It was a WTF Kind Of Conversation – Cognitive Dissonance and Dehumanization

I was talking to a friend and she was explaining how she was sitting in a dinner listening to a man at another table loudly proclaim his hatred and bigotry against just about every ethnic, religious and other types of groups you can think of. She was particularly offended by him saying that we should drop the atom bomb and wipe out entire populations who aren’t like us Americans. She was disgusted that he could think this way about other people unlike him. Now who can argue with her sentiment? Unless…

Later in the conversation, I was expressing my outrage at the Catholic Church’s AIDS policy (or the Pro-AIDS policy, as I like to call it) in Africa. I was lamenting the deaths of thousands of innocent people from AIDS in Africa which I feel the church is responsible for because of their appalling decision not to promote condom use and, in some cases, actually spread the idea that condoms CAUSE AIDS!

Her response to this was both surprising and disturbing. Surprising in the same way one might be surprised to wake up in the middle of an interstate during rush hour and disturbing in the sense of What In The Ever Loving Fuck did she just say!!!, sense.

She said (and I paraphrase, but try to keep the basic flow of the words as she said them) that although she felt bad that people were sick and dying,  they are not really like us and considering that there is so much over population in the world and such scarce resources, that it was probably for the best. !?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! (Yeah, read that again if you have to and, once you pick yourself up off the floor, please continue reading)

Wasn’t this the same woman who a few moments before was appalled at the idiot who wanted to nuke millions of people?   I quickly pointed out that there was really no difference between what she had just said and what the guy in the dinner, who upset her so much, said.  She agreed with me and backed off her position.  

I found this incident fascinating because I know my friend pretty well and I think I can say that she was not conscience of her blatant hypocrisy.  She has always been a kind hearted, loving person and I think I am right in continuing to believe that, mainly because she immediately admitted her error when I confronted her with her hypocrisy.  The question remains, however, what caused a decent, caring and intelligent person like her to even think of something as horrible as that?  I’m not even sure what to call this.  Cognitive dissonance?  Yes, sort of.  Hypocrisy? Definitely, but unintended. (If any of you out there know if this has a specific name, please let me know).

I’ve posted here before about cognitive dissonance and the logical fallacies that it can lead us to here, here and here.  This particular brand of cognitive dissonance seems particularly insidious because it lends itself to dehumanizing entire groups of people without even a thought and with no consideration what-so-ever.  

Dealing with this is easy when we see it in others.  Just do what I did and point it out.  Hopefully, if you are dealing with a decent, fairly rational person, they will see the error in their thinking and reevaluate their position.   The more difficult issue is how can we learn to identify these unconscience hypocrisies, if the exist, in ourselves?  

That is something that I currently don’t have an answer for and I’m hoping you, dear readers, do.  I’d love to see some discussions about this and to hear from you and see if, as a community, we can hammer out some guidelines to help ourselves avoid this particularly scary form of cognitive dissonance. 










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