Graphic symbols are just images that are used to focus the attention, either of customers, or of believers, or of followers. Companies and Organizations use logos to catch our attention. Symbols like the Swastika or the Cross or the Star of David or the Crescent are used to provide a focal image for the followers of a particular religion. Elephants, Donkeys, and again the Swastika can also be used as an identifier for followers of a particular political view. Even colors can be used, such as Green for Islamism and Red for Socialism, and Black for Anarchism.
Why do we need these symbols or colors? They actually serve as a shorthand for what they stand for. Yet in many cases, people forget that that is what they are and they simply follow the color of the jersey. They follow the symbol rather than the idea. Why is that?
Understanding an idea, or a religion, requires devoting time and effort to study it. In our world today, defined by over stimulation of the senses, time is a rare commodity. We get bombarded with so much information every day and every hour that we react by shutting it out. Each of us establish our own “filters” which allow us to be aware of the things we're really interested in and ignore what we are not interested in. As a defense mechanism to keep our sanity, this is a sound strategy. It is also, however, a mutilation of our understanding of the world.
When we are just John and Jane, with no other particular obligations other than our own lives, we need just a general understanding of the world – so the shallow understanding we gain with the filters on is enough. But what if we had larger obligations or responsibilities?
Take the case of the European Union declaration that all contracts of the EU with Israel from this point on will include a paragraph stipulating that Israel recognizes that the EU does not consider communities beyond the Green Line to be in Israel and that therefore they are to be excluded from the agreements. A Palestinian Authority official actually told the Europeans that the measure will hurt Palestinians badly because the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are the main source of employment for Palestinians and the one place where Palestinians and Israelis actually interact. The EU, however, felt the need to make an ideological point based on limited information.
Our own officials many times make decisions the same way, especially on Foreign Relations. The symbolism of the policies is considered many times to be more important than the actual consequences of the actions. It is as if the actual consequences are less important than “making a point”.
I would like to believe that clear understanding of a situation is still important to define policies or issues and actions, but it seems that the law of unintended consequences and our friend Murphy are carrying the day...