Blind by Design

Reality is hard, and we don’t like it. So we blind ourselves, and others blind us, to the truth, to the real world.

I work in Northern Virginia (NOVA) outside of Washington DC, a bustling metropolis of steel and glass, American history, and Federal workers, from janitors to the President. For decades, this area has been a stronghold of Democratic politics, with Republicans having nary a chance at the ballot box. I am also taking tap dancing lessons in NOVA, and the fine arts in America are another area in which you are more likely to get kicked by a Donkey than trampled by an Elephant. Last week, America endured a bitter presidential election, and waited days for the results.[1] So, I was unsurprised when I heard exclamations of joy and sighs of relief from class members.

One hoary student, C, exclaimed that now that Trump was going to leave the White House, “something would finally be done about the COVID epidemic.” I didn’t mind the banter, although I later suggested that we were at class to dance, not pontificate. But his statement intrigued me. Whether we like Donald Trump or not, it is ludicrous to say that he has done nothing about the coronavirus pandemic. To name just a few responses from the federal government, at times with state cooperation:

  1. Nationwide  shutdown in March and April, 2020, with profound economic consequences.
  2. Relief for workers and businesses – CARES, CMS covering medical bills
  3. Vaccine research – Operation Warp Speed is a public-private partnership to develop a COVID vaccine established by the Federal Government. Other initiatives exist as well.
  4. Mask and social distancing mandates established at the state level with federal encouragement since the Federal government does not have the Constitutional power to handle public health enforcement.
  5. Blocking travel from various countries to limit the spread of the disease.

The list could go on, but the point is that the US Federal Government, including the Executive Branch, of which Donald Trump is the head, has done a huge amount to battle this disease. Many, like the opinion writer at Hillsdale College, believe that federal and state governments did too much, grossly overstepping their powers.[2]

Whether one believes that the President’s actions were too much, too little, or just right, to say that “something would finally be done…,” implying that nothing was done, is foolish. In C’s case, he either 1) knew that Trump had done something to address the COVID-19 epidemic and lied about it, 2) did not know that Trump had done anything and made a mistake, or 3) knew that Trump did something but was employing hyperbole to criticize the President.[3]

When someone cannot see something, we call it blindness. When someone intentionally does something, we call it design. C was clearly blind in this episode, and the evidence suggests that either he, others, or a combination of influences, caused his blindness. Therefore, this is an example of being “blind by design.” We see “blindness by design” in men and women who date and marry people who are terrible for them. We observe it in business leaders who chase illegal gains. We see it in politicians who “see only what they want to see, disregarding the rest,” as Peter, Paul, and Mary sing in The Boxer. “Blindness by design” is a fact of life for all of us…it is a human condition. Man makes himself and others blind in three primary situations:

The information is not available

Individuals and groups suppress good things about one side and bad things about another. They do this by expressing virtue in a way that looks like vice or leaving information out entirely. In this example, Trump’s efforts to stop COVID have been characterized as ineffective or cynical, or they are simply omitted. Educational institutions, the media, some businesses, and some government institutions routinely spin or hide the truth. Selective use of information is designed to make consumers, students, and voters blind. But we are not passive victims. We like to hear information that confirms our thinking rather than leading us to the truth. People are complicit in being “blind by design.”

Judging by their actions, many media outlets seem to care more about making money and/or advancing a political agenda than covering a story honestly from all sides. While perfect objectivity is impossible, many “Fourth Estate” personalities don’t even try to be balanced. Perhaps we shouldn’t blame them. Hyperbole, lies, and conflict sell better than truth does. Such “yellow journalism” can also be more memorable and perhaps even more likely to get someone promoted or elected.[4] Businesses sell what their customers demand, and woe to us who demand lies.

The information was available but he lacked the time, inclination, or both, to get it.

C would not have had to look far to find out how Trump fought COVID, but he needed to look in the right places. Liberals, conservatives, and others don’t look at each other’s newspapers, books, podcasts, videos, internet sites, social media feeds, or anything else. Dialogue rarely happens. Instead, we live in informational echo chambers that confirm and amplify our beliefs. Respectful, reasoned words become screams, and those who disagree with us transmorph from people worthy of discussion into beasts deserving of execution.[5]

Even if C avoided these pitfalls, he is still constantly flooded with information during his waking hours, as are we all. In the tidal wave, deciphering what is true, fair, and worthwhile is like finding pearls in the sea. People who do not believe in objective truth can never decipher truth because they don’t believe that it exists. Also, living life, making money, enjoying friends and family, and other activities dominate every moment. Businesses and other groups compete for our time. We allocate time poorly, wasting seconds, minutes, and hours in vain pursuits, like worry, fear, and filling our hearts with garbage. Clearly, what goes into us determine what goes out of us. We are complicit in being blind by design.

He got the information but misinterpreted it, intentionally or unintentionally.

In this election cycle, some people, and much of the media, blamed Donald Trump for every COVID death. Such a position is breathtaking in its stupidity. Influenza kills 40,000 Americans per year, even with an effective vaccine. Malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS kill millions worldwide every year. While not blaming the President for deaths from malaria, TB, and AIDS, these misinformation megaphones blame the man who did “everything that his public health experts told him to do” for every COVID death.[6] COVID kills because of what it is, and given the paucity of knowledge about this disease, no one could have done much better. The sad truth is that many of the people who died from COVID would have died from something else in the near future. Death is inevitable for us all, 100% of humanity will slip into the grave, and the most important thing is what happens afterwards.

Medicine is complicated, and when you can’t trust news sources to explain it honestly to you, fallacies sprout and spread like spring wildflowers. Part of the explanation is that reporters and editors can’t know everything. They make honest mistakes like everyone else.  More sinister, is when the media, colleges, Hollywood, and other cultural institutions design their messages so that we will be blind. If they were blind, they would not be guilty of sin; but now that they claim they can see, their guilt remains (John 9:41).

While others might try to deceive us, we also deceive ourselves. Reality is tough to take, and we all mix fantasy, some more than a little, into our lives.

Conclusion

My suggestion that we dance instead of talking revealed to the others in the class that not everyone shared their opinions. The conversation shifted, and soon dancing began. But Christians need to look at episodes like this to decide how to respond. First, if we believe in God, we must believe that truth exists, because He is the embodiment of truth. Second, we must learn to value truth, keeping our eyes and ears open to other ideas. We then bounce against the truths of Scripture and of Creation. Third, we should seek truth and share it with others, even if it challenges our paradigms. Followers of Christ and bearers of the Holy Spirit have the Spirit of the Living God to guide us in truth. We have no excuse for being…Blind by Design.

[1] Some would say that we still do not know the results, as accusations of voting fraud swirl around the media.

[2] Four Months of Unprecedented Government Malfeasance, accessed 12 Nov 2020, https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/four-months-unprecedented-government-malfeasance/.

[3] In fairness to C, there are other possibilities. He could have blurted something out without realizing it and been too embarrassed to correct himself, he could have been making a joke, or something else. We all do the same things at points in our lives. For the record, however, I did not misquote him or take his comment out of context.

[4] “Journalism that is based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration.”

[5] I am not suggesting that C felt that way. He seems like a reasonable and even friendly fellow in most of our interactions.

[6] In the past, such a pandemic would have been called an act of God. Perhaps “progressives” changed the target of their ire because they no longer believe in God. If so, at least in that area, they are consistent.

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