Often brilliant and always humorous Dilbert cartoonist and lately political predictor and commentator Scott Adams has this to say about recent reactions to Donald Trump’s improbable presidential election victory, vis-a-vis cognitive dissonance:
Earlier this week CNN.com listed 24 different theories that pundits have provided for why Trump won. And the list isn’t even complete. I’ve heard other explanations as well. What does it tell you when there are 24 different explanations for a thing?
It tells you that someone just dropped a cognitive dissonance cluster bomb on the public. Heads exploded. Cognitive dissonance set in. Weird theories came out. This is the cleanest and clearest example of cognitive dissonance you will ever see. Remember it.
This phenomenon is why a year ago I told you I was putting so much emphasis on PREDICTING the outcome of the election using the Master Persuader Filter. I told you it would be easy to fit any theory to the facts AFTER the result. And sure enough, we can fit lots of theories to the facts. At least 24 of them by CNN’s count.
Generally speaking, the greater the persuasion, the more cognitive dissonance you get. Trump is – in my opinion – the greatest persuader of my lifetime. I expected this level of cognitive dissonance. Next time you see a persuader of this magnitude, you can expect the outcome to be cognitive dissonance in that case too.
This brings me to the anti-Trump protests. The protesters look as though they are protesting Trump, but they are not. They are locked in an imaginary world and battling their own hallucinations of the future. Here’s the setup that triggered them.
- They believe they are smart and well-informed.
- Their good judgement told them Trump is OBVIOUSLY the next Hitler, or something similarly bad.
- Half of the voters of the United States – including a lot of smart people – voted Trump into office anyway.
Those “facts” can’t be reconciled in the minds of the anti-Trumpers. Mentally, something has to give. That’s where cognitive dissonance comes in.
There are two ways for an anti-Trumper to interpret that reality. One option is to accept that if half the public doesn’t see Trump as a dangerous monster, perhaps he isn’t. But that would conflict with a person’s self-image as being smart and well-informed in the first place. When you violate a person’s self-image, it triggers cognitive dissonance to explain-away the discrepancy.
So how do you explain-away Trump’s election if you think you are smart and you think you are well-informed and you think Trump is OBVIOUSLY a monster?
You solve for that incongruity by hallucinating – literally – that Trump supporters KNOW Trump is a monster and they PREFER the monster. In this hallucination, the KKK is not a nutty fringe group but rather a symbol of how all Trump supporters must feel. (They don’t. Not even close.)
In a rational world it would be obvious that Trump supporters include lots of brilliant and well-informed people. That fact – as obvious as it would seem – is invisible to the folks who can’t even imagine a world in which their powers of perception could be so wrong. To reconcile their world, they have to imagine all Trump supporters as defective in some moral or cognitive way, or both.
As I often tell you, we all live in our own movies inside our heads. Humans did not evolve with the capability to understand their reality because it was not important to survival. Any illusion that keeps us alive long enough to procreate is good enough.
That’s why the protestors live in a movie in which they are fighting against a monster called Trump and you live in a movie where you got the president you wanted for the changes you prefer. Same planet, different realities.