Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Devil and Angel on the Shoulder - How it works in real life

   So a few weeks ago I was watching the morning news and their "Morning Buzz Question" was in regards to food stamps. One obviously Republican responder got to have his answer put up on the air in which he(?) made the remark that people on food stamps aren't supposed to be "feasting like Royalty." Yes, I'm quite sure the word "royalty" was even capitalized. The implication, if I must explain, is that people on food stamps are living the high life. This sounded remarkable like my coworker I ranted about last year. Not wanting to repeat essentially the same post again on how much a load of bullshit such a remark is, I was thinking of another way to tackle this type of thinking. The thought that came to me was that of the angel and devil on a person's shoulder trying to influence the actions of a person.

   In this place I like to call reality, things don't seem to quite work this way. Rather than three parties involved, there are really only two, which involves the devil convincing the angel that a bad deed is actually for the better. These Republicans, it would seem, have their angelic side* that realizes it is wrong to not care about the poor. But their demonic side is concerned about #1. Need I say who #1 is? They don't want to have to dish out any money to take care of the poor. So they find "reasons" (read: excuses) for why their money not need be used to take care of the poor. In cases like this and in that earlier post, the "reason" is that the poor are doing just fine; better, even, then this probably middle-class Republican. Or at least that's the start of it. The other part is how they are doing compared to the amount of work they are thought to do. Because, though you can't tell from the comment here or in the previous post, there is a belief in conservative circles that people make money based on how hard they work. The harder you work, the more money you make. So if you're poor, you must be a lazy bum. Then if you're this lazy bum, you don't deserve to be "feasting like Royalty." The overall point is that these Republicans really have convinced themselves that they are people who care about the poor but it is the poor who are to blame for either not deserving care and/or receiving sufficient care as is. Never mind if these excuses are true or not, the important part is that the angelic side is satisfied.

   And now for part two of this post. I was recently given more motivation for this post from a coworker based on a discussion regarding capital punishment. It was a bit funny listening to his demonic side convincing his angelic side capital punishment is for the best. His main target was mass murderers and the arguments that demonic side used included the idea that these murders don't feel anything when they commit their crimes and that the world has limited resources. First, how does he know what these criminals feel? Is he a mind reader? I won't argue that this could indeed be the case for some people, but maybe some of these murderers have come up with justifications for why their victims deserved to die, much like my coworker was justifying why these murderers could be put to death. As for the limited resources, could that also not be a reason to actually put those people back out on the streets? So that they may off a bunch more people who are using those precious resources? I'm totally not serious, but I thought it would help to demonstrate how that's really a non sequitur.

   I see such rationalizing all over the place. Even the people who one would think are mean bigots are often nice people to those they aren't bigoted toward. They just have convinced themselves that their meanness is in the right, even if their reasoning is the highly delusional belief that their imaginary god friend also disapproves.

   It also goes beyond mere moral questions. I have another coworker that I feel a bit sad for. She's rather religious and a while ago she told me that she wants to have good reasons for her faith. My first thought was that she would then no longer have faith because religious faith is all about believing without good reasons. My second thought, though, was that she is fooling herself. She's not really looking for good reasons, she's just convincing herself that she is. The result, I imagine, will be that she accepts bad reasoning thinking that it is actually good reasoning, much like she seems to think the "You aborted Beethoven" argument against abortion is a good argument when she doesn't even fully accept the argument herself. At the time, I gave her credit for at least recognizing that it is proper to have good reasons for one's beliefs. In hindsight, I probably should have pointed out that I also don't believe she'll actually follow through on her claim.

* It could also be that these people recognize that others see not caring for the poor is wrong and they are simply playing to their audience. I really don't find this likely.

   It should be noted that what I am talking about here is one of the ways in which people deal with cognitive dissonance. This post, I think, focuses on the method where people "focus on more supportive beliefs that outweigh the dissonant belief or behavior." Sadly, as I discuss in this post, those "more supportive beliefs" are based on lies and people lying to themselves to the point where they believe their own lies.

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