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Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness makes grand promises of providing insights into human and social psychology - sadly it fails to deliver.
Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness makes grand promises of providing insights into human and social psychology – sadly it fails to deliver.
Review by Unmana Datta
In Willful Blindness, author Margaret Heffernan explores the phenomenon of denial – as the tagline says, “Why we ignore the obvious at our peril.” Why are red flags consistently ignored – in business and in relationships – and why do seemingly inevitable catastrophes catch people by surprise? According to the back cover, Heffernan “examines. . . what it is in human nature, in the structure of our brains and of our institutions that makes us so prone to this weakness.”
Interesting topic, and I hoped to find something new about society and about myself.
Unfortunately, the book itself disappoints. What makes for a provocative title (and is actually an accepted term of law) becomes distasteful when the author goes on and on about “overcoming our blindness” and “seeing better.” For a book that claims to make us more sensitive to our surroundings, it’s particularly insensitive with regards to the existence of actual blind people. Repeatedly equating ignorance, stupidity or even criminal behaviour with blindness doesn’t make for a provocative book, merely a lazy one.
The back cover also states that Willful Blindness is in the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell, which is partly true – it has all of his practice of stretching examples to cover an unconvincing hypothesis, with none of the incisive, clever writing that makes Gladwell a pleasure to read.
The book explores interesting stories (a tragic accident at a BP factory that occurred because safety procedures were ignored, a doomsday cult, a Nazi war criminal, an employee who committed fraud, a doctor who discovered the occurrence of high death rates when a particular surgeon operated, and more) but fails to tie them together in a cohesive or convincing way.
The author also seems singularly naïve: the fact that employees of a hospital looked the other way when a senior surgeon had higher than acceptable deaths can be more easily explained by a desire to keep their own bread buttered by not rocking the boat (to mix metaphors) than by any kind of “blindness”. In the story of a doomsday cult headed by a woman who claims that alien overlords are contacting her, Heffernan doesn’t even raise the question that the cult-leader might just be a con-woman and not a true believer.
Save yourself the time and reread the Tipping Point instead.
Publishers: Walker & Company
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Unmana is interested in gender, literature and relationships, and writes about everything she's interested in. She lives in, and loves, Bombay. read more...
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Chetan Bhagat had no business slut shaming Uorfi Javed or any other woman. If he wants to 'guide' young men in the 'right direction' then he should take accountability for his words.
Chetan Bhagat, one of India’s bestselling authors, thought it was an ingenious idea to slut-shame Uorfi Javed, an Indian actress and influencer, at the Sahitya Aaj Tak literature festival.
“Phone has been a great distraction for the youth, especially the boys, spending hours just watching Instagram Reels. Everyone knows who Uorfi Javed is. What will you do with her photos? Is it coming in your exams or you will go for a job interview and tell the interviewer that you know all her outfits? On one side, there is a youth who is protecting our nation at Kargil and on another side, we have another youth who is seeing Uorfi Javed’s photos hiding in their blankets.”
Uorfi Javed responded with a video on her Instagram stories calling out Bhagat’s bluff. She shared the screenshots of his previous chat conversations with Ira Trivedi, author and yoga instructor, which came to light during the #MeToo movement.
While boys are taught to naturally own the space they enter, girls are taught to give up, to accommodate, to adjust since "it is their primary responsibility to keep families and relations together."
Yesterday, I was watching these 4 young girls around 16 – 17 years old play badminton. They were having fun, goofing around with all 4 of them equally involved in the game.
In some time two of their male friends joined them, and as part of round robin, the 2 boys replaced two of the girls. All good.
As the play continued, I started noticing a change in the way the game was being played. The shuttle was played most of the times between the two boys and there was a sense of competition and aggression brought in. The other 2 girls playing soon starting losing interest in the game as they hardly got any game time. Even if the shuttle came towards them, the boy in their team would move and play that shot. They soon moved to the sidelines as the boys continued to play.
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