Myopia of politicians and nations

Sunday, July 08, 2018

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“Inattentional blindness”, also known as perceptual blindness, is a psychological lack of attention that is not associated with any vision defects or physical deficits, but an individual's failure to perceive an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight.

It is human nature to have observation filtered by what we expect or want to see or hear. The perceptual distortion is caused by inattention usually induced by religion, political philosophy, prejudice, racism, nationalism, and xenophobia.

More worrying is the fact that an entire community or the majority of people in a nation can get into this collective state of mind. Mr Wilhelm Reich, in his classic The Mass Psychology of Fascism, explains how the civilised German nation succumbed to Nazism.

Two factors were present, namely economic malaise (unemployment, low growth, inability to compete with foreigners or imports) and the state of mind that the nation has declined from its former glory. The spark is a populist-nationalist political leader who emerges.

This dysfunctional national affliction is prevalent in several countries. Nearly all economic studies indicate that Brexit will inflict considerable damage on the British economy and society.

Jobs and businesses are already relocating to the European Union and others are warning of the possibility. Yet politicians are leading the country to Brexit on promises of reliving the halcyon economic days and the resumption of a role as a global power.

The United States Administration is hoping for economic gains from the imposition of tariffs, but needs to remember that the US is not as dominant as it was in the 1950s. A June 2018 study indicates that the tariffs, quotas and retaliation would reduce US GDP by at least 0.2 per cent annually.

US imports and exports would decline. There would be job gains in steel, but losses in other industries with a net loss of 400,445 jobs. Sixteen jobs would be lost for every steel/aluminium job gained and every state will experience a net loss of jobs.

All countries have some of this self-inflicted refusal to face reality. Here are some examples of seeing what we want to see: The West Indies cricket team will one day return to its former glory now that it has won a Test match against Bangladesh. Brazilians play the best football even if they are not winning the World Cup. Jamaica's dominance of sprinting will continue. Russia is a global superpower. Black Africans are welcomed citizens if they can sing or play football for France.

All of us have the capacity at times and in certain circumstances to suspend belief in reality, but politicians seem particularly afflicted with this human foible. How else could a minister of government not accept responsibility for obvious failures in his portfolio? How could the mayor of Montego Bay declare the city to be the safest place in Jamaica?

It is just a matter of time before the logistics hub will be established, unemployment will see big declines, there is commercial oil in the off-shore waters, and there will be a three per cent economic growth.

Wishful thinking arises from “inattentional blindness”, and this condition can cause political leaders to pursue policies which are harmful.

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