Cognitive Dissonance as a Method

People ask: How to stop populism? In the US it is about Trump. In Germany it is about the AfD party. In the UK it is about Brexit. In Austria it is about the FPÖ. It seems to be a trend in the western world. Populism rises. Rational thinking is in decline. Do you believe people usually act rationally? I have literature for you and now you will learn how the masses are manipulated.

Let me explain Cognitive Dissonance. It happens when you do something by choice, which is actually against your beliefs. Personally, you never do that, of course. You know other people who do. Remember that friend who made a diet, but then ate a big pizza or cake? Remember the excuse? It was obviously off-key. Maybe it was a joke. Believe me, that person in that moment really believed it.

Tweet ThisYou too have that friend on a diet, who comes up with ridiculous excuses to break it

The alternative would have been to confront the cognitive dissonance, which is painful. To avoid the pain, we rather invent new beliefs, even ridiculous ones. You don't think it is painful? Ask someone who was sure that Hillary Clinton would be elected president and who supported her. Trump's election was a traumatic experience for millions of people. Half of the voters cannot understand how one could vote for Trump. Of course, the other half cannot understand how one could not vote for Trump. No matter your personal view, there is at least one party, which acts obviously irrational. Maybe both. Their arguments are ridiculous to you. CNN collected 24 reasons why Trump won. Even for the crazy reasons, you will find people who believe it.

Trump and Clinton running for president 2016

Both campaigns consciously manipulated. Everybody is manipulating. Everybody is manipulated. It is human. It is what holds society together. Humans are not good at seeing reality. Evolution does not consider that necessary. With lots of effort, we can approximate reality. For example, in reality Hillary Clinton is misunderstood and Trump is no racist.

We can develop it into a method. Push people into cognitive dissonance, then offer them a way out by accepting your solution. For example, you tell them about the rising crime rate (easy to believe), then you ask them when they upgraded the security of their house (their action, well inaction), then you sell them a security camera. If the crime rate is rising, it is smart to upgrade your security, but you did not do that. Maybe that makes you feel guilty? Fear? It is not a good feeling though. After you bought a security camera, you feel much better. (Disclaimer: In general, crime rates are in decline for decades. Relax!)

Tweet ThisYou can turn normal people into xenophobic fascists with the cognitive dissonance method

This is not just a cheap sales trick, though. With that method, you can turn normal people into xenophobic fascists. You can herd them into cults. You can make nations close borders. You can make them leave the EU or join it. The dangerous thing is that it is simple to stack it. Once someone adopted a new belief (I need a security camera), this belief might be challenged by rational people (but crime rate goes down). This triggers cognitive dissonance and opens one up for new beliefs again. To admit you were wrong is shameful, so it is easier to move the goalpost. Crime rate goes down, because more people buy security cameras these days! Of course, you can actively suggest and guide the beliefs people adopt. Such guides are usually called gurus, evangelists, or populists.

This method is not precise or reliable. It does not work on everybody and not all the time. However, this is not necessary if you work on lots of people. Trump did not have to convince all americans. A few democrats and a few undecided voters are enough to swing an election around dramatically. Now that you know, you will see the pattern in the next elections and other political games.

Tweet ThisOnce you see cognitive dissonance, you cannot unsee it. You see it everywhere.

There is one problem with cognitive dissonance. It is a concept. We cannot measure it. There is no specific part in the brain, which lights up when it happens, for example. Psychology is a messy science. Cognitive dissonance is a crutch until scientists can clarify what happens exactly. I expect that scientists will prove this theory here partially wrong. However, science rarely disproves old theories completely. Technically, we know earth is not flat, but for everyday business that is good enough and useful. We have so much more to learn about humans.

How populism turns people into xenophobic fascists