Thursday, December 31, 2015

Cognitive dissonance

We all try to construct stories of ourselves that make us feel well. Sometimes this is very difficult, such as when we incur in contradictions. Confirmation bias is a consequence of this. Once we have taken a position on something, we blind ourselves to evidence that may contradict this initial position, to keep our reputation in front of others and to reduce cognitive dissonance in our interior (the great economist George Akerloff was one of the first to explore the social implications of this). This is perhaps one of the reasons behind the rhetoric strategies of the new populist right in Europe. After all that happened in the XX century (two world wars, holocausts, ethnic cleansing in Europe) it is very difficult to sustain an openly fascist speech. Instead, those who take advantage of severe financial crisis to look for scapegoats and easy solutions, pay lip service to democracy and freedom... and at the same time to patriotism and nationalism. One of these parties is called "Freedom Party." Another is called "New Democracy." Others are less scrupolous and call themselves "True Finns." The new brand of the conservative Catalan nationalists (the old one being tarnished by corruption) is called "Democracy and Freedom". Like the UKIP in the UK and the National Front in France they sell themselves as the true defenders of freedom and democracy, and at the same time they demonish the foreign, the Spanish, the muslim or simply the new. Of course, embracing complexity and supporting causes that do not have easy scapegoats is much more difficult. But there is no other way if we want to avoid the tragedies of the past. Happy new year.

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