Peer pressure, role modeling, obedience to authority, group think, cognitive dissonance, selective attention, love… it’s a wonder we can think straight. Well actually a lot of the time perhaps we don’t. Quite apart from the forces of social psychology messing with our minds, the plumbing of the brain itself does a great job of physically reducing the flow of what we know. Perhaps that’s not surprising as we all have to deal with about 34GB of data every day. But does all this matter? In one sense, no, because it’s what gets us through life. And you could argue it’s what makes us uniquely human. But, and it’s a big ‘but’, when it stops us seeing what we should see, and stops us doing what we should do, then it can be a major problem. Far more damaging than courageously ’turning a blind eye’ in a sea battle (Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen), because not ‘seeing’ or acknowledging uncomfortable truths can literally lead to disaster. The sort of disaster that can end in ecological calamity, world financial meltdown, health scandals, military failure and always, ruined lives. Small things like that.
If you want to know how this can be, and how we can all be unconsciously (and consciously) wilfully blind, then get a copy of Margaret Heffernan’s new book: Wilful Blindness: Why we Ignore the Obvious at our Peril. It’s just out in the UK and is published by Simon & Schuster. You can also catch a video trailer on YouTube at: