Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Little Sanity Is a Dangerous Thing

People who work in psychology encounter with unfortunate frequency a particularly frustrating lack of insight. A patient who is partially treated becomes well enough to recognise his symptoms, which were opaque to him previously. To the dismay of those providing treatment, however, he attributes those symptoms to the treatment (usually medicine) rather than the illness. "The medication makes me wake up early and not be able to get back to sleep." No, you are sleeping six fitful hours at night now. You were sleeping only 1-2 hours a night before. "I'm irritable because of the medication you're giving me." No, you were screaming at everyone when you were off medicine. You just don't remember that now.

In a treatment situation, the phenomenon appears in high relief. Yet in subtler forms, it occurs in those without a definable mental illness. Perhaps it occurs in all of us. These partial insights allow us to keep our old pathologies intact. They are, if anything, even more impervious to reason.

The psychbloggers, which make up over half of my siderbar links, tend to be center/right/libertarian in political leaning, and we frequently compare the group defense-mechanisms of the left to those we see in individuals. This is an exercise which necessarily overgeneralises and would be difficult to test. Nonetheless, the technique seems to be proving itself out not just with explanatory power, but with predictive power.

I will venture a touch here: the GWOT has revealed to people that they are in some danger. It is usually not a daily or direct danger, but it could be reasonably said to affect all of us. Parts of the left, and not only the hard left, have concluded that Bush and the neo-cons are the danger. I don't mean those folks who believe that our current policies increase our danger - which I think is wrong on balance but is at least not psychotic - but the wide array of leftists who believe we are descending into fascism, or the Twin Towers conspiracy theorists, or the War For Oil/Halliburton/Imperialism groups.

That thinking also colors their economic thinking: I'm poor because he's rich, and all it's derivative ideas.

If I work on it, I'm sure I'll think of one that conservatives do. It's just not coming to me at the moment.


Anonymous said...

I seem to recall from my psychology classes that another defense mechanism is "cognitive dissonance." The classic example I heard from other students (my professor was actually fairly libertarian-leaning, so he probably appreciated the military more) is that the reason recruits are so "enamored" with the military is because of how difficult it was to get through boot camp. In other words, even though a person doesn't LIKE the military, they will stay in because of the psychological capital they have expended to be there in the first place.

I believe everybody on the political spectrum suffers from this. Libertarians look at our crumbling society, and somehow choose to think that people just need more "freedom." Conservatives look at the loss of freedoms and say that security is worth it. Liberals sit in their aluminum-foil hats, and chant "George Bush isn't president" over and over, even though they know it to be a false statement.

I'm no psychologist, just a lowly software engineer, but I think you have hit on something here. I am not for sure I gave good examples of cognitive dissonance, but they made sense to me, and if you don't like them then I think you have been taken over by the Liberals who have implanted controllers in your brain, rather than acknowledge that I spend all this time at this site for naught!! ;^)


Renaissance Nerd said...

I can give you another example of that. The only reason I keep playing World of Warcraft despite the fact that I'm heartily sick of it is because if I just quit then all the time I spend on it was just a big waste. And I especially hate to think that way because it makes me sound like a NEA spokesman complaining that schools don't get enough money. "26 times more than any other country is not enough!! But if we get 27 times more then it'll all be butterflies and rainbows!!"

I think that the Assistant is on to something big here. Just think what it means if the libs ever come to the conclusion they were wrong about any of their hard-and-fast dogmas. If they admit they're wrong about abortion, then they're baby-killers. If they admit they were wrong about the effect of costing us the Viet Nam war then they become both traitors and accomplices to mass murder and genocide. The list goes on and on. Even things like the environment and toilet-flushing regulations could cost them the one thing that is more important than anything else: the belief that they're the good guys.
They can never admit that they were wrong or else all the hatred and venom and passion they've poured into these causes is just a big waste, and they were playing the bad cop when they don't want any cop at all.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think one of those big "cognitive dissonance" examples is the UN. People have put so much money and hope into it that they just naturally feel it must be encouraged to be the best it can. The idea of assessing it and saying it doesn't work is not allowed into the conversation.