Recently Bill Maher interviewed the obsequious Trump apologist Jeffery Lord. Watching a video of that, I found myself asking how it was possible for a person of any integrity to assert opinions, allege facts, and propose conclusions that are so diametrically opposed to readily apparent reality. Frankly, I was not attempting to provide any justification for Lord’s behavior, which I believed borders on treason. Instead, I was thinking, once again, about the need to rescue so many of my friends and neighbors from the clutches of a slow rolling fascist coup. Time and again I am struck with how differently they perceive the exact same information completely from how I view it. If like me, you have attempted to have a rational discussion with friend from the opposition, it would come as no surprise to learn that when the conversation ended, you found yourself shaking your head in disbelief, and wondering about the scruples of someone who could be so fast and loose with the truth. How often are we completely baffled by someone’s inability to see the plain facts right before the eyes? Is this just willful blindness?
Do they just completely close their eyes to the inconvenient facts. For the longest time, I could come up with no more reasonable explanation, and still as reasonable as that theory may have seemed, it remained extremely unsettling. It affected so many people whom in various other situations, were demonstrably trustworthy, and yet if my theory was correct, surely, they must be diabolically insincere. People who I trusted in my business life, when huge sums of money were at stake, brothers who were kindred spirits in other respects, people who volunteered their time, talent and equipment for no other reason than friendship; how could I have misjudged all these people? How could they live such a bifurcated life, being so trustworthy, generous, and kind in one moment and totally duplicitous the next. Frankly, I still don’t have the complete answer, but as a was watching Jeffery Lord attempt to spin shit into silver a novel idea sprang to mind.
Remember this picture from way back in 2015, before the world tilted off its axis. For a couple of days back in February of 2015, this dress set the internet on fire. Then too, the world split into opposing camps with each side accusing the other of all sorts of mean and nasty stuff, of which insanity was the least offensive. Surely there was no other explanation for why so many people saw this lovely white dress with gold strips as black and blue. It seemed like half the world could not see the facts before their face. I was in the white and gold camp from the beginning. As an avid photographer for several decades now, I was certain that I could trust my sense of color enough to tell black from gold even if I knew that the color white shifted depending on the light source. I had spent the largest portion of my adult life assisting fashion designers choose just the right yarn color to express their artistic vision. I had reason to believe I was a color expert. Imagine my surprise then, when I learned the true color of his dress.
Yep…black and blue. How could this be? There is a detailed explanation regarding the science behind this phenomenon online, along with the original file that sparked this dispute. Basically, the wholething boils down to frame of reference. If, upon first glance, your mind makes the assumption that the dress is white, it will color correct to minimize the blue in the image. Conversely, if your visual cortex labels it a black dress and passes a black dress on for further processing, then all the yellow will be filtered out by your brain. An interesting aside here. Back around 2500 BC, the Egyptians, learned how to produce blue dyes and at about that same time they became the first civilization to have a word for the color blue. For all intents and purposes, blue did not exist until then. But none of this is really the point.
The point is that while we now know for a fact that, when I see this picture, I am looking at a picture of a black and blue dress, I still, to this day, see this original image as gold and white. Think about that for a minute. I know the truth. I know which side was right in this argument, and that I was mistaken. If one to were ask me what color that dress is, I suppose I would say it is a lovely royal blue dress with black lace fringed horizontal stripes. But every time we look at it, I see white with gold. This may be cause for hope.
Perhaps a significant portion of all Trump supporters are suffering from “blue dress bias syndrome”. We know that a blue dress figures prominently in the cultural background on many of these people. Thanks again, Monica. You are the gift that keeps on giving. But seriously, could that be possible? Could one’s frame of reference affect more than just color perception? If one is a rich white man, whose entire life experience has been bathed in the light of white racial privilege tinted with the gleam of gold, wouldn’t that inevitably affect how he sees the world in ways that even he can’t perceive or possibly even control?
From a broader perspective, we can see a similar phenomenon when people of various religious faiths perceive everyday events as an illustration of the presence or will of a deity. When a person dies unexpectedly, we will often hear people say, “It is all part of God’s plan for us.”, or when a person of faith is anticipating an event over which they have no real control the words “God willing” will slip easily from their lips.” People from less religious background will witness the same death and anticipate the same event without any perception of divine intervention. From a non-religious perspective, the idea that one can perceive god’s hand in every detail of life, amounts to willful acceptance of a fantasy. Likewise, the non-believer is classified by the faithful as a heretic or an apostate and by that judgement is rightfully subject to a range of censure so wide as to include responses from shunning to stoning. Who can doubt that in either case, a pre existing conditions colors one’s perspective as effectively as the ambient color temperature affects one’s perception of a dress. This possibility should prompt all sorts of questions.
For instance, my liberal friends might ask, “Are you crazy? Why would you even want to bring this up? Do you know how much damage Trump is doing to our country, while we are powerless to stop him? Now is not the time to absolve the guilty of their treason. Don’t waste your breath on the willfully blind” Those questions are exactly why I bring this theory up now. Yes, I do believe that Trump is the single greatest threat to American self-government I have seen in my lifetime. Before he took the helm of state, I was able to sleep at night, even with the realization that there were enough nuclear warheads deployed and ready for launch to makes Chicxulub seem inconsequential. Now I awake from dreams of attacking wolves, and the news just continues to get worse. In the presence of such evil, we cannot spare one good man…or woman. Consequently, there is no real payoff for demonizing people who should be our natural allies.
Barring a sudden unexpected shift away from self-preservation on the part of politicians who truly did turn a blind eye on this dilemma, American will need to band together. We will need to see past our unperceived blindness. More importantly we need to accept this condition in others, especially those who are blind to what is so clearly a threat to America and the world. That is not to say we must forgive this failure in our friends any more than we would forgive nearsightedness or color blindness. While both those conditions are problematic for the person who possesses such a trait, and possibly dangerous for those around them. (Just ask my poor dog about living with Mr. Magoo), they do not call for absolution. They may call for accommodation, in the same way we might provide handicapped parking for people with issues of mobility, but they do not need our forgiveness and more than the deserve our capitulation.
Like these other more benign conditions such as color blindness, “Blue Dress Bias Syndrome” is not some moral failing; it is merely some psychological spandrel, a component of our psyche that is simply a byproduct of a far more useful structure. While BDBS may not necessarily be an ethical shortcoming and most certainly is only theoretical, it cannot be easily ignored, because its effects are very real and when not accounted for can do real harm. Imagine if one were to click on an online link to this dress wishing to place an order for the same, no matter how fervently one believed that they had ordered a white dress, a royal blue dress with black stripes would soon be delivered to their door. Similarly, regardless of how much hope people have invested in Donald Trump, we still have a president with who is demonstrably incapable of perceiving reality as it actually is or may even be far more diabolical than first anticipated.
If this theory holds, then, while it appears that Donald is beyond reclamation, enough of the people who voted for him, in the last election should remain open to reason. Look at me for proof of this concept. I still see a white and gold dress every time I look at that picture, but thanks to other more evolved parts of my brain, I can know that the dress is blue and black. I am proof that a person can still hold a misconception in one area of the brain and reality in another. This, in my opinion, is the secret to convincing our fellow American to lend a hand and pull this run-a-way train back over the edge of the precipice. Sure, we are going to have to uncouple the engine and let it plunge to its demise, but we can try to save the passengers and let the engineers suffer the consequences.
Two demographic groups gave Trump his victory. Older, rural, white voter, abandoned the Democratic ticket in numbers large enough to swing a few critical states. These votes tend to share a common frame of reference and represent one group of target prospect for conversion. Many people in this group are decidedly pro-gun rights, and while this may be off-putting for some, it provides a window on their self-identity. From personal experience, it appears to me that, as a general rule, gun owners believe they are making their world safer. They believe a gun permits them to more effectively protect, themselves, their family, their community, and even their country. While, some may see this attitude as part of the problem, it may just be part of the solution. Rather than argue over gun policy, wouldn’t it be preferable to embrace their commitment to defend their fellow citizens. Rather than attack such and ingrained “fact” about the value of gun ownership wouldn’t it be better to address more important “white dress” in this case. Isn’t the misperception of greatest importance, the more recent belief that Trump is out to help us. Given, the amount of material that is now available to contradict that position, it may be far more useful to convince your friends in this group of their responsibility to protect their friends, family, and neighbors from an obviously duplicitous, evil charlatan. A common aphorism among this group is “No better friend…no worse enemy.” If you have a history of friendship with such a person, it should be much easier to ask for their help than to convince them that they are wrong on multiple fronts. We need these people and at this point, if they want to bring their guns with them, who am I to say no. We will each resist in our own way. If they can accept that they may always misperceive the reality of Trump through no fault of their own, but that they cannot willfully and morally ignore the consequence of this misperception, then these people are worthy of our respect.
The challenge with converting this group is the ubiquitous presence of outright false information offered up each day by Breitbart and a nearly uncountable number of other outlets within that particular media bubble. When the Blue Dress Phenomenon came to everyone’s attention in 2015, it soon became easy to accept the facts of the matter; shortly, everyone who cared enough to research the matter knew the dress was blue, because there was no vested interest pushing back against the truth at every opportunity. In the current situation, a cloud of obfuscation, colors the frame of reference for any potential allies, therefore the conversion rate for this group will likely be relatively low.
One more set of high-value prospects remain. This is perhaps the most powerful group of potential allies available. The problem is that due to the nature of their frame of reference, only a portion of the resistance has a high likelihood of effectively engaging the support of this much-needed segment of the resistance. According to the New York Times, “At the individual level, education and income are still two of the strongest predictors of whether someone will turn out at the polls.” , and only votes are likely to solve our problem. It comes as no surprise that African Americans are disproportionately more poor and less educated as a class of citizens that most others. Centuries of slavery followed by decades of active disenfranchisement, followed by more decades of neglect has taken its toll on this group. Still, according to the same source, “Among voters with little education, African-Americans are 1.7 times more likely to vote than whites.” There really is no group worthy of more attention than people of color in general and African-Americans in particular. This is especially true for more highly educated African-Americans.
By reason of their life experience, this group is rightfully wary of advice from outside their frame of reference. This community rightfully sees any progress among their group as the primarily the result of their own efforts and are wary of claims of good intentions by others. Their participation both as soldiers and as a fifth column helped decide the Civil War in favor of the Union despite the prevailing racism in the North. Their moral example turned the tide of institutionalized segregation. Furthermore, their history is filled with true stories of barbaric deception such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, which ran from 1932 until 1972 and serves as the textbook example of racially motivated medical research malfeasance. Such cultural touchstones surely influence perceptions among their community, and we are not talking about shades of acuity as in Blue Dress Bias Syndrome, we are talking about concrete Darwinian reality. Failure to perceive a predator is not conducive to a long and fruitful life. Consequently, a massive component of the liberal/ progressive movement, may be less than helpful and completely ineffective when it comes to convincing communities such as Sandtown-Winchester in Baltimore or East and West Garfield Park in Chicago of the need to reassess their perception of reality? White liberal activists may be sorely disappointed by the failure of Democratic elected officials to make meaningful changes to the status quo, but the consequences of this failure have landed for a lifetime squarely and disproportionately on a group of people who have been systematically convinced of the fruitlessness of concerted cooperation outside of their own community.
Still, options remain open to anyone outside that group. Active, positive engagement in communities in need can work wonders. Civic involvement, not as leaders, but as followers, and now, well before election season can build bonds of trust. If you doubt the wisdom of this approach, please check out this TED Talk. But that approach may call for a level of empathy, courage, or commitment that makes it less practical or attractive to many people of good will. The solution for such a person may be to support the rising tide of quality candidates whose life experience makes them more qualified than the same old slate of candidates to carry the message from and to our needed allies. Perhaps a new far more diverse generation of leaders is called for. Women and men who can span the divide that so conveniently favors the immoral status quo are needed now. When people from forsaken communities see people who look like them lifted to victory by increasingly large proportions of people who don’t look like them but share their desire for a more just society, perhaps then, we will have something more powerful than resistance. We will have a movement, at that is what is called for if we are to truly succeed. It will not be enough to stop this plague upon our country, we will need to repair the damage and still maintain the momentum needed to form a more perfect union.
When dealing with either group it is important to remember this. The failure of our fellow citizens to see the world as it actually is, the fact that they either voted for Trump as a sort of savior, of failed to vote because it seems like a useless waste of time is not something that needs forgiveness or grudging tolerance. It needs to be accepted, in the same way we accept aspects of our own humanity. We don’t ask the blind to seek atonement, or the deaf to repent. We need to accept some advice from our adversaries and get over it, just like we get over our own limitation. I truly believe Lincoln understood the “Blue Dress Bias Syndrome” when he called the country together with these words:
“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Speaking as an atheist among believers, I urge all to work tirelessly in support of those angels no matter how you perceive them. Accept that while others may see parts of the world differently than you, handled correctly, those differences can create strength. A world of primary colors is a poor substitute for all the colors and hues of the universe. All chords and especially our mystic chords of memory are made from different notes. As creators of our own music, we can choose to use those different notes to create harmony or discord. It is all up to us.