Sunday, May 9, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance

"I believe in pluralism!"

Thus bellowed Depapriya Bhattacharya at a party we attended. For a die-hard Marxist, who did his PhD in Moscow, this was quite a volte-face.

Of course, nowadays many pretend to believe in pluralism and democracy and all that because the rewards are immense - and the prestige of the idea is so vast that if you say that you don't subscribe to it, you risk being laughed at.

Psychologists have a term for it: cognitive dissonance. A person will pretend to himself to believe something he doesn't believe in if the rewards are low! If the rewards are high, the person need not even fool himself. It seems that it takes very little to get people to say the opposite of their true beliefs; but it causes more stress. On the other hand, if you offer high rewards - or high penalties - then it becomes easier to lie about your real beliefs.

The lesson from this is that people who merely stand to lose 'face' undergo a lot of inner strain to lie about their political belief, but people like Bhattacharya, who have grown rich on these ideas, need only deceive other people, not themselves.

Therefore, it may be that the donors are paying too much to get people to parrot their views: small rewards to the Bhattacharyas would be just as, in fact, even more, effective. The evidence is that they will take greater pains to fool themselves.

Clearly the donors are paying too much - but then it's their money, isn't it?

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