July 12, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance

Do you believe in freedom? Do you believe in equality? Yes and yes? How could any intelligent, educated and compassionate person say no? How could any student say no? All good students simultaneously embrace socialism (promoting equality) and liberalism (promoting liberty). That way we have both fair processes and fair outcomes. We have both equal rights and equal outcomes.

There is only one snag: the above only works in one special case: when everyone is equal.

In 1956 the US psychologist Leon Festinger introduced a new concept in social psychology: the theory of cognitive dissonance. When two simultaneously held cognitions are inconsistent, this will produce a state of cognitive dissonance. Because the experience of dissonance is unpleasant, the person will strive to reduce it by changing their beliefs.

Any suggestion that people are not equal creates cognitive dissonance, ergo we apply self-deception and fool ourselves into believing that everyone is equal. The problem is that evolution doesn't do equality. As Richard Dawkins observed, "the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference."

Posted by Martin Sewell at July 12, 2006 2:14 AM