Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cognitive Dissonance, Black History Month, and HR 75

Is listening to the Limbaugh Show while Black an example of cognitive dissonance? This quip from a pop artist wouldn't be worth refuting if some correspondents of this web site didn't seem to me to be running up against real examples of cognitive dissonance these days.

Cognitive dissonance is what we feel when we encounter new information that appears to be factual, yet is directly opposed to other factual information we believe to be true.

For example, if you believe that Rush Limbaugh is a bigot, you might feel cognitive dissonance if you went to and looked up his comments on celebrities of African descent. You would find that, not in Serious Thinker Mode but in Entertainer/Humorist Mode, he's made plenty of wisecracks at the expense of young entertainers--not necessarily just the ones who dabble in politics or philosophy. That's part of his "grumpy old man" routine, and he targets young entertainers of all ethnic types. On the other hand, if you search specifically for serious thinkers of African descent, you'll find that Limbaugh has positively promoted their work.

I have a bit of an advantage over young readers, because I remember, many years ago, having a senior patient say to me, "Have you ever seen anything by a writer called Thomas Sowell? I think they told Rush Limbaugh to put someone Black on his show, because Mr. Sowell is not a radio person...but he did make some interesting points..." and over the years that's been true. Thomas Sowell has made many interesting points on many subjects. He's written ponderous, scholarly historical studies, stepped outside of his field to conduct a professional-quality psychological study, written witty satirical newspaper columns, explained Marxism to non-economists, more. This web site recommends, and will distribute, anything by Thomas Sowell as a Fair Trade Book, but Limbaugh saw him first.

Then there are older "conservatives"'ll need to search for them by name, and weed out irrelevant results when other people have similar names, but you'll find Limbaugh commending and promoting many African-American writers, and also women and other "minority" writers...It's still Black History Month, so maybe we could use a quick study of the history of African-American Republicans on the Limbaugh Show.

Walter Williams. (I'm just picking one recent supportive link for each name that comes to mind, no claim that this is the best; there are many, and this is a timed exercise. Because Limbaugh's links don't fit into this system well, each quote is linked to the page on which you'll find it if you scroll down.) "I like what our old buddy Walter Williams says. You want to start talking about giving something back, well, who ought to give it back is the thieves, criminals, life's reprobates who've taken what isn't theirs."

Condoleezza Rice. "We've watched a whole lot of white guys beat up on any number of African-Americans, Condoleezza Rice, Mia Love."

Allen West (OK, a politician more than a writer). "[Debbie Wasserman Schultz] this woman's party moved heaven and earth to defeat African-American Mia Love, African-American Allen West, and replace them with white men.  So the hypocrisy is rich."

Michelle Malkin. "Michelle Malkin had a great, great rant on this the other night on Hannity..."

Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell, together. "This guy's gonna join the ranks of Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas and Shelby Steele." (Too bad the reference is to a man leaving the Democratic Party.) Another recent transcript mentions Steele in the context of "people who deserve the Presidential Medal of Freedom."

You can go on. If anybody out there happens to be a conservative looking for a Black History Month presentation, I recommend going on with this for longer than ten minutes. I don't find it particularly fresh; I suspect that the people who didn't think Limbaugh would be so respectful of African-American writers haven't read much of the serious writing of which Limbaugh is respectful. I want to move on to some topics that have come up in e-mail addressed to this web site.

Cognitive dissonance is also what I feel when I think of U.S. House Resolution 75, the one about the United States withdrawing, at least symbolically and temporarily, from the United Nations. I think the United Nations is trying to dictate internal policy to member countries, and its charter, its right to operate within or be supported by these United States, specifies that it's not allowed to do that, and we need to do something to chastise the United Nations before it gets out of hand. the idea of an organization that serves as mediator between nations, and prevents border disputes from turning into world wars, not a good thing? Ouch! That mental pain you just shared is cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is what I feel when some of you send me flames directed at legislators this web site respects, supports, and just plain likes. Tell me Delegate Orrock's a RINO, a tax-and-spend greedhead "Republican In Name Only," and I think, "Well, I don't know him--he just has an unusual name that tends to be part of The Team and was attached to one successful bill I especially loved, this winter. Maybe he really is a RINO. But that was a good bill! Should I spend some time reviewing the complete collected work of Orrock and these other accused RINO's?" That's cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance tends to impede action. Karen Bracken sent out an e-mail that urged eight hundred people to read a post on this web site. More than eight dozen did, right away. Karen Bracken sent out another e-mail that urged the same eight hundred people to support U.S. HR 75. Two days later, she said I was the only one who'd commented on it at Popvox. Well, maybe some of her e-friends have computers that don't work well with Popvox; Popvox works for me, but a lot of my e-friends have computers that don't even work well with Blogspot. Maybe some supported HR 75 anonymously. But I suspect a lot of people are still dealing with that cognitive dissonance. Isn't there something in between letting the U.N. turn into a global dictator, and dropping it smash on the floor? Isn't it still, in some ways, a good thing? Ouch! Ouch!

What communications experts recommend doing, to alleviate the pain of cognitive dissonance, is (when possible) introducing "dissonant" information slowly, in small doses. The term "dissonance" comes from music. In music, if you're playing in the key of G and you play a G chord and an A chord at the same time, that's dissonance--excruciating dissonance. If you play a G chord and then go straight to an A chord, that's a more tolerable degree of dissonance; it'll get people's attention, but it will sound like a bid for attention and not an ugly mistake. If you play a G chord, then a D, and then an A chord, that's modulating in a way that only trained ears will hear as anything strange.

The writer known in the real world as Suzette Haden Elgin, and in cyberspace as Ozarque, was a communications expert whose hobby was science fiction, so the example of modulation in communication that she favored was the "marketing" of Star Trek to TV executives who didn't believe a science fiction series could work. The producers of Star Trek modulated between ideas by using an analogy. "Wagon Train was a successful series," at least at the time, "and Star Trek will be Wagon Train in space." They could "see" that, and that's how TV history was made.

When a conflict of ideas has people thinking "but...but...but..." one way to get them off those "buts" is for someone, anyone, to find a way to modulate. I supported HR 75 right away because, in politics, supporting a bill like this can be that in-between step some of us want. HR 75 does not have to be enacted into law and enforced as such to be useful. If the United Nations sees a critical mass of support for HR 75, that may be enough of a warning to get the sort of apology and corrective efforts we really want. I recommend that everybody support HR 75 for that reason.

What about nasty, nasty HB 2313? I know those of you who drive, or need the services of drivers, perceive this bill as nasty, and that's a lot of Virginia voters...there is still a part of me that likes HB 2313, and I still say it's brilliant, masterly, conservative, libertarian, and ethical. And unnecessary. And probably, based on the information I've seen, unjustifiable. And I'm still sort of proud that, when whoever it is wants a bit of world-class lawyering, mediating, and triangulating done, they ask a relative of mine to do it. Talk about cognitive dissonance! I don't know whether Governor McDonnell will stall this bill long enough to give us time to discuss this in depth, although I'd like for him to do that and I encourage everyone who uses Facebook to tell him so.

We could go on. This post is long enough. I'd like to find a good bill, if possible, to commend before signing off for the night. Anyway, I trust I've explained the concept of cognitive dissonance well enough to be helpful to everyone. If not, please e-mail