Cognitive Dissonance for the Masses
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological disorder that occurs when an individual has two diametrically opposed thoughts at the same time. Most people suffer this at one time or another, usually for only a short period until they make a choice between discarding either idea (a) or discarding idea (b).
Occasionally both ideas (a) and (b) are reinforced by outside influences and you might start to rethink whether or not the idea that you originally discarded might not actually be accurate, while the one you kept might be the one that is in error.
At the start of the Crimean/Ukrainian crisis our glorious president gave us a nearly textbook illustration of the causes of cognitive dissonance. When he initially addressed the issue, he stated unequivocally that the Ukrainian Constitution was inviolable and that any Russian act that ignored that constitution of a sovereign nation would be unacceptable.
Having said that, and ignoring the frequency that Mr. Obama has violated the U.S. Constitution creates the perfect source of cognitive dissonance for his listeners. We KNOW he acted unconstitutionally. Yet he is the president (a position of considerable formal influence domestically) and he stated, unequivocally, that the constitution of a sovereign nation cannot be violated. And he is the president, after all, so he must be correct. Right?
He has also stated that our constitution is wrong about things with which he disagrees, and in addition to being president, he is often referred to as a “Constitutional scholar” or that he taught the U.S. Constitution in Chicago. Therefore he can ignore the whole constitution thing. Right?
So which idea should be tossed out? There lies the root of cognitive dissonance.
To make it easier for all of us to make the choice between nonsense and good sense, allow me to provide several examples that show a certain commonality with listening to our president espouse the inviolability of the Constitution (any constitution), and eliminate the psychological pain inflicted by our president.
- Imagine seeing a news report, with accompanying video footage, of a right-to-life rally where the keynote speaker is Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
- Picture in your mind an infomercial proclaiming loudly the utter safety of the U.S. banking industry and how your money is really, really safe. The spokesman for the banking industry? Willie Sutton.
- Perhaps you might conjure an image of yourself sitting at your church and listening to an impassioned speech – by Bill Clinton.
It would appear that the controlling variable in choosing which conflicting idea that should discarded versus the one that should be kept would be the known behavior of the speaker rather than the words that speaker utters. Once that premise is accepted, the choice of what (or whose) ideas should be discarded becomes much simpler.
Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller, a two-tour Vietnam veteran and writes frequently about political idiocy, business and economic idiocy and American cultural idiocy. Jim also blogs at http://jimyardley.wordpress.com/, and can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org