Why is it so hard to see the obvious?

It is hard to make a man understand something, if his salary depends on his not understanding it.  [==Upton Sinclair]

To see what is under one’s nose needs a constant struggle.  [==George Orwell]

Have the courage to believe what you know.  [==French movie director Yann Arthus-Bertrand]


Ian Welsh, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote a long list of obvious things that people in authority didn’t and do not seem to see. 

Obviously Iraq did not have WMD.  Obviously neither the Iraq nor Afghan occupations would succeed. 

Obviously letting Covid rip will cause a mass disabling event which will severely damage our societies.

Obviously China does not regard the US in specific as a friend, since for 12 years the US has publicly stated, over and over again, that China is enemy #1. 

Obviously Russia would not let Sevastapol be taken away from them. 

Obviously Russia would not let Ukraine join NATO.

Obviously offshoring our industrial base to China would make them stronger and us weaker. 

Obviously immiserating our working class would make them hate the liberal order and vote against it when possible (Brexit/Trump, etc…)

Obviously China has food and energy problems and obviously having Russia as a friend helps fix those problems. 

Obviously China cannot trust the West to supply it, since the West has sanctioned China.

Obviously the West hates China’s government and wants it replaced and obviously the Chinese government doesn’t like this and prefers Russia, which does not want to overthrow their government. 

Obviously Putin must win his war, or he will lose power and be killed.

Obviously bailing out the rich in 2008 led to a sclerotic economy which cannot fix problems because central banks made a rule that incompetent rich people will be allowed to stay incompetent.

And so on, and so forth, with 39 more items.  Read the whole thing and tell me whether there is any item you would dispute.

Why is it so hard to see the obvious?

One is that in a society in which the powers that be and public opinion say one thing and I think another, it is hard to be confident that I am right.  

I assumed for many years that people in positions of authority, with expert credentials, were to be trusted, and the so-called lunatic fringe, with its so-called conspiracy theories, could safely be ignored. 

If somebody says, “So the whole world is wrong, and you are right?”, it is hard for me to answer “yes.”

Then there is the question of loyalty.  I’ve been enrolled as a Democrat all my adult life.  My parents revered Franklin Roosevelt.  For years I believed that there was a fundamental underlying difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Identifying with the Democratic Party gave me a sense of identity and righteousness, without requiring any significant sacrifice.

I have a more fundamental loyalty to my country.  I cherish its best ideals and care about my fellow citizens.  Being an American is a basic part of my sense of identity.  So this generates a desire to deny, minimize or rationalize certain obvious facts about history and public policy

Some truths are hard to face because they are too bleak.  It is obvious, as Welsh wrote, that catastrophic climate change has passed the point of no return.  It is obvious to me that doing anything meaningful to mitigate it is virtually impossible, either on the political level or the personal level.

I hate to draw the logical conclusion.  I want to be able to say, “Here is a problem, and here is a practical solution.”  I don’t want to say, “Here is a problem, and I don’t see a solution.”

So lack of confidence, the desire to fit in, loyalty to a group or cause and the unwillingness to face harsh reality—all these can lead to denial of the obvious. 

On the other hand, it is very liberating to decide to speak the truth as I see it, without worrying about what others think or how it fits in with received opinion.  

As an elderly retired homeowner, I don’t have to worry about the opinion of employers, landlords, customers or public opinion, and it would be shameful not to take full advantage of that privilege.


The Superpower of Admitting the Obvious by Ian Welsh.

In Front of Your Nose by George Orwell (1946)




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4 Responses to “Why is it so hard to see the obvious?”

  1. Mark Says:

    I’m not so sure I agree with the COVID “let it rip” statements. It appears the reaction to COVID was worse than COVID itself. We are seeing that in several countries right now with spread in China, New Zealand, and so on. The efforts did not stop the spread and had a big negative impact on society and the economy.

    I also have a different take on climate change. What is “no return” for the world and many people within it is different than what “no return” is for the poor. Plus, in the short term, deaths will go down because more people won’t die from cold than die from heat (there is evidence that is already happening).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    What is obvious or not obvious often depends on your perspective. You have to try to see it from different points of view, using their value systems, before you can have any confidence at all in what is obvious.

    It certainly seemed obvious to Putin and most of the world that Ukraine would fall in a few days at most. It wasn’t so obvious to Ukraine. He did not make a genuine effort to look at it from their perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. whungerford Says:

    Geographer Jared Diamond warns that societies often fail to see the obvious, even when ignoring danger is fatal and a solution is at hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Patrick Berting Says:

    People believe what they want to believe. People block out messages that contradict what they believe, also known as confirmation bias. Worst of all people are generally too lazy to put in the effort to think for themselves. People like easy solutions to complex problems.

    Liked by 1 person

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