It ain’t just a river in Egypt, y’all. Denial is a psychological condition in which a person rejects a fact or truth that is too painful, or that they are simply unwilling or uninterested to hear.
Denial is a common trait amongst certain kinds of personalities, including Cluster B personality disorders like narcissism and sociopathy. It can be infuriating in its utter irrationality, as people deny obvious truths that can be plainly seen.
Denial in psychological warfare
It’s also a central trait of both totalitarian regimes, and of the cultures that eke themselves out under autocratic boots. It calls to mind George Orwell’s famous quote from 1984:
“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
Propaganda and Big Lies, central to authoritarianism and fascist movements around the world, are themselves denials or variations on denial, coverups, and untruths. These tactics of psychological and hybrid warfare are in use today, by Russia, China, Iran and other world powers who seek to undermine the United States and the strength of democracy.
Denial in American politics
It’s not just foreign regimes playing the “denial” card. From climate change denial to science denialism more broadly, denial has been a strategy of the American right wing since the 1953 meeting of Big Tobacco CEOs to figure out how to save their businesses from the scientific findings that their product causes cancer.
In recent years, the tactic has been used by politicians from Donald Trump to a wide variety of players in the Republican Party. It’s no longer just science that is being denied — it’s any uncomfortable reality of… well, reality that right-wingers don’t wish to see.
Unfortunately, the truth doesn’t always give us exactly what we want. Learning to deal with life as it is, versus how we wish it to be, is one of the hallmarks of mature adulthood — and it’s about high time some folks in America began to grow up.