Saturday, September 1, 2012
Ramen Noodle Nation Presents: The Cognitive Dissonance Hall Of Fame
Greetings, one and all, this is The Reckoner speaking. Today's subject is one that my friend, The Squawker, has periodically addressed: cognitive dissonance, a term that psychologists coined during the 1950s to describe people who hold conflicting opinions that make them uncomfortable. This is the opposite of doublethink, George Orwell's famous term for the ability to accept contradictory opinions as mutually correct.
Psychologists suggest that people try to reduce their own levels of dissonance by changing existing beliefs, ideas, or values; adding new thoughts to create a consistent belief sysstem; or reducing one of the dissonant items, in importance. As an example, Wikipedia's entry cites the smoker who feels torn between enjoying their habit, and awareness of its health consequences.
To compensate, smokers may "change their feelings about the odds that they will actually suffer the consequences," or decide that the short-term enjoyment outweighs the long-term harm. (Now you see why the psychedelic era's promises didn't quite pan out: "I won't break your euphoria, maaan, if you won't break mine...").
Even then, the believer isn't home free, as Wikipedia's entry observes: "The need to avoid cognitive dissonance may bias one towards a certain decision even though other factors favour an alternative." With so many wonderful examples to choose from, Ramen Noodle Nation presents its first nominees for the Cognitive Dissonance Hall Of Fame, in no particular order...brown paper bags are optional.
1. Paul Ryan
He comes straight out of Washington Central Casting: a young, telegenic Republican whose favorite bands are Nirvana, and Rage Against The Machine...even though he can't wait to turn Medicare into a glorified voucher program, and has no problem giving those bloody 1 percenters a $200,000-plus tax cut, versus a $1,700-plus increase for the bottom 80 percent of American wage earners...at least, if his proposd federal budget had seen the light of day.
Small wonder that Rage's guitarist, Tom Morello, doesn't feel like returning the love, as he made clear in a special Rolling Stone op-ed piece rcently: "Ryan claims that he likes Rage's sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don't care for Paul Ryan's sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage."
It's easy to imagine a twentysomething Ryan cheerfully moshing away to Rage's churning rap-metal riddims, giddily oblivious to the lyrics of songs like "Take The Power Back" ("Bam! Here's the plan/Motherfuck Uncle Sam/Step back, I know who I am"), or "Bulls On Parade" ("Weapons, not food, not homes, not shoes, not need, just feed the war cannibal animal")...did he vow under his breath, "Just you wait, kids...I'm gonna be running the government some day"?
Still, there's probably at least one perverse upside for Republicans: getting tagged as the Party Of Peter Buck beats the hell out of getting tagged as The Party Of Pat Boone...too bad that growing pains are such a bitch.
2. Julian Assange (WikiLeaks Supremo)
3. Rafael Correa (Ecuadoran President): TIE
Rod Serling couldn't have scripted this one better if he tried: the irony of a man who's hung his hat on leaking diplomatic cables seeking refuge in a country known for its bareknuckled repression of press freedom, and basic expression, needs no flogging here. We recognize that beggars can't be choosers in these situations, since Assange hasn't had much luck persauding the Swedish legal machine that he shouldn't get a one-way ticket back to Stockholm.
Still, if Julian Assange is serious about upping sticks to Quito, he'll have to overlook an awful lot. Like many South American autocrats, President Rafael Correa takes exception to the Fourth Estate cramping his style. He may not constantly lecture the nation Jim Jones-style, as his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, loves to do on his "Alo Presidente" TV program...but he's no less shy about doing whatever it takes to silence his critics into submission.
Tactics like using defamation lawsuits to bankrupt newspapers are standard operating procedure for Correa, who won a $40 million US judgment against the El Universo newspaper. According to details posted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the verdict followed a column that referrd to the president as a "dictator." You can read about the goings-on here:
Three executives and the op-ed piece's author, Emilio Palacio, also receivd three-year prison terms --only to be pardond by Correa, in typical expansive megalomaniacal style...presumably having made his point. (Palacio eventually fled to the US; hopefully, he got the same asylum privilges that Ecuador extended to Assange.)
Given his conspicuous silence about the subjct, we can only just imagine how Assange might conduct himself at a state press conference: "El Presidente, can you share one of your most closely guarded secrets with us? Tell me, Your Excellency -- what is your favorite color?"
Cut to a shot of Correa at the podium, stroking his chin with great solemnity: "Why, it is blue, Mr. Assange -- blue as the sky that shins above all of us Ecuadorans. Thanks for the question!"
4. Todd Akin (Missouri Republican Senate Candidate)
Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin seemed to be having a field day against hapless Demcoratic incumbent Claire McCaskill, who planned on skipping her party's national convention -- just one of many ways that she's been straining to prove her conservative bona fides in the Show Me State. Akin was undoubtedly having fun contemplating the size and color of the drapes for his new office...
...until he sounded off to KTVI-TV about why rape victims needed no access to legal abortions, and all hell broke loose: "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy after rape] is really rare," Akin said. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." And if a rape victim did get pregnant? Akin offered this helpful nugget: "I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
Akin, of course, has rushed to backtrack after the resulting firestorm blew up in his face. Pehaps his campaign manager has suggsted that such sentiments are political box office poison, though Akin has contented himslf with claiming that he "misspoke," and leaving it there. But something darker and uglier is probably at work.
As critics have since pointed out, in January 2012, Akin and Paul Ryan -- the Republican in the mosh pit, remember? -- co-sponsored a bill stating that only "forcible rape" would allow a woman to get an abortion.
The language eventually got droppd, but Akin might do well to contemplate how "Saturday Night Live"'s first star, Chevy Chase, got called out by co-star Jane Curtin for not mentioning castmates' names during interviews. After claiming that he'd gotten "misquoted," Curtin yelled: "You don't get misquoted twice!"
5. The Texas Department Of Criminal Justice
America is a nation that feeds on paradoxes, and nowhere does this seem more obvious than in the Lone Star State: the place that gave us Joe Ely, Roky Erickson and Kinky Friedman remains notorious for its assembly line pace of executions -- which peaked at 40 in 2000, and has since zigzagged up and down the scale (with 24, 17 and 13 inmates being put to death, respectively, for 2009-11). This year's pace seems equally brisk, with seven offenders executed by lethal injection through August 7, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
However, a fast food pace also leads to fast food justice. The latest inmate to die, Marvin Lee Wilson, was the focus of a debate over his mental capacity (an IQ of 61), which seemed to fall well below the state's minimum threshold (70)...the same one that the U.S. Supreme Court carved out in 2002, in banning the execution of mentally retarded persons. To read how the state got around that prohibition, visit this link from Salon.com: http://www.salon.com/2012/08/02/would_texas_execute_a_child/.
Nine inmates have a date with the needle coming up between September 20 and December 12 of this year. Assuming that all these dates stick, the men with the gurney will stay reasonably busy...because even during a terrible economy, the prison industrial complex never stops humming. --The Reckoner