It is not the purpose of this article to demonize or stereotype those who believe that President Obama is not eligible to be president. If I have learned anything, it is that such people (and I’m going to call them “Birthers” going forward) are very diverse. I know some personally that are well-educated, intelligent and who function rationally and at a high level in their demanding jobs.
There are failure modes hard-wired in the human brain; critical thinking does not come naturally to us. For a discussion of these general characteristics of human error, I recommend this video presentation from Michael Shermer, Executive Director of the Skeptic Society, titled “The pattern behind self deception.” It may be that Birthers have some extra dose of the characteristics that Dr. Shermer talks about.
This article, however, looks at Birtherism with a different hypothesis, what I will call “the Birther blind spot.” There is ample discussion in the literature that shows humans have a “confirmation bias“; they tend to accept evidence that agrees with their beliefs and reject evidence that disagrees. I think that confirmation bias reaches the extreme with Birthers.
If you are familiar with the Harry Potter books, you may remember the Leaky Cauldron tavern. The tavern was in plain sight, but the muggles (non-magical folk) still could not see it. It was not that it was invisible, but that it created such a spell of aversion that ordinary folk just couldn’t look at it or focus on it. The Birther blind spot, I think, works the same way. It is an inability to see caused by a mental block based on aversion.
Let’s look at an example. The following image is clipped from the Certification of Live Birth posted on the Internet by the Obama campaign and several web sites in June of 2008. First we see the “normal” view.
When Birthers talk about the COLB, they say that it proves nothing because anyone, no matter where they are born can get a Hawaiian Certification of Live Birth. That is, of course, untrue, but the fact that they say this points out that they can’t see the image above normally. The Birther blind spot makes the COLB look like this:
In some cases the aversion forces the eye to look in a different direction, so that the Location of Birth block appears this way:
What is even scarier, and we’ve seen this in comments right here on this web site, some Birthers actually see the wrong words on the page:
While you may find these examples humorous, they are not intended that way. I am dead serious about the perception errors in just about everything connected with Obama conspiracy theories. I think it stems from an unconscious aversion so powerful, that Birthers are simply unable to see certain things and to think certain thoughts.
I fear the condition is incurable although more study is needed to see if certain classes of anti-psychotic drugs might have an effect1. The good news is that Birthers in other aspects of life may still achieve a high functional level.
1 This is not to imply that Birtherism is a psychosis, but a reference to the correlation between dopamine levels (altered by some anti-psychotic medications) and seeing patterns that aren’t there.