Trying to understand the un-understandable

When you see behavior such as Rather exhibited in accepting fake memos at face value or Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) trying to explain Rather’s behavior, it should present a puzzle. How can reputable people do such things?

Cognitive dissonance (“CD”) is a discomfort or anguish which arises when a discrepancy exists between existing beliefs and new information. Our minds want to restore balance, and to accomplish that, either the existing belief has to be modified or discarded, or the new information has to be ignored or rationalized.

But when beliefs are strongly held, as is true for activists on the fringes, the level of daily CD is particularly strong (4 out of 5 voices in my head go, “Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!”). Against such strong beliefs, the mind instead recasts new incoming data in increasingly fanciful ways, in order to protect the non-reality-based core beliefs from causing anguish or dissonance. (It’s easier to distort facts, than overhaul an entire belief system.)
[ BummerDietz. Mo Hinchey, Meet Tommy Flanagan. Scylia & Charybdis. 21fb05 ]

The comments on this entry also so CD in that: “But what I object to is people like Charles who seem to think such lunacy is restricted to the Democratics.” (Brad R). This illustrates a significant desire to have everything balanced and even. The reality by any objective measure does not seem to support this. Whether it is an analysis of rhetoric on web logs, measures of bias in the MSM or academia, or the rhetoric of political leaders, there is a pattern that is not balanced nor even.

or, consider this example.

Aside from reliance on feelings, how else can one explain a person who believes, let alone proudly announces on a bumper sticker, that “War is not the answer”? I know of no comparable conservative bumper sticker that is so demonstrably false and morally ignorant. Almost every great evil has been solved by war — from slavery in America to the Holocaust in Europe. Auschwitz was liberated by soldiers making war, not by pacifists who would have allowed the Nazis to murder every Jew in Europe. [Dennis Prager. Liberal Feelings vs. Judeo-Christian Values 22fb05]

It is like a car going down the street plastered with “make love not war” and “peace not war” bumper stickers. Did this person ever think about the alternative? In Vietnam it was decades of repression and the murder of millions. In Iraq, it is yet more mass graves (current total is yet more than the victim count in the tsunami disaster) along with all of the other attrocities.

Another case of CD is in the MSM trying to come to grips with the accountability imposed by internet commentary (weblogs)

Keller [executive editor of the New York Times] appears to be getting to know bloggers. His chief complaint about us is that we’re “erod[ing] the middle ground and accelerat[ing] a general polarization of the nation into people, right and left, who are ardently convinced and not very interested in exposing themselves to facts or ideas that contradict their prejudices.” I don’t think I could charm someone who views the New York Times as a force for moderation and an engine for the presentation of facts and ideas that contradict one’s prejudices. But, then, I wouldn’t be invited to the meeting. [Deacon. The limits of charm, Part Two. Powerline. 23fb05]

Cognitive Dissonance is a step towards learning. It seems we have a lot of learnin’ going on!

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