Monday, May 14, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance and the Zombie Hive Mind: Why it's Impossible to Use Facts and Logic with the New Republican Party

Good lord, it's depressing, and frankly, I'm not sure what to do about it. The right is so completely absorbed in its own apocryphal, anti-intellectual, anti-logical world that, honestly, I don't see how one can reasonably deal with them at all. The following is representative of the neo-extremist, anti-facts, anti-logic view of the republican right.

The conservative website, TownHall.com, had this post today:



Here's how I responded to Ms. Kieffer:
"The RINO’s “horn” is compromise and Americans are tired of compromises like Obamacare. Americans want politicians who will just say “no” to socialism." So, let me get this straight:
a) You hate socialism.
b) Obamacare is socialism.
c) Obamacare is patterned exactly on Romney-care (designed by Heritage foundation).
d) Republicans elected Romney as their candidate for president.
e) Therefore, republicans elected a candidate who supports socialism, which they hate.
That seems inherently contradictory. Oh. Wait. No, it *is* inherently contradictory. It's called "cognitive dissonance," and you folks on the right have that in spades.

Snarky reply? Yes. Accurate? Oh, hells yeah. So, this basic logic problem--that even my freshman daughter in high school clearly understood--is completely lost on and ignored by the entire republican party. That's right, folks: the right believes in "gut" and angry bullet points, but not simple, basic logic. This is but one example, but there are so many, that there aren't enough hours in the day--and that's just to address with the specious reasoning perpetuated by the right on any given day.

Logic? We don't need no stinkin' logic.
As I wrote the other day, Mitt Romney exhibited the best example of cognitive dissonance--well, many times, actually, but--most recently when he said that he didn't recall attacking the gay kid in school, but that he certainly didn't remember that the kid was gay. Same basic issue with his stance on Detroit: He wrote an Op Ed piece in the New York Times that urged Detroit to be left to die, but then recently stated that his ideas were taken and he deserves credit for it being saved.

Graphic: Groobiecat
Mittney verbiage: Washington Post
Again, this is called Cognitive Dissonance. And it's governing the new crazies on the right the way that the search for brains governs an army of zombies. How do you argue with them? Like zombies, you can't.


Cognitive Dissonance Defined. Cognitive dissonance is when two conflicting or contradictory ideas inhabit the same brain at the same time. The definition of cognitive dissonance from Wikipedia:
In a state of dissonance, people may feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements. 
That last bit is key: reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements. So, when there's a conflict with, say, hating Obama for his "socialistic" healthcare scheme which conflicts with support for a candidate whose healthcare scheme is exactly the same, the former is simply ignored as inconvenient.

When you call them out on it, the right simply either a) doesn't respond, or b) comes up with some sort of chuckling nonsensical dodge (see above). There's also this: c) facts don't matter as much as how one feels. Let me explain: One time, when I explained how contradictory his position was on a subject, my dad, a staunch conservative simply replied, "Well, I can't argue with you because you know a lot more than I do, obviously, but they're my beliefs and you can't do anything to change it. I own them." And that, in a nutshell, is what this is all about: beliefs vs. facts. I love my dad and respect him a great deal, but he summed up, quite clearly, the difference between the left and right. One side has "gut feelings" and "belief in fluffy ideas" whereas the other side tends to use facts and logic. Not always; not in all cases. But generally speaking.


Take a look at how Colbert brilliantly summed up the whole "gut feeling thing" a couple of years ago.




The Only Hope? There are still a lot of people who are centrist and/or "old school" republicans capable of basic reasoning. Heck, it's the only possible explanation for the fact that we have a black man in the white house--regardless of party. So, let's hope that basic logic and polemic can get through to these folks.

10 comments:

  1. Good post. My field is Industrial Psychology. You should also look into Authoritarian Personality.

    The problem with cognitive dissonance is that the more a person's values or beliefs are threatened with contradictory elements the stronger the drive to justify the beliefs to others become. Ironically, I often see this is proselytizers. When confronted with a religious crisis, whether it be a sex scandal in the Church or blatant cruelties that are sanctioned by their faith, they usually respond with an increase in activity and an increase in missionary/'witnessing' activity. Instead of trying to work out the contradictions that de-legitimizes their positions, they choose to legitimize their beliefs through sheer numbers and outside validation. So, it makes sense that the more "incorrect" a political stance becomes, the louder one becomes about said stance. There's usually a tipping point in the population, thankfully, where the other side begins to escalate their responses as well. But sometimes it takes a real tragedy to get people to viscerally begin to relate to the real logical conclusions of their positions. You kind of see that in the aftermath of the 68 police riots and the fracturing up of the Democrat Party.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughtful and informative post, Nancy. I'm fascinated by this area (was actually going to become a psychologist, back in the day), and think that it's really the crux of the ongoing cultural and political civil cold war in this country. Well, that, and an increasingly militant right energized primarily by the fact that there's a black man in the white house. I will look into authoritarian personality, though; any good suggested sources? Cheers.

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    2. Just a quick additional note. A friend of mine wrote to me in response to this post, and your comment, specifically. Here's what he said (which echoes my own views, as well):

      This part of her response really caught my eye: "There's usually a tipping point in the population, thankfully, where the other side begins to escalate their responses as well. But sometimes it takes a real tragedy to get people to viscerally begin to relate to the real logical conclusions of their positions."

      I've been waiting for this tipping point for 25 years. How many tragedies will it take and of what magnitude? Iran-contra, the Clinton impeachment, Bush v. Gore, 9/11, the Iraq war, the 2004 swift-boating of Kerry, torture (either directly or by proxy) and other war crimes, the 2008 economic meltdown... And this isn't even the whole list. It's just a list of the worst, most egregious things I can think of that have happened in the last quarter century. If this cavalcade of shit hasn't woken up the legions of zombies out there to the logical conclusions of their positions, I don't know what will. I really don't. Maybe a second Wall Street meltdown and a plunge into outright depression? The thing is, it's not like we're going to snap out of it and a course correction will somehow occur axiomatically. All the things that need to be changed, whether legislatively or judicially, require concerted effort that can all too easily be torpedoed by a minority of rightie jihadists. How do you get around that?This part of her response really caught my eye: "There's usually a tipping point in the population, thankfully, where the other side begins to escalate their responses as well. But sometimes it takes a real tragedy to get people to viscerally begin to relate to the real logical conclusions of their positions."

      I've been waiting for this tipping point for 25 years. How many tragedies will it take and of what magnitude? Iran-contra, the Clinton impeachment, Bush v. Gore, 9/11, the Iraq war, the 2004 swift-boating of Kerry, torture (either directly or by proxy) and other war crimes, the 2008 economic meltdown... And this isn't even the whole list. It's just a list of the worst, most egregious things I can think of that have happened in the last quarter century. If this cavalcade of shit hasn't woken up the legions of zombies out there to the logical conclusions of their positions, I don't know what will. I really don't. Maybe a second Wall Street meltdown and a plunge into outright depression? The thing is, it's not like we're going to snap out of it and a course correction will somehow occur axiomatically. All the things that need to be changed, whether legislatively or judicially, require concerted effort that can all too easily be torpedoed by a minority of rightie jihadists. How do you get around that?

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  2. It's important to remember that Obama and Romney are essentially the same, in that they both are making the founders of this once great nation turn over in their respective graves. While I certainly agree that many people (particularly those in the relative spotlight) pluck upon the strings of cognitive dissonance, I urge you to not draw party lines. If you prefer dissonance that's cool but I would like to listen to the harmonious tones of a free people, united in the fight against oppression and tyranny, the both of which have historically tended to rear their ugly faces when large governing entities subdue, distract, and most importantly, divide the people. I'm hopeful these words meet you pleasantly.

    Sincerely,
    The Objective Observer

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    1. Same. Ugh. It's only May and I already want to vomit. October is going to be hell.

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  3. Great post, they are crazy! A conservative asked said to me to day and I quote, "Why do Idiots always demand proof." How do you argue with that? Zombies. And yes they will have cognitive dissonance to the max in Texas, holding their noses and voting for Romney.

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  4. I did quite a bit of reading during college on Cognitive Dissonance -- and I think in your examples above you meant to say it SHOULD CAUSE cognitive dissonance...but apparently its not. because republicans appear able to hold inherently contradictory thoughts simultaneously without experiencing the discomfort of realizing their own folly like most humans. its odd -- maybe the social psych guys can do some study's on this to explain it to us all?

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    1. Well, that's a strict interpretation of the concept, I think, whereas the interpretation I prefer is one where "one of the conflicting concepts wins out," thus obviating the other ("...or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements."). I honestly think they know that they're wrong, but denial is so strong (perhaps that's what it is--a combination of both denial and cognitive dissonance). Many of these people know when you confront them. A member of my family once argued that Clinton's lies were worse than Bush's lies (and those in his administration) which led us to war. When I said that with Clinton's lie, someone got a blowjob, but the result of Bush's lies led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people needlessly. She just stared at me, and then shook her head and said "I just think that Clinton's are as bad or worse." She subsumed the truth of my statement to her own embedded worldview. Denial and cognitive dissonance, walking ignorantly, blithely hand in hand down the reactionary path of "freedom"...

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  5. The Book"Beyond Fundamentalism"by Rasla Aslyan(spelling?)explains The Rights Mindset perfectly,albeit a terrifying revelation.None of their Thinking made sense till I read that book.I am now more convinced than ever that we must keep up the sustained actions to lead to change&not let up for a millisecond.Our very existence as a Free Nation is at stake&I don't wander into hyperbole when I say that.They are Zombies because,like Alquei'da,they think they are doing"The Lords Work,are in The Lords Army",so any atrocities they do can be excused because they are just doing what their"God"is"telling"them to do.In their World,if you aren't one of them,you are EVIL,a worker of Satan against their Christian Faith&everything they stand for,there's no in-between(as evidenced by the latest Tea Partier who said his idea of compromise was Democrats coming to The Republican side,period.They live in a World of absolutes.Read the Book&see if it doesn't scare you enough to make you leave the Light on,PERMANENTLY.

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  6. The books of Chris Mooney ("The Republican Brain: the Science of Why They Deny Science - and Reality", "The Republican War on Science", and "Unscientific America") all deal with the problem of cognitive dissonance among a particular group of people. Jonathan Haidt's book "The Righteous Mind" deals with the divide between liberals and conservatives and both authors, it seems to me, are in line with Colbert's satire of right wing gut-check 'thinking'.

    This kind of refusal to accept facts and to elevate opinion and feeling above Reason stems, at least in part, from childhood indoctrination into a faith based version of reality. The conservative Republican brain may be wired to accept authority and be aversive to change (as Haidt argues), but it is one that is soaked in religious beliefs which short circuit critical thinking.

    And religious dogma is the one unchanging and steadfast aspect of an ever changing reality that is the bedrock of the conservative mind. It is, indeed, their anchor in a tempest of secular, scientific and political assaults that would undermine their convictions.

    Americans have far less to fear from Muslim extremists than from the loony religious right in our midst. And if there is any doubt about that assertion, I recommend reading Chris Hedges’ “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America”.

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