Lack of imagination: how dangerous it can be

The lines below are explicitly about politics, yet make a vital point touching on many areas of life in which we “cannot imagine” reality — think catastrophic climate change or how badly racism lurks within our society — because of bias, believing what is comfortable or convenient, preexisting preferences, hopes & wants, and the like. As Gessen observes, such lack of imagination limits us dangerously. This is equally the case with spiritual life and our capacity to imagine life without all this suffering.

“Lack of imagination is one of our greatest handicaps as humans and as citizens. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of the richest men in the world, could not imagine that Putin would put him in jail, and this was one of the reasons he ignored repeated warnings and stayed in Russia. Then he spent ten years in a Russian prison. David Cameron could not imagine that his fellow citizens would vote to secede from the European Union, so he called for a referendum. Soon after the vote last month, pundits in both the UK and the US regrouped and started reassuring themselves and their audiences that the UK will not really leave the EU—because they can’t imagine it. I have spent much of this year arguing with my American friends about Donald Trump. Even after Trump had won enough delegates to lock up the Republican nomination, reasonable, well-informed people insisted that some Republican savior would swoop in and reclaim that party. There was little, if any, evidence in favor of that kind of outcome, but for a brief moment many Americans seemed to believe in the unlikely rather than the obvious. Why?

“I just can’t imagine Trump becoming the nominee,” many said at the time. But a lack of imagination is not an argument: it’s a limitation. It is essential to recognize this limitation and try to overcome it. That is a difficult and often painful thing to do.

Now that Trump has become the Republican nominee—and has pulled even or even slightly ahead of Clinton in the most recent polls—it is time to force ourselves to imagine the unimaginable. Forget Putin. Let us try to imagine Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.”

From article by Masha Gessen, “The Trump-Putin Fallacy” in New York Review Daily (July 26, 2016).

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