Sunday, March 28, 2010

We Hate the Government But Want More Government Jobs: Are The Tea Party People Dumb? or Are They Just Really Stupid?

Concept: Cognitive Dissonance

In 1957, Leon Festinger published a theory of cognitive dissonance, which has changed the way psychologists look at decision-making and behavior.[1] At its heart, cognitive dissonance theory is rather simple. It begins with the idea of cognitions. Cognitions are simply bits of knowledge. They can pertain to any variety of thoughts, values, facts, or emotions. For instance, the fact that I like ice cream is a cognition. So is the fact that I am a man. People have countless cognitions in their heads.

Most cognitions have nothing to do with each other. For instance, the two cognitions mentioned before (that I am a man and that I like ice cream) are unrelated. Some cognitions, however, are related. For instance, perhaps I have a sweet tooth and I like ice cream. These cognitions are "consonant," meaning that they are related and that one follows from the other. They go together, so to speak.

However, sometimes we have cognitions that are related, but do not follow from one another. In fact, they may be opposites. For instance, perhaps I like ice cream, but I am also trying to lose weight. These two thoughts are problematic -- if I eat ice cream, then I may gain weight, and if I really want to lose weight then I cannot eat ice cream. These types of cognitions are referred to as "dissonant."

The basic idea behind cognitive dissonance theory is that people do not like to have dissonant cognitions. In fact, many people argue that the desire to have consonant cognitions is as strong as our basic desires for food and shelter. As a result, when someone does experience two or more dissonant cognitions (or conflicting thoughts), they will attempt to do away with the dissonance.


The masses are indeed asses.

This week has yielded a bushel (or two) of research on the political ecology of the Tea Party, Republicans. Not surprisingly, they have minimal knowledge of actual government policies, are ill informed on the issues which they ostensibly care about, are immersed in the Fox News, Right-wing echo chamber, and simultaneously want "the government out of their lives" while also wanting the government to improve their lives.

Question: Are the Tea Party members A) Dumb or B) Stupid

In helping you to reach a conclusion, I offer this piece from the Washington Monthly which nicely sums up the less than cogent thinking of the typical Tea Bagger:

UNAWARE OF THE CONTRADICTION.... There's an old joke that goes something like this: my neighbor went to public schools before joining the military. He went to college on the G.I. Bill, bought his first home through the FHA, and received his health care through the V.A. and Medicare. He now receives Social Security.

He's a conservative because he wants to get the government off his back.

I mention the joke because a surprising number of right-wing activists don't seem to appreciate the humor. We talked the other day, for example, about a radical libertarian activist who encourages his allies to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices to protest the Affordable Care Act. He hates government involvement in the lives of citizens -- but his main income is taxpayer-financed disability checks sent to him every month by the federal government.

This is not uncommon. The NYT reports today on some of the well-intention folks who've been caught up in the Tea Party nonsense. Take Tom Grimes, for example.

In the last year, he has organized a local group and a statewide coalition, and even started a "bus czar" Web site to marshal protesters to Washington on short notice. This month, he mobilized 200 other Tea Party activists to go to the local office of the same congressman to protest what he sees as the government's takeover of health care. [...]

"If you quit giving people that stuff, they would figure out how to do it on their own," Mr. Grimes said.

When Grimes lost his job 15 months ago, one of his first steps was contacting his congressman about available programs that might give him access to government health care. He receives Social Security, and is considering a job opening at the Census Bureau. But in the meantime, Grimes has filled the back seat of his Mercury Grand Marquis with literature decrying government aid to struggling Americans.

The same article noted the efforts of Diana Reimer, considered a "star" right-wing activist in her efforts against government programs, a campaign she describes as her "mission." Reimer, of course, currently enjoys Social Security and the socialized medicine that comes with Medicare.

The cognitive dissonance is rather remarkable. They perceive the government as the source of their economic distress -- which itself doesn't make sense -- and then rely on the government to give them a hand, all the while demanding that the government do less to give people a hand. Their reflexive hatred for public programs is so irrational, they don't even see the contradiction.

"After a year of angry debate," the Times article noted, "emotion outweighs fact."

That's no doubt true. But that doesn't change the fact that we're talking about a reasonably large group of people who are deeply, tragically misguided.

This is important to the extent that there are still some who believe the political mainstream should do more to listen to the Tea Party crowd and take its hysterical cries seriously. But how can credible people take nonsense seriously and hope to come up with a meaningful result? How can policymakers actually address substantive challenges while following the advice of angry mobs who reject reason and evidence?

The bottom line seem inescapable: too many Tea Party activists have no idea what they're talking about. Their sincerity notwithstanding, this is a confused group of misled people.


Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Protesting "the gubmint" is just their cover for protesting the black man in the White House. I think this is the toxic fuel behind the rabid dog behavior. Their racism is so extreme that it's made them crazy.

Thelonious said...

Clearly, this is all about racism. None of these erstwhile patriots had any concerns about tyranny or violations of civil liberties during the previous administration, who basically used the Constitution as toilet paper for the whole of their time in power.

What we have basically learned is that providing health care reform to the poor and uninsured is the first step on the road to a fascist, socialist, and godless Muslim caliphate. Conversely, using corporate resources to eavesdrop on American citizens, monitor the books they read, and indemnify large phone companies against legitimate lawsuits is defending freedom.

This is a seriously ridiculous and utterly stupid group of people.

MilesEllison said...

The main issue in the examples cited is that when the government helps other people, it's big, evil and socialist. When it helps them, it's not.

This is the Tea Party movement in a nutshell; people who are "different" shouldn't be entitled to the same benefits that they enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Incoherent white tribalism springs from the unconscious reaction to the the once dominant culture experiencing a shift in the hierarchy.

Postmodern Whiteboy

Gealdo said...

I don't think it's racism; it's poor losership. I knew guys back in the Clinton years that would have done the same thing.

They claim to love Democracy but don't seem to understand how it works. What they really want is a Monarchistic system where a Republican is President for Life. Or at least until the next Republican President.

Unknown said...

KIT and all, I have been saying that the only reason the TPers exist as a group, albeit non-cohesive and incoherent, is that THEY CAN'T STAND EVEN THE THOUGHT OF A BLACK MAN (AND A VERY SMART ONE AT THAT) IN THE WHITE HOUSE!!!
Being a Tea Partyite is less offensive (at least that's what they think) than joining the Klan. That way they can lynch our good President in they minds without actually doing anyone harm. So they think.

Doug said...

Yes, and Robespierre was killed by the revolution he helped create. Just because the teabaggers are wrong and/or misguided doesn't diminish their ability to cause a lot of chaos before they burn out.

Anonymous said...

Err, are you Steve Bennen?

Anonymous said...

Cognitive dissonance is believing in two contradictory viewpoints on or in the same subject. One (or both) statements must be false or at least make the other statement false.

Your example of wanting to lose weight by not eating ice cream does not qualify for cognitive dissonance: try plain old racism - two sets of standards that one person tries to believe at the same time.

There was one of those deinspirational posters floating around showing a punk rock girl sleeping during a punk rock show titled cognitive dissonance. Pretty funny..

Brion Emde said...

I had an argument the other day with a guy who is expecting to receive benefits that he "earned" and he's going to make sure he gets what he "deserves" and that means he's got to withhold it from others.

When I told him that there is no real Social Security account for him that indicates what he puts in and balances that against what he gets out. I said that SS is basically "magic and cash flow".

I realize that's oversimplifying it, but it's not far from the truth.

He came back that I'm the biggest idiot he's ever met, even though we've never met.

Anyway, I think that's it: they're convinced they've earned it and that the "others" haven't and so they deserve it and that's that.

alanbard said...

Unfortunately, those public schools failed to teach them very much. Female tea-baggers seem to have no understanding of the fact that the founding fathers didn't think they should vote. But that a bunch of radical feminist finally got them that right, less then 100 years ago.(Negro men got the right to vote before they did.)
Let's wave the magic wand and get rid of Unions and all they've accomplished. We'll all be back at 80 hr weeks, but wait half of us will lose our jobs.
Stupid? Dumb? Ignorant? Uneducated?
All of the above?

Sam Holloway said...

Do not underestimate the racism factor, indeed. Miles Ellison is right: the teabaggers have no problem with government handouts as long as those handouts aren't going to negroes and other undesirables. They have no problem with governmental authoritarianism as long as the targets are perceived to be 'the other.'

This is not some new phenomenon, despite how the corporate media are framing it. This is just plain 'ol U.S.A. nigger-hatin'.


Great post.

My dad is a Goldwaterite. He knows I'm a liberal, but he thinks I'm heading towards socialism and then communism.

He's 79 on Social Security and Medicare. I asked him if the government was running his life. No, he replied. Has the government trampled on his rights? No, he replied.

So, I asked him why allowing a Medicare buy-in or a single-payer system was bad.

Because it is socialism, he stated.

That is a true story. I had to laugh because it was my dad. But, it was also asinine and completely illogical.

My dad and I do not share the same fact-based universe. Even within his own universe, logic does not seem to operate.

Ms Carpetbagger said...

Imagine my surprise when I open my RSS reader and see you've quoted my husband. Cool!

I'm glad I'm not the only one driven nuts by this hypocrisy. While racism is clearly a factor w/ the tea party folks, I think a lot of it is also just ignorance. As the last commenter pointed out, they just don't get it.

Big Man said...

White people are not bound by your feeble "logic."

They cannot be expected to abide by the rules of common sense, nor can they be expected to avoid hypocrisy.

They are white. Thus they create their own rules, their own logic and their own morality.

You coloreds need to get with the program.

Elusis said...

And the very next tab I had open happened to be about White Backlash: