“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” Frank Herbert, Dune
Fear Begets Denial and Delay
It’s not easy living today, as complexity overwhelms the present and the future is increasingly difficult to predict. Technology and Innovation mean that nothing lasts long these days, and constant change is the new normal. That gets exhausting after a while. As global changes emerge and grow, societal norms are challenged, political & economic power shifts, and new problems become undeniable. That doesn’t mean that we don’t try to deny them. When the future holds negative outcomes that induce fear, Denial stands ready as a means to allay that fear. Denial buys time as we seek to adjust, accommodate, understand change. In short, Denial becomes a strategy for Delay, and when continued or worse – turned into a Political Strategy – Denial morphs into MetaDenial and becomes a real threat to our ability to cope with change.
Beware the Path to MetaDenial
The list of Denial examples started in the last post of examples of Historical Denial. We move on to more immediate Modern Denial that carries us into decidedly more political territory. Politicians have long known that fear is a powerful tool to motivate voters, so they routinely incorporate fear messages in campaigns. As we’ve moved into permanent campaign mode in our modern world of always-on communications, fear has become a constant message. And the tragedy of 9/11, coupled with the rise of Modern Terrorism, has only stoked these fires. A steady diet of fear has given us a perverted political climate where facts and truth are endangered. When Denial becomes institutionalized, we risk losing our grip on Reality and waste precious time needed to address real problems. In short, MetaDenial – Denial that Denial is a problem – puts us on a very risky path of becoming unable to address our challenges. Read on if you dare. 🙂
Modern Denial On Parade
- Our president is not American. This became a popular concept starting in 2008. In fact, Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, the 50th US State, making him an American citizen like so many of the rest of us, by definition. But that was not enough for some. “Show us the birth certificate.” Here it is. “That’s not legitimate, its short form. Show us the long form.” Here it is. “That’s a forgery – its fake.” Denial is immune to facts because its based in belief and psychology- not reality. Denial becomes dangerous when used as a tool of cynical manipulation by those seeking to lead fearful followers. The uncomfortable fact for some who fear social change is that a majority of American voters elected our first black president, twice, by comfortable margins, which was just too much for some, so they gave energy to Birtherism and Birthers.
- The 2nd Amendment means No Limits on Gun Ownership. In fact, every society besides the US places strict limits on gun ownership as a matter of public safety. As a consequence, the number of deaths and mass shootings is off the charts in the US, a clear trend over time. The data show a stark difference between the US and other societies in this regard. The societal cost of wide open gun ownership in the US is documented by the data. Advocates of 2nd Amendment gun rights argue that more guns makes us safer, but the facts show otherwise – there is a point where more guns make us less safe. Denial of a sensible policy for public safety has been upheld in the courts and there is now a fatalism among opponents that this cannot be undone. But the battle on the advocacy side continues, as advocates seek to expand the boundaries of where guns are allowed, pushing into new areas of our lives and extending public safety risks where they didn’t exist before. Denial of a connection between gun ownership and public safety has brought us a tremendous and tragic cost.
- Blue Lives Matter. In fact, data evidence shows that black people are at far greater risk in police interactions than whites. Traffic stops become racism boiled down to its essentials, representing a greater threat to a parent whose son or daughter is black. Case evidence – facts – show that most police are not prosecuted for shooting black people, and those that are indicted are overwhelmingly not convicted. Our problem is not that police are at risk when interacting with blacks, but that blacks are – police face numerous risks every day, its a risky job (made worse by the proliferation of guns), but police choose that risk when they take the job. On the other hand, black drivers don’t choose to put their lives on the line by getting behind the wheel, but that is what happens. Blue Lives Matter is a distraction and denial of the real threat to black lives. Another form of Racism that denies facts.
- Climate Change is a Natural Cycle, Humans don’t cause Climate Change, There’s nothing we can do anyway, Dealing with Climate Change is too expensive, Those who are urgent are really Alarmists, We can’t live without Fossil Fuels and We need more study. In fact, Climate Change is widely confirmed over the past 40 years by ever more accurate scientific modeling, scientific consensus, and now, actual measurable observations associated with melting ice and atmospheric CO2 data. Facts. Logical correlation between the burning of fossil fuels and the rise in airborne CO2 concentrations. But burning fossil fuels gave us our modern economy and society, creature comforts widely distributed and such an improvement that Denial is an attractive option for those who benefit. Among those of us in the modern world, some still stubbornly resist these connections and the urgent need to move on to a different approach to energy. Climate Denial and Deniers are one more instance in a long history of avoiding painful truths that indicate a need to adapt and progress. Recent comments by our US Secretary of Energy, of all people, indicate the threat that official Denial poses.
- Russian Collusion is Fake News. In fact, intelligence agencies and a wide body of evidence indicate that Russians interfered with our 2016 Presidential Election. Further investigation is revealing that many key members of the Trump Campaign, Transition Team, and now, Administration engaged with Russians at a variety of levels in a variety of ways, and then lied about it or failed to disclose on government forms. While not yet conclusive, the case is steadily building with each new revelation, and there is much more evidence to uncover before we have the full picture. Still, conscious Denial pervades the Republican Party, from its leaders in Congress and in the White House all the way down to man-on-the-street polling that consistently supports alternative conclusions. Republicans won a massive victory last November and now most in that party seemingly don’t want to let their advantage slip away by acknowledging that the contest was tainted by unprecedented outside interference that benefitted one side. Partisan Politics has trumped traditional Love of Country and reverence for Constitutional institutions, core concepts that used to define Conservatism, becoming its own form of pernicious Denial.
- Our President deserves our Support. In fact, Trump must be seen as the Denier in Chief. He thrust himself into politics as the lead Birther. He is an AntiVaxxer and an avowed Climate Change Denier, witness his many tweets, cabinet appointments, budget priorities, and political decisions: especially the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. He lies on big things and small things, on a daily basis. He traffics in online conspiracies. He claims populism, but appoints a cabinet of elitists and supports policies and a budget that cause real harm to citizens. He denies facts about popular votes and crowd sizes. Unlike any of his predecessors, this president has given us DENIALISM and DENIER in full capital letters as the threat of our times. To accept this president as normal, to afford him the same deference traditionally due a new president is to Deny the facts as presented and accept a risk to our institutions, our foundations, and our way of life. This presidency is in no way normal or beneficial to our nation and the world.
As we move into Modern Denial, things grow political and things get increasingly uncomfortable. I hesitated to write and publish this list, but it is a natural continuation of the Historical Denial list I published in my previous post. I would say all this even if Democrats were involved, but this level of Denial has become a signature of one party far more than the other. Outside of normal political shading, spinning and exaggeration, this is not a case of Both Sides Do It, as is so common in mainstream media reporting. When GOP leadership in Congress acts as they do in the face of overwhelming changes in norms and behavior in the White House, good citizenship requires us to take note and stand against this. In my case, this means a renewed focus on Climate Action and mobilization at the local and regional level.
As a society, we continue to support this type of leadership at our own peril. For those who resist Denial in favor of Reality, we must acknowledge this form of MetaDenial – Denial of Denial – as a real, unprecedented threat to our Democracy and nearly 250 years of our Great Experiment in Self Government.
By John Cooper