Mental Myopia: A Covert Enemy of Truth

Eye of Sauron Mental Myopia

The next time you’re on the road, try making out the words on distant signs. If you can do this without the aid of specially prescribed lenses, you’re a member of shrinking subset of society who don’t suffer from myopia, aka nearsightedness. This physical phenomenon, which causes many people to only be able to see objects clearly right in front of them, serves as a metaphor for the psychological phenomenon known as mental myopia, which causes people to be blind to the truths that exist beyond their immediate attention.

In the infamous “Invisible Gorilla Test”, subjects are tasked with watching a video of two groups of people bouncing basketballs and counting the number of times one of the groups passes a ball to each other. During the middle of this short video, someone dressed in a gorilla costume enters the middle of the screen, thumps their chest and walks off the screen. While an overwhelming percentage of subjects are able to accurately count the number of times the ball was passed, surprisingly, half of subjects don’t even notice the gorilla at all. When people are distracted, they become victims of mental myopia and are unable to notice interesting truths that are otherwise accessible to them.

In his classic essay, That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen, Frederick Bastiat differentiates between an economist who suffers from mental myopia and one who doesn’t: “the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen and also of those which it is necessary to foresee.” The immediate and visible effects of government taxing and spending are what are touted by advocates of programs such as public works, economic development projects, the arts, welfare, “nation building” and price fixing, to name a few. Roads are built, interest rates are more affordable, the arts are more accessible, we bombed some bad guys – these are what are seen. But the economist who doesn’t suffer from mental myopia will see that unintended financial (and I’ll add immoral) costs result from short-sighted policies.

Bastiat’s Broken Window allegory serves as an example of how bad economists can only see the immediate effect of a policy. A boy breaks a shopkeeper’s window. Onlookers (bad economists) attempt to console the shopkeeper by pointing out that it’s a good thing because now the glass-repairer will have a job to do. The boy, in effect, created a job! The spending and circulation of money will encourage industry, no? By this logic, the boy would be doing society a service by going around breaking as many windows as possible. What is unseen is what the shopkeeper could have done with the money required to fix the window. Perhaps he could have bought some new shoes or added a new book to his library. Regardless of how the money is transferred, the truth is, he, and by extension – society, are at a net loss by precisely one window’s worth.

Our nation’s inability to foresee unintended consequences are resulting in catastrophes such as a crushing national debt, entitlement mentality, malinvestment, blowback, and hundreds of other horrible outcomes that many don’t, or refuse to see.

Our inability to hold a broad, objective perspective combined with our tendency to judge people quickly and harshly result in unfair biases. When we learn that a historical figure is the hero, we neglect to see their faults – or if their faults are pointed out to us, we excuse them. When we learn that a historical figure is the villain, we neglect to see any good that they may have done. Likewise, in our current relationships, by honing in on someone’s wrongdoing at the expense of all else, we tend to vilify them completely. Or, under a euphoric trance or comfortable complacency, we neglect to see significant flaws that require the establishment of important boundaries.

Mental myopia is often a result of our own negligence and we therefore become our own source of ignorance. External influences also prey on our mental weakness when ideas, history, current events and public figures are depicted in a one-sided, incomplete manner or, as is often the case, not depicted at all.

Rather than jeopardize their credibility by telling an outright falsehood, crafty pragmatists will use people’s mental myopia against them by shining a focal light on particular true-isms at the expense of other pertinent truths. Had they been dedicated to the whole truth, they would have shined a flood light on as many of the pertinent truths of which they were aware.

The scriptures occasionally describe some tactics of the father of lies and his followers in two separate words: “lying” and “deceiving”. Wouldn’t “lying” be a sufficient descriptor? Why specify “deceiving” as well? A way to look at it is that lies are outright falsehoods but deceptions could be true-isms meant to lead people down a wrong path. Differentiating between the notions of a lie and a deception correlates with the difference between the notions of “truth” and what is “true”. Truth encompasses pertinent context and is neither subjective nor deceptive. On the other hand, what is technically “true” may or may not be serving the whole truth. In some cases, particular facts can be crafted to mislead others from comprehending important truths. It is the “may not be serving the whole truth” part of true-isms that we need to train our brain to be watchful for.

When I was young, a friend recited to me something that he had heard – that Joseph Smith was killed breaking out of jail. This is true, from an isolated, literal perspective. But it’s also deceptive when more context is added. The truth that was left out of that statement is the part about the mob of men shooting him before, during and after he jumped out of the jail’s second story window (aka “broke out of jail”). The “true” statement made it sound like he was executed attempting to escape the law and justice. By adding pertinent context, the truth turns a fugitive to a martyr.

Another example of diversional deception is what happened when Edward Snowden exposed the grossest violation of privacy that the world had ever seen. Instead of shining a focal beam on those revelations, the media focused primarily on painting Snowden as a criminal leaker. Whether intentionally or not, the mainstream media are some of the craftiest diversion artists. They rarely tell outright lies but they often manipulate people’s perspectives in the manner they frame the “news”. Here are a few more examples:

Heart disease, a highly preventable disease, is the most common cause of death in the US but to an uninformed citizen who gets their world-view molded primarily from the media, they probably are more fearful of airplane crashes, shooters and terrorist bombers as high likelihoods for their deaths. These highly sensational causes of death, which media outlets constantly shine focal lights on, are relatively rare but slow deaths don’t create viewership, or corresponding ad sales, the way sudden and horrific deaths do.

The anti-gun bias that most of the mainstream media espouses causes them to shine their focal beam on violent crimes involving guns but completely ignore when guns are used to stop or prevent crime. In a recent study ordered by the CDC and conducted by The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, it was discovered that more crimes were prevented by armed citizens than there were crimes committed with guns. The results of this study are never publicized by our “guardians of the public trust”. It doesn’t serve a particular narrative.

The nation’s political establishment, supported by the media, shines the light on only the two parties in power. These two parties are so similar that their actions are almost identical and when they debate each other, a meaningful difference can hardly be discerned. Other individuals or parties who offer more meaningful proposals rarely receive any attention by those managing the spotlight.

In addition, today’s historians, storytellers and liberal arts professors shine a focal light on the horrific acts perpetrated by 20th century fascist governments but rarely, if ever, shine any light on the horrific acts perpetrated by marxists governments. Again, when you contrast the numbers, there is a much bigger culprit that is being ignored. Last century, fascism resulted in the deaths of dozens of millions of lives. Communism resulted in the deaths of over 100 million lives, not to mention the enslavement of billions more. Rather than objectively acknowledge the horrific means and outcomes of all totalitarian governments, many biased “shiners of light” will only tolerate the beam being pointed where it most conveniently fits their narrative.

Our brains are incapable of focusing on multiple things at once, which is a good thing or else we would become overwhelmed by the millions of past, present and future mental and environmental stimuli vying for our attention. Sensory overload can cause us to become incapable of focusing on anything at all. Acknowledging this fact doesn’t preclude us from doing our due diligence to expand our understanding of people and situations more completely. Understanding our tendency to succumb to mental myopia can serve as a warning sign of internal and external pitfalls that we are prone to fall for. Recognizing this pattern can help us to discern whether the manner in which ideas, historical and current events and personalities are being framed are truthful or deceitful and it’ll help us to notice the unseen with the seen.

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Cleaning Our Lenses

LensesImagine that each of us are born with a complete set of virtue-lenses, paradigms by which we’re capable of viewing the world in its proper light. Some of these lenses enable us to see life through perspectives such as (but not limited to) love, justice, freedom and order. Each of these lenses are undeveloped at first. Through time, experience and choices, some of these lenses develop or degrade. A young child may quickly switch from the lens of justice when a toy of theirs is taken, to the lens of love and forgiveness a moment later. A young adult may develop a keen perspective for freedom while their authorities are attempting to administer and maintain order.

Each virtue-lens enables us to decipher truth from error but if any of them are clouded then our virtues can become varying degrees of vices. Much like the lesson from the parable – The Blind Men and The Elephant, an incomplete witness of what is true can lead to faulty conclusions. By matching the columns (clouded lenses) with their respective rows (clean lenses), the following table depicts examples of some vices that we might gravitate towards if one paradigm is clear but another isn’t.

Love (clouded) Justice (clouded) Freedom (clouded) Order/Authority (clouded)
Love (clean) – – –

Dupe who stays with abuser

Millennial “tolerance”

Authoritarian Parent

Socialism

Hippy
Justice (clean) Pharisee: “The law commands that such should be stoned” (John 8:5) – – –

Robbing Peter to pay Paul (aka “social justice”)

(NOTE: Freedom is a boundary of justice but many don’t recognize it)

Revenge

Vigilante

Freedom (clean) Sociopath

Greed

Thief – – –

Libertine

Line cutters

Order/Authority (clean) Inspector Javert (Les Mis) Adolf Eichmann

Milgram Experiment

Fascism

All forms of statism

– – –
Definition of Terms

Love – compassionate caring for the wellbeing of others.

Justice – moral rightness determined by universal (aka “natural”) laws. (malum in se)

Freedom – ability for someone to act according to their free will, unrestrained by others.

Order/Authority – manmade rules aimed towards organizing human to human conduct. (malum prohibitum)

Virtue-blind-spots can be catastrophic to our spiritual journey. Each of us are inclined towards certain virtues but not others. For example, freedom and order seem to be diametrically opposed ideals and so very few people take their opposing view seriously. In his short book, The Enoch Letters, Neil A. Maxwell pointed out that among the righteous, “liberty does not rob order, and order does not mock liberty.” Understanding how our inclinations towards certain virtues can result in the negligence of others helps us to avoid traps we are likely to fall into. It guides our development in a well-rounded, balanced direction.

Approaching disagreements with the understanding that the other person is probably partly right is more likely to open minds and hearts than approaching disagreements with the assumption that the other person is absolutely wrong. Most people have good intentions and valuable perspectives; it’s often the completeness of those perspectives that determine the degree to which they’re correct or not. When our love and justice lenses are clean, we can love the sinner and hate the sin. When our love, justice and freedom lenses are clean we will voluntarily help the needy. When our freedom, justice and order/authority lenses are clean we will want to respect the freedom of others insomuch as they are doing no direct harm to anyone else.

Just like it’s necessary for someone who is visually impaired to wear corrective lenses to see where they’re going physically, it’s even more imperative that we keep each of our virtue-lenses clean so that we can see where we’re eternally headed. Taking a holistic approach to our progression will mean that we will seek improvement in all virtues of life and we will recognize the risks of focusing on some virtues at the expense of others.

Judging The Baptist By His Cover

John (The Baptist)While in prison for calling out Herod’s illegal marriage to Herodias, John (the Baptist) sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask whether Jesus was the Christ prophesied of or if they should look for another. During that same hour Jesus showed them many miracles and told them to report to John what they had seen and heard. After they left, Jesus praised John while rebuking some by asking the remaining crowd:

“What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? …A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts… [or] A prophet?” (Luke 7:24-26)

In other words, Jesus was challenging their view of John by rhetorically asking them if they were expecting someone fickle who would be tossed to and fro by the winds of societal change, someone of worldly status and elegance or a prophet. Contrasting the first two options against the acceptance of a prophet causes the honest at heart to acknowledge their natural tendency to “look on the outward appearance” (1 Sam 16:7) when judging man and truth.

The “outward appearance” of John was peculiar, which makes Jesus’ remarks especially meaningful. His clothes were made of camel’s hair and were held together by a leather belt. He neither ate bread or wine (Luke 7:33) but his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). John’s delivery was straightforward. He told it how it was. When many Pharisees and Sadducees arrived at the baptisms going on at Jordan, he directly called them a ”generation of vipers” who, unless they repented, would burn as chaff in an “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:7,12). He was unafraid to tell the uncomfortable truth, despite how “important” or powerful the people he was inconveniencing were. This steadfast loyalty to truth resulted in his imprisonment and eventual beheading.

Despite John’s style and lack of outward appeal, Jesus affirmed John’s mission by teaching that he was “much more than a prophet”, that he was the one prophesied of who would prepare the way for Jesus and that “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:26-28). Could a mortal receive better praise than this? The man, whose mission it was to prepare the way for and baptize Christ, was not crafted in the art of eloquence or adorned with fine apparel and worldly prestige and titles. He was a simple man who faithfully, courageously and honestly spoke the truth–undaunted by worldly opinions. Even Christ, the very Savior of mankind, was prophesied of by Isaiah that He would have “no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).

Contrast John (and Christ) to the appeasers who water down the teachings of the gospel out of a fear of the reproach of men. They would exchange their honor for temporary appeasement. Because they fear man more than God their luke-warmness will cause God to spew them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). While John’s firmness caused him to temporarily lose his head, some people’s fear will cause them to eternally lose their souls.

Sometime last year, a visitor came to church. His outward appearance left much to be desired. He wasn’t clean shaven. His hair was a mess. His ragged clothes made me think he was homeless. When given the opportunity to speak over the pulpit and during sunday school, he spoke long and with a stutter. I remember it getting to a point where a few of us would smirk at each other whenever he spoke. Upon reflection, later that day, I recalled the things that this visitor had said and I noticed something profound- his words testified plainly and truthfully about the gospel of Christ. He was humble, yet bold. He taught scripture and applied their principles in meaningful ways. “So who was this visitor?”- I thought. A gospel-savvy hobo? An angel sent to test us? I don’t know and I don’t know if it matters. God saw my reaction to the unadorned truth. I failed. I ignored the truth due to the lack of outward appeal of the messenger.

An underlying purpose of modern marketing and public relations is to increase the appeal (or “packaging”) of people, products and messages. While there is nothing inherently bad about this objective, it can be detrimental when we allow the outward appearance to blind us of the inner core. If we were alive two millennia ago would we have rejected the gospel because of its packaging, or lack thereof? The answer to that rests in our manner of judgement now. Does outward appearance with its polished packaging, its worldly titles, prestige and eloquence influence our perception of truth? Does the source of a message alter our willingness to believe it? If academia or the media tell us what we should believe, do we unquestioningly believe? If celebrities tell us what to believe, do we believe? Do cultural norms or the traditions of our fathers influence our perception of truth? Does one’s title or “authority” blind us from the unadorned truth? Let’s not forget that “the way, the truth and the life” was rejected by the religious and political authorities of His time. Influenced by those authorities, “his own received him not” (John 1:11).

Isaiah’s council, “…fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings” (Isaiah 51:7) ought to guide the way we judge and deliver truth- for are our souls worth the approval of man?

Objectivity and The Quest For Truth

One of the most underrated qualities a person can have is objectivity. Being objective leads to truth. Truth to freedom (John 8:32). Freedom to salvation. For how can a person be saved in ignorance? Or how could that person dispel that ignorance without first seeking truth objectively? This presupposes that truth is not relative in which there are different truths depending on different people’s perspectives. Truth, in this context, is reality—things as they really are.

Everyone has preconceived notions about what reality is. These preconceived notions often come from cultural, religious, philosophical, scholarly, family and other societal norms and traditions. Much like the parable of the Blind Men and The Elephant, we all come to fallacious conclusions about what is true.

It was six men of Indostanblind men elephant
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he:
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

(John Godfrey Saxe’s Rendition)

In a sense, we are all blind. Our perspective of reality is severely limited by too few experiences and by our tendency to jump to hasty conclusions about what those experiences mean. Is it any wonder why there are so many versions of history when the people who actually experienced the times and events pass on their limited (often distorted and one-sided) versions to those who then pass it on and on from one generation to the next? Much like the game Telephone, what may have been reality in the beginning is almost never reality by the end.

In order for people to learn truth there are several conditions and qualities which must be met. If any of these are missing then truth will not be fully realized.

  1. The truth must be available—one can seek truth all they can but if it is out of their capacity to learn then truth will not be fully realized.
  2. People must be free—if the truth is available but people don’t have the freedom to research, proclaim, publish, and share it then truth will not be fully realized.
  3. People must have a desire for truth—if one has an apathetic approach (or no approach at all) to learning then truth will not be fully realized.
  4. People must investigate—what good is a desire without an action? Without the doing then truth will not be fully realized.
  5. People must be honest (aka objective)—the whole process and quest for knowledge requires that a person be willing to accept truth over bias but if people remain biased to their own opinions (or the opinions of those who they trust) without looking at all facts and evidence then truth will not be fully realized.

Let’s assume all of these conditions and qualities are met. Will that automatically make a person omniscient today? No. Learning is a process. If living according to other correct principles are any indication of what the quest for truth is like, it will require a significant amount of time, diligence, patience, energy, hard work, humility and yes—faith. Doing so will initially be unpopular.

Throughout history, whenever someone challenges the status quo in their quest for truth, they have often met heavy resistance from the prevailing powers. People such as Moses, Christ, Martin Luther, John Wesley, some American founders, Joseph Smith, Gandhi, and many more all had to meet heavy resistance when they dispelled ignorance.

If a certain truth scares you, that might be a signal that either your conviction is false or deep down inside you doubt its validity.

If you hide or distort the truth, that might be a signal that your allegiance to truth is not primary.

Those who hold certain convictions tend to be concerned with those who investigate differing points of view. Regardless of what our convictions might be, we shouldn’t fear but should rather praise the objective efforts of those seeking truth. Their efforts might lead them away from the truth. But, if they diligently seek it objectively and honestly, they are very likely going to find light that most of us have never found.

It is interesting that an atheist and a religionist can both believe they are applying the principle of objectivity but yet arrive at conflicting conclusions. On the one hand, an atheist will argue that they let the evidence of existing tangibles guide them to their conclusion. On the other hand, a religionist can argue that they let the evidence of spiritual manifestations guide them to their conclusion. They both can’t be right—at least not completely.

Ask yourself, “Had I been alive during Christ’s ministry, the reformation, the American revolution, the early restoration, or any other meaningful societal shift, would I have been the type to give up my old ways to accept a better way?” or “Would I have clung to the old order of things?” The best indication of how you would have chosen is determined on how you view the world now. The same spirit that possesses your body now would have possessed it in the past.

“The man who has a certain religious belief and fears to discuss it, lest it may be proved wrong, is not loyal to his belief, he has but a coward’s faithfulness to his prejudices. If he were a lover of truth, he would be willing at any moment to surrender his belief for a higher, better, and truer faith.” –William George Jordan, The Power of Truth; Individual Problems and Posibilities, 1902

Being objective is a virtue. It requires being honest, humble, teachable, and courageous. Blind conviction is a vice. It blinds our eyes, covers our ears, hardens our hearts, and damns our souls.

If the truth were to arrive at your door right now would you be willing to let it in? Are you open to it? Or are you stuck in your convictions? You have the truth. Anyone else with a different belief is automatically wrong. Perhaps we convince ourselves of these things but maybe, in reality, our convictions are based less on truth and more on tradition; or because we’ve invested so much into the system already and we feel the need to stay committed; or maybe we’re afraid to be wrong- so wrong for so long; or maybe it’s not comfortable to change; or maybe we’ve benefited from this system for so long that to recognize its flaws is to risk losing its payments. Conviction can be damning when it keeps us from progressing toward the truth.

Ultimately though, one could come to an understanding of what is true and choose to live contrary to what they now know. Knowledge alone will not save you. If you know Truth you do well; but the devils also know and tremble (James 2:19). Wisdom—truth in action—is what makes the difference between death and life, misery and joy.