Cognitive Dissonance and Politics

Years ago, my cousin Jack the Lawyer (he's now a judge) wrote an essay that had a profound impact on my life. In it he pointed out the cognitive dissonance implicit in party stances on the issue of abortion. That's when I first started noticing that issues on party platforms often don't make logical sense when taken together.

For example, to paraphrase Jack:

If a person claims to be against abortion for any reason, because they feel either:

1) humans do not have ethical right to take another life, and/or

2) life is by its very nature is religiously divine,

then it follows logically that person MUST also be against 1) the death penalty for any reason and 1) euthanasia for any reason.

After long reflection, I amended this a bit because for this argument to be valid the person in question must also categorically believe that human life begins at conception, rather than at the current limit of viability outside the womb, which as far as I know is 21 weeks and 5 days.

I have ZERO interest in getting into a religious, ethical or scientific argument about abortion with anyone, anywhere,(although I can argue all day against state-sponsored euthanasia and the death penalty). I just agree with Jack that most folks aren’t being honest with themselves about what they really believe, or at the very least, haven't put much thought into it.

Since that time I’ve noticed cognitive dissonance on many issues. For instance:

Premise: If we decide to use the most up-to-date science to determine our stances, then we must therefore also:

1. agree that evidence supports the fact that recently the average planetary temperature is rising, and

2. agree that GMOs are safe to eat and they reduce our reliance on pesticides, and

3. believe the overwhelming evidence that the benefits of vaccinations grossly outweigh the risks.


Premise: If you believe we do not have the ethical right to use animals as experimental subjects then you must also therefore believe we do not have the right to eat them… or keep them as pets… or spay and neuter them…


...and so forth.

One can argue the above premises here ad nauseum; logic and ethics are fascinating subjects because the premises are the toughest things to agree on.

Human beings are emotional creatures; we all have biases based on our life experience and upbringing. I don’t think it is possible for us to function as purely logical creatures, and I wouldn’t want to live in a world where we did.

But when you have a free moment, in the shower or car, start looking for cognitive dissonance in the party platform you are opposed to. Political parties exist to win votes, not make logical sense. Figure out how various stances you find contemptible in the opposition don’t make sense when put together. I strongly suspect that exercise will expose some of your own biases. Which I fully support your right to have. It's just good practice to "know thyself".

The recent Planned Parenthood defunding news brought all this up to my own mind. I absolutely and totally understand at a logical and emotional level the viewpoints of BOTH major camps on this issue. And I don’t know an answer that either side will be able to feel good about. I only know that until science fixes the abortion issue (by either discovering a way to safely remove and store developing fetuses or by figuring out how to grow a human from blastocyst to baby outside the womb), the topic will always be intrinsically tragic.