[What follows is a chat between Russell Johnson and David Barr, creators and main contributors to For the Sake of Arguments. Check out our About page for more.]
Russell (RPJ): There’s lots to say about the events of Charlottesville; let’s focus for a second on the public discourse that has happened since. For the rest of this chat, let's talk about how people are talking about Charlottesville, specifically trying to clear up some misunderstandings we have seen in blogs, news media, and social media in the past week.
David (DAB): We should start at the top. President Trump has been roundly criticized for his comments in response to the weekend’s events. While many people from across the political spectrum found these comments problematic, a lot of other people have been fine with them. It hasn’t always been clear what’s at stake and why people are talking past one another. Where do you see the misunderstandings?
In the 1950s, a psychologist named Leon Festinger introduced the world to the idea of cognitive dissonance. According to Festinger, humans experience a tension between their commitments and their experience of the world, and they are motivated to resolve this tension. One of the forms of dissonance Festinger studied is called “postdecision dissonance,” in which a person makes a difficult decision and then has to find a way to live with the consequences of that decision.
Say, for example, a person has to decide between buying an uncomfortable, ugly, affordable car or a nice, eco-friendly, expensive car. No matter which car the person decides to purchase, there are good reasons to have made the opposite choice. These reasons linger in the person’s mind, creating cognitive dissonance. They may try to reduce this dissonance, Festinger observed, in a few different ways: