Cognitive dissonance can be a powerful thing. Many people, when faced with information or evidence that contradicts something that they’ve believed or worked on for a long time will react in some very odd, and often counter-productive ways. There are many examples on the net of people pretending that contradictory evidence simply doesn’t exist. Watch Corny’s site (again, my fave ’cause he’s just plain hilarious) for awhile, and especially read the comments to see many times many examples of this. Others will react with anger and outrage at any hint that such and such is true when it’s been so obvious for so long to them that it’s not. I suspect that many homophobes (read: closet cases) like Rekers fall into this category.
Having said that, it’s rare to see such a thing laid bare. Often you can determine when cognitive dissonance is a factor only after spending a bit of time with the person and seeing how they react to what is said. But there are times, and they don’t happen often, when a statement is made which clearly and concisely lays out exactly where the dissonance is at.
Such a statement appeared in a recent LA Times story entitled “AP IMPACT: After 40 years, $1 trillion, US War on Drugs has failed to meet any of its goals“. Needless to say it doesn’t have many kind things to say about US drug policy. But the quote that really got to me, the one that so clearly exposes a mans cognitive dissonance was a statement made by John P. Walters, the former Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, a.k.a. the Drug Czar. In the story he’s quoted as saying the following:
“To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is ridiculous,” Walters said. “It destroys everything we’ve done. It’s saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It’s saying all these people’s work is misguided.”
My response is “Exactly!”
But of course he is unable to face the fact that any of those “ridiculous” ideas could possibly by true. So he does what he must to prove it, at least to himself.
Here’s how his logic works: If US drug policy has not been working then all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. Since they obviously have not been wasting their time, US drug policy must be working. If US drug policy has not been working then all these people’s work has been misguided. Since it has obviously not been misguided, US drug policy must be working.
And of course if you turn it around the same logic applies. If these people have been wasting their time, then it must be because US drug policy is not working. Since US drug policy is working, they must not be wasting their time. It’s a nice little loop tied around his brain so that each one proves the other and he can always be right.