Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance

When I was a youth back in the early 1970s, there was an unusual restaurant just off the exit ramp from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway on Rt. 197 outside of Laurel, Maryland. It was a little bar and grill called Delaney’s Irish Pizza Pub, and its sign featured a leprechaun holding out a pizza.

Now that’s cognitive dissonance.

It’s a benign cognitive dissonance, the sort that makes you laugh out loud when you drive past, and exclaim, “Is this a great country, or what?”

Strait jacketBut there are other more sinister and dangerous types of cognitive dissonance at work in the land.

Take, for example, the case of the Finnish blogger Mikko Ellilä. We have been writing a lot about him recently, and also about the general climate of repression that is emerging in Finland. The Finnish government, like other governments within the EU, is intent on exerting ever more control of its citizens’ thoughts by cracking down on free speech in the blogosphere. The modus operandi is the usual one: applying the nebulous principles of Multiculturalism to hunt down “hate speech” and “racism”.

Finland’s Ombudsman for minorities, Mikko Puumalainen, believes that even facts can be “hate speech”:

[H]e repeatedly refused to specify his allegations and to email me the relevant material that he had sent to the police. I was able to obtain the material from him only after I notified him that I could sue him for failing to send me the relevant material because the police had explicitly asked me to comment on his allegations in written form, which I obviously could not do as long as I had not even seen the allegations in the first place. Puumalainen undoubtedly committed a crime by acting like this.

In other words, a criminal bureaucrat is harassing me. Puumalainen is also seriously wasting taxpayer money by forcing the police to spend time reading my blog posts and discussing them with me, instead of trying to catch criminals.

In a similar vein, the EU created an internal regulation for bureaucrats, forbidding them to refer to “jihad”:

The European Union has drawn up guidelines advising government spokesmen to refrain from linking Islam and terrorism in their statements.

Brussels officials have confirmed the existence of a classified handbook which offers “non-offensive” phrases to use when announcing anti-terrorist operations or dealing with terrorist attacks.

Banned terms are said to include “jihad”, “Islamic” or “fundamentalist”.

The word “jihad” is to be avoided altogether, according to some sources, because for Muslims the word can mean a personal struggle to live a moral life.

One alternative, suggested publicly last year, is for the term “Islamic terrorism” to be replaced by “terrorists who abusively invoke Islam”.

An EU official said that the secret guidebook, or, “common lexicon”, is aimed at preventing the distortion of the Muslim faith and the alienation of Muslims in Europe.

According to the article, “Details on the contents of the lexicon remain secret.”

Look what’s happening here: certain types of speech are proscribed or limited, but the exact rules aren’t revealed. So we know generally that many things are forbidden, but not exactly what they are.

I’ll bet I’m not the only one who is reminded of this quote:
- - - - - - - - - -
“Catch-22,” the old woman repeated, rocking her head up and down. “Catch-22. Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.”

[…]

“Didn’t they show it to you?” Yossarian demanded, stamping about in anger and distress. “Didn’t you even make them read it?”

“They don’t have to show us Catch-22,” the old woman answered. “The law says they don’t have to.”

“What law says they don’t have to?”

“Catch-22.”

Forty-five years ago the famous exchange in Joseph Heller’s novel was a prescient description of the paradigm now being realized by the self-destructive governments of the West.

All these speech codes remain non-specific, so that everyone will learn to self-censor broadly, hoping to comply somehow with the Catch-22 that no one is allowed to see. Rather than create the expensive and inefficient apparatus of the totalitarian state — secret police, a network of informers, brainwashing, torture, and a gulag — the soft totalitarian state simply applies a method designed to induce its citizens to perform the repression on themselves.

It’s a very effective technique, and is probably farthest advanced in the UK. An article in the Daily Mail tells the story of Codie Stott, a teenager who was arrested for “racism” because she didn’t want to sit with fellow students who spoke only in Urdu. Robert Whelan, deputy director of the Civitas think-tank, said this:

A lot of these arrests don’t result in prosecutions — their aim is to frighten us into self-censorship until we watch everything we say.

Similarly, the authorities did not give Mikko Ellilä the charges — meaning that he could not know what specific speech code he had violated — and therefore, if he were to be charged, the message to other bloggers would be to self-censor in hope of remaining within the law. But — and this is important — there only has to be an occasional charge filed in order to make this stratagem successful.

Random violence — random negative reinforcement, like shooting people in the head, but for no discernible reason — is the most efficient way to get the citizenry to behave with absolute compliance. The condition thus produced is cognitive dissonance — the shattered self, the disjointed mind, a psychological no-man’s land.

Dymphna spent many years working with victims of domestic abuse at a battered women’s shelter. One of the things she learned from her experience was that the most effective tool of control for an abuser was the capricious, intermittent, and unpredictable application of violence. If the abuser were to use a rational and consistent system, the victim could figure out the rules and simply comply. An irrational pattern of violence destroys the victim’s self-integration and creates an absolutely supple partner, a passive vessel waiting to be filled by her abusive master.

The same principle applies to political systems. Soft totalitarianism requires rules that are so general and unspecific that citizens comply with anything and everything, no matter how irrational, because people always try to find a rule, even where there is none. It’s human nature.

Simultaneously, by forcing people to hear and mouth nonsense over and over again, and to pretend to believe it, the system destroys their self-worth.

And then, in a ludicrous attempt to fix the dysfunctional products of this noxious regimen, the same people have to be given classes in “self-esteem”.

Do you think I have just described the United States public school system?

That’s some catch, that Catch-22.

10 comments:

Paul said...

Baron:

Your comment,

"Do you think I have just described the United States public school system? That’s some catch, that Catch-22.",

underscores the need for choice in education, and specifically the need and desirability of home schooling in the US. Not everyone is able or qualified to home school their kids, but many are and resources are available to help. Independent home school groups can also help with this problem.

Baron Bodissey said...

Paul, you caught my point exactly.

I don't know if you've been a reader here long enough to know this, but we home-schooled our son. This weekend he will graduate from the College of William and Mary, a chemistry major.

Dymphna said...

This reminds me of Kafka...he was ahead of his time, too. Remember K and The Castle? It ought to be required reading now, instead of all those pc, third world feminist novels.

Birkebeinr said...

Some book that Catch-22. I made it to the chapter called Major Major Major Major. Somehow I lost interest there as I felt that the point was taken.
A good point it is however. Pretty surreal.

Joe said...

Delaney's...I remember it well. Frequented it weekly after a bowling league. Did you know that it was bought several years ago by a husband and wife. Then there was a suspicious fire. A year later the wife was charged with arson. I believe that that was the end of the Pub.

Baron Bodissey said...

Joe --

It's great to hear that one of our readers has actually been to Delaney's. I ate (and drank beer) there once or twice myself in about 1972.

I googled for information on it before I posted this, and I read about the suspicious fire.

The place also seemed to have changed its name to "The Irish Pizza Pub", with no "Delaney's". Based on the few photos I could find it appeared to have become rather kitschy, no longer a workingman's joint.

Jun said...

Excellent post!

Some bits from the beginning of 1984 also come to mind...

The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labour camp....

His pen had slid voluptuously over the smooth paper, printing in large neat capitals--

DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER
DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER
DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER
DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER
DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER

over and over again, filling half a page.

He could not help feeling a twinge of panic. It was absurd, since the writing of those particular words was not more dangerous than the initial act of opening the diary, but for a moment he was tempted to tear out the spoiled pages and abandon the enterprise altogether.

He did not do so, however, because he knew that it was useless. Whether he wrote DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER, or whether he refrained from writing it, made no difference. Whether he went on with the diary, or whether he did not go on with it, made no difference. The Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed -- would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper -- the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed for ever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.

Profitsbeard said...

Down With Big Islam.

Down With Big EU.

Down With Big P.C.

Orwell had it easy.

Now that the enemy has metastasized, it takes longer to name. And define. And oppose.

But their over-riding characteristic is the same:

Silencing thought.

Abby said...

How is everyone finding the Irish Pizza Pub and we drove around for an hour, unable to locate it? The address and phone number listed are wrong. Does anyone know where it is today?

Gene Long said...

Abby, Delaney's Irish Pizza Pub was destroyed by fire in 2003. They had the second best pizza I ever ate and have been all over the world. I used to go there from 1984-1988 when I lived in the area and worked for NSA. Best pizza ever ate was in Chillicothe, Ohio at Jerry's Pizza.