Monday, May 23, 2011

Doublethink vs cognitive dissonance

According to Wikipedia, doublethink is “a word coined by George Orwell in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, describes the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct… Its opposite is cognitive dissonance, where the two beliefs cause conflict in one's mind.”
The way people think…or don't think…continually fascinates me. Today I saw the following posted on Facebook: “When you carry the Bible, the devil gets a headache. When you open it, he collapses. When he sees you reading it, he faints. When he sees you living it he flees. When you are about to re-post this, he will try to discourage you. I just defeated him! Please, put this as your status if you love God ♥”

Sounds innocuous enough…if a little OTT on this, the first Monday after the failed Rapture, but wait: the person who posted this is a rabid PETA-sniffing vegetarian (and possibly by now a vegan), a person whose love of animals exceeds what I consider rational. (I eat selected members of the animal kingdom…I consider compromising one’s health and the health of children because of holding animal “rights” higher than human dietary needs to be beyond rational and even unnatural…you won’t find a chimpanzee agonizing over the rights of the bushbaby he hunted, killed, and is munching for lunch!)

It’s not the irrationality of vegetarianism and veganism…especially veganism…that has the thinking pot boiling this morning, however, it is the peculiar lack of cognitive dissonance…the pure doublethink…of having a virtually fundamentalist view of God and the Devil existing side-by-side with excessive devotion to the supposed “rights” of animals. How can one be as devoted to the Christian God as this Facebook status would indicate while holding animals in such high esteem as to be willing to compromise one’s health…and the health of innocent children…in order to spare their lives?

I often wonder if Christian fatuists actually read the book they so rave about. Have these animal rights worshippers not read about their god’s command to kill innocent lambs and sheep and burn their carcasses on altars? In my view, this is the sacrifice of animals for ego and an egregious waste of food in a time of uncertain food supplies, a serious moral crime on two fronts, commanded by the very deity so beloved by these same people who believe eating a bacon sandwich to be a grave crime against animal kind.

This worshipped diety has called for the deaths of animals, the enslavement of animals, the torment of animals (what about the “scape goat,” set loose in the desert without the protection of its herd or the direction of the herders who direct it to forage and water?), and nothing in the New Testament indicates that this exploitation of animals for the betterment of human kind has since been proscribed.

For me, this would set up the worst kind of cognitive dissonance: I would either have to renounce a god that demands the destruction and maltreatment of animals for nothing more than ego gratification or I would have to renounce my beliefs in the sanctity of the rights of the animals: the two beliefs are simply incompatible. How, after all, does one worship a deity with whom one disagrees on such fundamental issues as right and wrong? If you believe killing and eating an animal is a moral issue, and that people who do it are wrong and lacking in their moral fibre, how do you worship the very god who gave them dominion over the animals as far back as Genesis, followed up by countless demands for the sacrifice of animal flesh?

Those who are capable of holding both of these beliefs at the same time without their consciences rising up and doing battle over the conflict, are engaging in classic doublethink. And I would sure like to know how they do it because I can’t seem to shut the damned cognitive dissonance machine in my brain off. It comes on line when the conflicts arise and bedevil me until I actually sit down and think about the dissonance and then make a decision about what to do about it.

Some people, I am told, deal with cognitive dissonance by engaging in rationalization. There was, for example, a group of religious fanatics whose leader predicted doomsday in 1844. These people literally gave away all of their possessions and followed their leader to some lonely hilltop where they awaited the destruction of the earth and their own divine rescue (I don’t know about you, but if I was their god, I would have left them behind simply because of the overweening arrogance that allowed them to believe they were all that special!). Anyway, the end of the world didn’t happen (surprise surprise) and they coped with the failure of its materialization through rationalization: they decided that their devotion to God was so great that God had decided to spare the earth and its inhabitants. They came down off that hill destitute but fully believing that their little band of believers had saved the entire planet due to their devotion. And they founded a cult that became a church (as cults eventually do, if they last long enough) and, ironically enough, the church holds vegetarianism as one of its precepts…cognitive dissonance and doublethink, all in one package!

So I have to wonder here, if people actually think about the things they believe or if they just go with whatever strikes a resonant chord in their emotional make up, no matter how dissonant those various chords might be. I know I tend to be one who thinks, simply because those dissonant chords make me terribly uncomfortable until they are resolved. From recent observations, however, I’m having the uncomfortable thought that I might be a member of the minority, here…

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