The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Eaten by our blind spots?

Had a wonderful and grueling 5-hour read-through of our “Good House” script yesterday. Had real, live actors in doing the reading, and that makes a hell of a difference…
Not interested in flame wars. That’s not the point of this blog at all. But I think an interesting impasse was reached a few days ago, dealing with issues like whether Bush lied, and whether there is an international consensus on the issue of man-made global warming, and if such a consensus represents “proof.” The yea or nay of it is NOT what I am talking about today.

What I’m discussing today is why wars happen. Please note that, unless people on either side of these issues are openly, consciously lying, what we apparently have is people of roughly equivalent intelligence, education, and personal responsibility (and I have no reason to think otherwise) interpreting identical information completely differently. To the point where, despite efforts to be polite (and people on this board tend to be VERY polite. Thank you!) note the comments coming to the edge of active insult and impugning of motives and intellect? Did you catch that?

What does this mean? Well, I have my own opinions about what is “true” in each of these cases, but that’s irrelevant. What IS relevant is to grasp that there is more flexibility to our apprehension of reality than most people want to admit. Want to see why people of different religions or political orientations kill each other? Why people die rather than negotiate?

Start with each side having a belief that they are the logical ones. The intelligent ones. “I just don’t understand how anyone can believe Bush lied/deny that he lied!” “I don’t see how any thinking person could join the cult of Global Warming/deny the obvious fact that scientists agree on Global Warming!”

In each case, what I suggest is that you back down, step out of the system, and generalize. What is it about human beings that makes us—ALL of us (from time to time) back into a corner, put our fur up, and support positions that make others of us, more or less identical in capacity, shake our heads in disbelief?

It is easy to see this tendency in others, and I think that everyone reading this blog believes that (on one side of the issue or the other) we’ve seen some examples of straight-out brainfreeze and groupthink. The problem is that this is probably right, but that tendency exists on both sides of any human issue imaginable.

What is the tendency? Herd think? My side is fighting for X, “Y” is also under the same tent, so I’ll support “Y”? I don’t think it’s that simple.

But do people who support the man-made Global Warming concept hate money, or industry? Not that I’ve noticed. Do those who oppose it strongly hate their children and grandchildren? Not that I’ve noticed. But the clear sense from those who have a settled position on either side is that the other side is nutty.

Divorce, war, incredibly bitter election cycles…hell, deciphering the Kennedy Assassination data, arguing over the basic nature of reality…

Don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in the “is it this or that”-ness of this discussion. There is something far more basic going on here. If on the external signs two people have equally accurate reality maps but see things completely differently, how do you explain that?

To me, it’s that a mountain can look one way from the south, and another way from the North. Some see a reality that consists of resolved dualities. Others one with absolute blacks and whites. Some believe that our inner essence governs our reality, others that it is primarily our programming and experience. But it seems clear to me that many of these basic positions exist at the unconscious level, and that they drastically effect our ability to sort reality afterward.

I’m not saying that one or the other side is “wrong.” I’m not qualified to say that. I can say I agree with one or the other position, but hell, I’ve been wrong before. Far more interesting to me is the ability to sum up the same data and reach drastically different conclusions—and then, of course, each side thinks the other is either lying or blind.

There is something here that needs discussing, and I’m actually not certain that I have described the problem adequately. I know that it is disturbing as hell that some of these issues seem to have come down to political orientation. In some cases that feels natural. In others, it’s “what the hell happened?”
Here’s a thought. What if, behind the scenes, there is a death-battle going on between two different and over-lapping forms of organization: political and commercial. Government and Industry. Now, the extremists on either side would like to gather all of the power in their corner. Call it Socialism and Free-Market Capitalism? Each side throws interesting fast-balls at the other. Note that in Global Warming, for instance, that each side claims that the other is swayed by money: in one case government grants, in the other, oil money. The same dragon with two different heads?

In other words, each side accuses the other of actual intellectual dishonesty.

But that wouldn’t explain why people who stand to make no direct profit (the average consumer) would take a drastic position. Are we back at herd instincts? The tendency to become rigid under pressure?

I like that one, because stress tends to conceal itself. Post 9/11 I watched a political death-struggle playing out in America, and some of the rhetoric, frankly, is alarming in its tendency to vilify. And it reminds me of bitter divorces, where each side believes the other was at fault.

More to the point, it reminds me of imbalanced people—those who have real problems with money, relationships, or their bodies, and the perfectly rational explanations they offer for why they don’t have the time or interest or capacity to have a healthy life.

We lie to ourselves to conceal pain, guilt, and greed. And then we point the finger and accuse the other side of doing exactly what we’ve done. I don’t have an answer. I just want you to look at it. Try to identify ways you’ve done this IN YOUR OWN LIFE. It is easy to see it in others. If you can’t see it in yourself, the safest assumption to make is that your blind-spot may be in danger of consuming you.