THE ART OF WILLFUL SELF-DELUSION

Motivated reasoning and cognitive bias are terms used by psychosocial researchers to describe a tendency among people to filter information, turn off eyes and ears, and consider only the evidence they want to hear.

Everyday in our local newspaper, I read letters to the editor. Letters from hotheads. Letters from bigots who rationalize hatred even as they deny their bigotry.  Most remarkable is the inventiveness of people who go to extraordinary lengths to rationalize the irrational and engage in willful self-deception.

Fake news, bogus conspiracies, straw man arguments, exaggerated and embellished claims, errors of attribution, errors of reasoning, denial, projection … all are examples of cognitive bias.

Each week, I see examples of willful self-delusion in opinion letters and online discussions. One reader says: “You make me sick to think that you walk the streets and could be near me. You are probably one of the animals …”; a cognitively biased abreaction.

“The left absolutely hates Donald Trump. They hate him with every fiber of their being, every cell in their bodies, but they don’t precisely know why.”  But we do know why!  Do you see what we see?  Do you see Trump’s defects of character?  Do you see the bullying of a disabled man, a travel ban that handcuffs children, a deportation order that sends a hospitalized girl with a brain tumor to a detention center?  Partisan bias is cognitive bias when you fail to see the insanity and inhumanity.

Conservative commentator Kathleen Parker condemns his reckless rhetoric. Hothead Trump loyalists denounce Parker as a traitor.

President #45 bashes the press as “an enemy of the people.” Senator John McCain defends a free press as a constitutionally protected right.  Hothead Trump loyalists denounce McCain.

There will always be an angry rabble who cast a blind eye on gross misuses of power. Never dismiss a mob whose hunger for red meat is insatiable. If you fail to feed them, they will assail you as assuredly as flies drawn to carrion.

Galloping hissy fits, boorish misuses of words, ad hominem character assassinations, misquotes, harping, carping, nitpicking, accusations, fabrications, deceptions, insults, and angry outbursts — hardly a week goes by without uncouth examples of cognitive bias leaping off page.

6 thoughts on “THE ART OF WILLFUL SELF-DELUSION”

  1. Excellent points Jeff. I’ve started referring to this as blind hyper partisanship, also defined by me as hyper ideological purity. Consider it a poison pill because when we become so fractured, divided, and unwilling to consider other valid concerns and viewpoint, unwilling to make reasonable and sensible compromises that improve the lives of our people then we shall lose or democratic republic.

    As I observe what has happened to the conservative movement and a party I once was actively involved in it sickens me to my core. Party and ideology has trumped (pun intended) common sense, decency, and rationality. Our country is, and will continue to be the worse for it.

    Certainly there are hyper partisan liberals, and yes, they are as distasteful as hyper partisan conservatives. Which is why it is important to identify as many news sources that offer news as opposed to 24/7 looped agenda driven drivel as possible. Usually trth is fond somewhere near the middle.

    BTW, this ex conservative has a VERY high level of dislike for Trump. In fact I despise him, completely. He earned it. I gave him a chance early in his campaign. He blew it. Now I mst simpl accept his unprincipled and undisciplined “leadership”.

    Great post Jeff.

    1. We consider that arrogant ignorance begets more. We submit an example of a
      recently elected (Trump coat tail) state legislator:

      “Last week Idaho residents emailed state leadership regarding a recent house vote on climate change and science standards in the state.

      Freshman Senator, Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, responded.

      These are actual letters from the Idaho Senator.

      Dear XXXXX,
      Thank you for contacting me about your global warming/education concerns. Here is my honest reply. The global warming theory is nonsense. The vast majority of credible scientists say so. In fact, there is mounting evidence the planet is starting to cool. Remember the big email scandal involving the top scientific experts in Europe supporting the global warming initiative. Do you remember the discovered and well publicized emails from these scientists in which they admitted global warming was a hoax – part of an agenda to grow government in the name of saving the almighty environment? Global warming ranks right up there with Al Gore’s phony ozone scare. I hope the legislature enacts legislation to eliminate this ridiculous nonsense about global warming and climate change from all our textbooks. The left-wing has created a new religion, and it’s called ‘the environment.’ I wish they would pay more attention to real religion. Maybe we could make real progress in this country. People need to wake up and rediscover critical thinking once again. Too many people are falling victim to these scams foisted on us all by liberal zealots with ulterior motives. In closing, Idaho is a conservative state, and therefore has a conservative legislature. You should not be surprised we will not support liberal constructs and obsessions. Our legislature does a great job of separating the wheat from the chaff. Global warming is chaff. Thanks again for your contact.
      Sincerely,
      Dan Foreman
      Senator – District Five”
      –I reluctantly rest my case. This is the same conservative Christian gentleman who introduced the death penalty for women having abortions and their physicians.
      He wants global warming and evolution removed from state textbooks, What bible are the conservative Christians using?

  2. What makes RussiaGate different from WaterGate? Watching congressional testimony on TV yesterday left me with the queasy feeling that we are seeing the last days of American democracy as we have known it. Election interference by a Cold War adversary, an unhinged madman in the White House, rampant cronyism and nepotism, governance by deception and falsehood … these are extinction level events by any measure.

    The Watergate investigation was a bipartisan effort. In contrast, the RussiaGate investigation is mired along partisan lines. It appears we are living inside a fever dream where raw political power and dominance take precedence over truth and the integrity of governmental institutions. All told, when governance devolves to this level, we are looking at the three Fs: Falsehoods, Feudalism & Fascism.

  3. As I read more and more commentary like that of Senator Dan Foreman shudders speed through my mind and body. IMO unless a serious backlash response occurs nationally to the garbage these people spew we’re doomed. And the nation our founding fathers gave us will pass out of existence.

    I’m often glad I am 65 next month. But I am sad for my grandchildren and all the yourh of this nation and those yet to come.

    1. I’m turning 77 next month. I’m not going anywhere until écrasez l’infâme succeeds, the American nightmare is a memory and my children and grandchildren live in a decent respected country. I was born before Pearl
      Harbor, lived through the Atomic Age, raged against Joe McCarthy, the VN
      War, but enlisted rather than take the deferments favored by most politicians, even chickenhawks like Cheney and Trump, railed against the “preemptive” invasion
      of Iraq, bemoaned the Reagan invention of TrickleDown and its inevitable wage stagnation and creation of the 99% and watched aghast as my fellow citizens
      elected a petulant immature real estate salesman. Nope, I’m not going anywhere.
      I hope. 🙂

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