December 30, 2003

Another Soldier in the War Against Cognitive Dissonance

Renana Brooks in The Nation - "The Character Myth". Excerpts:

Psychologists have long understood that people who hold views that are mutually inconsistent, or who perform actions that depart from their values or that threaten their positive self-image, will experience discomfort. This is known as cognitive dissonance. People naturally choose to remove the discomfort through rationalization, thus repairing their self-image as people who are reasonable and moral and act in ways consistent with their values. Bush's leadership style and use of language essentially have created cognitive dissonance in the electorate. The more that Americans observe the Bush presidency pushing policies they do not support, and would normally question, the more they confront the choice of whether to oppose him actively or rationalize away their discomfort. Many Americans have chosen the latter because the President has convinced them that the situation is desperate and that only he can handle the continuing crisis. The more they depend upon Bush, the more they rationalize away any objections they may have to his specific ideas and policies. In this manner, Bush has forged an emotional, visceral relationship with the nation, successfully bypassing conscious resistance and stripping away any sense that he needs to answer to a higher legal or constitutional authority beyond his personal moral force . . .

While many Americans feel reassured by the appearance of moral dominance, other nations, even friendly ones, do not find the President's stance reassuring. Non-Westerners tend to view dominance as imperialism. Many nations perceive the President's authoritarian imagery and mythology and are impelled to find ways to fight against American dominance. Because the world already fears US power, other nations are not comforted by Bush's leadership style. They feel only repugnance and fear. Left unchallenged, the character myth could potentially win George W. Bush four more years, but it will cost his nation dearly over a far longer period of time--perhaps stiffening resistance to American hegemony enough to end our current run of dominance . . .

To be truly effective to the broader public, the Democratic candidates must present their own vivid, descriptive depiction of how they can make America safe, not merely dominant. Just as George H.W. Bush called for a New World Order and Truman had the Marshall Plan, the Democratic candidate should enunciate a new vision of a safe and secure world. He or she should show how a collaborative world is really safer than a dominating one. This is the prescription for success in 2004.

Be at peace.