It’s never a bad thing to muse for a few minutes about the things in life most of us take for granted. One such thing is the ability to see. According to the World Health Organization, about 36 million people on this planet are completely blind, while another 217 million people have moderate to severe vision impairment. 81 percent of those people are over the age of 50, with mostly curable eye diseases being to blame. Perhaps the most unfortunate cases are those of blind children, which number about 1.4 million people globally. Blindness can mean total darkness, which makes up about 10-15 percent of blindness cases, while the rest of the blind can see shapes, colors, or some changes in light.
First of all, some notes on blindness. According to the Perkins School for the Blind, studies have shown that it’s actually a myth that blind people have sharper senses than non-blind people. However, studies do say that blind people just devote more cognitive energy to those other senses. So, we would not all suddenly have the greatest palates or super sensitive hearing, but we would perhaps concentrate on these senses more, now that our sight has gone. According to other studies, we’d sleep a lot more in the daytime and that sleep time would be filled with dreams about sounds, smells, and tastes. We’d also have more nightmares, said one study in Denmark.
As for how we’d get along, well, studies say that a lot of blind people use dogs for help, or use canes, but many blind folks don’t use either. According to Kim Tindall, a blind person who is a member of the East Hartford chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut, when you go blind, your “Life is turned upside down.” So, as expected, we’d all at first be in a state of total shock. According to a story she wrote, she soon learned to navigate her house, followed by the nearby streets. She learned to read, to cook, and in time she says she fully gained back her independence. So, that’s some good news. As for learning how to read, according to one person’s account, it took 6 months to master braille. Another person said it takes 500 hours to be able to read well. So, we could read books, we could learn how to touch type, we could cook, and do all manner of things we did before. But the world wouldn’t be what it was if we ALL went blind. Could the world still function? For instance, blind people can have non-visual access installed on their computers, but if we all went blind, getting that installed would not be easy.
In fact, someone actually wrote a novel about this subject called ‘Blindness’. The author won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In it, the blindness epidemic doesn’t ‘suddenly’ happen, it is more of a disease that progresses. Many of those that cannot be cared for by relatives or lovers have to live in asylums for the blind, and we can imagine these cramped places if everyone went blind. The novel then depicts the anxiety over who gets what, including obviously food as it’s in shortage, leading to fights over all the things that sustain us. Blind people are abused by some, and even raped. It’s not a good scene, and there is soon a total breakdown of society, law, and order, and it becomes a kind of survival scene not unlike Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, filled with violence, depravity, and despair.
So, that doesn’t look too good, and that was a progressive onset of blindness, not sudden blindness. If we just all lost our sight, we can only imagine the shock and horror that would ensue. Planes not on autopilot would struggle to land, and those on autopilot would also probably not make it home as all the systems it takes to land planes will be being used by people in a state of utter despair. Cars would just crash in the streets, buses would fall from mountain roads, restaurants would become engulfed in flames as cooks caught fire standing too close to an open flame. Everyone in the West would probably be blaming North Korea. We could spend hours painting this initial scenario, but we don’t have time for that. In spite of the massive shock and its attendant destruction and delirium, most of us would survive and things would calm down. We’d then have to make our action plan.
While Blindness the book creates a very bleak scenario, at first there is little doubt that many of us would take solace in leaving our house and finding others. In total blackness, we may not want to hurt others, but form a small group and deliberate what we must do to survive. Things like racism or transphobia or petty arguments or class difference could totally disappear as we’d need to work together. Rather than widespread hostility appearing on the scene, perhaps we would become a much tighter community. Reading other’s opinions online, some people think it would go the opposite way, and our lack of law enforcement would mean instant havoc. We, however, are being optimistic. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that scarcity would happen, and there would still be economic diversity. There would be a lot of starving people outside of these communities we have formed. Farmers could of course still work, but it would be slow, and food distribution would be very difficult. If you live in a New York Penthouse, your chance of survival would be much less than if you lived in rural India.
We would adjust, but that would not be without a lot of chaos. We’d have to learn to power our power stations. We may not need light anymore, but we do need electricity. One major problem, of course, is that we’d have to get places, and so not everyone could get to work to do the things that help make the world run. We’d need warmth, and we’d need food and shelter. We’d need plumbing, we’d need drinking water. Could we do all that? It’s likely that the people we’d need to keep the systems running would live on the job. We would be so much slower, and at first we could not have long commutes to work. The world would require our experts to be on the job all the time until we could figure something better out.
We might then ask if we could still have the things not absolutely necessary for survival. Could we create smartphones for the blind? Could doctors still tell you what’s wrong with you? One thing’s for sure is that no one would be receiving difficult surgeries, so we’d die more natural deaths as we did in the past. There is no doubt that initially many people around the world would die, millions, perhaps billions, and a lot of those will take their own life. However, we ever-adaptable humans would conquer blindness. We would create the most advanced robots in the years to come. We would in time live in comfort again, and even at some point re-learn how to travel long distances. We are, after all, on the verge of having fully autonomous vehicles. And as for beauty, well that would no longer be in the eye of the beholder, but the heart of the blind person.
We could speculate a lot more on what might happen, and that’s just what it is, speculation. What other crazy things would happen if we all suddenly went blind?! Let us know in the comments!