Cognitive Dissonance On Display

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.

F**k You NPR

Obama is once again inviting people on the internet to send in questions, this time via YouTube, which he will then select from and answer. The first time he said that the most popular questions would be the ones answered. Needless to say he learned his lesson and made no such promise this time. Why? Because last time one of the most popular questions was about marijuana legalization, and that is just not one that he wants to have to answer. As a dodge he pretended that the question was focused on using legalization as a way of stabilizing the economy, thereby making it seem ridiculous and deserving of no more than a cursory “silly stoners” type response.

Well, guess what. The most popular question by far this time is also about legalization. I’m guessing that he will simply refuse to answer this time since he can now choose which questions to address and which to ignore. What really got me, though, was that NPR has decided to follow Obama’s lead and present it as a silly question that few people actually care about.

The entire exchange here demonstrates NPR’s attempt to trivialize the matter by making it seem like a bunch of stoners were just having a laugh, and that real people know better (RAZ is Guy Raz, weekend host of All Things Considered, and Mr. JOHNSON is Clay Johnson, the technology director at the Sunlight Foundation. You can hear the interview and read the entire transcript here):

RAZ: Okay. So, can we infer that legalizing pot is the most important issue in America right now?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, you know, if that was the case, then we probably have a lot of marijuana users going, dude, where’s my polling place or something like that, because they certainly don’t show up to vote.

RAZ: I got you. So before we could continue, I do want to play a few other questions that were submitted to President Obama.

Unidentified Man #2: How many turkey sandwiches can you eat in one day?

Unidentified Man #3: Would you support legislation for a national bedtime?

RAZ: Is this really an example of democratizing this process?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, there’s a couple of things you have to look at here. First off, you know, YouTube is the venue where people are asking these questions, which is the home of cat on a Roomba punching a pit bull in a sweater vest.

RAZ: I didn’t see that one.

Mr. JOHNSON: Saying that this community is representative of American society at large is probably incorrect.


Mr. JOHNSON: …But it’s important to remember that just because, you know, an organization or a group or a community is the most well-organized doesn’t mean they’re the most popular. So when you see, for instance, marijuana questions being the top question, it doesn’t mean that they’re the most popular amongst all of America. What it means is this is the most organized community…

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. JOHNSON: …that’s capable of getting their, you know, plus-one-ing their question.

Notice how the entire exchange is designed to make the whole issue look silly, from depicting the questioners as stupid stoners, to presenting obvious joke questions as equivalent to the legalization question, to making YouTube out to be nothing more than a place to find silly videos about nothing of consequence. Look, this is not a question being asked by a bunch of stoners sitting around a bong in their parent’s basement saying “Dude! Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get the Prez to say ‘marijuana’?!?” It did not get popular just because they all got their stoner friends to vote for it. This is a legitimate concern raised by those who understand that most, if not all, of the evils attributed to marijuana are a result not of the drug itself, but of it’s prohibition. It’s popular because so many people know this but are given no voice or are simply dismissed as stupid stoners who just want to get high without being harassed by the cops.

Read up on Alcohol Prohibition here in the US and tell me that we’re not seeing many of the exact same problems now with marijuana prohibition. Unfortunately those who prefer prohibition, whether for moral reasons or business reasons, have done an excellent job of convincing many people that the problems stem from the drug itself, and that prohibition is actually the remedy. It’s an amazing testament to the power of propaganda when skillfully employed.

Ideally the news media should create opportunity for discussion by presenting real information about important topics. Instead NPR is trivializing this issue by pretending that it’s just a joke made by people too high to know what’s really going on. It is extremely dishonest and serves only to shut down conversation on an issue that affects not only this country but the entire world in one way or another.

Fuck you NPR for running this big steaming pile of shit and calling it news.