Cognitive Dissonance, or American Life in the 21st Century

September 11, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance is the accepted psychological term for the uncomfortable feeling one gets when simultaneously holding two conflicting ideas in one’s mind. When people’s ideas and behaviors are consistent with each other, there is peace and harmony. But when ideas or beliefs clash with behavior or facts, there is usually some emotional reaction. The reaction could be anger, embarrassment, guilt, shame, stress or some other form of emotional discomfort…especially if you get caught in the midst of your conflicting behavior.

Examples of day-to-day Cognitive Dissonance could be:

• Driving 75 in a 55 mph zone because 75 mph is the flow of traffic.

• “Fudging” on your tax return, after all, taxes are too high.

• Stealing office supplies from your employer because he doesn’t pay you enough.

• Pocketing a cash transaction so there would be no income tax.

• Munching your way through the supermarket without paying for the food you eat.

• Returning a dress for a refund after you wore it to the event you bought it for.

• Accepting pricey gifts from vendors or contractors, a “thank you gift” in advance.

• Being an animal rights supporter that eats a hamburger while wearing leather shoes, jacket and belt.

In the realm of government and politics, I believe that most Americans have serious cognitive dissonance issues.

Examples are:

• Citizens who complain about government excess and waste while accepting Federal largess, like “Cash for Clunkers” payments, crop subsidies, Social Security payments, Senior prescription drug benefits, mortgage guarantees, commodity price supports, college Pell grants or loans, Medicare or Medicaid, Section 8 rent subsidies, anti-competition tariffs…and the list could go on and on.

• Calling another person pejorative names when they point out your logical inconsistencies.

• Flag waving and rah-rah about the USA, when you are really cheering for the government, not the nation.

• Calling WWII “the greatest war” and those who fought in it “the greatest generation” when America had no business being in that war.

• Criticizing Vietnam-era “draft dodgers” when history has proven them right.

• Saying that you “support the troops” when they are doing evil deeds daily and violating the Constitution with those deeds. The Nuremburg defense does not work. The soldiers are not “just following orders.” They have moral decisions to make every day. That is why the suicide rate for deployed soldiers is so high.

• The American citizen who votes for “the lesser of two evils” in ANY elections.

• Citizens who attend “Tea Party” rallies but vote to elect Congressmen and Senators who violate the Constitution with their actions.

• The Congressman or Senator who votes for unconstitutional laws or spending bills.

• “Supporting” any President who proposes Unconstitutional laws and programs.

• “Supporting” any President who signs an Unconstitutional bill into law.

People hate feeling uncomfortable for any long period of time. So they have essentially three choices: (1) Change their behavior to match their ideas or beliefs, (2) Change their ideas or beliefs to match their behavior, or (3) Rationalization.

Choice #1 sometimes requires more of a human being that he is willing to do. Selfish desires often conflicts with your beliefs.

Choice #2 requires an absence of hypocrisy. After all, hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.

Rationalization serves us well. Rationalization is the action of creating justifications for one’s behavior or belief. We Americans rely upon rationalizations to get through our days. Rationalizations are more important to humans than sex. When is the last time you went a week without a rationalization?

It also has choices:

(1) Confirmation bias – a tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. Rose-colored glasses, so to speak. But our world view, our preconceptions color everything we see and preconceptions are often hard to change. Much easier to justify our behavior or belief. But in government, politics and military strategy, confirmation bias can produce disastrous results. An example would be the American generals who keep asserting that the wars are going well and that objectives are being met. Another example is the “living Constitution” theory, which allows adherents to make it say whatever they want.

(2) Denial or dismissal of the disconfirming evidence – In the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Boxer” is the lyric “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” Labeling the unwanted evidence “liberal” or “conservative” or “socialist” or “just plain nuts” often lends enough credence to justify our beliefs or actions.

So, why all this fuss about Cognitive Dissonance? Simply to point out that ALL human beings labor under it, and that Cognitive Dissonance has real consequences in our real world. It goes a long way to explain why people do the things that they do. And, if you want to really understand people and have a clear understanding of what they value, don’t listen to what they say…only watch what they do.

A very small minority of American citizens truly understand the principals of liberty and manageable governance. In order for there to be a sweeping wind of liberty in America, the majority of Americans will have to put aside their Cognitive Dissonance, biases and rationalizations and embrace TRUTH.

I doubt if Americans are up to the task.

DumpDC. Six Letters That Can Change History.

© Copyright 2009, Russell D. Longcore. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.