Cognitive Dissonance and US Conservatism

I struggle with understanding just how dysfunctional the political conflict in the US has become. Both sides, indeed all sides are to blame but I do see some asymmetry in the blame. I do see Republicans as having retreated into data free extremism, while the Democrats merely lack effective policies and are somewhat dominated by corporate interests. But in my search to understand I try out various theories. Here is another one:

There is something called Cognitive Dissonance in which when faced with something that challenges our core beliefs we actually convert contrary data into supporting data. The concept originated when a professor studied an end of the world group who had a specific time and date for a global flood. They really believed in it and gave away their possessions and waited as the minutes ticked away. When it didn’t happen, they said they had received a message from God that they had saved the world by being so good. All of us suffer from this cognitive dissonance to some extent.I think this has significant lessons for current politics.

The real problem is that conservatives world view across the board is so threatened by the pace and type of change that they are in cognitive dissonance across their whole belief system and so will not make any deals or compromises. Climate change data: proof of a liberal media conspiracy, global financial collapse: proof that the Community Relations Act caused it, school massacres: not enough guns. Wherever you look conservatives (unlike the ones I grew up with) have walled off their ideology from testing, from contrary data.

And of course the worst of them all was Alan Greenspan, an Ayn Rand free market fanatic who ignored all the warning signs under the rubric the free market knows best. Liberals do this in my experience to a lesser extent, and it is not across the whole belief system in the same way. I think there is a profound asymmetry in conservative and liberal moral foundations around realism and openness to contrary data. It may be conservative ties that bind blind as per Jon Haidt, but today I think it goes deeper and we have a form of conservative Taliban like fundamentalism that blocks conservatives contributed to solving our societal problems because they cannot admit them in a reality based way.

About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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