Cognitive Dissonance At The HuffPo About Ann Coulter & Gays

So, I’m reading through the offerings over at the Huffington Post and I run across a rather bizarre column by Rick Jacobs. It seems that Mr. Jacobs went to a “gay” restaurant and was horrified to find Ann Coulter there,

We had dinner last night at Murano, a new West Hollywood restaurant, owned by gay circuit party promoter Jeffrey Sanker, and lesbian night club owners Robin Gans and Sandy Sachs. It’s a visually stunning space, straight lines, whites and reds accented by brilliant Murano glass chandeliers (hence the name of the restaurant). It’s right at home within eyeshot of West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center, clearly appealing in a neighborhood of gay clubs, bars and restaurants.

Toward the end of dinner, one of my companions insisted that the painfully thin, emotive, long blond haired thing in a small black dress with nearly exposed bosoms was none other than Ann Coulter. I did not believe him. Why would Ann Coulter, who hates homosexuals, go to dinner at gay ground zero? Why would she spend her hard earned gay-bashing royalties to enrich Jeffrey Sanker and otherwise support gay-owned businesses?

But sure enough, he was right. I could not tell if she was dining with people she hates or just demonstrating that she’s a fraud who says whatever she must to sell books so that she can live the gay urban lifestyle. Based on her behavior last night, I am sure it is the latter, although based on her table mates, it could be both.

Remember Ann Coulter on John Edwards and homosexuals?

“I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘f*ggot,’ so I’m – so, kind of at an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards, so I think I’ll just conclude here and take your questions.”

Now, the last I checked, most gay people, including me, do not think the term “f*ggot” is endearing.

…I was therefore shocked that when we tried to engage her in conversation, she became embarrassed, turned away, nestling her head inside her long, blond hair, much as would an embarrassed school girl caught stealing the answers to an exam.

We wondered if she was comfortable in West Hollywood, in a restaurant where a large number of the patrons are gay, and where the gay owners make money off of her dining bill. Her response (physically, because she would not speak): “I am too embarrassed to talk to you.” Had we been able to see her high cheek bones, then averted and clutched in her hands to hide her shame, we’d have seen a red-faced hypocrite, caught living a lie. Think Britney Spears or Paris Hilton or others who make money simply for being famous and then have no clue how to respond when they are caught lying.

Ann Coulter loves the camera, so we snapped a few with a cell phone. Her sturdy female minder said we were “molesting” her. Ann Coulter molested by having her picture taken? I guess she’s molested every day, then. She might want to check into rehab to deal with her addiction to such molestation.

When the manager came by with our check, he said, “Look, I’m sorry she’s here, but I have to serve her.” The staff were clearly appalled when they realized who was in their midst. Did Hitler eat kosher food even as he worked out the final solution?

Now, Ann Coulter says that she doesn’t hate gay people and would certainly deny that she engages in gay bashing. Rick Jacobs vehemently disagrees.

So, if Rick Jacobs sees Ann Coulter, happily eating dinner with friends, at “gay ground zero,” what would you think his reaction would be? I mean, Coulter’s not a politician and this isn’t a campaign appearance. Moreover, she’s obviously not there because she was hoping some dork from the HuffPo would happen by to disturb her during dinner.

With that in mind, wouldn’t the most natural thing in the world be for Rick Jacobs to say to himself, “Maybe I was wrong about Ann Coulter. Maybe this is an indication that she doesn’t hate gay people after all.”

Sure it would.

But, what happened instead? Jacobs gets angry at Coulter for proving his stereotype of her to be inaccurate. So, he imagines what she would say if she had been interested in talking to him, compares her to Hitler, and writes a post on the HuffPo about it.

Rick Jacobs — welcome to the wonderful world of cognitive dissonance! What is cognitive dissonance? Here’s an excerpt from the Skeptic’s Dictionary that does a good job of explaining it,

Cognitive dissonance is a theory of human motivation that asserts that it is psychologically uncomfortable to hold contradictory cognitions. The theory is that dissonance, being unpleasant, motivates a person to change his cognition, attitude, or behavior. This theory was first explored in detail by social psychologist Leon Festinger, who described it this way:

Dissonance and consonance are relations among cognitions that is, among opinions, beliefs, knowledge of the environment, and knowledge of one’s own actions and feelings. Two opinions, or beliefs, or items of knowledge are dissonant with each other if they do not fit together; that is, if they are inconsistent, or if, considering only the particular two items, one does not follow from the other (Festinger 1956: 25).

He argued that there are three ways to deal with cognitive dissonance. He did not consider these mutually exclusive.

1. One may try to change one or more of the beliefs, opinions, or behaviors involved in the dissonance;

2. One may try to acquire new information or beliefs that will increase the existing consonance and thus cause the total dissonance to be reduced; or,

3. One may try to forget or reduce the importance of those cognitions that are in a dissonant relationship (Festinger 1956: 25-26).

For example, people who smoke know smoking is a bad habit. Some rationalize their behavior by looking on the bright side: They tell themselves that smoking helps keep the weight down and that there is a greater threat to health from being overweight than from smoking. Others quit smoking. Most of us are clever enough to come up with ad hoc hypotheses or rationalizations to save cherished notions. Why we can’t apply this cleverness more competently is not explained by noting that we are led to rationalize because we are trying to reduce or eliminate cognitive dissonance. Different people deal with psychological discomfort in different ways. Some ways are clearly more reasonable than others. So, why do some people react to dissonance with cognitive competence, while others respond with cognitive incompetence?

Cognitive dissonance has been called “the mind controller’s best friend” (Levine 2003: 202). Yet, a cursory examination of cognitive dissonance reveals that it is not the dissonance, but how people deal with it, that would be of interest to someone trying to control others when the evidence seems against them.

For example, Marian Keech was the leader of a UFO cult in the 1950s. She claimed to get messages from extraterrestrials, known as The Guardians, through automatic writing. Like the Heaven’s Gate folks forty years later, Keech and her followers, known as The Seekers or The Brotherhood of the Seven Rays, were waiting to be picked up by flying saucers. In Keech’s prophecy, her group of eleven was to be saved just before the earth was to be destroyed by a massive flood on December 21, 1954. When it became evident that there would be no flood and the Guardians weren’t stopping by to pick them up, Keech

became elated. She said she’d just received a telepathic message from the Guardians saying that her group of believers had spread so much light with their unflagging faith that God had spared the world from the cataclysm (Levine 2003: 206).

More important, the Seekers didn’t abandon her. Most became more devoted after the failed prophecy. (Only two left the cult when the world didn’t end.) “Most disciples not only stayed but, having made that decision, were now even more convinced than before that Keech had been right all along….Being wrong turned them into true believers (ibid.).” Some people will go to bizarre lengths to avoid inconsistency between their cherished beliefs and the facts. But why do people interpret the same evidence in contrary ways?

The Seekers would not have waited for the flying saucer if they thought it might not come. So, when it didn’t come, one would think that a competent thinker would have seen this as falsifying Keech’s claim that it would come. However, the incompetent thinkers were rendered incompetent by their devotion to Keech. Their belief that a flying saucer would pick them up was based on faith, not evidence. Likewise, their belief that the failure of the prophesy shouldn’t count against their belief was another act of faith. With this kind of irrational thinking, it may seem pointless to produce evidence to try to persuade people of the error of their ways. Their belief is not based on evidence, but on devotion to a person. That devotion can be so great that even the most despicable behavior by one’s prophet can be rationalized. There are many examples of people so devoted to another that they will rationalize or ignore extreme mental and physical abuse by their cult leader (or spouse or boyfriend). If the basis for a person’s belief is irrational faith grounded in devotion to a powerful personality, then the only option that person has when confronted with evidence that should undermine her faith would seem to be to continue to be irrational, unless her faith was not that strong to begin with. The interesting question, then, is not about cognitive dissonance but about faith. What was it about Keech that led some people to have faith in her and what was it about those people that made them vulnerable to Keech? And what was different about the two who left the cult?

Like Keech’s UFO cult, modern liberalism has more to do with faith in a certain set of beliefs than it does in any sort of logic and as such, liberals like Jacobs merely swat away any “inconsistency between their cherished beliefs and the facts,” as if it’s irrelevant.

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