Denial and the inconvenience of reality


Denial is the refusal to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion or to admit it into consciousness. We use it to defend ourselves from knowing what we do not want to know. If pushed, we may respond with anger, until reality forces us to pay attention. Even then, some refuse. Years ago I watched as an alcoholic patient in a V.A. hospital watched a video of himself being admitted for treatment. He was so drunk he couldn’t say anything but gibberish. When one of the psychiatrists asked him who he was watching, he said he had no idea, because he’d never seen the guy before. Truth was, he didn’t want to admit that the drunk on the video was him. Pushed, he became irate. “You’re a goddamn liar!” he roared.

Why denial when the evidence against it is undeniably clear? The truth hurts too much to let it in. If I own up to the idea that the guy in the video is me . . . what do I do then? I might have to change. So I clamp down and refuse to listen until reality rears its ugly head and I have no alternative. Even then, some of us refuse, because knowing is too painful. The world, as I have chosen to understand it, is as I see it . . . and when an alternative view is presented, I will attack it, even when scientific and historical evidence is shown to me that I am wrong, and maintaining my denial could prove disastrous to me and the people and cause that I support.

“Never underestimate the power of denial,” journalist Sharif Nashashibi said a recent article on Aljazeera. “It is always easier and quicker to deny wrongdoing than to admit culpability or explain oneself. It stifles legitimate scrutiny in favour of a simplistic “yes / no” argument that is designed to confuse and deceive. This is what makes denial so appealing, and hence so prevalent in cases of injustice.” If denial doesn’t work? Justify your behavior.

A few days ago, I watched as US Senator Charles Schumer of New York berated the supporters of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. “They have a double standard,” he declared, “one that the Jewish people have faced throughout the centuries. They choose to boycott Israel; then when faced with surrounding countries with far less human rights, far less rights for women and LGTP people, they don’t boycott at all! If they’d boycott all these other countries, then . . .” Deny, deflect, attack the opposition, and accuse them of picking on Israel (on Jewish people) while excusing everyone else in the neighborhood who are far worse. If asked why he denies what is going on in Israel, Senator Schumer would say he’s not denying at all, he’s telling the truth.

The danger with denial is reality. A man notices a lump in his right breast, tells his wife about it, then shrugs it off when she urges him to have it examined. “Men don’t get breast cancer, Sweetheart, women do.” Twelve months later he notices it has grown and sees his doctor. An examination shows that he has breast cancer, and that it requires immediate surgery. Surgery reveals it has spread. A year later, the man is dead. He is 35 years old.

Yet, knowing this, people persist in denying what scientists and people on the ground know beyond any shadow of doubt is true. Global warming is happening, humans do contribute to it, and doing nothing will have catastrophic results. If Israel continues to persecute its Palestinian citizens and the Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Gaza, the results will be a racist, totalitarian society that many will compare to Hitler’s Germany — in short, an insult to the memory of those killed in the Holocaust. Denial does things like that. In an article published in Haaretz on April 9th, journalist Gideon Levy writes “no one is dealing with the fundamental question: Is the two-state solution still attainable and if not, what is the alternative and what do the parties intend to do to achieve it?

“This is also a natural and direct continuation of the daily denial and repression – as if, if we do not speak about the occupation and its crimes, it won’t exist. As if, if we don’t speak about the Palestinians and their fate – they won’t exist. The word “peace” was taken off the agenda a long time ago and together with it, the hope of achieving it. In such a state, it is hard to point out the differences between most of the parties when it comes to diplomacy, since none of them have a clear programme or an established platform”
(Elections about nothing in a nation in denial)

Sad to say, the same can be said about the United States and a myriad of other nations around the world where denial of reality is used on a daily basis in order to avoid “having to deal with it”, then discovering, like the fellow with breast cancer, it is too late. Speaking about the United States “denial disease” is epidemic on many levels about many things. We’ll have a look at that in another post. Our future may depend on it.

About gwpj

Originally from Seattle, I now live in Sapporo, Japan, where I write, explore this city, read widely, and ask questions about things that i see as important. I'm also an author, with three novels published ("The Old Man and The Monkey", "Grandfather and The Raven", and "Bear: a story about a boy and his unusual dog"). For more information about my writing, drop by my website, at
This entry was posted in Commentary, Current Events, George Polley, Israel, Peace, US history, War and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Denial and the inconvenience of reality

  1. A few days ago a video of Senator Charles Schumer ranting at that meeting was doing the rounds on Facebook, and receiving loads of comments praising him for having the guts to stand up and say what every sane person was thinking. Like you, I shook my head and wondered how more splintered the world will get before some cataclysm reminds us of our own frailty.

    There are levels of hatred and a polarity of opinions evident now which were un-thought of in my youth to a degree which increasingly saddens me and I applaud your reasoned and patient articles counselling us towards a wiser path.

    • gwpj says:

      Thank you Peter. I, too, feel increasingly saddened, especially for my children, grandchildren and my great-granddaughter who is just a few days into her new life with her parents and their female Greyhound who is surely delighted with her arrival. Change is difficult for most people, yet change is our one constant. Wisdom is sorely needed, yet it is sorely missing in the halls and rooms of leadership. Denial, as they say in A.A., is not a river in Egypt, it is far more dangerous, yet denial stands tall and vocal in the face of the enormous changes that are sweeping the earth and have been for so many years and decades. Thank you for your comments, which are always welcome.

  2. Such a true article George, so many problems can be attributed to denial e.g. global warming, financial crashes…

  3. Sha'Tara says:

    I have met many people “scared shitless” about so many things and encountered the denial phase in spades. Conservatives (socially, religiously, politically and in every other “ly”) exemplify the denial phase, one that for many lasts a lifetime – Archie Bunkerism with (not versus) Meatheadism. I had the reverse problem years ago as an environmentalist and social activist, taking the opposite stance: believe the worst case scenario and sell it to the masses in hope they will buy into it enough to at least make an effort at beginning change. Blowback! The environmentalists were just as far off the mark as the conservatives, only aiming at opposite sides of the same target. Then I met “the Teachers” and one of the things I was taught to do when confronted with conflicting reality was, “believe all things, believe in nothing.” Key word: “in” Once you believe in something (as true or false, for believing “in” has no middle ground) you’re hooked. Now you have to live in denial in order to make your believing “in” work; to hang on to “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you god” and all that. If you allow for everyone, anyone, to believe whatever they want to believe you allow them to bring down the drawbridge, even if they post a dozen pikemen at the portcullis to remind you to stay on the straight and narrow. At least now you can talk face to face with the lord of the castle. The interesting moments come when you make it clear that you are allowing your opponent/interlocutor to believe what s/he wishes and not contradicting that part, but are not buying into it, as in, not believing “in” their side of things. One issue that comes up about this is the 1969 American moon landing. Denialists are not those who deny the landings, they are those whose whole life was spent believing in this venture as unchallengeable. Scientifically it is totally challengeable, but you cannot come right up and say it, people take it personally. They cannot admit they may have been royally duped by NASA, their government, mainstream media and a whole bunch of sleazy corporates who made fortunes from the effort. So how to reconcile the differences? Quite simple: I ask them if the 1969 moon landing made their country and their world a better, safer, more equitable, more peaceful place in which to live? In other words, did the moon landings contribute to man’s social evolution? If not, then what was the point? Who was it for? What was gained for the people of earth? Was it just another massive propaganda effort, in league with Olympic games? I tell them I reason, through scientific approach, that the moon landings were faked – as was 9-11, another bone of contention for denialists. Yet I couldn’t care less if all of it happened as claimed, I say, look to the aftermath: who benefited from these events, and could that not have been the motivating force for subterfuge when the technology was available to do so? Yes, reality can be damned inconvenient when it points its emaciated finger at you and calls you to change your mind about what you believe “in.”
    … just thinking our on the keyboard…

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