Sunday, November 18, 2007


I think I have been blessed with a small vocabulary. Why blessed? Because I have a driving need to be understood. It frustrates me when I am misinterpreted. Because my vocabulary limits me to simple words, I must keep my language plain and simple. Sometimes it is frustrating not to have the exact word I need immediately available, but I make do. If I had a vocabulary like William F. Buckley I would be tempted to show it off, just as he does, and leave many readers baffled, just as he does.

I mention this because a few weeks ago Scott Adams did a couple of essays on cognitive dissonance. Now I know he needed to have a name for the ailment he was writing about and perhaps that is a label others had put on the ailment before, but it left me, and I would guess 90% of his readers, scratching their heads. The few who were in the loop were delighted to write in and dispute the label. Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

But the two essays were an excellent job of reporting and observing. Note that Adams does nothing more than report and observe:

Recently I saw the best case of cognitive dissonance I have ever seen. It was on Bill Maher's show, Real Time, which I love. Bill was interviewing Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg, who has a book about global warming, called "Cool It." The economist made the following points clearly and succinctly:

1. Global warming is real, and people are a major cause.

2. When considering the problems that global warming will cause, we shouldn't ignore the benefits of global warming, such as fewer deaths from cold.

3. The oceans rose a foot in the last hundred years, and the world adapted, so the additional rise from global warming might not be as big a problem as people assume.

4. Developing economical fossil fuel alternatives is the only rational solution to global warming because countries such as China and India will use the cheapest fuel, period. If only the developed countries who can afford alternatives change their ways, it’s not enough to make a dent in the problem.

The Danish economist’s argument doesn't fall into the established views about global warming. He wasn't denying it is happening, or denying humans are a major cause. But he also wasn’t saying we should drive hybrid cars, since he thinks it won’t be enough to help. He thinks we need to make solar (or other alternatives) more economical. That’s the magic bullet. His views don’t map to either popular camp on this issue, and it created a fascinating cognitive dissonance in Bill Maher (a fan of hybrid cars) and his panelists. Here are their reactions after the interview:

Rob Thomas said the interview "...confused the shit out of me." (Yet the economist was completely clear and communicated well.)

Salman Rushdie said, jokingly, that what he heard was "There's no connection between smoking and lung cancer." By that he meant the author was denying that fossil fuels contribute to global warming. (The economist said exactly the opposite, and clearly.)

Bill Maher said, "...20 years later, this guy is going to say, 'You know what? Yeah, there is global warming." (The economist already said exactly that during the interview. In fact, his entire book is based on global warming being true and hastened by fossil fuels.)

You can see the full transcript for yourself here. The interview is about 60% into the show.

Bill Maher is a brilliant guy, whether you agree with his views or not. Salman Rushdie is brilliant too. I don’t know about Rob Thomas, but he looks bright enough. Why couldn’t these three people hear anything the economist was saying? It looks to me like a classic case of cognitive dissonance . They literally couldn’t recognize that the economist was on their side because he suggested considering both the positive and negative effects of global warming.

And then here is an excerpt from his second essay a couple of days later:

But here’s the most interesting part. My blog on how Bill Maher and his panelists misunderstood Lomborg has caused a new round of cognitive dissonance. I have now been labeled a supporter of Lomborg’s arguments simply because I said I understood what he said on a TV show. Check this out. It’s somewhat jaw-dropping:

Now let me opinionate. Global warming has become the new religion. Like all religions, if you don’t accept all the dogma, you are labeled a heretic. Not to pick on any one religion because they all have these faults, in the Catholic religion you can accept the father, the son and the holy ghost, but if you doubt Mary was virgin you are ladled a heretic and excommunicated.

Lomborg was labeled a heretic by the panel and excommunicated because he did not buy into all the dogma. It is a fascinating story for many reasons one of which would seem to be the need for humans to latch onto unthinking dogma and treat it with reverence. And, as Adams says, these are brilliant guys. There must something in the human makeup that makes religion, any religion, a necessity.

In the highlands of Vietnam they believe in wood spirits and build their houses in a manner to thwart their entry. But that is another story.


Blogger De Hill said...

Hi Walter,

Are you doing ok? You haven't posted a new blog in a couple of months.


De Hill

February 18, 2008 at 12:08 PM  
Blogger De Hill said...

It's been almost a year.

November 10, 2008 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger Dex Quire said...

Walter, where are you?

December 19, 2010 at 9:38 AM  

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