Nope. No matter how much we want or pray for peace; how much we want the yelling on cable news networks to cease; or how badly we want to end acts of violence taking place in our schools, we must recognize that aggressive behavior is hardwired in our DNA. We can’t “all just get along?”

As social animals, humans have immutable, instinctual, irrepressible needs: the need to bond with others “get along” and the need to dominate, or “get ahead” relative to others. That’s simply the way it is. We will ALWAYS relate to other humans in these instinctive ways. Even your most revered saint is subject to this reality. And you most definitely are, too.

The ONLY people apparently exempt from both of these needs are, in psychological terms, “crazy,” “nut jobs,” “whackos,” etc. Apparently, I say, because an argument could be made that they are labeled, “abnormal” for the very reason that they don’t have both needs met.

The “sticky wicket” here is how we define, “get ahead.” Here’s my crack at it.

The pivotal criteria between hippies who’d “like to buy the world a Coke” and cowboys who take evil-doers and “hang ‘em high” hinge on intent and intensity.

We can all identify with the good old rivalry of game-based competition (good intent, strong intensity), and the trivial “rounding errors” in tax returns (bad intent, low intensity). {I’ve only heard about these.}

A simple taxonomy of "getting ahead."

The table, below, depicts one of the oldest, but strongest, means of influence due to its simplicity - even if a bit inadequate. (Hey, I’m a fan of tales of “ducks and bunnies.”) ANYWAY, in this case two variables (Intent and Intensity), each with two values (good/bad, high/low), are put together. Alas; the classic 2 x 2.

 

A simple taxonomy of "getting ahead."

 

The labels in the grid are mine, but others would work just as well.  (However, if you disagree, you’re wrong. AND bad! – JK*)

BUT...

“BOHICA” (I really shouldn’t say what this acronym represents, so I won’t say that it ends with, Here It Comes Again.)

“Intent” is particularly squirrely. It’s hard to ascertain the intent of someone else: "I did this for you, not me." (hmm) “I didn’t mean to eat all of the ice cream.” (Not hard). And what if the act of intent affords no value to the one in question, “Yes, I drank all your champagne, but I didn’t enjoy it.” (Guilt by confession)

What isn’t so slippery: Few (sane) people proudly parade the image of being “Hostile.” Most don’t even like the idea of being “Mischievous.” We don’t like (allow?) the possibility to arise from our unconscious identity that we may be "bad." The more intense our point of view, the less we like (allow?) it to be anything but affirmative and decisive. "From now to eternity, I will NEVER vote for a ...."

Distinguishing good and bad is subjective. (Note the ‘wiggle’ room here) For the most part, our interpretation calmly flows with the “river of the rest.” For example, “You shouldn't interrupt someone in mid speech.” (That is, unless they NEVER shut up or are an insufferable boor.) “Going with the flow” isn’t infallible. We can believe we’re absolutely good and right, but somehow do unthinkable harm. Many egregious atrocities have been committed in the vortex of popular thinking (e.g., slavery).

Some will take umbrage with my admittedly loose, but intentionally illustrated sense of right and wrong. “God determines what’s right and wrong.” I can hear from some. “Yes,” I respond, "She does." "But..." our operational legal and moral systems are primarily determined by the populous. And, yes, they may be right or wrong about what’s right or wrong. (Huh?)

Anyway, the point I want to make has little to do with defining what’s right or wrong regarding guns, freedom of speech, whatever you like. I simply intend to give credence to the point that sometimes, some times, good people do bad things. I have my own opinions regarding what’s right or wrong, but who cares?

If you accept the conundrum that good people can do bad things, then the conflict between the person and their behavior must be addressed - more realistically, reconciled. Otherwise we have a bad person. And we don't like this answer. So, we in effect, invoke the moral(feeling)/rational(thinking) equivalent of a psychological “get out of jail free” card.

Cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance. The “slight of mind” that allows us to sleep knowing that we held our nose and voted for ____. OMG.

Cognitive dissonance. It's what you’d guess; mental conflict or disagreement. Cognitive dissonance looms large wherever disagreement lurks.

Take the maelstrom of shootings in US schools. Some say easy access to weapons is at fault,  yet the same people may have guns themselves, or at least want others to have them. Others believe that inadequate defense mechanisms are a weak link in our free society, thus allowing such tragedy. Furthermore, arming trained people with guns in schools is a good start to confronting these horrific maladies.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Obviously, the answer depends on who you ask. But both points of view, intensely debated, are staunchly justified by those who hold them.

Cognitive dissonance.

A singular event, with the same information available to all, is fiercely contested. Both “sides” have no doubt that they are right; the other side, dreadfully - dangerously, wrong.

How does this happen?

Cognitive dissonance.

Allow me to walk you through the examples of two potential cognitive processes regarding the two most polarizing points of view on gun control. For illustrative purposes, I’m going to make them super simple and extraordinarily extreme. I am NOT going to try to make them “good.” I speak for NO ONE here. I’m just making a point. Here goes...

“Guns are easily obtained and pose deadly force. If we eliminate guns, we’ll eliminate the problem.”

“Guns are our most effective defense in crises like these. By equipping our schools with guns, we’ll eliminate the problem.”

Both positions invoke cognitive dissonance because both are debatable and, moreover, both are obviously ignorant (as written). Note: we also don’t like to think of ourselves as “ignorant.”

Advocates for eliminating guns want to protect our schools by taking away the weapon of deadly force (guns), but know that two guns are better as long as one gun exists. (Unless they have complete trust in the wielder of the first gun.)

Advocates for the right to bear arms (guns) want to protect our schools by inserting the powerful weapon on site as defense, but know that guns carry risk. And more guns create more risk.

Now. Simmer down. The message is intended to make a point, not a point of view.

I say that both sides “know” these things, but that doesn’t mean they acknowledge them. This is where the BIG BUT comes in.

"Sure. Guns offer powerful protection, BUT at what risk to have so many; in our schools?"

"Sure. Guns pose risk and the more guns, the more risk, BUT at what cost do we allow armed attackers access to unarmed schools?"

When you hear someone pivot on a “BUT” they’re invoking cognitive dissonance.

It’s all about the BUT. When you hear someone pivot on a “BUT” they’re invoking cognitive dissonance. They’re creating a way to hold two conflicting beliefs (one, probably suppressed and unconscious) at the same time.

Cognitive dissonance allows both of these positions to ‘jump’ over the line between good and bad intent

Again. This article is not about gun control. The references are used only to make my point because it’s divisive. Both sides have intense beliefs. Both sides have valid points. Both sides have flaws. Cognitive dissonance allows both of these positions to ‘jump’ over the line between good and bad intent (or at least position one’s self in “the good box.”)

Wake up. We can’t. We won’t. Not gonna happen. We'll never, "all just get along."

We’ll never "all just get along." In virtually all cases, cognitive dissonance justifies our unpopular (among some) position by giving us an “out” of the bad box.

BUT,

If we open our eyes and see this from a higher perspective, perhaps we’ll see some common intent – even if our “logic” differs.

Worth a try?

*JK= Just Kidding. That's text speak I'm using. Cool, huh?

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Published by R. Chris Steilberg, PhD

Endlessly curious about why people do the things they do and the connections and differences among us. For every 'thing' I learn, I realize more that I haven't. I guess I'm on a full-out quest for relative ignorance.

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