Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Willful Blindness and Sovereignty

Margaret Heffernan is an author, public speaker and former CEO of 5 businesses. Her most recent book is entitled Willful Blindness, and this is also the title of the talk that she gave in Hungary not too long ago as part of the TED series of talks (the video follows this introductory commentary).

‘Willful blindness’ is a legal term. It refers to those cases in which a person could have known, or should have known, one or more facts of importance but, for whatever reason, chose not to know.

The foregoing way of stating things might be somewhat misleading. ‘Willful blindness’ is not the same as ignorance.

In other words, a person who exhibits willful blindness is not entirely unaware of certain facts that ought to be known or could have been known. Instead, there is some degree of awareness and understanding present that acknowledges the truth or validity of the facts being alluded to but an individual actively chooses not to pursue the matter.

According to one of the idioms of the day, ‘what goes around comes around’. Willful blindness is rooted in the belief or hope that the second part of the foregoing idiom – namely, the coming around facet – will never take place or will never come back to bite one in that portion of the anatomy that one uses to rest upon and which all too many people use to think from.

Thus, the person suffering from an attack of willful blindness understands enough to know that certain on-going realities carry ramifications … usually problematic or painful ones. As such, willful blindness gives expression to the sort of magical thinking sometimes employed by children when the latter hold fast to the idea that their thinking dictates the form which reality will assume … i.e., if I believe that certain things will never happen even though those things – whatever they might be – are strongly implied by the facts which I do acknowledge, then I am being willfully blind toward the problematic implications that are likely to follow from what has been established and acknowledged with respect to certain truths or facts.

Willful blindness usually manifests itself when a person comes upon certain information that cannot be denied but also carries threatening, painful, problematic or challenging dimensions in which the person would rather not become entangled. So, rather than becoming engaged with the effort to find constructive ways of dealing with the difficulties that might be headed our way, we choose to become willfully blind to the future and, in the process, become dysfunctional in the way we engage unfolding events.

There is overwhelming evidence to indicate that an array of governments, corporations, intelligence-bodies, educational institutions, religious organizations, military groups, and social agencies are not sincerely interested in helping people to establish, develop, or protect the potential for sovereignty which is inherent in each of us. In fact, the evidence suggests precisely the opposite – that is, the aforementioned entities wish to induce people to become lost in willful blindness and to adopt magical ways of thinking about how what is taking place all around them will turn out if people continue to adopt a do-nothing policy concerning such transgressions.

Now, by using the phrase “do-nothing policy” I am not alluding to the need for violent revolution. I aspire to be a non-violent person, but I also believe there are all kinds of functional, effective non-violent tactics and strategies that can be used while struggling with, and against, the litany of pathologies that currently are endemic within social, political, religious, educational, financial, scientific, military, and media institutions.

The first step is to work towards acquiring the sort of understanding that permits one to have insight into the nature of the strategies and tactics that are being used by pathological agencies across a variety of cultural and social institutions to cultivate the quality of willful blindness in each of us. The primary tactic of such agencies is always the same – to find ways to induce a person to cede his or her moral, spiritual, and intellectual agency to those who are in power for once a person can be induced to cede that agency to those in power, then the ceding process will be used by the people in power as a means of leveraging into existence an oppressive system of control that is neatly packaged within a delusional, ideational system that proclaims how such control and oppression – despite all appearances and evidence to the contrary – is in the best interests of sovereignty … both collectively and individually.

No person can represent the sovereignty of another human being. Sovereignty can only be lived through, and struggled with, by the individual … it cannot be transferred to another, and when agency is ceded to another human being (such as through elections), sovereignty is lost.

In the terminology of some of the existentialist philosophers of the last century, ceding one’s agency or sovereignty constitutes a non-authentic form of being. That is, such a process of ceding agency to another constitutes a betrayal of one’s human essence – whether considered from a secular or a non-secular perspective.

Many of the so-called Framers of the Constitution – especially James Madison who authored the Virginia Plan that served as the template out of which the U.S. Constitution eventually emerged -- were horrified by the idea of democracy – that is, the principle that the majority rules. Indeed, when Ben Franklin was asked by a woman about what sort of government had been produced via the 1787 Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, he said: “A republic if you can keep it.”

A republic is a form of governance that is supposed to be run in accordance with certain principles of morality. Those principles give expression to the Enlightenment philosophy of ‘republicanism’.

Republicanism required that those in government be: fair, objective, transparent, honest, compassionate, charitable, independent, selfless, unbiased, equitable, just, and not serve as judges in their own affairs. The working idea of the ‘Founding Fathers’ was that if the people in government could adhere faithfully to the moral tenets of republicanism, then such behavior would transform the relationship between citizens and the ‘state’ into something that was extremely rare in human history – a moral form of rule that was rooted in the idea of service to others rather than authoritarian, self-serving actions.

Unfortunately, almost from the beginning of the American experiment, the principles of republicanism were abandoned. In fact, the process of government became the antithesis of republicanism as those who were elected tended to be arbitrary, self-serving, biased, unfair, unjust, dishonest, secretive, duplicitous, hard-hearted, and greedy.

The ‘Framers’ were, possibly, well-intentioned … although I have my doubts about this (and I have written about this in my book: ‘The Unfinished Revolution: The Battle For America’s Soul’). But, irrespective of whether the Founders/Framers were, or were not, well-intentioned (instead of being self-serving, somewhat deluded, and overly optimistic about their moral wherewithal), they got it wrong because they pursued the philosophy of republicanism rather that the way of sovereignty which was being discussed by perceptive thinkers in taverns and tea houses on both sides of the Atlantic … a discussion to which Thomas Paine gave expression in many of his writings.

The foregoing considerations notwithstanding, the ‘Framers’ wrote Article IV Section 4 into the Constitution for the express purpose of allaying the fears of the general public concerning the potential for tyranny that was present in any centralized form of government.

Article IV, Section 4 is the only portion of the Constitution in which a guarantee is given – namely, that every state (and, by implication, the citizens of those states) would be guaranteed a republican form of government … in other words, everything the federal government did would be shaped, oriented, and colored by principles of: honesty, selflessness, service, fairness, justice, objectivity, compassion, transparency, equitability, integrity, nobility, and a refusal to be judges in their own affairs.

The guarantee of Article IV Section 4 was forgotten from virtually the very beginning of federal governance in the United States. As a result, almost all Congressional legislative behavior, executive actions, and judicial rulings that have been exercised over the last several hundred years are devoid of any hint of such a guarantee, and, therefore, all law in the United States is null and void because all such activities violate the guarantee of Article IV Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution.

Anyone who reads the foregoing, understands what is being said, but chooses to ignore the very real problems that have ensued – and are continuing to manifest themselves -- from the failure to abide by the requirements of Article I V Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution is engaging in a form of ‘willful blindness’. The cost of such willful blindness is the misery we witness all around us: corporate terrorism, military adventurism, imperialistic policies, spiritual abuse, a dysfunctional health-care system, ecological disaster, political oppressiveness, legal inequality, dysfunctional educational systems, pharmacological tyranny, police brutality, and financial malfeasance … not to mention widespread hunger, poverty, homelessness, sexual slavery, and a military-industrial-congressional complex that is only interested in protecting its source of profits and power by finagling to generate unending – but entirely baseless -- wars in a changing array of geographical locations around the world.

The solution is not democracy. Even if people could agree on what it means for the ‘majority’ to rule – and they can’t  --, nevertheless, there are inalienable rights to which every human being is entitled, and the very notion of a right concerns a principle that cannot be overturned by the majority.

Rights exist prior to government and social collectives. Rights are not derived but are inherent in human nature.

However, each right carries a duty of care. If that duty of care is not observed, then rights will soon become extinguished.

Duties of care are constitute the principles through which everyone rights are secured. If I will not help to establish, nurture, and protect your rights, then you might reciprocate in kind, and if you do, then my rights will become an empty possibility.

Rights are the means through which the potential of sovereignty is realized. Rights are the means through which every human being has the opportunity to struggle toward exploring and actualizing the potential of sovereignty. Rights are what should prevent governments from seeking to control individuals beyond what is necessary to assure that everyone will be enabled to act on her or his rights to a like degree.

Since almost the beginning of the American republic, the business of government (and all its branches) has been to induce citizens to operate in accordance with the dynamics of willful blindness.  Despite what your eyes, ears, mind, heart, and soul are telling you, the government, along with its allies within media and educational institutions, seek to reassure you that everything is okay … go back to sleep … just keep ceding us your moral, spiritual, and intellectual agency so that we can leverage that agency into ever more insidious ways of robbing people of their sovereignty – both individually and collectively.

The choice is clear. A person can choose to practice willful blindness or a person can choose the way of sovereignty.

If an individual chooses the former option – that is, the way of willful blindness -- then, that person should not be surprised when what goes around, comes around and what that person has helped to bring into existence rises up to destroy and lay waste to the life of that individual and everyone or everything she or he cares about. On the other hand, if a person chooses the way of sovereignty, then that individual should be prepared to struggle with all of his or her talents and energies to remain human because those who stand to lose from such a struggle – that is the power elite – will do everything they can with the leveraged power that has been ceded to them by those who observe the practice of willful blindness to: undermine, corrupt, misinform, dis-inform, mis-educate, resist, propagandize, indoctrinate, terrorize, co-opt, destroy and/or control anyone who seeks to realize the potential of essential sovereignty.

The path of willful blindness is a way that entails betraying one’s essence and the essence of everyone else. The path of sovereignty is a way that encompasses acknowledging and embracing the potential of one’s essence.

Choose wisely. We will reap what we sow with respect to the integrity and character (or lack thereof) that are inherent in those choices.

I hope you enjoy the following video. The talk is a good one.


kim mallett said...

greetings anab,

thank you for posting this essay and ted talk.

i have a question for you. i hope you will answer. is there a word and/or concept with a word from the sufi wisdom tradition equivalent to the sanskrit 'karma.'

i hope to hear from you.

kim mallett

kim mallett said...

hi bill/anab,

thank for this post. i enjoyed it.

i found it because i'm actually looking for a sufi/islam word and/or concept equivalent to 'karma' in the sanskrit. do you know of one?

i hope to hear from you.

kim mallett

Anab Whitehouse said...

I suppose a lot depends on how one renders the notion of "karma". As I understand the concept -- and this might be in a quite limited way -- karma is a universal principle that addresses and redresses deviations in conduct, character, intention and behavior as measured against the natural law of Being -- and by "law" I am referring to the metaphysical principles which govern existence, and I am not referring to some legalistic system. Furthermore, those dimensions of choice which lead an individual away from the "norms" of essential purpose, identity, and constructive human potential will bring into play forces that -- if heeded -- can induce the "renormalization" of a human being with respect to the aforementioned essential purpose, identity and potential. Karma is not a punishment but an existential inducement to re-focus on the essential and to disengage from the inessential by assisting a person to work toward accepting responsibility for one's choices and the consequences of those choices.

You might be surprised but the term which springs to mind and heart in relation to the idea of karma is "shari'ah" -- but not shari'ah in the very distorted sense which, over the centuries, has been cobbled together (arbitrarily invented) and imposed on people by Muslim theologians, jurists, and religious leaders. Shari'ah in its proper sense gives expression to the natural law of Being (in the aforementioned metaphysical sense and not in a legalistic way) that is designed to assist individuals to realize their essential purpose, identity, and potential and, as well, to help a person to redirect her or his intentions, efforts, and resources when that individual begins to drift away from the path that leads toward the place where one can find the "waters" of understanding, knowledge, and wisdom.

Both karma and shari'ah are intended as mediums of existential guidance (i.e., the learning curve of life) that, if engaged properly, should lead -- The Great Mystery willing -- to transformations of character ... away from traits of greed, anger, forgetfulness, jealousy, dishonesty, impatience, arrogance, hatred, ingratitude, selfishness, and the like while exchanging such problematic inclinations for traits of humility, generosity, love, empathy, tolerance, remembrance, gratitude, patience, and so on. When such a transformation takes place, then a person is in a position to be opened up to the essential purposes and potentials of Being.