Tuesday, April 5, 2016

White Blindness

Hola mi Gente,
Yesterday, Hillary Clinton, who has never supported the $15 per hour wage movement, used one the movement’s biggest victories as a photo op. No shame whatsoever. 

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Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn't mean he lacks vision.
 -- Steveland Wonder

Some of my readers will recognize the title of today’s essay, which is lifted from Blindness, a novel by Portuguese author José Saramago. The novel was made into a film (click here) that was released a few years ago. Blindness is the story of a city hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” that spares no one. Authorities round up the blind and incarcerate them in an empty mental hospital, where a criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations, and assaulting women. The story is a brilliant allegory of the loss of the ability to envision and confusion, and a stunning revelation of the horrors of the modern world. However, while Blindness captures the reader with its commanding rendering of humankind’s worst appetites and weaknesses, it’s also an exposition on humankind’s ultimately indomitable spirit.

Sounds like an election year to me! LOL!

My topic today is difficult to explain, though it is certainly something with which we are all familiar. The difficulty lies in the fact that it’s so obvious. There are, it seems to me, vast swaths of our lives that are missing from our awareness. We share a similar experience with the characters in Blindness: we all suffer from blind spots, literally and figuratively. The difference being that our blindness isn’t caused by an unknown plague, but is due internally to causes deep within our consciousness and externally by a vast media apparatus that manufactures consent. Our failure to experience fully crucial aspects of our reality results in gaps in the beam of awareness that defines our world from moment to moment.

My topic then is how we do not notice. In other words, my topic is about the pieces missing from our awareness – the holes in the fabric of our attention.

I’ve always been fascinated by the physical blind spot. I find it an apt metaphor for our inability to see things as they are in reality. In physiology, the blind spot is the gap in our field of vision that results from the way the eye is constructed. At the back of each eyeball is a point where the optic nerve, which runs to the brain, attaches to the retina. The point lacks the cells that register light coming into the eye. Therefore, at this one point there is a gap in the information transmitted to the brain. The blind spot registers nothing.

Usually, what is missed by one eye is compensated for by overlapping vision in the other. That’s why we don’t notice our blind spots. But when one eye is closed, the blind spot emerges. Seeing the blind spot is fascinating to me because it offered a concrete example of a more psychological parallel. As an example, many adults of alcoholics relate that in their families there were clear “rules.” One being that there is nothing wrong and the other was “Don’t tell anyone.” Families in the grips of addiction are extremely secretive; no one must talk of the monster that lurks in full view. These tacit rules teach us something -- it teaches us to create a psychological blind spot. Moreover, it’s not just families of alcoholics, I sense that there are many things kept hidden in families -- the shameful secrets, the unspoken failures. 

In some ways, this type of blindness is a defense mechanism. Our psyches need protection from the full onslaught of a cruel reality. This form of personal self-deception helps defend us from unnecessary trauma or psychological pain. However, when it becomes a societal pattern it serves to blind us to inequality and social injustice. 

One of the cruelties we inflict upon ourselves as a society is by limiting the boundaries of the possible. In a society in which the media is controlled by perhaps four or five corporations, the national dialog is seen mostly through the prism of capitalism. Anything beneficial to corporations is deemed possible and good, but benefits to the 99% of the population, issues such as free higher education or healthcare as a human right, are seen as ideological nonsense -- or “unicorns and rainbows” as supporters of neoliberal candidate, Hillary Clinton, like to put it.

As I look around these days, I see much in the way of blindness. We all welcome blindness: we don’t want to face the harsh realities of a politics bought and paid for by the power elite, so we turn our attention away and buy things or watch “reality” shows on television. We don’t like the tension of political reality, so we step away and ignore those inner tensions that exist anyway. Unfortunately, those tensions don’t go away, they fester in our bodies and we either try to feed them (obesity) or starve them (anorexia), but try as we might, the plague of blindness persists.

Not all dialogs are pleasant, or even polite. However, dialog we must if we’re going to emerge from our collective blindness. We must awaken to a coherent vision of the kind of society we desire or condemn ourselves to stumble in our blindness as slaves in a society created by those who would rob us of our very humanity.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization… 

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