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Entries in Willful Blindness (1)


Willful Blindness

Willful blindness (sometimes called ignorance of law, willful ignorance or contrived ignorance or Nelsonian knowledge) is a term used in law to when an individual seeks to avoid civil or criminal liability for a wrongful act by intentionally putting himself in a position where he will be unaware of facts that would render him liable.

For example, in a number of cases, persons transporting packages containing illegal drugs have asserted that they never asked what the contents of the packages were and so lacked the requisite intent to break the law.

Such defenses have not succeeded, as courts have been quick to determine that the defendant should have known what was in the package and exercised criminal recklessness by failing to find out.


 Hopefully, at this point in the post, you're asking yourself, "What does the legal concept of 'Willful Blindness' have to do with a music video of 'Stand By Me'?"  Of course, now I'm going to tell you.  A few days ago I was watching a Ted Talk about Willful Blindnessand how it related to an environmental issue that led to abnormally high incidence of Asbestoses among citizens of a small Montana mining town.  The speaker told of the part an  everyday woman in that town became a Whistle Blower and involved the federal government in the situation. 

Then, this morning, a Face Book friend shared the video above.  We all know the song, Stand By Me, but this was a new spin on it.  As I watched and listened, I was moved by the video's message.  Then, the concept of Willful Blindness slammed into my brain...hard, like a jack hammer into concrete, breaking through the concrete, breaking it into small pieces of rubble. 

I thought about how much I have, how well I live, what fabulous medical care I receive, what freedoms are guaranteed to me...all the things I take for granted.  Then, I thought, "I did nothing to deserve to have any of this.  It was dumb luck, that's all.   I was born in the most powerful country in the world.  I was in the beginning of the most prosperous decades our country ever enjoyed.  I was born white.  I was born healthy.  I went to wonderful suburban schools.  I completed university degrees through scholarships and grants.  I did nothing special.  I was just born in the right place at the right time to the right people.  EXCEPT for those things, I am just like every person in that video."

After all of that thinking, then, by no free will of my own, the idea of Willful Blindness,wiggled itself into my thoughts.  I thought about how every time we pass a homeless person and look away, we're practicing Willful Blindness.  When we drive through the ghettos/slums and think, "these people live like animals, they're disgusting" and drive a little faster, we are being willfully blind.  How about when we're at the store and see a parent screaming at their child and yanking the child by the arm and we avert our eyes.  Is that Willful Blindness?  What about that couple next door with their loud arguments and screaming matches?  The couple we whisper about to each other guessing that there is domestic abuse over there, but we do nothing, we say nothing, we don't reach out.  Willful Blindness for sure.  What about the kids in foster care and their damaged parents?  Who really in the general public thinks much about them and their futures much less their presents.  We practice Willful Blindness by thinking, "They're trash.  They're not like us. ."  Our proficiency at Willful Blindness protects us from not only realizing they are like us but, truthfully, there by the grace of whatever higher power you choose in which to believe, the ARE us.  Willful Blindness prevents us from helping.  It makes it easier for us to cocoon and remain comfortable away from the fray, away from the need, away from sharing the pain and the struggle of "the others" whomever they may be, whatever needs they present to our world.

So there you have it...from a Ted Talk about the legal concept of Willful Blindness and environmental whistle-blowing to a video of an old Ben E King classic song re-configured and re-recorded by musicians around the world and shared by a Canadian friend of mine on Face Book to me connecting those dots and sharing my thinking here with you.  They are indeed interesting times in which we live.