Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Weaponised Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a state of extreme discomfort/anxiety caused by holding two contradictory beliefs or values at the same time. It also arises when a person's beliefs are in contradiction to his actions or experiences.

A little while ago I attempted to research cognitive dissonance on the internet. I had begun to strongly suspect that the phenomenon was being deliberately used as a method of mind-control, that it had, effectively, been weaponized. I wanted to know if it had been studied and what was known about it.
I soon realised that most people who think they know what it is, don't. It's not that surprising, given the tragic deterioration of language skills in recent decades. Reading comprehension is at an all time low. It seems like many people are talking and writing without really caring whether anyone can understand what they mean to say. To make it worse, many people reading or listening don't seem to care if they understand what is intended. They just use the words as random stimulus for their own imaginations, making words mean whatever they want! The whole point of language is communication. (deep breath) Cognitive dissonance is caused by contradiction, not conflict. It is apparent through the examples given, that most interpretations of cognitive dissonance confuse those meanings. Conflict can be resolved through compromise; contradiction can't. Conflict could be likened to friction between two surfaces; there is resistance between them, but no metaphysical laws prohibit their co-existence, as in the case of contradiction.

For example, most of the sources I could find chose to use tobacco smoking to illustrate the concept. (I find this sort of blatant social engineering offensive, by the way.) The example given is that of people continuing to smoke cigarettes even though they believe it is unhealthy. That is not an example of cognitive dissonance at all. Cognitive dissonance only occurs when two beliefs, or a belief and an action, cancel each other out and cannot rationally coexist. Smoking while believing it is unhealthy, doesn't meet that criteria. We all do things we believe to be unhealthy because other considerations outweigh the perceived health risk. This doesn't logically require a total denial of the perceived risk. There is no fundamental contradiction here; it's just a question of priorities. In order for smoking to work as an example, one would have to believe something like, "I would never do anything I knew to be unhealthy", and then continue to smoke, while believing it to be unhealthy. That would meet the criteria for cognitive dissonance. I hope I've made the distinction clear because it's important.

Some of the confusion probably stems from over-emphasizing the role of actions in cognitive dissonance. Action is not an essential aspect of the phenomenon. It is impossible for two actions to produce cognitive dissonance. On the other hand, one or more beliefs must always contribute. Belief is at the root of it all; no contradicted beliefs = no cognitive dissonance.

Actual cognitive dissonance is not mildly uncomfortable. It is very unpleasant. The conscious awareness of it produces extreme agitation and anxiety. This instinctive response shouldn't come as a surprise. It is highly adaptive because cognitive dissonance is a form of insanity. I'd go so far as to say that holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time is the very definition of insanity. To believe something, is to "accept it as true". When you accept two ideas as true, but are aware that logically they cannot both be true, panic is a perfectly appropriate response. "Reality" can't have any meaning under those conditions.

The discomfort caused by cognitive dissonance serves an important function. It warns us that reason has been violated and that a  mental immune response is required. Ideally, the immune response should consist of removing the contradiction. In the revised example, given above, (believing, "I would never do anything I knew to be unhealthy", and then continuing to smoke, while believing it to be unhealthy), there would be three possible ways of accomplishing that.
1. Change the first belief to something like, "I prefer to not do anything unhealthy, but there are some things, like smoking, that I prefer more."
2. Change the second belief (that smoking is unhealthy).
3. Stop smoking immediately and never do it again. You would also need to acknowledge that cognitive dissonance had formerly been present.
Those are the only ways to fully resolve the cognitive dissonance. However, there are other strategies available that don't remove the contradiction, but do assuage the unpleasant symptoms. People instinctively employ these whenever it is undesirable to change their contradictory beliefs.

This happens a lot more often than you might think. While specific instances are ubiquitous and far too numerous to list, there are only two basic reasons for suppressing the mental immune response demanded by cognitive dissonance. They are:
1. Social pressure
Humans are social animals. Our physical and emotional well-being is strongly tied to social acceptance. If one or more of the social groups you belong to upholds an untrue belief, you risk a great deal by dissenting. To even question such a belief may be dangerous because it triggers the symptoms of cognitive dissonance in other members of the group. They would, most likely, misidentify you as the cause of their anxiety/fear and could react violently towards you.
2. Self Image
The vast majority of people lack genuine self-esteem. True self-esteem only comes from awareness of, and identification with, the spiritual center of one's being. Those who understand this, know that their value (and that of all other spiritual beings) is infinite. This value cannot be added to, or lost; only expressed/experienced, or not. Instead, most people value themselves (and others) in comparative terms. What they value is an image of "themselves", a social commodity, false ego, the flyers' mind. Denial of reality is often needed for the enhancement and preservation of that image.

Actually, these two motivations for suppressing, rather than resolving, cognitive dissonance are both designed to protect false ego. The only difference is that the first is to protect a collective, and the second, an individual, manifestation of false ego.

Moving on from the why of it, it is interesting to observe how we suppress cognitive dissonance. I know of no clearer description of this maneuver than that given by George Orwell in "1984". He gave it a name, doublethink. We'll let "George" take it's definition from here:
"To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully-constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy; to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the world ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink."
"The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth."
All this happens subconsciously, by reflex. People don't deliberately set out to destroy their own minds. I'd like to add to Orwell"s description, a specific technique used to accomplish the double-think maneuver. It consists of using words without ever, ever, considering what they mean. "Freedom" is a really common example. People say that word, a lot, but in a whole lot of cases, if you asked them what it means, they couldn't tell you. They don't know, don't want to know, and won't thank you for having asked. Propagandists and politicians take full advantage of this knowledge.


One thing I found conspicuously absent from the information I could locate on cognitive dissonance was any reference to the relationship between it and doublethink. According to cognitive dissonance theory, there are only two solutions for resolving the discomfort of conflict. One can either change one of the conflicting elements or one can consciously justify the discrepancy. I believe that doublethink represents a third option; bury one's awareness of the conflict. I find it note-worthy that the doublethink Wiki article mentions doublethink as a way of coping with cognitive dissonance, but not the other way 'round. The cognitive dissonance Wiki entry makes no mention of doublethink as a possible strategy. Yet, based on my observations, doublethink is the most common strategy for dealing with cognitive dissonance. Right off the top of my head, I can think of ways that this knowledge could be used for deception and mind-control.

1. Unresolved cognitive dissonance makes it impossible to think rationally, if at all, about any topics involved in it. In functional terms, it makes people less intelligent.
2. As a result of the above, topics related to cognitive dissonance, no matter how important, are marginalized and not discussed in mainstream society.
3. When conscious awareness of cognitive dissonance has been suppressed, it produces free-floating fear/anxiety which can be easily re-directed towards any convenient target.

If cognitive dissonance were being deliberately used to cultivate doublethink for the purpose of mind-control, it would explain why we've been increasingly treated to so much contradictory information from official sources. I don't mean differences of opinion, but statements of purported fact. For example, one still sees dietary fat being blamed for high blood cholesterol in spite of peer reviewed studies refuting that belief. Another example would be climate change, in which both sides in the debate reference contradictory official data. Or what about the continued insistence of regulators that cannabis has no medical value, in spite of a mountain of evidence to the contrary? Are wars of colonial aggression and depleted uranium munitions illegal or not? And let's not forget the laws of physics relating to the alleged events of 911! People regularly dispute things that are self-evident. This sort of thing is becoming so common that I find it hard to believe that it's not deliberate. It doesn't make sense, otherwise. I can only conclude that cognitive dissonance has been weaponized.



2 comments:

  1. I suppose this explains the recent findings that many people would rather give themselves electrical shocks than be left alone with their thoughts for fifteen minutes...

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  2. Possibly, but the people in that study could have occupied their minds with safe topics like menu planning or counting to 10,000. So I'd be more inclined to put it down to addiction to external stimulation. (I think that's the real cause of ADHD also. I can't even watch kid's TV shows because they've gotten so loud and frantic.) On the other hand, though, addiction to constant external stimulation would make cognitive dissonance easier to install and maintain.

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