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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Christ Has Made Us Free

Light of the World

Two thousand years ago the Jewish people were under the dominion of the Roman empire. Under this condition of bondage, the jews looked forward to the messiah, the anointed one prophesied of anciently who would deliver them from captivity. To them, though, the solution from captivity was political. Focus was probably on Jewish leadership – possibly someone popular, prestigious, militarily powerful or a politician; someone who could gloriously and heroically triumph over the Romans and make them free.

It’s in this setting, when the Jews were looking for their government savior, that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter – un-affluent, unpopular and uncredentialed by society’s standards – entered the scene. The actual Savior, apparent only to a few humble truth-seekers, didn’t fall into the social or political ranks and therefore “his own received him not” (John 1:11).

The tendency that they and many of us suffer from is the inability to discern the unadorned simple truth from the flashy counterfeits that attract our fickle attention. Worldly heroes are a spectacle on the surface. They hold prestigious titles and worldly authority. They’re ambitious, eloquent, powerful, physically polished and mighty. Like fireworks in the sky, we’re mesmerized by their colorful, thunderous flash above us. Christ, on the other hand, descended below all things (D&C 88:6), was a humble, wise, loving, kind, principled peacekeeper who didn’t seek his own glory or honor.

Freedom From Antiquated Rituals

It’s of this man this Redeemer that Paul wrote about to the Jewish and Gentile converts in the Roman province, Galatia:

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1).

What type of bondage was Paul referring to? The context of this chapter (and the surrounding chapters) contain Paul’s writings directed primarily at the Judaizers in an attempt to convince them that the Law of Moses was fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice. The burden and bondage of this law was lifted and Paul encouraged them to do good with this liberty by serving one another:

“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

This liberty and corresponding responsibility are critical if one is to experience life and truth to their fullest. The cultural norms and traditions of our fathers that are passed down (from generation to generation; or from peer to peer; or from academia to pupil; or from the media to consumer; etc) often bind our minds and hearts to a particular way of doing and seeing things and we are therefore unwilling to see the truth (2 Ne 29). As we unshackle our minds and hearts and look to Christ, we will be freed. The greater our capacity of freedom, the greater our capacity to serve and to do good.

Freedom From Ignorance

After that famous moment at the temple when Christ saved the adulteress from being stoned to death he taught the remaining crowd about the power by which to dispel darkness:

I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:12, 31-32)

A bystander replied to this invitation to light, truth and freedom with:

We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” (v 33)

Apparently, like many today, this inquirer was ignorant to the many levels of bondage with which they and their forefathers were in. Even at the level for which they misinterpreted the Savior’s teaching, up to that point, Abraham’s seed had been in bondage to Egypt (Exodus 1:14), Assyria (2 Kings 15:29), the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:15), and even to themselves (Nehemiah 5). This type of historical ignorance probably contributed to much of this chosen people’s continual cycle of hardship and bondage up to that point.

Freedom From Sin

Christ’s teaching that the truth will make us free has often been used as a reference from those advocating a formal education and while there could be a level of truth to that, the real reason Christ taught this is more substantive and long-lasting. The Savior’s response to Abraham’s seed about what type of freedom He was referring to:

“Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8: 34-36)

After much disagreement by the crowd and refusal to understand what Christ was talking about, Christ pointed out:

“Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” (John 8:43,47)

Inasmuch as we seek temporary solutions to eternal problems we’ll continue to miss the mark. Much like the audience at the temple, if we only wear a temporal lense, we’ll miss the truth right in front of us. We’ll cling to our preconceived way of doing things. As long as our hope lies in the arm of flesh, we’ll continue to fail. Our false hope will perpetuate an existence of misery and pain. BUT no matter our circumstances – poor, disabled, misfortunate, enslaved or imprisoned – we can be even keeled in the hope and assurance that Christ has made us free; free in what eternally matters. We can live in confidence knowing that our greatest freedom, our freedom from sin, is available at all times and no one can take it from us.

Freedom From Other Forms of Bondage

All people are in one form of bondage or another. Whether that bondage is self inflicted like financial debt, addiction, self doubt or any form of sin. Or whether that bondage is beyond one’s ability to easily control like a lack of employment or educational opportunities, physical disabilities, false cultural norms and traditions or being dominated by a governing body (government, business, etc). We ought to try to rid ourselves of our temporal shackles to the extent that we can righteously do so.

The same human weakness that caused the Jews to be unaware of the God amongst them causes many of us, today, to be blinded to the truth. The truth that God is with us, if we’ll look. He’ll unlock our imprisoned hearts, open our misguided minds and unshackle our sin-burdened souls; if we’ll let Him. Those who receive the Great Liberator, though their temporal shackles may still show on the surface, are free. Through His grace they are freed from sin, from anguish and despair. The sting of death is swallowed up in the hope of eternal life. They can stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free. Forever.

“Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered… No flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Ne 2:6-8)

Who’s “The Good Guy”?

Glasses Perspective

Have you ever been watching a movie and asked yourself, “So who’s the good guy? Who am I supposed to be rooting for right now?” Many stories portrayed in the past have made it clear who the storyteller wants you to be rooting for. They gave the princess the beautifully colored dress with the intent of “pure love” and gave the witch a dark gown, hard features with the intent for power. They gave John Wayne the white hat and white horse while his nemesis wore black. The war movie shows your side as the noble heroes and the enemy as ruthless heathens. Good side, bad side, so on and so forth. You get the idea.

Recently, there’s been a trend in storytelling which doesn’t make it clear who “the good guys” and “the bad guys” are. Stories such as Breaking Bad, Wicked and Maleficent are giving a new twist to storytelling and its reception is gaining popularity. Perhaps it’s because people find it refreshing to experience a story that is more realistic and therefore more relatable. After all, everyone is fallible and capable of both good and bad. Maybe it’s a good thing if we quit viewing man as a symbol of morality. Doing so might be teaching us to put our trust in the arm of flesh. What happens when our foundation is man, and man fails? Also, perhaps portraying the why behind a character’s evil teaches us to not judge too quickly or too harshly in real life.

Even though this particular lens which storytellers have us gaze through has its benefits, it also has its risks. To people who don’t have a solid foundation of values and principles- they might experience this type of story and come to the conclusion that morals are relative. After so much exposure to these types of points of view some might reject the truth vs error point-of-view for a gray one. To others, it could eventually normalize and even justify evil in their minds.

Truth is not gray but people are. Nobody is perfect. Everyone, including those historical figures your history teacher spoke of with reverence and awe, has sinned. And yes, in order for there to be a sin there must be a law—a universal law which governs all mankind according to truth and justice. Truth and morality are not ambiguous. People are.

We need to be able to separate the person from the act. The phrase “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.” is a reminder and indication that people naturally struggle separating the two. Those who are finely tuned into the law at the expense of the person tend to drag the sinner down to the same level that they despise the sin. When the scribes and Pharisees brought the adulteress to Jesus they referenced the law as justification for their condemnation—a condemnation with no compassion for the sinner.

In recent history, perhaps strongly correlated to the advancement of secular humanism, there has been another distortion influencing people’s inability to separate sin from sinner. This has been taking shape in the enticing form of the tolerance movement. Probably most people advocating tolerance are well meaning. They tend to be caring people with a desire for accepting others. Often, though, their desire for compassion comes at the expense of acknowledging right from wrong. Those who are finely tuned into the person at the expense of the law tend to elevate the sin to the level of the person.

Imagine if Jesus had told the adulteress: “I don’t condemn you. I accept you for what you are. Go, and have fun.” He didn’t say that because, unlike most of us, He is able to love the sinner and not the sin. What he really told her was: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” This showed that He was finely tuned into both law and love for person—neither at the expense of the other.Tolerance Sinner and SinAnother pitfall that some people fall into while observing ambiguous characters is the temptation to let understanding the why to excuse the what. It does us well to understand why people have done the things that they’ve done but on more than one occasion, after expressing my disapproval for a violation of justice, someone would respond: “Well you do understand WHY they did it, don’t you?” as if to justify the act. To this I respond: “I understand why someone would steal a Corvette because I want a Corvette. But that doesn’t make it right.” Sometimes people get blinded by the why at the expense of the what. Worthy ends do not justify immoral means.

The need people feel to pick sides—to root for their guy or their team or fill in the blank with whichever arm of flesh you choose—is probably due to a combination of our tribal nature and the fact that our cultural upbringing was full of stories conditioning us to believe that for every conflict there is a good guy who is 100% in the right and a bad guy who is 100% in the wrong.

It’s hard for most people to look at a conflict involving multiple people and objectively acknowledge the faults and justifications that each side requires. Instead, we quickly pick a side. We ignore the positions of the alternatives. If our guy said it, it must be true. If another side did it, it must be wrong. Symptoms of this mentality manifest themselves in the form of party-spirit, unrelenting loyalty to one’s local sports team, nationalistic egotism, and blind zeal for public figures.

If I was brought up believing that a certain historical character was nigh unto God and then I stumble upon some major flaws about that person’s deeds and character, what am I to do? Should I ignore what I’ve just learned? Is it better to rationalize what they’ve done? Should I swing to the other extreme and revile them as if the bad they’ve done erased all the good? Or shouldn’t we see man as man—weak and fallible, yet capable of much good? How would the world judge your history if they had complete knowledge of all of your doings? Would it be fair for them to label you a villain and condemn you to hell because of the wrongs you’ve committed along the way? Or would a liar’s history be justly portrayed if their un-repented misdeeds were swept under a rug?

I suggest that a reset might be in order. I suggest taking all of our heroes and villains and giving them a clean slate. Acknowledge that not one of them (with the exception of the Savior) is all good or all bad. Observe man through the lens of compassion and choices through the lens of eternal law. Pick the side of truth instead of the side of flesh.

I once met a Marine veteran whom I believe doesn’t need to ask the ignorant question: “Who am I supposed to be rooting for right now?” He has had experiences both horrific and miraculous. He fought in Fallujah where he watched his friends die in his arms. Through a special experience he came to experience God’s love and healing. He eventually lived all over the Middle East gaining an education, learning many languages and falling in love with all peoples. He would often be asked, by people expecting him to take a side, “Are you pro-Israel or pro-Palestine?” His response:

“I’m pro-Child of God.”