#116 – Dick Bernard: Denying Reality

Recently, I’ve read several articles, research based, on the truly dangerous behavior of humans:  denying reality.
The long and short: we live in a society where we believe what we want to believe…and most of us are in a position, at least for the moment, where we can get away with it.  Climate Change?  No problem.  It’s just odd weather, and the unusual drought conditions somewhere don’t affect us.  I can still buy my bananas at the store – I’ve come to like a banana a day.  Never mind that in my youth, bananas were an exotic fruit rarely if ever seen, and that went for things like oranges too.  Living an entire life in North Dakota and Minnesota, I don’t run into banana plantations with any frequency.  For me, bananas just happen, like Santa Claus.
Our self-deception goes on and on: Incredible numbers of people still believe the long-debunked fiction that Saddam Hussein was somehow behind 9-11, thus justifying a war against Iraq which destroyed that country, and has almost literally bankrupted us.
As somebody said, when confronted with the reality about one of those ubiquitous provably false e-mails that she’d published in her local church bulletin: “I’ll believe what I want to believe.”
Yes, we can get away with deceiving ourselves.  For now.
But that’s a bit like making your bedroom the middle of a never used country road.  For a while it will work, but in the end you’ll be unpleasantly dead.
Sometimes I wonder if there exists in our society some kind of collective self-loathing, a “death wish” as it were.  Common sense says that we’re flirting with disaster long-term, but we thumb our nose at it, and admire the creativity of the people who craft the lies we are expected to believe.
Recently I’ve been noticing a repetitive ad during the nightly news which reassuringly asserts that there’s 100 years worth of natural gas left in our country.  The subliminal message is “not to worry”.  It reminds me of those old cigarette ads in magazines where the doctor was confidently smoking the cigarette, or the with-it woman was enjoying her smoke, or the cowboy on the range (who later died of lung cancer)….  Ah, marketing.
So alarming percentages of us believe that climate change is not a problem, even though the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community is on record that it is a serious problem.  Or that our life styles don’t need to change, even if continuing our life styles will assure no future at all for the generations beyond us.  Or that  Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, even though the very people who perpetrated that fiction years ago, later officially and publicly debunked it themselves.  The list goes on and on.
Are we fools?
The people who approved that ad about the 100 years of natural gas were speaking to people like myself who survive by natural gas as this winter begins.  I don’t know where, exactly, my natural gas comes from; all I know is that if the temperature gets below 70, the furnace comes on….
“100 years” was deemed by the marketing strategists to be a good reassuring number.
As it happens, at the same time I’ve been noticing this ad, I’ve been completing a family history of my Dad’s side of the family, which came to Quebec from France nearly 400 years ago.  I’m doing a history about the first 300 years, ending with my Dad’s birth on December 22, 1907.  (He died a dozen years ago today).
In context with that family history, 100 years is not much more than a blip of history…and I’m not delving into the hundreds of additional years of recorded human history in France.
More so than any generation in history, we can assure our future destruction.
We seem not to care….
Here’s a couple of articles I’ve seen recently on this topic: Your choice.  #mce_temp_url##mce_temp_url#
UPDATE: November 7, 2009
Jeff Pricco: Another good article for the deniers: #mce_temp_url#.
Just like the public is saying Obama is not delivering Change.
When the culture of leverage and debt and not facing reality in household or government finances has been three to four decades in the making…profligate spending on credit and a culture and mindset that we can have everything we want and more and not eventually pay the bills…has set in…no President or Congress (an institution I have argued is set up to defeat change) can remedy this in 6 to 12 months….
If this is not a slow painful sluggish recovery with little growth, it will not be successful.  If we opt for more fake bubble remedies that buy us prosperity on credit, we will see the mother of all depressions soon.
Carol Ashley: I think that the more one lacks self-confidence, the more one is apt to not change one’s mind in the face of evidence to the contrary.  In psychological terms it’s known as cognitive dissonance.  People are very good at adhering to their beliefs about what they think they know and justifying those beliefs.
I can go back to child-rearing and look at how parents are loathe to admit they are wrong in front of their children. There seems to be an “understanding” that admitting that one is wrong decreases their authority with their children.  In fact, children tend to often know when parents are wrong and respect for parents goes up when parents can admit when and where they are wrong.
As my nephew and I confront each other on beliefs about what we think we know, we can both attest to how difficult it is to let go of something we believed in the face of evidence to the contrary.  Dan and I are probably unusually willing to confront these things.
For myself, I am aware that i will first become defensive and then, when alone, take a closer look, and then if I find satisfactory evidence, can and often do admit I’m wrong.  But how many people even know themselves that well, much less are able to take the “loss of face,” because that is what it feels like even if it gains you respect for being able to admit the other is right?
It’s a challenge for all of us.  It’s easy to blame the far right for this, but we are all susceptible to some degree.  the far right might be more susceptible but understanding can bring compassion instead of just fighting against them which brings even greater resistance.  We need to understand the fears behind it.
On the other hand, that probably works better on a personal level than in the political real.  Maybe.
Comment back to Carol on her last paragraph: I think personal and political should be dealt with as synonyms.  As Tip O’Neill so quotably said: “All politics is local” (as in, all politics is personal!)