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Willful Blindness

April 4, 2017

I believe that too many of our leaders are willfully blind to some of the most complex problems confronting the world and our country today. Whether in the White House, Congress or state and local governments, they refuse to explore or analyze the hard facts that delineate such challenges. Instead, they either deny the facts, or still worse, latch on to simplistic, bogus counter-arguments distributed on the web or by the media. When all else fails, they resort to fabricating responses out of whole cloth, shamelessly referring to them as, “alternate facts.”

They do so because all too often the real answers to these problems demand solutions that are both difficult and expensive. They fear any answers that might cause pain for corporate entities, industries and identifiable sections of the populace they want to pander to. These “so-called” leaders want to duck the hard questions and instead propose policies that are mindlessly popular or are painless, easy and inexpensive to address, no matter how misguided.

We the public, in turn, are complicit in their doing so. When politicians throw out empty pie-in-the-sky promises, we latch on to them with almost religious fervor. We do so without any understanding of what it takes to make them come true. Why? Because we want them to be true whether they are or not. We don’t want to be asked to do the work needed to understand what the real facts are. And we don’t want to be asked to bear the burdens or the expense, let alone the sacrifices the truth requires. We don’t want to know the reality when it conflicts with what we want to believe.

The perfect metaphor for this problem is the recent health care debate and debacle. Despite a desire for denial and blindness on the part of many, it became obvious that the Republican’s last minute jury rigged plan would result in 14 – 24 million people losing their health coverage. Republicans had spent the last seven years denouncing the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obama Care, which for them represented what was wrong with the country. But when they finally gained control of both the White House and Congress, they had no alternative plan prepared and ready to offer Americans after seven years of continual complaints. And even though our new President had promised health coverage for everyone at far lower prices than Obama Care, in the end he too had no plan after he and the Republican Party had repeatedly promised they would deliver one. Promises supporters apparently bought hook, line and sinker before electing them to office.

An equally stark example of this sort of willful blindness can be found in the issue of climate change. Today the vast majority of scientists across the globe agree that human conduct is a major factor in the warming that our planet is currently experiencing. And all of its detrimental side effects, such as the increase and severity of destructive storms, drought induced famines and the spread of diseases confirms these findings.

As a result, the nations of the world recently entered into an agreement known as the Paris Accords to limit the negative impact of greenhouse gas emissions. To date, 194 countries have signed this agreement, including the United States, which went into effect this past November. However, our new President has stated his opposition to it and is considering withdrawing from the accord despite the fact that polls show great support for U.S. participation in this effort. In one recent poll more than 70 percent of Americans wanted our government to do something about global warming and would be willing to pay more in taxes to achieve that goal.

Our President, however, refuses to look at the evidence or listen to the world’s scientists. Instead, to save money and increase corporate profits, he maintains his stance of willful blindness. He has trumpeted his position that climate change is a “hoax” and even claimed it was invented by the Chinese as a tool to disadvantage U.S. manufacturing. Most recently he has signed an executive order that guts various regulations the U.S. has put in place to start to limit greenhouse emissions. This included limits on coal fired power plants and their CO2 emissions, which he is eliminating in the name of increasing jobs for coal miners. The fact that coal cannot compete economically with the abundant supplies of cheaper natural gas, which are available to do the same job while at the same time burning cleaner than coal, is something he didn’t want to acknowledge.

I could go on and on with additional examples of this “blindness” phenomenon; such as the idea of closing off our borders to entire groups of immigrants when it is clear we benefit from the skills they bring to our shores. And the current administration’s refusal to even recognize the remote possibility of Russia’s attempts to destabilize America’s democracy and elections.

In my opinion, all of us, but especially the willfully blind that I’ve identified, need to remember that everything we have; our world, our wealth and even our lives, are gifts that we only get to enjoy for a few short years. We are just the stewards of those gifts and have the obligation to pass on the fruit of what we hold dear to an endless line of future generations.  We have to cherish and preserve these gifts in the service of humanity.  We can’t afford to hope that wishful thinking will take care of the hard parts or that our progeny can find and implement the solutions we were too selfish to recognize.

We can’t continue to accept such blindness any longer, but instead must insist that we and our leaders open our eyes, hearts and minds to the hard facts if we are to clearly envision and achieve a brighter tomorrow for all.