Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril

Book by Margaret Heffernan

by Anne Kingston

We’re all guilty of wilful blindness—delaying having a troubling symptom checked by the doctor or not opening the credit card bill or avoiding obvious problems in a relationship or at work. Why we overlook red flags may seem obvious, Heffernan argues in this riveting, important book: it feels better not to know; we don’t want to rock the boat or have our value system shattered. But the underlying mechanisms fuelling denial are more complex, and far more dangerous in that they put us at even greater risk.

To make her point, Heffernan nimbly analyzes an endless stream of personal, corporate and political malfeasance, including the BP refinery explosion in Texas, Enron, hurricane Katrina, the subprime mortgage meltdown, tanning beds, Bernie Madoff and global warming. The former BBC producer, who now works for multimedia companies, is an engaging writer able to marshal fascinating multi-disciplinary research into a narrative that traverses the quest for conformity, groupthink, how an overloaded mind leads to moral blindness and the crucial role of Cassandras and whistle-blowers. There’s much fodder for outrage, including the tale of Alice Stewart, a British researcher who unearthed a relationship between X-rays and childhood cancer in the 1950s; yet it wasn’t until the 1980s that the medical system acted on it.

As Heffernan presents it, conditions enabling wilful blindness are high right now—rabid conformity, a technology-distracted populace, a disregard for history, which teaches that it’s always been with us. She quotes a letter written to an Austrian concentration camp by a local woman during the Second World War: she asks that “inhuman deeds be discontinued, or else be done where no one has to see them.”

But then, human capacity to ignore what’s in front of us is staggering, revealed in a Harvard study that asked subjects watching a basketball game to count the number of passes. No one noticed a woman in a gorilla suit standing at centre court for nine seconds. The lesson, to paraphrase Paul Simon: a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest. This eye-opening book offers a bracing antidote to that.




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Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril

  1. Best argument to illustrate why nothing is being done to limit our impact on global warming.

  2. Best argument to illustrate why nothing is being done to limit our impact on global warming.

  3. We compensate for the short-comings of others by covering up their behavior, then we cover up that we are covering up to enable the saving of face. It is the foundation of social behavior. It is our greatest success as a species, & ultimately the most likely source of our downfall.

  4. I've always felt that Gorilla in the Midst is kind of a trumped up example. In most cases people are primed to ignore the ape before watching.

  5. I've always felt that Gorilla in the Midst is kind of a trumped up example. In most cases people are primed to ignore the ape before watching.

  6. This explains why Harper remains ahead in the polls. Contempt of parliament and numerous failings? Better to just ignore these things.

  7. Is there anything in the book about the immigration policies of Canada (and most Western nations) that allow for the permanent settlement here of thousands and thousands of people from hostile 3rd world societies? We have been conditioned not to say too much about the fact that whatever the "vast majority" is like, we have already brought in more than enough radicals who are hell-bent on causing problems for us. And we continue to leave the gates open!! We're only supposed to talk about how "vibrant" immigration makes us, how we love the different ethnic foods, etc. Oh, and the whole bit about taxes that will be paid by the new immigrants and all of that money will go into the Canada Pension Plan, none of it is apparently needed to investigate and protect us from terrorist incidents. The whole "Toronto 18" thing did not cost us a cent, apparently.

  8. Recent scientific brain research has shown that serious mental illness is a medical illness of the brain, giving us the hope that a cure can be found using scientific methods to study the brain. Yet, many professionals and mental illness systems world wide still blindly cling to old time assumptions that spring from decades-old unproved ideas of people who had no scientific knowledge or training, like Mr. Freud , and his loyal apostles who twist and turn reason upside down to conform to Freudian naive musings. (Did you know that there were only two subjects in his 'research' on repression . It consisted only of Freud himself and a little boy, identified as Little Hans!)

    Myths about the roots of mental illnesses have gripped many imaginations. in their love of the theatrics that flow from Freud's magical thinking. Foolish slaves to these myths must accept the responsibility for delaying and even preventing the scientific brain research that could alleviate the suffering of the millions who are severely mentally ill.

    They even attempt to create a social/political movement built on these unexamined falsehoods. And it's good to remember that many jobs,depend on the maintenance of lies and useless treatments for the mentally ill..

    We need citizens with critical thinking instead of the old time religion approach that pervades society's understanding of mental illness.

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