Cognitive Psychology

The Pernicious Role of Cognitive Dissonance in our Social Intercourse

Lately, I’ve been a studying more and more on the role that cognitive dissonance plays in maintaining some of our worst social interactions, namely racism and sexism. The notion that more than half of white America voted for Trump just sticks in my craw. Knowing that just over half of white women voted for Trump just seems un-fucking-believable to me. That he gained voters among the Latinx population is just maddening.

Just what the actual fuck is wrong with white voters that after four years of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber mucking EVERYTHING up, but especially anything that even remotely touched upon race, he could actually increase his percentage of the white vote?!? In what world does that make sense?

Here we are three years after the election, and I’m still scratching my ass trying to figure out why my white-assed hairy fingers stink. Here we are in the run-up to the 2024 election, and Ron DeSantis is making dogs whistle out of his ass and like some chauvinistic Pied Piper and white people are falling in line behind him doing the Roomba all the way to horse race polls. It’s like we keep living through the same Lovecraftian nightmare that we can’t quite wake up from.

To be sure, racism, especially overt racism has been on the decline in the States. Admittedly, I haven’t seen any statistics since the Trump years, but, at least, until BEFORE Trump, racism was on the decline. Tellingly, 2020 was the first election that Baby Boomers and the WWII generation were less than half of the electorate.

Still and all, the outcome of the 2020 and 2022 elections still bugger the question, why can’t white people quit racist dog whistles?

The Cognitive Dissonance of Racist Dog Whistles

As it turns out, the answer is quite simple. Cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is the mind’s attempt to reconcile conflicting beliefs or beliefs that conflict with reality or behavior. When you do something, like say, slyly lift the loose twenty dollar bill that you can see just lying at the top of your friend’s bag because, they’ll never know, and they don’t really need that twenty as badly as you do and they’d want you to have it, right? and you need to maintain your belief that you are an honest person with personal integrity who would never do anything to harm anyone. At least that’s what all your friends will say about you to the reporters who come knocking should you ever die in a mass shooting and they do one of those profiles on the victims where everyone was just an angel.

Cognitive dissonance is what makes our lying-assed hypocritical lives possible. Don’t look at me like that. Every time you make fun of Maddog Greene for being ugly, you’re being a hypocrite because liberals don’t bully, right? We don’t make fun of people for things that can’t easily change like their appearance or weight.

Science fact: We is all hypocrites, only the Republicans are an order or two of magnitude more hypocritical than most Dems or liberals. Given the Fox News revelations of their real views on Trump’s election lies, the insurrection, and the very soul of Trump himself, maybe it is approaching critical mass fixing to produce a black hole. And, Tucker Carlson still rigged footage of the insurrection to seem “peaceful.”

Cognitive Dissonance as Mental Endorphin

Cognitive dissonance is the endorphins of our mental life. Just like endorphins cushion us from the pain of our physical existence, cognitive dissonance cushions us from the pain of our psyches.

How does cognitive dissonance explain the love affair that 50+% of white Americans have with racism?

According to Leon Festinger, the granddaddy of cognitive dissonance, What will happen if someone believes something with his [sic] whole heart… has a commitment to this belief… has taken irrevocable actions because of it…and is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable, that his [sic] belief is wrong… Why, that person will double down on their beliefs, of course.

Now, wait a minute. White Americans aren’t racist. Some of them even have Black friends. And didn’t one their cousin’s friend’s neighbor DATE a black person that one time? Aren’t they all fans of those black boys all playing the sports balls? How can you say that white America is racist?

I’m not. I’m saying that the belief that white Americans have with their whole heart that they are committed to, and taken irrevocable actions because of is that they aren’t racist. Most white Americans believe to their soul that they are not racist and would NEVER DO ANYTHING TO HURT ANYONE! How dare you suggest otherwise.

In the fifty odd years since the Civil Rights legislation passed in the mid-1960’s conditions have improved for most Black Americans in that Black folks graduate high school at almost the same rate as white folks do, vast improvements in attaining college degrees, and increases in overall income. However, they are still far behind in the percentage that have degrees, the income they make, the numbers living in poverty, home ownership, health outcomes, and incarceration.

Despite the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s loud proclamations otherwise, he didn’t help Black Americans; he hurt them. Republicans don’t help Black Americans, either. They hurt them, too. If someone were really concerned about racial equality in America, they would never vote Republican, and certainly never vote for the Ol’ Pussy Grabber or Ron DeSantis.

It is just that simple. There is overwhelming evidence that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, Republicans, and Fox News are all overtly racist. Yet, 50+% of white American still votes for them and tunes in. What gives?

Cognitive Dissonance and Maintaining Beliefs

Festinger proposed that there were five factors that governed whether a person would give up a cherished belief once it was irrevocably disproven or double down on it. These were taken from an earlier post on cognitive dissonance:

  • A STRONG CONVICTION as evidenced by taking some concrete action based on it. Most white people will ride a bus with a Black person on it, dine at a restaurant that also serves Black people, watch TV shows and movies that have Black actors cast as leads as long as they aren’t playing white characters like what happened with Annie or the Little Mermaid or Santa Clause, I mean come on, there are limits, right? Most white Americans will tolerate the presence of Blacks in their white spaces, and that makes them not racist, see? If you ask a white American if racism is bad, they’ll say it is and condemn it with all the condemningest condemnations! How could they be racist if they do that?
  • COMMIT an act that can’t be undone like posting an anti-racist meme on their social media or not complaining to HR when a loose twenty disappears out of their bag and there is a Black housekeeper that works nights cleaning up the office after they’ve left. See? They’re committed to EQUALITY. They never ever describe anyone as Black or tell Black jokes, except when they are with their white friends. See? That’s commitment to the CAUSE of racial equality.
  • THE BELIEF HAS TO BE CONNECTED TO THE REAL WORLD! Well, if racism isn’t connected to the real world, then nothing is, except we’re living in a post-racial world, right? So, maybe it isn’t? Oh, I don’t know! whines white America. Racism is just so confusing. That’s why I never mention skin color in public. It will only get you in trouble.
  • BELIEVING THE EVIDENCE is the toughest one. As Festinger noted, if someone has conviction, even hearing Tucker Carlson himself saying that he hates Trump and that he’s lying about the election and Dominion won’t shake their faith. No matter what evidence we present of Republican policies and goals being inherently racist, most white people with racial angst won’t be paying them no never mind, anywho. The system of lying to themselves about how great of a person they are works too well to maintain their comfort zone. They’re good, so everything they do must be good. Since racism is bad, how can they be racist, when they’re good, know what I’m saying?
  • SOCIAL SUPPORT is crucial for doubling down on a false belief like I’m not racist even though I called the police on Black funeral because those folks were grave robbing! Grave robbers! It was obvious! When everyone around you shares your beliefs, you KNOW they’re correct because a million Chinamen [sic, don’t @ me cuz I’m being all sarcastic and satiric and everything] can’t be wrong, right?

Against all odds and the scientificest findings on cognitive dissonance, we’re making some progress on peeling away support from MAGA. Biden gained voters from suburban America in 2020 over 2016, even though he lost some urban and rural ground to Trump. We can only hope that this trend will continue.

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8 replies »

  1. Because the Republicans are now, playing the fear and hate cards, getting their followers, to, keep on, believing in their lies, and, because those who still voted Republican got so used to, having someone think for them, so they don’t have to take responsibilities for if the world around them, goes to, hell, that’s why, people such as DeSantis and Trump are still able to, sway their, faithful, followers. Because they won’t, wake the hell, up!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Taurus!

      The process you describe actually has a name, mass psychosis. Living under stress and with agitation for so long produces a reaction in people that makes think less critically and accept lies more readily, or believe virtually anything. Republicans have been “softening” up their followers for DECADES to get us to this point. Couple mass psychosis with authoritarian personalities and you get a significant portion of the population ready to overthrow democracy.

      I’ve reported extensively on both over the years.



  2. Might there be a pathway of sorts to unlock the impasse?

    1 – “I am good, and racism is bad, therefore I am not a racist.”
    2 – But, there are features and relics of racism in the system, for which I am not to blame.
    3 – Therefor, I can be free to change those things in the system without ever admitting that I am, or ever was racist.

    Unfortunately, such a solution runs head on into the projection that sees the problem, the real problem as reverse racism that discriminates against my poor helpless white self to take away my stuff and give it to those other people.

    Indeed, the starting point question to understand any of this is, “In what world does any of this make sense?”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      I think the problem with following any lines of reasoning is anxiety. I think white people see a spike in anxiety when they are asked to think about racism, especially with regard to themselves. Anxiety makes it more difficult to think. Additionally, there is the heuristic of answering an easier question. When asked if you’re a racist, you search for an easier question to answer, is racism bad? Or, am I bad? The answers are yes, racism is bad, and no, I’m not bad, therefore I’m. not a racist. Now, that you’ve got a satisfactory answer, you stop thinking about it. Those are well established tendencies in human behavior.

      Framing the question about society and gaining helps take away some of the anxiety and stress. If the question is, do you want a more perfect union where all people regardless of race are equal, then most people will answer yes. Then if you look at evidence of systemic racism, most people will recognize it and agree.

      Lastly, you need social support for talking honestly about their own inner racism. This is something that just doesn’t happen, but it is what we need. We need prominent people, celebrities, that white people identify with, to say, wow, I never thought about it, but I realized that when I locked the doors of my car when a Black man crossed the street in front of me, revealed my negative stereotyping of Black people and not a playing of the odds that many criminals are Black, so I will be super cautious and lock my doors… just in case.

      There’s a blog post in there.


      Liked by 1 person

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