Monday, May 14, 2007

Thinking Outloud

There is a book called something like "What's wrong with Kansas?" and the thesis is, why do the voters of Kansas continue to elect Republicans who don't serve their interests or share their values?

I am trying to learn a bit about the idea of "Cognitive Dissonance" and may not be even close to understanding, but I think I may have an idea.

The concept of cognitive dissonance is, if we see things that conflict with our preconceived notions, or strongly held beliefs, we either must change our strongly held beliefs or preconceived notions, or convince ourselves that we don't see what we actually do see.

For example, we (many of us at least) believe that the United States is the world's most generous nation, and our giving is unmatched by the rest of the world. Between what we give through our government, the US portion of United Nations activities, all the US donations to international aid agencies, and the church gifts that go to the poor, and the individual gifts we give to support people in the third world through various charities, we are surely the example of giving and humanitarianism the rest of the world should follow.

In truth, the United States as a nation and the people of the United States as individuals are right up there with the best, but we are not at the top of the heap. Not even second or third. Not sure where we fall, but it's not bad, just not "perfect".

But to accept even this tiny bit of dissonance, that is, "The US is not the very best, most generous and most benevolent nation on the face of the Earth." is more than their psyche can handle, so they respond in ways that, to others who don't share that dissonance, seem silly. For example, when one says after a Tsunami, "Well, a couple of day's worth of war in Iraq would have paid for a Tsunami warning system for Indonesia", and I am *not* saying that this is true, one might get in response "Oh yeah? Well fuck you! USA! USA! USA!"

Now, I am not suggesting that this would happen, but I have certainly had the uncomfortable experience of asking a neighbor to vote for a candidate, only to have the voter say "Well, Jesus will see to it that the right person wins. You know, nothing happens unless it's His will. So I don't have to think about it. Jesus is in charge."

Friends, what do you say to that?

"People are suffering in Mexico from poverty." "Jesus.
"People are dying in Africa for lack of clean water. "God"
"The air, world wide, is choking and growing more so every day." "Amen."

The truth is, these folks have solved the cognitive dissonance of knowing that we are not doing all that we can, and as a result, suffering grows every day. By ignoring the truth, they can ignore the pain that comes from knowing the truth.

Think of it this way. If you believe that the combination of sperm and egg makes a human being, and the Republican Party and Conservative Democrats have been promising you since before you cast your first vote that they will end abortion, how can you explain away the fact that Roe v Wade is still the law of the land? And, even if Roe v Wade were overturned, how can you resolve the cognitive dissonance of knowing that South Carolina will be abortion clinic free, but the women of New York, and maybe North Carolina, will be free to continue to kill innocents even after Roe v Wade is overturned? If it's murder, how can any state allow it?

The Religious Right handles the internal conflict caused by this state of affairs by either being in on the deal, that is, understanding that abortion is just a way to manipulate their followers, or by constructing a mythology that satisfies their need to make sense of the world. Hence, Senator Thurmond of South Carolina can both be a "Good Christian", a "God Fearing Man", and a "White Man's Friend" while fathering a child with a black woman and changing his position on race issues as fast as you can say "opportunist" and play the race card until he died. One cannot be both Christian and racist, but Thurmond was able to sell it because South Carolinians could not live with the idea that we were as bass ackward as we really are.

Of course, this is just thought, but it may explain a lot of stuff. Why do I continue to live near a nuclear power plant? There is really no excuse for it. When our daughters were growing up we moved to Asheville, NC specifically to avoid nukes. They are as bad as ever. Why do I allow myself to be comfortable with something that terrifies me?

We can't accept behavior we see as outside our acceptable zone. Comfort is available at the touch of a button, so our statements of coming problems seems like hysteria to many. How do we bring folks to see what we see when seeing what we see requires them to change the way they see the world?
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