So it was—you remember the Great Depression? I expect a number of you here, looking around, are old enough to remember the Great Depression—when, one day, everybody was doing business and things were going along pretty well, and the next day there were bread lines. It was like someone came to work and they said to him, “Sorry, chum, but you can’t build today. No building can go on. We don’t have enough inches.” He’d say, “What do you mean, we don’t have enough inches? We’ve got wood, haven’t we? We got metal, we even got tape measures!” They say, “Yeah, but you don’t understand the business world. We just haven’t got enough inches! Just plain inches. We’ve used too much of them.” And that’s exactly what happened when we had the Depression. Because money is something of the same order of reality as inches, grams, meters, pounds, or lines of latitude and longitude. It is an abstraction. It is a method of bookkeeping to obviate the cumbersome procedures of barter. But our culture, our civilization is entirely hung up on the notion that money has an independent reality of its own.
And this is a very striking, concrete example of what I’m going to talk about: of the way we are bamboozled by our thoughts which are symbols. And what we can do to become un-bamboozled, because it’s a very serious state of affairs. Most of our political squabbles are entirely the result of being bamboozled by thinking. And it is to be noted that, as time goes on, the matters about which we fight with each other are increasingly abstract, and the wars fought about abstract problems get worse and worse. We are thinking about vast abstractions, ideologies called communism, capitalism—all these systems—and paying less and less attention to the world of physical reality, to the world of earth, and trees, and waters, people, and so are in the name of all sorts of abstractions busy destroying our natural environment. Wildlife, for example, is having a terrible problem continuing to exist alongside human beings.
Another example of this fantastic confusion is that, not so long ago, the Congress voted a law imposing stern penalties upon anyone who should presume to burn the American flag. And they put this law through with a great deal of patriotic oratory, and the quoting of poems and so on about Old Glory, ignoring the fact entirely that these same congressmen—by acts of commission or omission—are burning up that for which the flag stands. They’re allowing the utter pollution of our waters, of our atmosphere, the devastation of our forests, and the increasing power of the bulldozer to bring about a ghastly fulfillment of the biblical prophecy that “every valley shall be exalted, every mountain laid low, and the rough places plain.” But—you see—they don’t see, they don’t notice the difference between the flag and the country. Or, as Korzybski pointed out, the difference between the map and the territory.