Mental myopia

We tend to read or listen to the writers or pundits with whom we agree.  We will read those pieces to the end, and give only a cursory look at the view that contradicts our own.  I do it; we all do it. In settings where deliberations may be going on, however, we are given to presenting ourselves as objective. We proclaim that we read a range of publications; that we gather information online; that we watch in-depth interviews and documentaries. We maintain that we seek knowledge; that we Google, that we exchange articles on-line; we text; we email. And from that flood of information, we then make an assessment and come to a logically sound conclusion. We know what we’re talking about. We say that, sometimes angrily.

In fact, however, in the midst of that information flow, most of us are mentally myopic.  Most of us come to a subject with our minds already made up; we have our views and we hold to them.  Most of us are either suspicious of information that is contrary to what we believe, or we dismiss it outright as propaganda, and we are often completely blind to developments or actions, in plain view around us, that contradict some entrenched view we have.

Politics, in any country one chooses, is rife with it. Logic and objective analysis or perusal routinely perishes on the altar of political belief.  No politically placed person in the United States, for example, who belongs to the Republican Party will see anything positive in a programme that the Democrats, Federal or State, propose, and a vice versa exchange of the principals only produces the same condition of a closed mind in the Democrats. Indeed, in many so-called developed societies the government in power operates on a principle known as “collective responsibility” which means that while an official may express differing views in Cabinet, once the majority position is reached, that official must then give unconditional support, privately and publicly, to something he/she may actually disagree with. The myopia is there as well in the followers of the politicians; they, too, exhibit the same intransigence of their leaders in whatever country you pick.

A good example of the condition is seen in the current attitude of Caribbean people towards US President Barack Obama. Undoubtedly, we are justifiably pleased to see a black man reach a level in America that was unthinkable as recently as 10 years ago; it is like the impossible dream come true.  But how do we go from that to seeing him as a President without flaws?  Being critical of Obama is likely to result in your being described as either misguided, ignorant, or racist. Any failure or shortcoming in the man is immediately attributed to the failure of others, or to sabotage, or as caused by power brokers or by persons with personal grievances. Every US President has stumbled – Truman with the economy; Eisenhower with isolation; Kennedy with civil rights legislation (Lyndon Johnson was the President who passed it); Johnson with the Vietnam escalation; Bush with the deficit increase; Clinton with his Oval Office dalliances.  Why do we protest so vehemently when an Obama stumble is mentioned? We cannot countenance anything other than adulation. Our minds are in gridlock.

Another example is the developed world’s lament about corruption in Third World countries.  Without question, it exists, and the efforts to root it out must continue, but why are the persons in those developed countries totally blind to the corruption where they live?  When a Guyanese in New York recently chastised me with, “All that corruption in Guyana; how you can live there?” I asked him, “How can you live in New Jersey where the Mayor is under indictment? How can you live in Washington where lobbyists move millions of dollars every day in an accepted system of buying Congressmen’s votes to either block or endorse legislation? Have you read Bob Woodward’s newest book about the rampant deal-making in Congress?”  My Guyanese friend gave me an embarrassed chuckle and a shrug, but one could see the mental myopia operating; it’s as if the problems far away from us loom large and dangerous, and the ones right around us become invisible.

The difficulties of modern life pop up everywhere, but we’re selective about the ones we see.

The problem of beggars in Guyana – Georgetown, in particular – is a distressing one, and many visiting Guyanese remark on it, and the complaint is valid, but why do they refer to it with the “only-in-Guyana” inference?  During a recent visit to Toronto, I passed a man, prostrate on the upscale sidewalk, wrapped in a sheet, with one hand reaching out begging in the noonday sun. Two blocks to the east, a man in a wheelchair was soliciting “money for food.”  Why aren’t the Guyanese who live there remarking on that? There are scores of homeless people in North American cities; Florida has the problem of hundreds of homeless families, often with children and pets, living in automobiles – year round.  And the latter indignity, by the way, is only an hour’s drive from the eastern shore of South Florida with one of the largest concentrations of luxurious affluence in the USA. Why do visitors to this country bemoan the fact of the homeless here and are silent about it where they live?  I’m not accepting the condition anywhere; my point is that we are selective about where we see it as a problem; we’re not being objective.

In remarking on the sin, I concede I am not immune.  In our daily newspapers, the identification of certain writers on a letter or on an opinion piece is enough to make me skip reading it.  I know the traits of those particular writers – conjecture; rumour; political prejudice; misinformation, etc – and I deliberately avoid them. I have friends who do this; they have told me so. On American television I routinely bypass certain pundits, or certain networks, for the same reason: I know what their position or reaction to news items is going to be, and it is opposite to mine.  I’m being subjective; it’s a human failing; the objective ones among us are few.

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