Sunday, June 9, 2013

Cognitive Dissonance, Barack Obama and the Current Democratic Majority

If your household is anything like mine, over the past few days you've done nothing but discuss (not necessarily in this order): Bradley Manning, Barack Obama, the NSA and Glenn Greenwald.

If your household is anything like mine, over the past few days the following words to describe emotions have received prominent play:

Pissed Off

Well, this morning, while making my coffee, I had a minor epiphany. Back on May 8, I had published a diary about Mark Sanford's election to the House and how the psychological concept of 'Cognitive Dissonance' might have played a role in explaining, among other matters, why Romney won the district by 18 points in 2012 but Sanford only won by 9 points:

Cognitive Dissonance, Mark Sanford and the Current Republican Electorate

That diary did not receive an overwhelming response and I'm not sure it should have, given the convincing rebuttals in the Comments section. But that does not mean that Cognitive Dissonance does not play a role in social psychology and might not be a useful tool to contribute to our understanding of other political events.

Ah-ha, I thought to myself this morning. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Might not Cognitive Dissonance also be at play here and might it not also explain the relentless sniping and circular firing-squad-ism on display these last few days at DailyKos, DemocraticUnderground and other progressive spots?

For those who do not spend a lot of time with psychology and social psychology, the Wikipedia article does a great job of defining and discussing Cognitive Dissonance broadly speaking:

In modern psychology, cognitive dissonance is the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel "disequilibrium": frustration, hunger, dread, guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety .  . . Cognitive dissonance theory explains human behavior by positing that people have a bias to seek consonance between their expectations and reality. According to Festinger, people engage in a process he termed "dissonance reduction", which can be achieved in one of three ways: lowering the importance of one of the discordant factors, adding consonant elements, or changing one of the dissonant factors. This bias sheds light on otherwise puzzling, irrational, and even destructive behavior.
Cognitive Dissonance Defined

To put it bluntly, I think the Democratic majority is experiencing a massive outbreak of Cognitive Dissonance right now. The two competing 'cognitions,' if you will, can be condensed down to the following:

A) Barack Obama is a good (or "decent") guy who has my best interests at heart and the best interests of those I care about


B) Barack Obama is a bad (or "devious") guy who is spying on me and those I care about.

Talk about your basic recipe for inducing a massive bout of anxiety. What's an ordinary, decent Democrat to do?

Well, I know how I have reduced the anxiety I'm experiencing: I published a diary on DailyKos yesterday that provided me with some catharsis:

Boy, was I a Schmuck

In short, I reduced the importance of one of the discordant factors by basically negating Cognition A above. What is weird (and I hope the professional psychologists and social psychologists reading this will weigh in heavily on this) is that I would still secretly like Cognition A to be true and have only ruefully and wistfully reduced its importance in my belief structure.

I really would like for Barack Obama to be a 'good' (or "decent") guy who has my best interests at heart. But how can I reconcile that desire with the evidence of my own two eyes? 

No comments:

Post a Comment