An English In Kentucky


















Sunday May 19th 2019Tim Candler9


    Cognitive Dissonance. Your correspondent is inclined to use the word stress in a most random manner, it's also true that aging brain cells tend to revert and stress is one of the words that sounds right for a fourteen year old looking for a reason to avoid visiting his cousins. The professionals, however, have indeed defined stress as a feeling of pain and pressure. Stress can be motivating, in the sense of  adaption and reaction to the world you live in. And the pain and pressure of stress can be mentally and physically debilitating. In many ways it's how you deal with stress that marks the distinction between Eustress which is positive stress and Distress which is negative, more destructive stress. And certainly it's an easy distinction to make from the comfort of a bubble bath with a good view of a distant calamity in an ant heap, yet in the area of cognitive dissonance, I'd argue Eustress and Distress are necessary areas of consideration. Prior to the 1950's people reckoned on thinking in terms of Behaviorism, which basically says that our behavior is a response to stimuli within the environment and we determine our behavior based on our past experiences and the various reinforcing mechanisms of behavior that surround us. Then a man called Leon Festinger. and others. suggested with us people the whole response to stimulus and reaction thing was considerably more nuanced, so much so we people are downright diabolically devious. They'd studied an Apocalyptic Cult that had been much influenced by Hubbard's Dianetics, which is all about getting rid of that source of every ailment physical and mental. The Reactive Mind, they argue, is an unconscious stimulus/reaction response and a part of the mind that should be totally ignored. For cult members, the end of the world was nigh on December 21st 1954, people had sold their possessions, got all ready for it, but nothing happened, no rapture, no flood, same old same old. Far from discouraging the cult members, the failure of the prophecy served to reinforce cult members belief in their leader, who claimed the world had obviously been saved by the 'force of good and light' and cult members became ever more fervent in their determination to spread the word about the majesty of their calling. Many would just say the gullible are anomalous, and you can't really build useful theories around people who could be totally Nuts.



    Not Festinger and his collaborators, because the cult they'd studied was a real world thing that happens far to often. In the book When Prophecy Fails, Festinger and his collaborators reached five conclusions about how and why it was the cult didn't drift off into nowhere, it's actually still around today, and you can certainly still find Hubbard's Dianetics happening in Scientology. The first conclusion, was that the Belief had to be held with conviction and the belief had to be motivating in terms of the believers actions and behaviors. Secondly, the belief had to have produced actions and behaviors that were difficult to undo, you sell all your stuff and your option is to either react to the stress by feeling like an idiot, or carry on believing in your 'firmly' held conviction by finding other reasons why it makes sense. The belief has to be sufficiently specific so that when something happens that runs entirely contrary to the belief it has to be obvious that something went wrong, i.e. the end of the world didn't actually happen. Finally believers have to have support from other believers, so they can scurry around like ants trying to put the eggs back in the bowels of the Ant heap where they could be kept safe from little boys with sticks. From this work, Festinger proposed the idea of Cognitive Dissonance. A person, he argued, likes to feel a good balance between his or her beliefs, ideas and values, it's a satisfied feeling, nothing wrong with me, and the high odds are that all of us have contradicting beliefs, ideas and values. "Though Shalt not Kill" "Nothing wrong with a bit of an eye for an eye even if some might by mentally disabled or innocent." Festinger suggested that when the mind contains contradicting, beliefs, ideas or values it gets stressed out when presented by in you face facts or events that challenge a persons beliefs, ideas or values. So what does a mind, (the cognition) do to relieve the pain and pressure of the contradiction (the dissonance)? Eustress, good stress, would be to add new parts to cognition, try to make sense of it all, adjust to the circumstance cognitively and that way ease the pain. Distress, a more negative response, would be to avoid the awkward facts and circumstances, just carry on in a "let's not talk to them shall we" kind of way, which could well serve to increase the magnitude of Cognitive Dissonance, and soon enough you're living in Fairy Land which is not necessarily an adequate response to the longer term demands of the ever changing and very real environment we have lived in and whether we like it or not will have to continue to live in. I'm told Scientology is big in Hollywood, where dreams come true.


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