Saturday, October 14, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is "the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time". The mind has to either cancel out one belief, or modify its previously held beliefs in the light of new knowledge. I've noted yesterday that the scientific spirit is to constantly modify our beliefs in the light of new knowledge in order to gain an ever-improved picture of the world. Whereas blind faith involves denying any counter-information. So, we've got all that?

Okay, so apparently there is something interesting about all of this "Whose gay in Congress?" nonsense, if only to watch how people deal with the cognitive dissonance of acknowledging these two facts:
1) Republican politicians often claim that homosexuality is threatening to destroy America,
2) Apparently, a number of Republicans are gay, or are very tolerant of gays in their life.

Andrew Sullivan has been talking quite a bit about this, and I've heard any number of people try to hold these two contradictory beliefs. To me, the second fact makes sense. I just can't see someone living in Washington DC in 2006 and not being able to accept gays. What's supposed to happen here? Does the noble Puritan Republican politician accidentally wander into Dupont Circle and have a heart attack?

No. I think Republicans are probably a lot more tolerant than their legislation would seem to indicate. Somehow, this is a relief, although they may well be playing the shocked Puritan to secure the Idiot Vote. But, I think, as society gradually grows up, they can come out of the closet as tolerant people. And this can only be for the good.

Cliff Kinkaid has a totally different way of reconciling the two facts:
"If you are getting the idea that gay Republicans may be closeted Democrats, then you are beginning to understand how the Mark Foley scandal could have been a Democratic Party dirty trick."

Yep. They're secretly Democrats. Go ahead and read his column (humorously enough, his group is called Accuracy in Media), and learn how Democrats have pretended for years to be Republicans in order to corrupt Congress with a gay sex ring. Remember, of course, that no one has even come out as having had actual gay sex in the real world. But, we have to get to the bottom of this according to him.

To be honest, his column is one of the stupidest things I've ever read. There's no other way of putting that. Not only is it hysterically homophobic; it's just downright idiotic. And there's a part of me that feels guilty about pointing people towards such a load of crap only to tell them: "Hey! Look at how stupid this guy is!" I mean, that doesn't exactly add anything to the conversation!

But, on the other hand, it seems to me that there's some vague benefit to understanding how people's minds work, if only to understand how we got to this point in our history in which it seems to no longer matter how well-reasoned an argument is; only that it's made in a very passionate way. Part of me wants to dissect the Counter-Enlightenment we're living in if only to know how to get through it. Because I don't think it's any particular group of people that is acting ridiculous. But, I fear that we're just not able to reason any longer- and that makes us all fertile ground for demogogues and fanatics to take root in.

Update: Of course, the classic example of this on the left is in the treatment of Bill Clinton- lest we forget the man who, in his private life was a sexist creep, but in his public life was supposedly a staunch defender of women's rights. Quite a lot of cognitive dissonance there. Or the weird tendency people have these days to treat him like the Dalai Lama, in spite of the fact that his handling of the Rwandan genocide could be called a crime against humanity. So, yeah, to paraphrase the Sex Pistols, I think political loyalty makes "you a moron, a potential H-Bomb."

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