Icons, maybe labels is a better word, are ways to simplify thinking. They are predigested summaries of thinking that can be invoked without using the mind. No details required.
We must learn to be careful with their use because sometimes details do matter.
Some labels have become obsolete with the passage of time. Some were never true in the first place. Others are used as a way to incite thoughts that if examined more deeply would lead to a different result than the user intended.
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”
Dom Helder Camara
A communist by definition is an adherent to a social system based on holding all property in common. In the context above it is meant as a pejorative. To shut down the discussion. It has nothing to do with the question.
A person asks why are they poor need not be using a political dimension or any particular social system. The observer seems confused. Communism is among the very least likely methods to cure poverty. Curing poverty requires resources, and communism lacks even the simple skills needed to create those.
The “why are they poor?” question is understandable if not necessarily solvable.
With the resources we have today, hunger is solvable except for the distribution problem. There is enough food in the world, but a large share is wasted or lost because there is yet no practical way to connect the consumer to the source. Logistics is always an issue that is easy to overlook at the policy level.
Both Walmart and Amazon are distribution icons. They are superb at it. But distribution in a world that has highways and ships and airports and FedEx and UPS is easier than in mountain or desert terrain without so much as a dirt road.
Painting an opinion with a label denies thought. Thought, not rhetoric solves problems. We cannot make the world better by using labels to close discussion. Racist, fundamentalist, homophobe, Islamophobe, denier and communist are meaningless if you are using the higher brain functions. They provide no guidance and no likely improvement. Labels try to establish who is right not what is right. Who is right should not matter. What is right should.
Let’s try a little harder. With more people in the world it is important to be more efficient. Rhetoric has never solved a problem or advanced an opportunity.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.