Tuesday, November 16

Cognitive Dissonance Redux

Newly emboldened to prattle on about politics and not knitting, I thought I'd return to a link that we all saw a lot a few weeks back, before the election. PIPA's report on The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters. Kerstin at HomeGrown Daisy (if you don't know the story, this is a formerly knitting, now political blog, great in both incarnations), linked to it again today, and it is timely once again. As those of us in the blue states ask WTF??? over and over again, as we gently bang our heads against the wall in the hopes that we might develop some form of brain damage that might make it seem like it's all going to be okay, this report seems to have an answer, at least a partial one.

Essentially, those Bush voters were all just believing what they wanted to believe. And I thought they were supposed to be the absolutists in the class--apparently one truth is as true as another, especially if it comes from Rush Limbaugh and Faux News.

So why do Bush supporters show such a resistance to accepting dissonant information? While it is normal for people to show some resistance, the magnitude of the denial goes beyond the ordinary. Bush supporters have succeeded in suppressing awareness of the findings of a whole series of high- profile reports about prewar Iraq that have been blazoned across the headlines of newspapers and prompted extensive, high-profile and agonizing reflection. The fact that a large portion of Americans say they are unaware that the original reasons that the US took military action--and for which Americans continue to die on a daily basis--are not turning out to be valid, are probably not due to a simple failure to pay attention to the news.

The roots of the resistance to this information very likely lie in the traumatic experience of 9/11, and equally in the near pitch-perfect leadership that President Bush showed in its immediate wake. In response to an unprecedented attack on US soil, with the prospect of further such attacks, Bush responded with a grace and resolve that provided reassurance to an anxious public. In the war with the Taliban he showed restraint as well as effectiveness. Large numbers of Americans had a powerful bonding experience with the president--a bond that they may be loath to relinquish.

While I take issue with the idea of pitch-perfect leadership (erm, the footage of his school visit in Fahrenheit 9/11) and with restraint and effectiveness characterizing his war with the Taliban (sure, if you don't count the part about letting Bin Ladin get away), I think it's true that there must be something blocking these people from parsing what is pretty widely-available information. Maybe it's a guilty conscience for the war. Or maybe they just trust authority so much that if W and Karl Rove say it, it must be true.

But here is the most prophetic statement of the whole report:

Bush appears to assume that his support is fragile. He refuses to admit to making any mistakes. He admits that he was surprised that WMD were not found, but does not say that the most reasonable conclusion is that they were never there and continues to talk about “disarming” Iraq. He asserts that he never said that Iraq was directly involved in 9/11, but maintains that there were contacts with al Qaeda in a way that implies that they were significant. Most telling, his supporters as well as his opponents overwhelmingly say that they hear him still saying that Iraq had WMD and supported al Qaeda. To remain loyal and bonded to him means to enter into this false reality.

Bush may be right. Admitting his mistakes may shatter his idealized image in a way that some supporters may not forgive. But there also risks in succeeding in getting elected based on false beliefs. The number of people in the public who see through the illusion will likely continue to grow, eating away at the implied mandate of an election. Further, the cohesion of society can be damaged by a persisting and fundamental division in the perception of what is real, undermining pathways to consensus and mutual sacrifice, and making the country increasingly difficult to govern. (Emphasis added.)

Sadly, I don't think Bush will really pay the price for this--what price is left to pay? I have no doubt as to how history will remember him, and it's the rest of us who have to rebuild this place. Perhaps people will learn to take a critical view of the information they receive. I can dream, can't I?


shetha said...

Hi -- just was browsing around and found your blog. I had to check twice to be sure this post was from today because I was having a serious deja-vu moment as I read it. I certainly remember the reference to the HomeGrown Daisy site but I've never actually visited it. Maybe my brain is playing tricks on me. In any event, I have to believe that Bush will somehow in the end pay the price for all the damage that he has wrought, domestically and abroad. My worst fear is that we haven't even seen the tip of the iceburg. The truth is, I'm prepared to personally do something about it. It's having faith that I can do something that keeps me from pulling out all my hair and moving my family out of the country. Glad to find a like-minded person in so many ways... it helps fuel the fire of hope.

Anonymous said...

SO sorry to have to post anonymously again but signing in is a bit of an aggrevation. Anyway, yes, we do have all the information, it's just that we don't agree with your conclusions and points of view on what is the next necessary step.
In regards to Afghanistan, bin Ladin is the leader of al Qeada, not the Taliban, which has been eliminated. Hope that clears up the confussion for you.
But here is what I would really like to ask: What about the Holocaust? Why are we teaching our children about that? I thought it was so that it never happens again. So is that a lesson for just White Europeans? Because no one seemed to have a problem with us going to the Balkans to stop that ethnic cleansing.
But it was OK for Saddam to murder thousands of his citizens? Just wondering.
The real question is why aren't we doing something about Suddan.
Something to think about while you knit.

Anonymous said...

The thing these ethnic cleansing people refuse to see is{not saying its OK here} but the US told the iraqui people that they would have their back should they decide to revolt and try to overthrow Sadam's regime. We did not have their back and Sadam killed the people who waged war against him. Unlike The USA which wages war against a nation that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11. Elka your nextdoor neighbor on the RAOK ring OH OH OH sent you an email last night please spread the word :^>

Anonymous said...

Well, the report crashed my browser, but that's OK, I don't really need to read it to know I agree.

Do you know about http://www.madewithlovebyaliberal.org ? A friend of mine is the organizer. Seems like a good fit.

-- yduJ from apmultiples