our enemy's symbols to propagandize for our side. It inspires hate because we think hating evil is righteousness.

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This post is about my society's relentless confusion over symbols and reality. Other examples like this include:

1. "What are you, Gay?" (and tiny American flags falling on the ground)

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