Cognitive dissonance

“Cognitive dissonance” is a psychological term used to describe the mental tension that arises when a person holds conflicting attitudes, beliefs or values, or behaves inconsistently with them. People tend to seek consistency and can resolve such conflicts by changing one of their attitudes, beliefs, values or behaviors.

Pioneering psychologist Leon Festinger first explored Cognitive Dissonance Theory in the 1950s, famously studying a cult that believed the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood. In their book When Prophecies Fail, Festinger and his colleagues examined how cult members coped when the flood did not occur.

Casual cult participants realized the facts showed they were simply wrong about the flood and abandoned their beliefs. But hardcore cult members, who had forsaken their jobs and homes to work for the cult, adopted a contorted interpretation of the evidence (the lack of a flood) to “prove” they were right all along (the flood didn’t materialize and destroy the earth because of cult members’ faithfulness). They became even more committed to the cult and sought to recruit new members.

This early study of Cognitive Dissonance Theory relates directly to the QAnon theory that Donald Trump would be reinstated as President on several specific dates since Biden’s Inauguration, all of which have come and gone. MyPillow Guy Mike Lindell seems to be a one-man walking time bomb of Cognitive Dissonance, constantly pushing back the date when the “evidence” will come out that requires that Trump be reinstated. Other, more casual members of the Trump cult have come to the realization that Biden is, in fact, President, and Trump will not be reinstated.

The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance also applies to the general Trump cult view that “the election was rigged” even though the evidence clearly demonstrates it was not. While some Trump supporters have gradually acknowledged that Trump did, in fact, lose the election, other hardcore Trump cult members are going to extraordinary lengths to try to change the evidence, to wit, the Republican Arizona Senate with its specious recount performed by the highly partisan, inexperienced, and incompetent Cyber Ninjas.

Republican Cognitive Dissonance isn’t just limited to the fringes of the Party. It is a core party practice. Many Republican officials, talking heads, social media squawkers, and rank-and-file members simultaneously (1) say President Biden should have moved heaven and earth to rescue the hundred or so Americans remaining in Afghanistan, because every American life is precious, but (2) won’t even take the simple, easy steps of wearing a mask and getting vaccinated (or advocate that their constituents, viewers or readers do so) to help preserve the health, safety, and precious lives of Americans right here in the USA.

And how about those who cherish freedom and liberty, but nonetheless take it upon themselves to aggressively — sometimes violently — interfere with the freedoms and liberties of others who choose to wear a mask in stores or comply with mask mandates in airports and on airplanes.

Then there are those who refuse to get vaccinated because they don’t know what is in the vaccine or how it affects their bodies, yet readily seek out home remedies for COVID such as horse dewormers. Oh, and the “All Lives Matter” mantra apparently does not apply when considering whether to curb the scourge of gun violence in America.

Especially egregious examples of Cognitive Dissonance are the “conservative” governors (DeSantis, Abbott, Ducey, etc.) who rail against big government and extoll the wisdom of local governmental prerogatives, but nonetheless aggressively prohibit local governmental bodies, including school boards, from imposing mask mandates to protect the health and well-being of their constituents.

In addressing demonstrations/riots, many Republicans in 2020 wanted to mete out harsh punishment for those who, they say, desecrated federal buildings or statues, yet take a much different view on how to deal with those who despoiled the Capitol on January 6th and tried to stop Congress from performing an essential function. Some of the most visible and vocal Republicans, like Gaetz, Greene, Gosar, Gohmert, and Cawthorn, echo Vladimir Putin’s characterization of the Capitol Insurrectionists as “political prisoners.” The “Law & Order” Party is actually very soft on crime when it comes to Republican members of Congress, Trump officials, and their supporters.

With all the conflicting beliefs they hold, perhaps Republicans should just adopt Cognitive Dissonance as their theme, and the exploding head emoji as their symbol. Of course, it could be argued that, in order to feel the tension of Cognitive Dissonance, people must have achieved a certain level of cognition — and Republicans have provided no evidence that they have.

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