Friday, May 08, 2009

Clinical Cognitive Dissonance

Both Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan point out that the New York Times has drifted far afield from reason, reacting in common - and much the same way - to a NYTimes obituary of a US Military Veteran - describing his experience in a Chinese prison during the Korean war as torture - when the things described, when done by us, are described in terms such as "enhanced interrogation."

Greenwald goes on, however, to note an observation from the NYT in another story they probably think completely unrelated:

"I learned from reading The New York Times this week (via The New Yorker's Amy Davidson) that Iraq is suffering a very serious problem. Tragically, that country is struggling with what the Times calls a "culture of impunity." What this means is that politically connected Iraqis who clearly broke the law are nonetheless not being prosecuted because of their political influence! Even worse, protests the NYT, there have been "cases dismissed in the past few years as a result of a government amnesty and a law dating to 1971 that allows ministers to grant immunity to subordinates accused of corruption." And the best part? This: "The United States is pressing the Iraqi government to repeal that law."

Thankfully, we're teaching the Iraqis what it means to be a "nation of laws." We Americans know how terrible it is to have a system where the politically powerful are permitted to break the law and not be held accountable. A country which does things like that can fall into such a state of moral depravity that they would actually allow people to do things like this and get away with it. Who could imagine living in a place like that?
I find it difficult to imagine competently tying one's shoes while managing to sustain such levels of cognitive dissonance!

Indeed, if we were speaking of an individual, rather than an institution, it would make one haul out the assessment tools for dissociative disorders.

I've noted before that many US institutions and groups seem to be manifesting behaviors that might properly be described as "insane;" in particular, statements from the right that, taken as a whole, sound variously like paranoia and personality disorders involving the lack of empathy. I speak as a layperson with an informed lay-person's understanding of the field. I not qualified to say what something IS, but I have enough insight to strongly suspect it should be checked out.

But let us keep it simple. You and I will not be able to do much toward addressing the sanity or insanity of large groups and major institutions, nor do you need to aspire to that level of effect in order to act to optimize your own response.

When you are at a bus stop and someone is talking to their invisible friend, you probably put some distance between you and them. It's not unreasonable, because while many otherwise perfectly functional people have invisible friends, those who do not realize their friends ARE invisible probably have other gaps in their understanding and perception that could have unpredictable and possibly sudden negative outcomes.

This is indicative of an institution that is no longer capable of objective, critical thought and analysis and as that is the entire reason for buying that newspaper - access to better information and insight than otherwise available - well, put the subscription price toward your wireless plan instead. You can assemble a broader perspective using an RSS feed reader - and you won't get ink on your hands.

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