Friday, October 30, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance in Action

Just a quick post for today before I leave for Boston. Cognitive dissonance is, simply put, where a person's preconceived notions (or worldview) clash with new information that he or she has recently discovered.

Examples: I believe that my parents never lie, but I just caught my father fibbing to his boss about being sick. How can this be?
I believe that Israel is always responsible for everything bad in the Middle East, but the Iran-Iraq war had nothing to do with it? How can this be?
Palestinian violence is always justified because they are "resisting Israel?" But a Palestinian just killed a thirteen-year-old kid! How can that be justified?

There are two ways that people deal with cognitive dissonance. One is that they change their worldview. My parents are honest people in general, but they aren't perfect. Palestinian violence is only justified against soldiers. The trouble with this is that changing worldviews is difficult to do. We need them to go through our lives, and they serve a very valuable function. They don't like to be challenge.

The second way of dealing with cognitive dissonance is to embrace it. You repress what you have learned, or you justify it. A secret cabal of Israelis somehow started the Iran-Iraq war with the US' help. The Palestinians are justified in killing little kids because they are settlers. This is where real trouble comes in: Because maintaining that worldview has become more important to the person than being honest or looking at new information objectively.

There seems to be an example of cognitive dissonance on this thread that started last night on the Huffington Post. The user "alysheba3" is making the case that Israel started Cast Lead because of their tunnel attack on November 4th. If you look at the thread you will see that she repeated the same copy and pasted statement at least twice.

The problem with this theory, of course, is that Cast Lead started on December 27th, not November 5th. So what happened during the intervening month and a half? alysheba3 doesn't know, nor care.

One possibility for this denial of reality is cognitive dissonance. It has been made clear from her posts that this commentor has the mentality of "Israel is always wrong. Israel always starts the wars." In that case, clinging to the only time that Israel retaliated to Hamas pre-Cast Lead is the only possibly way to maintain that worldview. Unfortunately, we know that Hamas was firing multiple rockets for weeks before the airstrikes started on December 27th. What's amazing is the way alysheba3 refuses to admit that they happened.

Of course, the other possibility is that she is simply lying and hoping that no one will call her out on it. But it's an extraordinarily weak lie. Even a child could see that there was too much time betwen the two events to make the claim that the second was a continuation of the first.

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