Cognitive dissonance

I’m still reeling from the weekend, when I had the unexpected opportunity at a BBQ to listen to a white Zimbabwean explain at length to the assembled (overwhelmingly pro-remain) Brits around the table that Brexit was the best thing ever and that Nigel Farage was her hero.

As she expounded on the virtues of how [millionaire, ex banker] Nigel Farage was striking a blow for the everyman, and how getting rid of the corrupting influence of foreigners was the only way we Brits could “take our country back”, I couldn’t help but wonder how someone has an opinion like that when they come from the country that brought us Robert Mugabe.

I regret not asking her now but I didn’t think it was worth the trouble of an argument with someone I had only just met. Still, though…

What have you encountered recently that has made you think “Um, what? How do you even…?”


The world is in decline. Civilization is coming to an end. The barbarians didn’t have to storm the gates because we were them all along. You can’t stop it. Just try to save as much knowledge as you can in the hopes the next try gets it right.


In what possible way is civilization coming to an end because of some stupid politics and reshuffling of puzzle pieces on the game board? I get really tired of doomsaying. It’s not helpful.


Unwarranted optimism is more comforting.

There’s a vast difference between comforting oneself with fake optimism and literally declaring that the world is ending. There’s lots of space in between those two extremes.

I talked to a British family a few months ago about Brexit and expressed my condolences for the BS, basically, and they shrugged and rolled their eyes and said “it’s Nigel Farage and stupid politicians doing stupid things. They have to go through this charade. It’ll mean some higher prices on imports and a tougher time for folks to get jobs. But you know, we get through these things. And when someone else comes along and takes charge, it’ll probably change again. In the meantime we keep working and having families, you know?”

Giving up, like you’re telling people to, isn’t helping.


No point in continuing then.

Before this turns into a BBS-record derail (ahem!):

Populism seems to thrive on cognitive dissonance. The last time I saw it in large volume up-close was when Rob Ford was mayor. A friend of mine (also from Zimbabwe – what’s up with that?) voted for Ford because he would be a “strong leader” and “save regular people money”.

I added up his promises and pointed out his “subways over light rail” promise meant that he had to be spending more money overall, despite the promise he’d get rid of the unpopular traffic congestion fee (~$65 per year per vehicle). The rest of his promises were too vague to measure, like “stopping the gravy train” at City Hall (audit after audit shows Toronto doesn’t pay enough tax).

She just liked all the promises and didn’t want to do the math to see what the big picture was.

I think it’s the same thing with Farage, Trump, any populist (and I’d actually include Steve Jobs in here). Their promises and policies never make any fucking sense, but it feels good to believe in them.

It’s the ring in the voice. The confidence. The repetition of the carefully isolated talking points. It’s hypnotising.


Which also suggests that there has been no significant change. That’s cognitive dissonance in a nutshell.



There’s what you describe and then there’s hoping for then best while preparing for the worst; also known as not giving up.

Defeatism never solved any problems; it just creates more obstacles for those who are willing to work to try to fix them.

You’re repeating yourself.

Give up, if that’s what you want to do; make it easy for them - go crawl into a corner and wait for “the end” to come.

Personally, I’ve fought too hard for too long not to ‘go down swinging,’ if I gotta go down at all.


Once upon a time.

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And I have to say, I know shit is bad right now and could very much get worse, but it’s not like this is the first round of horribleness in history. When I think about the period between the start of WW1 and the end of WW2, there was some serious, scary shit going on, also globally linked, also violent, etc. It’s the era of the nadir of race relations in America (highpoint of lynching epidemic), the strongest point in history for the KKK, the rise of fascism, not just in Germany, Italy, and essentially Japan, but in many places, fascists played a role, Stalinism was the dominant form of communism in the world (and he was largely unchallenged as the leader of the movement), then the depression hits hard (earlier in some places than in others), let’s not forget the Spanish civil war, then eventually political solutions are taken off the table for the second WW, which was an incredibly brutal war, especially on civilians (holocaust, Dresden/Tokyo firebombing, rape of Nanking, the violent rapes of German women in the eastern front as the Red Army moves into germany - even battles were rather brutal, Battle of the Bulge), end of the war comes with not 1, but 2 atomic bombs. Even the end of ww2 isn’t completely end it all, as you have the division of Israel and Palestine (after a terror campaign by ultra-radical zionists), the continued aftermath of the atomic bombs, and the start of the CW, etc.

Even the late 60s and early 70s had terrible issues that are worth thinking about in comparison today - there were far more domestic terrorist then (Weathermen and other radical groups - though they probably had less collective murders on their hands than the modern wave of Daesh inspired assholes), still major protests over the war which ended violently sometimes, a wave of skyjackings (many ending peacefully in Cuba, but not all), Vietnam was still happening, problems in the mid-East, like the 67 war and the reprisals during the Munich Olympics, etc. Then you got push back against civil rights (like the anti-bussing protests), stagflation, gas crisis, watergate…

I know it often doesn’t make much sense to compare eras, but I sort of feel like as bad as things are right now, we’re not near the bottom. I still would say the period between 1914 and 1945 or so might have been some of the worst years for humanity. Even then, there were incredibly brights spots - jazz, anti-racist and anti-colonial resistance movements, art and culture in general as a global phenomena… even the 70s had the racially and sexually inclusive disco movements and punk rock. So, even then, there was a silver lining.


I don’t agree with you, but I think this is a very concise explanation.


I agree; there’s always a silver lining in even the darkest cloud, one just needs the will to look for it.

Times are bad, but not the worst they have ever been, and giving up simply is not an option.


Is this too obvious?


“Any questions?”

“Yeah. How do you sleep at night?”


Ah. I’m not being snarky here. I’d imagine that there are still people around who think that Trump is almost as great as Ian Smith was.


I’m not being snarky either. But yeah, once upon a time.


And get a flu shot this year, maybe mitigating the devastating effects of a global pandemic.


I don’t get yearly flu shots; I already get enough exposure to contagions in minute doses riding the subway everyday.

A friend gets them every year, and every other year she seems to end up getting the flu; while I haven’t had it in years.