Cognitive Dissonance

I read Steven Den Beste’s USS Clueless pretty religiously. He is, as James Lileks put it, the Spock of the Blogosphere, with a keen, logical mind. Quite often I will read something he has produced that resonates with me well apart from the topic on which it was written. That was true of today’s essay, Fan Mail from Flounderers. Today’s column was about the anti-Bushwar protester’s inability to make a case against the invasion of Iraq and their bewilderment at their failure to have any effect on either the American public at large, or the government in particular. It’s an excellent piece (as usual.) But in it I found a most concise explanation for the behavior of not only the leftist anti-Bushwar movement, but also the gun-bancontrol movement:

When someone tries to use a strategy which is dictated by their ideology, and that strategy doesn’t seem to work, then they are caught in something of a cognitive bind. If they acknowledge the failure of the strategy, then they would be forced to question their ideology. If questioning the ideology is unthinkable, then the only possible conclusion is that the strategy failed because it wasn’t executed sufficiently well. They respond by turning up the power, rather than by considering alternatives. (This is sometimes referred to as “escalation of failure”.)

Thank you, Steven, for putting it so succinctly.

Insanity has been described as “repeating the same behavior while expecting a different result.” Or, as I’ve described it, “That didn’t work, so we must try it again only harder!” This is otherwise known as cognitive dissonance, but Steven describes it perfectly in a paragraph.

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