There is an amazing phenomenon that I call “blind spots” that occurs when people are confronted with information that is contrary to their cherished beliefs. People are unable to process or to remember facts that contradict what they believe to the point that they are literally blind (or deaf) to the truth. To illustrate this concept, think of a belief as a bubble and any information that contradicts the belief is outside the bubble. If the belief is trivial and has no emotional value to the believer, such as the belief that lemmings commit mass suicide, the bubble may as well be made of soap film and can be popped with some documented evidence, or information from a trusted source. (Lemmings are actually well-adjusted rodents who like to go swimming as a group). However if the belief is cherished, such as the belief that our government stands for truth, freedom and justice, the bubble may as well be coated with Kevlar armor. Documented information that stands contrary to the belief will be unable to pierce the armor causing the person with the cherished belief to be unable to hear, see or remember the information.
I first became aware of this phenomenon several years after 9-11 when my husband, Billy, asked me to watch a video of the third skyscraper that collapsed on 9-11. We don’t have a TV, so on 9-11 we had gone to a neighbor’s house to watch the event unfold. We had never heard about a third skyscraper collapsing, but the video, posted several years later on YouTube did a good job verifying, through several news clips, that in fact a third World Trade Center (WT7) skyscraper did fall down. Additionally it showed videos of several buildings that were demolished through a controlled demolition, followed by a video of WT7 collapsing. Any reasonable person would conclude that the collapse of WT7 was identical to a controlled demolition. The fact that the media apparently didn’t pursue the story of the odd collapse and the government didn’t investigate how the building collapsed by testing the dust for accelerants such as nano thermite, made me suspect that there was a larger conspiracy afoot.
At that time I don’t think my belief bubble included believing that the government was basically benign, but I didn’t believe that the government and the media were in cahoots. I realized that there had to be, at the highest levels, cooperation between the media and the government to be able to promote the story that some jihadists with box cutters led by a man in a cave in Afghanistan were responsible for defeating the US defenses and destroying three skyscrapers with only two airplanes. I actually remember hearing a little voice in the back of my head saying, “you don’t have to believe this. You can forget you ever saw it and everything will be fine.” I made a conscious choice to pop my apparently not-so-cherished belief bubble and investigate the likely direction that this conspiracy was heading. Billy and I did some research as we watched world events such as the unlawful invasion of Iraq. Our conclusion about where this is headed: “They” want everyone’s everything. Our solution: we needed to develop a self reliant community.
One aspect of building a community is to have the members basically on the same page. We figured that a future situation where we couldn’t depend on the current status quo of grocery stores and gasoline would necessitate that our community would consist of the people who lived in our neighborhood. So we set about to expose our neighbors to the truth. That is when we ran into the Kevlar Belief Bubble. Although we lived in Western Washington, most of our neighbors were right-wingers and believed what Fox News told them to believe. Fox News belittled anyone who questioned to official narrative and I quickly learned that it was counter-productive to our goal of developing a self-reliant community to get the derogatory label as a “conspiracy theorist.” In fact, conspiracy is a crime, not a theory and any crime of the magnitude of 9-11 would necessitate a group of people conspiring to pull it off, whether it is a group operating out of a cave or a group of people who want control of everything. One psychological defense used by the group that really pulled off 9-11 was the weaponizing of the phrase “conspiracy theorist” that effectively allows people to protect their Kevlar belief bubble and makes them blind to documented information that points to a genuine criminal conspiracy.
This article isn’t about who really pulled off 9-11 or who it is who wants “everyone’s everything.” Those subjects can and have filled volumes of books. This article is about us and what we believe. We all have numerous belief bubbles, most of them indoctrinated into us from our childhood Here is a partial list of common belief bubbles:
- The US government is of the people, by the people and for the people
- The US government follows the Constitution
- The US government tries to protect the citizens
- The President can influence foreign policy
- The USDA and the FDA protect us from unhealthy food and medicine
- Our Education System’s purpose is to educate the people
- Our Health System’s purpose is to heal people or keep them healthy
- Our Banking System wants prosperity for the country
- The reason drugs are illegal is because if drugs were legal there would be havoc in society
- The Unites States is an exceptional country
The above is only a cursory list of common belief bubbles that I’ve discovered many people cherish. Any information that is contrary to the above beliefs/assumptions, I’ve found is met with deaf ears, blind eyes and immediate memory deletion.
Interestingly, some of the most important, cherished beliefs held by us all are closer to home. They have to do with what we believe about ourselves. Please note that I’m going to use a strong example that may cause many readers to dismiss me as a kook. However I do need to use an example that will strongly test your Kevar armor, so that you can relate to why people are unable to see, hear and remember things that should be disturbing. Here is the example: most decent people (and I believe most people are basically decent) consider themselves to be kind and merciful. I am now going to describe how most chickens that provide you with meat and eggs live their lives: The poultry industry’s standard housing for a chicken is to keep them so tightly confined that they can barely move. Here is a quote from Michael Specter of the New Yorker from a 2003 visit to a chicken farm, “I was almost knocked to the ground by the overpowering smell of feces and ammonia. My eyes burned and so did my lungs, and I could neither see nor breathe….There must have been thirty thousand chickens sitting silently on the floor in front of me. They didn’t move, didn’t cluck. They were almost like statues of chickens, living in nearly total darkness, and they would spend every minute of their six-week lives that way.”
As I was writing the paragraph above, I did some research regarding industry standards for poultry and came across the National Chicken Council site, that will set your mind at ease—factory chickens are treated with compassion and respect, according to them. However if you read the page, it admits that each bird is allotted eight-tenths of a foot of space which they boast is much more than the half a foot of space required by the State. We have bantam chickens on our farm, who are miniature chickens about ¼ the size of a commercial broiler. If I kept Margaret Scratcher in a 7” x 12” cage, she’d be indignant, furious and stressed.
My purpose in writing about this disturbing reality is not to make myself feel superior because I don’t partake in the product of modern poultry farms, nor is it to make you feel guilty if you do. I’m hoping that people who read this will recognize the discomfort/blindness that occurs when their Kevlar bubble is under attack. Will you quickly forget about the reality of the suffering that went into your next meal of fried chicken? Are you thinking about not finishing reading this article because the author is a PETA nut? Or are you justifying that it is actually OK to partake in the results of the poultry industry’s injustice in the same way that smokers justify that it is OK for them to continue smoking even thought it affects their health?
I am aware, when I buy a pair of gloves in a department store for $4.00, that the human being who sewed those gloves was exploited. If the gloves retail for $4.00, it means that the person who provided the labor to make the gloves couldn’t possibly be making a decent living But I justify purchasing such items by thinking that if I don’t buy them, the factory workers will be out of a job. And what effect will one person boycotting that exploitation have on the big picture? I may not eat chicken, but I too have blind spots.
I read about an interesting experiment where test subjects were given the boring task of turning knobs on a peg board for an hour. Then they were paid either $1 or $20 dollars to try to recruit some potential knob-turners by telling them how fulfilling the experience was. Interestingly the subjects who were paid only $1 were much more enthusiastic and convincing that their experience was worthwhile. The people who designed the experience surmised that the enthusiasm occurred because the test subjects who were paid only $1 had to mentally justify (lie to themselves) spending the boring hour in that way. It certainly wasn’t for the money. The test subjects who were paid $20 probably figured that yeah, it was boring, but they got $20 so they didn’t have to lie to themselves. As a consequence the $20 payees were ineffective in convincing others that the experience was fulfilling.
Psychologists have dubbed the phenomenon discussed in this article “cognitive dissonance” because when people are faced with information that contradicts their beliefs, they tend to experience a level of mental discomfort or anxiety. So if someone (or yourself) seems to become uncomfortable when they receive information, they (you) are probably experiencing cognitive dissonance. According to psychologists, they will deal with the information in one of three ways:
- Change their beliefs—seek the truth with an open mind
- Find new information that can supersede the information causing the disharmony even if that new information is obviously contrived
- Forget/minimize the importance of the information causing the dissonance
Using the example of the information about the collapse of WT7, a person might see the information and decide that it is interesting and possibly important and decide to do more research in pursuit of the truth. Or, two, he could look only for information that reinforces his Kevlar belief bubble such as a government report claiming that the building collapsed due to office fires. The third option is to change the subject, get busy with his life trying to believe that it isn’t important and there is nothing he can do about it anyway.
While it is easy for me to recognize when other people are experiencing blind spots, seeing it in myself is quite difficult. It is like when looking at a visual optical illusion; if you didn’t know that there was an illusion, you’d just accept what you saw, and continue as before. We tend to be distracted by the complexities of our life and so we can miss important information that could help us improve the quality of our consciousness. This video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo does a good job of demonstrating how difficult it can be to focus, essentially creating blindness.
Blind spots can occur over relatively unimportant matters as was recently demonstrated to me during a conversation with my husband regarding repairing a fence on our property. Our farm consists of two parcels; a five acre square containing our house and barns and a nine acre rectangle pasture that is kitty corner to the square with access to the square parcel by a gate connecting the two parcels. Apparently Billy had a belief bubble that I was talking about the 9 acre parcel when I told him about the need to work on the fence. I told him that it was the East fence on the 5 acre parcel, but his response indicated that he thought it was the 9 acres. I told him several times, finally raising my voice, “NO, it is on the five acres!”, but I only got a blank stare in reply. Finally I drew him a picture and his belief bubble burst, but I realized that as long as he believed that we needed to fix the fence on the 9 acres, he couldn’t hear information to the contrary. He was able to see it though when I drew it on paper and this is one rare instance where I recognized the blindness (in this case deafness) that occurs when you are attached to a belief.
Billy is not usually so obtuse regarding practical day-to-day communication, so I took that experience to be yet another experience that has prompted me to write this article. I’ve recently discovered some very uncomfortable truths regarding reality that has caused people around me to be very disturbed and it is like belief bubbles and blind spots are reaching critical mass. These discoveries are regarding the source(s) of thoughts that come to our awareness. I’m writing this article in hopes that readers will share with me their experiences in overcoming the blind spots that seem to be so common today. What can we do to help people choose option 1 (research the truth) when information makes them feel uncomfortable? Any feedback is welcome.