Thoughts on Cognitive Dissonance
Date: Thursday, November 04 @ 12:57:47 UTC
September 03, 2003
"…humans have a deep abiding need in their psyche to be consistent in our attitudes and behaviors; we want to feel in agreement and unified in thought and action. Inner harmony sounds good to everyone, and so it was Festinger's view that when we feel a disharmony, or dissonance, within ourselves, between two factors, we strive to decrease this tension by either changing our original thought, giving strength to the opposing thought, or letting go of the behavior. All three techniques are in the name of decreasing dissonance because it is threatening to experience such a large crack in our rationale that dissonance often creates" (colorado.edu)
While I agree with the conditions that cause people to experience this phenomenon, I must say I do not think they have got it absolutely right. Festinger insists that in order to minimize or erase the tension created by cognitive dissonance, humans either change or modify their original thoughts to accommodate the new information or abandon the old ideas completely.
I think Festinger has greatly underestimated the human WILL to blindness. In my observation, most people try to invalidate the informant or the information itself in order to keep their 'sanity' intact. Another paper speaks of 'mode 2' thinkers (www.propaganda101.com), those who respond to logical arguments with emotional ones. They use emotional thinking and arguments to attempt to counter and invalidate the conflicting truth. They play on their own existing fears and those of others to attempt to get them to come over to their side; the fewer people who accept the new information, the easier it is to invalidate.
Another flaw in the theory (as far as I have read thus far) is that it appears to theorize in a vacuum without taking into account the sociological and economic conditions that may cause reactions to cognitive dissonance to differ. I think a level of comfort and privilege assists in the rejection of conflicting information. Not only are privileged ones used to having their opinions, ideas, ideologies be the standard and the unchallenged, but they sometimes may have more to lose psychologically and materially by accepting conflicting ideas that challenge the status quo from which they benefit.
When one is comfortable, one is more willing to discredit the incoming information, because it is the source of dissonance. Privileged ones do not like to accommodate, to accept their own wrongs or to let go of ideologies that held them high. The U.S is a classic example of this. More Americans believe their President because they have more to lose by accepting that not only is he a liar, but that their way of life is a lie. They have more to lose psychologically (as far as they see it) by realizing that their great society was built and continues to be fed by racism and exploitative capitalism. Even further than simply accepting the lies of one man, it is near impossible for them to accept the lies of a national ideology that has held them superior. Other whites are often not too far from this regardless of their nationality.
Those who have little to lose materially, are used to being the oppressed, those who exist in a perpetual state of discomfort find it easier to accept information that disproves or discredits the existing ideologies as it is these ideologies that have oppressed them anyway. Often, those in a state of discomfort move faster to truths. They react with an urgency that only the oppressed can feel and move much more quickly towards action. Those who have much to lose in matter, more often than not, will fight and kick and scream against it. It is the ultimate irony to me that most people while they claim to want freedom, if given a choice, with inevitably choose slavery.
It is no wonder that some of the most revolutionary thinkers, the most critical insightful journalists have come, especially in this age of expanding media capacity, from the Third World. When you are quite aware of constantly being lied to and by whom, the truth is far easier to see.
It would then appear that people are crazier than we may have previously imagined them to be. Our privileged elite, the ones that run the countries, make the decisions and create and uphold the ideologies are walking, talking lunatics. They are running from the voices in their heads, existing is a perpetual, near schizophrenic state of cognitive dissonance, wailing and screaming in so many ways at the pain. But the will to blindness is so strong that most will refuse to let go and walk in light.
In opposition are the masses; the poor, the dispossessed, the discriminated against, the searching, the hungry, the victimized. They too however are no less fractured and psychologically splintered and subject to many of the false ideas that society propagates. Also even in this group of the less materially advantaged are those who want to fit in with the elite, who will ignore the noise in their heads to belong, to be accepted, to benefit materially and socially from an order that has denied them. We often see this behavior in blacks who have risen in the system or benefited materially. They too want the comfortable ideology and often forget the urgency of those with whom they may have once shared experiences.
The trick is that these very conditions can help to form a person whom once empowered, once given a sliver of light and truth, will walk strait toward it, no looking back, shedding a skin of lies and deception, a skin that never fit comfortably anyway, and embrace truth. And even among the privileged are those who can't shut out the noise, for which the psychological tension is too much to bear, who will make the effort to improve, to grow and to shed the skin of lies and illusions. In all walks of life are people of integrity and courage, people who are not just victims of time and history and circumstance but are its initiators.
Imagine a new world order where the once possessed are now the dispossessed. Where the more you have materially the harder it is to perceive and act on divine, life giving truths; where the order is inverted and the victims of history are now its divine keepers; where the direct path to heaven lies not in privilege, but in the ability to abandon the cushy comfort of lies and false ideologies, and trust in the light that is the source of all…