The Use and Abuse of Blindness (5)

This is the fifth in a series of posts.

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Motivations for Blindness: Third Case

It is not only such negative, self-focused desires and emotions as greed and fear of reprisal that can provide motivations for blindness, tempting us to turn a blind eye to what is there to be seen. Positive, unselfish desires and emotions such as love and hope for others, or for one’s entire community inclusive of both oneself and others, can also motivate blindness.

Theodrose Fikre, creator, driving force, and most regular contributor to the online Ghion Journal (, gives a good example of the second category of motivated blindness, the sort that involves positive, unselfish desires and emotions, in one of his recent columns. In a piece devoted to drawing a sharp contrast between the figures of Martin Luther King and Barack Obama, to the definite detriment of the latter (, Fikre expesses his deep disappointment in the Obama Presidency, in contrast to the great enthusiam for Obama he once felt. 

Fikre was active in Obama’s first Presidential campaign in 2008, even providing some of the content for at least one of Obama’s most famous speeches. But at one point during one campaign stop, Fikre began to experience some doubt. However, he then writes: “I dismissed my own hesitation in the blink of an eye; I was too vested in Obama to ask questions that could crack the foundation of the pedestal I had put him on.” 

Thus, rather than heeding the voice of his own doubt and giving the matter the attentive though it deserved, Fikre yielded to the temptation to overlook what his own affective response had given him to see. He voluntarily went blind to all the troubling aspects of Obama's political leadership. He continued to follow Obama blindly, for a least a while longer yet, before the contradictions between what Fikre wanted to see and what was actually there to be seen became too great for him to continue his personal investment in the Obama campaign. 

Fikre’s blindness was not motivated by any self-concern. He was not, for example, trying to protect his own continuing employment and salary, as was the case with the members of the press who turned a blind eye to Upton Sinclair’s 1935 campaign for the California governership at the head of the End Poverty in California movement (see my preceding post in this series). Nor was Fikre motivated by any concern to protect his own standing in the Obama apparatus. He didn’t really have any personal profits to protect by his blindness, since he was not working for Obam in putsuit of any personal gain, but rather out of his deeply held political commitments to seek the good of the community as a whole, most especially including those disenfranchised and underprivileged within that community.

Thus, Fikre was blinded by his own genuine care for his community as a whole, inclusive of all who dwell in it. His blindness was grounded not in any defect or limitation of his character, let alone any such vice as the sheer drive for financial profit. It was grounded, rather, in some of his most admirable qualities. In effect, he was not blinded by his vices, but by his virtues. 

Because he was so fully animated by his own strong hope for the wellbeing of his whole community, and above all for help to be given to the most needy within that community, Fikre took seriously Obama’s claim to stand for “Hope,” as Obama's famous campaign poster proclaimed. He dismissed the discrepancies he sometimes sensed between that message and the reality, the impact and significance, of the policies Obama actually endorsed. Only after the gap between rhetoric and reality grew so wide that even Fikre's unselfish hope could no longer remain blind to it, did Fikre finally shift his allegiance.

The disheartenment and chagrin with which his return of clear vision then struck Fikre sent him into a tailspin so severe that he became homeless himself, and for two years lived among the severely disadvantaged of our society. He finally turned the corner and rediscovered a renewed commitment to public activity and community organizing. By then he had grown wiser about how easily the best intentions no less than the worst ones can motivate blindness.

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Fikre’s story might remind readers of the Christian Bible of this classic passage from the letters of Paul:  “For the good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not do, that I do” (Romans 7:19, King James Version). Just so can even our best intentions motivate a blindness that robs us of our goal, and even strengthens the very thing we so want to combat.

With Paul we might well ask just who (or what) will free us from this “body of death.” The answer can only come from what Milton Mayer’s German philologist friend says:* Faith—the simple yet bottomless faith that frees us to do now “the next right thing” we are given to do, no matter how small or inconsequential it might appear to us. Only the faith to do the next right thing as we are given to see that thing moment by moment, can possibly set us free.

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To be continued.


*See my third post in this current series on “The Use and Abuse of Blindness.”