Why VB drinkers, pollies and Lance Armstrong are deluded
Have you ever tried to tell someone who loves their VB (or any other mainstream beer) that there is little taste difference between their beer and others? Have you told them they could not tell the difference in a three-way blind taste test? It doesn’t go down well.
There is a disputte of delusional proportions. Right up until the glasses come out for the taste test. Fill the glasses up with VB and two other similar lagers. Ask which one is VB and they wont know. They’ll have an accuracy rate no better than chance.
Then something interesting will happen. Excuses. The glasses have soap in them. I’ve got a cold. You’re trying to trick me. And so on.
Now, if you thought that was difficult, have you ever tried to get a politician to admit they’re wrong? They can lie so emphatically its hard not to believe them.
And then there’s Lance Armstrong! He’s been found guilty, so how can he appear so indignant about it. So free of sin?
The issue with getting someone to admit they were wrong, or stop denying the truth that is plainly there for everyone to see is “cognitive dissonance”.
Cognitive dissonance is a state of being where one’s beliefs are not aligned with one’s actions. If you stay in this state you’ll eventually go crazy, or (more likely) either change your beliefs to make sense of your actions, or your actions to make sense of your beliefs (much harder to do).
Take for example a woman who feels strongly for the environment, but works for an overly polluting factory. She’ll either have to change or beliefs, or her job. She’ll be very ill at ease until this happens.
The power of cognitive dissonance was discovered by a psychologist called Festinger in the 1950s. In his seminal experiments he asked people to do an extremely boring task (push cotton spools around a box for an hour).
Festinger then paid these subjects to lie to other prospective subjects about the experiment, getting them to say it was a really exciting experiment they were about to participate in. He paid half $1 and half $20. Afterwards he asked the subjects what they really thought of the (genuinely boring) experiment.
Those paid $20 said it was boring, those paid $1 said it was actually really enjoyable. This is interesting. As they were only paid $1 to lie to others, they had to then lie to themselves to justify their behaviour. Those paid $20 were fine with lying. They were able to rationalise their actions (for $20) so it was still consistent with their beliefs (the task was boring).
We all rationalise to avoid the feelings of cognitive dissonance. How would our beer lover above feel after investing so much of himself into his beloved VB? He wears the VB shirt, and collected the Booney Doll. He loves the old VB ads, and he swears by the product, wouldn’t drink anything else.
Now you come along and tell him it tastes the same as other beers? Please! He just won’t believe you.
To highlight to him that he couldn’t actually tell the difference between VB, Carlton Draught and Melbourne Bitter will not be enough to change his allegiance to VB. He’ll deny the evidence put in front of him, and stand by the taste of his beloved VB. To admit he can taste the difference would create cognitive dissonance.
The politician takes this rationalisation of behaviour even further. They have changed his worldview to make sense of his actions.
They are so vocal about their beliefs, that to accept they are wrong, even if presented with ‘hard evidence’ to the contrary they still can’t bring themselves to see it. They make sense of their actions by changing their beliefs, distorting their cognitions to make their actions seem ‘right’. They believe in the lie.
And then we get to Lance. Lance has twisted his worldview to make it acceptable in his mind that it’s OK to do drugs and lie about it. He does not see himself as a bad person, in fact in his mind he’s a savior to millions and a role model.
He’s genuinely insulted that people have the audacity to suggest he’s done something illegal. He’s had to justify his actions (doing illegal drugs) by changing and refining his beliefs over many years. He can’t just undo that willy-nilly.
Imagine if he did.
He hates drug users, he hates cheats. He is a moral man who has helped save and inspire millions. How can a person like that be a cheater who takes illegal drugs.
We all need to justify our actions by changing our beliefs (look what happens when you go and work for the competition), in fact we do it on a daily level. It’s much easier to change attitude through action, than action through attitude.
However, when our actions are extreme, then we must change our cognitions to such an extreme level that we live the lie. We lie to ourselves to preserve our sanity, all of us.
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