The following is a short essay I submitted as an assignment on the subject of willful blindess for one of the Psychology MOOCs in my MTA Portfolio. 

I later included the essay in the Vision Document for my Breaking Cinema podcast project in order to elaborate on the dangers of willful blindness which would have been a recurrent focus of the podcast.

My copy of Willful Blindness – A very important book to me

Willful blindness and the fear that breeds it

I would like to deal with the November 2015 Paris attacks and how this tragic event is currently illuminating humanities’ detrimental tendency for willful blindness, both in the collective and individual sense.

The day after the Paris attacks, together with a link to the ‘Paris attacks: day after the atrocity – as it happened’ Guardian update feed (, I posted the following Facebook post…

“It’s not a game… this is a scale model of war, every war ever fought, right there in front of you, because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die! You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken? How many lives shattered? How much blood will spill until everyone does what they were always going to have to do right from the beginning – SIT DOWN AND TALK!”

 – The Doctor, Doctor Who: The Zygon Inversion, 2015.

This event is terrible, there is no doubt about that, but it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Over the next few days just watch how the politicians and the media twist and turn the facts for their own ends.

Something like this always requires level-headedness, not escalating glorification and impassioned rhetoric!

And, no, the world is not coming to an end – that’s just the escalating glorification and impassioned rhetoric!

This is an unfortunate event, yes, but it will pass, as they always do…

And, one day, we will remember all the tragic events just like this one and on that day human beings will figure out what they always had to do right from the very start – sit down and talk.”

Now I am going to use the example of this event for my own ends, because that is a necessary part of being human, we are inherently wired to rationalize a complex and an uncertain world into a digestible and survivable day-to-day reality.


“when dealing with people let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.”

– Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, 1936.

… as human beings, we are first and foremost emotional beings, which means that our ‘rationalizations’ are highly impassioned with rhetoric and, as a result of all our emotional rationalizing, the facts of the external reality – beyond the realities we construct for ourselves – often become blurred, altered and prejudiced.

Ultimately, human beings are masters of willful blindness and while ‘willful blindness’ is more of a legal term…

“the legal principle of willful blindness: you are responsible if you could have known, and should have known, something which instead you strove not to see.”

– Margaret Heffernan, Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, 2012:1.

… it is just as applicable to a psychological context because willful blindness is a cognitive process that utilises a collaboration of many different selective exposures and cognitive biases.

“Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgement.”

Wikipedia: List of cognitive biases

Willful blindness is an umbrella term for all of these biases, because collectively and individually and in little and huge ways, willful blindness is ‘the art of ignoring reality’.

However, ignoring reality is not always a bad thing; on the contrary it is increasingly being shown to be necessary part of our day-to-day survival:

“Distorting the reality of what goes on around us may be necessary… Lake Wobergon thinking – that we are all a little better than average – can empower us not merely to merge onto the highway but to strive toward and achieve larger goals and ambitions. If we truly believed ourselves to be ordinary – of typical intelligence, of mundane attractiveness, of average likeability – could we really attain the motivation to seek a better job, a higher grade, a loving partner? Self-deception can help preserve our optimism. If we believe we are in some ways superior to others, whether we are or not, we can use this attitude to aspire to goals we believe superior people normally achieve.”

– Robert Feldman, The Liar in Your Life: How Lies Work and What They Tell Us About Ourselves, 2009, 2009:136-7

However, while willful blindness or general ignorance may have its productive purposes, there are many instances when willful blindness can be highly detrimental, for instance, information is surfacing that France was warned beforehand of an imminent terrorist attack:

“Iraqi intelligence officers warned coalition countries, and France specifically, of an impending Islamic State attack a day before Friday’s Paris massacre”

Paris Attacks: Iraq Warned Western Coalition Countries Of Imminent Assault Before French Massacre

While the Paris attacks are a terrible event that should never have happened – and potentially could have been prevented – the fact is that they have now happened and human beings have to deal with the consequences. One of the biggest of these consequences is that, as with every other world shattering event, we are being forced to stare point blank at the external reality that exists beyond our individual safe and cosy and ego-affirming realities.

“Psychologists call this phenomenon selective exposure. We seek to minimise our exposure to, and even avoid altogether, information that contradicts what we think, particularly what we think about ourselves. Imagine you are at the home page of your local newspaper and you see the headlines of two editorials, one praising your favourite political party, the other decrying it. Not wanting to read attacks on your party’s positions and candidates, you click on only the link to the favourable editorial. The theory of selective exposure operates in just this way, except that instead of our political party, the subject matter is our self-concept. We avoid information that challenges us and embrace that which reinforces us.”

– Robert Feldman, The Liar in your Life, 2009:130-31.

And through the process of selective exposure we achieve willful blindness.

However, in this essay, I am much more interested in the propagations of willful blindness after the event and how we can see the process of willful blindness play out in the mindsets and rationalizations of individuals, groups, religions and governments. In particular I am interested in how this widespread propagation of willful blindness after the fact can lead to detrimental outcomes; of course, one major example I am referring to is the treatment of the Muslin community…

“Muslims also feel the additional burden of having to justify and defend themselves and their community and point out their Islam bears no relation to that of the violent zealots. They worry that some non-Muslims can’t see the difference between them and Islamic State killers… Cold, hard stares and, in rare cases, physical assaults that some Muslims have faced since the bloodshed are reinforcing concerns that some in France are now lumping all Muslims together.”

French Muslims complain of assaults, ostracism after Paris attacks

Furthermore, in relation to the treatment and paranoia of the muslin community, the Paris tragedy is being utilised to re-inforce the political agendas of various different political parties and figures, all emphasising certain ‘facts’ about the Paris tragedy, while conveniently ignoring (supressing) other pieces of information, such as the fact that many muslins were among the victims of the Paris attacks (…).

Donald Trump and his presidential campaign is one key example of exploiting the collective and impassioned rhetoric surrounding the Paris attacks and the growing paranoia directed towards Muslims…

“Donald Trump has said that the creation of a “Muslim database” should be considered in answer to the Paris attacks, and that perhaps people could be registered through their local mosques.”

– Donald Trump would support a ‘Muslim database’ following Paris attacks

Ultimately, the lesson, conclusion or recommendation that I am attempting to draw from my analysis of willful blindness in relation to the Paris attacks Is that willful blindness and how it can distort our perceptions of reality is a topic that every human being needs to understand.

We need an education system and education practices to support this endeavour of enabling human beings to become conscious critics of their willful blindness and its resulting detrimental actions.

We need to stop using our mostly flawed rationalizations to hide from the truth of willful blindness when it is detrimental – both before, during and after world shattering events – such as with the Paris attacks.

Events such as this should be employed as opportunities of human growth, not of rhetorical exploitation.

There is a much bigger global threat currently plaguing humanity – willful blindness.

Willful Blindness is the single greatest threat facing the human race, precisely because it allows us to blissfully ignore every other threat currently racing the human race.

“Once the idea of willful blindness lodged in my mind, I started to see it it everywhere: in the Catholic Church, Nazi Germany, at BP, in Iraq and Egypt, in our continuing failure meaningfully to reform the banking system. I was struck that so many, perhaps even most, of the greatest crimes had been committed not in the dark, hidden where no one could see them, but in full view of hundreds or thousands of people simply chose not to look and not to question… I noticed it in domestic lives too – in failing marriages: why had he skipped his check up? Why had she started smoking? At home: how could so many people have got themselves so deeply in debt? And why were skin cancers and obesity so intractable when everyone knows that suntanning and over-eating are dangerous?”

– Margaret Heffernan, Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, 2012:2.

If we are going to declare war on anything, then let us declare war on willful blindness and let our battlefield be in the classroom.

Ultimately, we are human beings and as human beings it is impossible to fully escape our emotions and their rhetorical outbursts in favour of pure and cold and logical readings of the reality that exists external to our individual internal perceptions of reality – hopefully, the inclusion of my Facebook post and overall tone of this essay illustrates this point. However, we can be taught to better handle our emotional examinations and rationalizations of catastrophes. Furthermore, we can be better educationally nurtured in regards to how we go on to act out the rest of our lives based on our emotions and examinations and rationalizations of terrible events such as the November 2015 Paris attacks.

How many more human beings have to die until we realise this?