Archives for posts with tag: Cognitive dissonance

During lock-down I had more time for my research regarding conscience.
Or, in Maturana’s terms, ‘self-awareness‘.

At first glance, evolutionary speaking, conscience – our ability to observe ourselves ‘in the act’, is about increasing the survivability of the individual having said ability. Hence increasing the survivability of the species to which said individual belongs.

Now, since humankind is divided in cultural ‘subspecies’ – and, according to Maturana, conscience is an ability which has been developed in social context, cultures have different chances of survival. Depending on subtle differences imposed upon the individual consciences during the ‘coming of age’.
Only there’s something which contradicts Darwin’s evolutionary theory. According to the classical version, individuals cannot adapt themselves. Individuals can only survive – and transmit their genes, or – if said genes are not good enough for the circumstances, expire and make way for other individuals/species. According to Darwin, only species can evolve.

The notable difference being what we call ‘free will’.
Not as free as some believe it to be, not as bounded as other think it to be, free will does exist. And allows us to evolve on an individual basis. During the life span of the current generation.

Only there’s a small problem here.
Cognitive dissonance.
No matter how conscient – aka aware of our own misgivings, each of us might be, our first tendency when confronted with arguments contradicting our previously held convictions is to rationalize away those arguments.
Change convictions according to the newly acquired knowledge? Maybe later…
Don’t believe me? How much time elapsed between learning that smoking is bad for you and actually quitting? See what I mean?

Hence my ‘impression’ that ‘conscience’ is more concerned about maintaining its own consistency than with the fate of the biological organism which actually supports it.

Want some more arguments?

Northern Italy. France. Spain. Bad Corona-virus outbreaks, followed by intense lock-downs. Currently the situations are, basically, under control. Suggesting that people do learn, fast, when confronted by really dire circumstances.
Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore… reacted immediately, had relatively few problems. Suggesting that people are able to learn from past experiences. The ‘original’ SARS, you know…
Germany had a less ‘dramatic’ trajectory. Suggesting people may, under certain circumstances, learn from others.
US and Brazil. The rest of the US, actually. The NE having experienced the North Italian scenario. Too many people concerned more with remaining consistent with their previous selves than with adapting to the new challenge. ‘Government tries to subdue us’ and ‘masks are an infringement to personal liberty’.

What about China and Russia?
I’ll let you be the judge of that. Only you need to remember that ‘free will’ is of a totally different nature there than it is here. In the rest of the world.

Same in India. With a twist. While in China/Russia free will is stifled from above, in India – and in too many other developing nations, free will is ‘conscripted’ by poverty. It is very hard to think about the day after tomorrow if you don’t know whether you’ll be able to eat tomorrow.
Even less so if you are hungry right now.

And the more important the subject – or closer to their hearts, the harder for them to reconsider their position.

I’m very close to 60 myself and I haven’t yet made peace with my dad.
We’re very good business partners, he lives in the same house with me – my mom passed away almost 25 years ago, and yet not a single day passes without us locking horns.

This morning, it finally downed on me.
He cannot accept my version of things because that would mean he had been wrong – on certain issues, during his entire life.

And what makes me so sure that my version of things is the right one?!?

Simply because his position is:
‘You should be the wiser one. You told me such and such for so long and I haven’t budged. Maybe you should have grown accustomed to the situation long ago and accepted it’.

I actually can accept that, after a certain age, human brain looses some of its flexibility. That is one of the saddest facts of life.
Only we had this very same discussion, on and of, for the last 40 or so years. Both of us were in our prime. He still is…

To make things clearer, before we get to the important part, the differences between us are of a cultural nature.
He is a born and bred Armenian while I’m a mixed breed. He grew up in a consistent cultural environment while I had to adapt to carrying a funny name and to uncountable social changes. He has a clear understanding of the world – which had served him well, while I’m full of questions. And still looking for answers.

And finally, I found one of them.

The funny thing being that I was already aware of the concept for at least 10 years now.

Cognitive dissonance, the mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The unease or tension that the conflict arouses in people is relieved by one of several defensive maneuvers: they reject, explain away, or avoid the new information; persuade themselves that no conflict really exists; reconcile the differences; or resort to any other defensive means of preserving stability or order in their conceptions of the world and of themselves. The concept was developed in the 1950s by American psychologist Leon Festinger and became a major point of discussion and research.”

Can you imagine an Eastern Mediterranean patriarch – something all men seeped in that culture attempt to become when growing older, caving in to contrarian opinions expressed by his totally unconventional son?

Can you imagine a successful ‘old timer’ accepting that the methods he had used to get to the top might actually be the causes for what we experience now?

“The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Imagine now what would have happened if the world would have been ruled by people who had made up their minds some 200 years ago.
Then imagine what would have happened if we would have forgotten what had happened 200 years ago…

Cherish your old ones – cause they made you possible, but don’t take them too seriously. It hurts.

Isn’t it interesting?

There is a then and there is a now.
We’re OK with ‘then’ and we’re not so comfortable with ‘now’.
Yet the only link between ‘then’ and ‘now’ is us.

Our generation took ‘then’ and brought it ‘now’.

Everything that happened between then and now had happened to us, by us.

I thought I had it all figured out.

I had already learned that individuals needed to preserve their self esteem. The good opinion they have built about themselves during their entire lives.
This being the reason for which most self made people see their own efforts as the main reason for their status. While being adamant that Lady Luck had played no role whatsoever in their advancement…

I had also observed that all imperia had eventually failed. No matter what kind of imperia… Political dictatorships, commercial monopolies, abusive families…
For no other reason than dictators’/patriarchs’ tendency to drive away those who don’t kowtow to their opinions.
Which attitude effectively empties the structures led by authoritarian figures of any ‘alternative’ expertise. Of any other expertise but that of the leading figure. And since no expertise was ever infinite – not even Napoleon’s, the end of all imperia had been sealed from the moment when a single will had imposed itself over the entire structure.

OK, from the outside everything made sense. The added figures matched the measured total.

But something still bothered me.
As a constant rebel, I perfectly understood those who chose to leave instead of bowing to the higher authority.

But why act in a dictatorial manner in the first place?
Why drive away all those who might come handy in a dire strait?
Why not replace those who choose to leave with equivalent people? Instead of favoring increasingly obedient ones?
Specially when speaking about very intelligent people… and very few individuals have ever arrived at the top of any complicated structures only because Lady Luck had a crush on them …

Yesterday, when discussing the subject with my father – we each support different political parties and Romania had just elected it’s president, he told me: “You had been lucky enough to never have had to make a compromise. That’s why you can afford to think like this!”
We were using Romanian. I used ‘can afford’ to convey what he said to me because I’m not aware of a closer English equivalent. Maybe I could have used ‘allow yourself to think like this’…
Anyway, that was the moment when it struck me.

That past ‘compromises’ tend to compromise our ability to see the forest for the trees.
That whenever somebody aired an opinion which even slightly contested any of the compromises we ever had to make in our pasts we perceived it as an aggression. As if our self esteem was under assault. No matter that the ‘assailant’ had no way of knowing that we had to compromise our own beliefs at one point.
The simple fact that we remember that moment is enough. We’ve found ways to soothe our souls. We’ve already have invented excuses. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to function… But we’ve never been able to really come to terms with ourselves. We’ve never forgiven our own weaknesses. Never assumed them in earnest.

And this is how past ‘mistakes’ continue to haunt us.
Preventing us from accepting advice.
Because ‘deep down’ we feel the urge to continue the path we have already chosen’. That being the easier way to preserve our psychological well being. Our mental consistency…

Further reading:
Cognitive Dissonance
Customer cancels Zomato order for sending non-Hindu delivery boy.

Both are done ‘by hand’.

Apparently, any likeness between these two stops here.

But, if you pull back in earnest, the ugly thing becomes unraveled.
Not only that it is masturbatory, aka self-inflicted, (political) manipulation should also be classified as sado-masochistic.

Manipulation, as a process, can be examined from two perspectives.
A social one and an individual one.
Now, that everybody knows that ‘manipulation is bad for you‘, any individual who allows themselves to be manipulated into anything must suffer from a masochistic disorder while those who actively manipulate others must be cold blooded sadists.
On the social side, since time and time again manipulation has been proven to have had dangerous consequences, any community that sees any form of manipulation as an acceptable practice must have certain suicidal tendencies. Aka suffer from a ‘social form’ of masochistic disorder. While those who manipulate must be, themselves, cold blooded sadists.

As for being masturbatory, something which is brought upon one self by their own hand, that is almost as evident as Polichinelle’s secret:

Bona-fide politics, that made in earnest, involves open discussion between those who are going to be affected by the decisions and those who propose and support them. Discussions which take place before each major decision is made, during its implementation and after its consequences have started to be felt. The interaction between the politicians and the general public is direct, unmediated.
In Nassim Taleb’s terms, in this situation the politicians have their own ‘skin in the game‘.

Which results ‘risk management’ policy which is the complete opposite of the one adopted by those who believe themselves to be insulated from the consequences of their own actions.

The manipulators, on the other hand, window-dress themselves and the propositions they make. Their goal being not as much to contribute to the well being of their community as to ‘sell to the public’ whatever their minds have been focused on, at that moment. They consider manipulation to be a legitimate tool either because they are not fully aware of the great dangers involved or because they have convinced themselves that they will be forever exempt from contributing to the  the eventual price.
Meanwhile, those who allow themselves to be manipulated either do not realize they are being manipulated or have adopted ‘cynicism as a refuge’ in order to mitigate the cognitive dissonance that is eating away their self esteem.

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

Please note that in this situation the interaction is no longer direct. The manipulator and the manipulated do not ‘touch’ each-other. Therefore neither knows exactly what the other has in mind.
The interaction is mediated by symbols. Which are ‘photo-shopped’ by the manipulators and, sometimes ‘admiringly’, accepted by the manipulated.

It’s exactly this lack of direct contact between the manipulators and the manipulated which determines the whole thing.
The manipulators are, simultaneously, unaware of the true situation and growingly convinced of their ‘impunity’.
The manipulated have initial difficulties in determining that they are subjected to manipulation and, in a second stage, the impression that there is nothing left to be done about the whole thing.

When, eventually, the consequences catch up with both of them, it is usually too late for anything else but ‘damage control’.

People regret that they didn’t wise up earlier, promise themselves they’ll never let something like that happen to them… and forget. Until the next time.

Manipulation: useful tool, mortal sin or what?!?

Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Morality: Insights from The Origins of Totalitarianism

Masochistic Personality Disorder

Secret de Polichinelle

Cognitive dissonance

Karma

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