Sunday, November 13, 2016

Post Election Cognitive Dissonance

"This is a pleasant fiction."
--Lucilla (Gladiator)

Cognitive dissonance is mental stress driven by the holding of contradictory beliefs or thoughts, or by the appearance of new information that conflicts with existing beliefs or values. While cognitive dissonance can be resolved in the direction of moving toward truth, it often drives people in the opposite direction--toward rationalizing false beliefs and/or continuing (perhaps even escalatinge) failing courses of action.

Stated differently, cognitive dissonance helps shape the psychology of false beliefs and denial.

Scott Adams suggests that last week's election results have unleashed a enormous wave of cognitive dissonance among anti-Trumpers. He suggests that those protesting Trump's victory are struggling with a state of mental stress that is characteristic of cognitive dissonance. The pathology was as follows:

1) They believe they are smart and well-informed.

2) Their smart, well-informed judgment told them that Trump was obviously a terrible candidate for president.

3) Half the voters, which includes smart and well-informed people, voted for Trump anyway.

Because these 'facts' can't be reconciled in the minds of anti-Trumpers, something has to give in order to cope with the mental stress. Two possibilities for interpreting reality follow. One is to accept that, if a large portion of the voting public does not see Trump as a terrible candidate for president, then perhaps he isn't. Of course, doing so would conflict with 1) and 2) above--i.e., that the individual is smart and well-informed and correctly identified Trump as a terrible candidate. The negative psychic income involved with this resolution is too great for many to bear.

Seeking an alternative that takes less psychic toll, anti-Trumpers are likely to head down path number two. Post-election anti-Trumpers stay committed to 1) and 2) and modify 3). They rationalize that those who voted for Trump know he was a terrible candidate and prefer terrible. Moreover, Trump supporters can't be smart and well-informed.

In the anti-Trump hallucination, the KKK, neo-nazis, xenophobes, bigots, et al are not nutty fringe groups but appear center stage as general symbols of all Trump supporters.

That Trump supporters include many smart and well-informed people who are capable of rendering good collective judgment is unfathomable to people who can't imagine a world in which their personal powers of perception could be so wrong.

To reconcile their world, anti-Trumpers have to imagine Trump supporters as defective in some moral or cognitive way.

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