Tuesday, February 05, 2013

And now for a cognitively dissonant walk amongst the political commentariat ...

The pond's never much liked the term 'cognitive dissonance', but sometimes it's the only way out.

As any wiki will tell you, here, we can blame the notion on Leon Festinger, back in 1956, seeking to explain the clash of reality which took place amongst UFO cultists as they came to an imagined impending apocalypse.

The phrase captured the feeling of discomfort that can occur when you hold a number of conflicting cognitions.

You couldn't want for a better display of cognitive dissonance than the examples on parade at the "all seats sold out, stop laughing in the back row" circus currently known as the ICAC inquiry into dodgy dealings in the NSW ALP (Not so fast, says Eddie, not my man).

And if you've been reading the abundant crop of political journalists sagely explaining how Julia Gillard cynically and successfully used the ploy of confirming the election date to secure her leadership, you might have some trouble reconciling this with the news that the Ruddster is on the march.

Yes, there it is, just below the reporting of the circus:
Is that some kind of record? 

From Gillard's cynical and successful ploy to prop up her leadership to Rudd's support for a challenge edging closer in just a couple of days? (but you have to suffer a forced video to read it).

Yep, there's Dennis 'the tie' Shanahan brooding about the leadership in the lizard Oz too:

It turns out that when you read it, Shanahan has actually got nothing to say - hence the absence of a link, since why waste everybody's time? - except that it's all Gillard's fault, and that she's going to sweat and sweat over the coming months, which just continues the same theme he announced a few days ago:

The pressure's off Abbott and back on Gillard at the beginning of the longest election campaign in history. (Pressure off Abbott as Gillard begins to sweat, behind the paywall so only the cognitively dissonant would bother).

That notion led the pond into its very own cognitive dissonance, induced when Crikey drew attention here to the return of Chris Mitchell:

Chris Mitchell insists The Australian won’t be treating the next eight-and-a-half months as an election campaign. It’s a stunt, the paper’s feisty editor said in his paper today, and “some of the nation’s other editors need to grow up”. On growing up, we couldn’t agree more.

Well he might have said it, or he might not, because when the pond followed the Crikey link, it led to a story, Broadcasters confused by legal status of eight month political campaign (behind the paywall to avoid suffering), and the only Mitchell mentioned was broadcaster Neil Mitchell.

Did Mitchell delete the reference to Mitchell and leave in the other Mitchell as a switcheroo, or did Crikey confuse the galah Mitchell with the parrot Mitchell? And which one is the Major Mitchell?

The result was an increase in chaos and confusion in the mind of the pond, and it didn't get any better. 

Today The Australian was carrying on, business as usual, reporting the eight month long political campaign in its usual exclusive way:

And what a lot of stories there were involving the political campaign (screen cap only, no hot links because the pond is worried stray readers might go blind).

It sounded like a frenzy of chaos and madness, and yet over at Crikey, Bernard Keane was insisting

...what’s the broader economic achievement of this “chaotic” minority government? Low inflation, low interest rates, low unemployment, a massive investment boom, a “safe haven” currency, growing labour productivity, a sharemarket up nearly 20% since a carbon price commenced. If this is the product of “chaos”, long may it continue. 
 “Chaos” and “disarray” are media judgements, right or wrong, about politics, not about real world outcomes. The more journalists view everything through an election campaign prism, the less interested they appear to become in real world outcomes. (Media coverage of Gillard election date)

Perhaps it isn't cognitive dissonance, perhaps it's a simple case of hysteria. Ongoing, endless nattering media hysteria, a kind of blather which begins to sound like muzak ...

But by this time, the pond had developed quite a taste for cognitive dissonance, and knew right where to find it, in that gigantic sticky honey pot which sometimes goes by the name of the prattling Polonius, and sometimes by the name Gerard  Henderson.

The pond faithfully sat through the excruciating tedium of Political success does not hinge on how popular you are, waiting for the zinger to land (and desperately avoiding the attached forced video).

Let;s cut to the chase. Tony Abbott is immensely popular, but popularity is meaningless.

That seemed to be the nub of it, but first there was endless guff about how successful Tony Abbott was as opposition leader, the best since Gough Whitlam, and never mind that Whitlam was well liked, and Abbott still continues to pong, like a fart in a very full express lift heading to the hundredth floor (the pond doesn't usually do fart references, but sometimes it's the only way to conjure up reality in a non-cognitive dissonant way).

Yes, it was just another trot down history lane to a blind alley of wilful misrepresentations, along with a demand that Abbott should be re-assessed by commentators and political operatives alike.

Here's how that was managed. Judge Gillard by the state of polling, and Abbott likewise, and ignore the peg over the nose donned by voters when it comes to the popularity of both of them.

Of course in these circumstances, Henderson needs a piñata. Usually it's someone in the ABC, but today David Marr gets the pounding for asserting that Australia does not want Tony Abbott, it never has.

Perhaps Marr should have said that many - perhaps most - Australians don't like Tony Abbott, never have and never will.

For those who remember politics beyond last week, there were his routine displays of boofhead attack dog assaults in the service of his master, John Howard, and his incompetence and partiality as a Minister, the reward for his verbal assaults.

And then there's been the subsequent routine displays of negativity on anything and everything proposed, no matter if the policies made any kind of sense.

Naturally Hendo won't hear any of this - because Abbott was almost elected last time around, except he wasn't - and before we get to taking a closer look at that sort of contradiction, he quickly wheels in another piñata, in the shape of Bruce Hawker for making the obvious point, that personally Abbott is on the nose with many voters.

While his personal popularity has risen, that continues to be the case, and here there must come an argument as to whether it's senility (which leads to constant repetition of the same point over and over again - did we mention over and over again?) or cognitive dissonance at play in Hendo's pen.

First comes the repetition of a theme let out of its chaff bag in many a column:

Hawker's mantra that Abbott has a problem with women raises the obvious reflection. If this is so, and the opinion polls are even remotely accurate, then Gillard must have a substantial problem with men. A more likely scenario is that the likes of Marr and Hawker are too subsumed with the opinions of the inner-city men and women with whom they predominantly socialise. Some inner-city commentators in recent years have even acknowledged they do not know any Liberal or National voters. 

Yes, it has to be senility. How else to explain someone who reels this sort of stuff off about the inner city week after week - while working in the inner city - making nonsensical assertions that verge on the stupid.

You live in the inner city of a major city, and you don't know a single Liberal voter? Oh come on, even the vegans in the community store couldn't say that (if only because they fled their Liberal voting mum and dad).

Does Hendo ever pause to wonder how bizarre, how absurd, how surreal he sounds? But before you vote for senility, let's go on to the next par:

The evidence suggests that Abbott's principal value to the opposition turns on his appeal to some traditional Labor supporters in suburban and regional Australia, where most of the marginal seats happen to be. Abbott's social conservatism and his Catholicism are exaggerated by the likes of Marr and Hawker. Even so, the Opposition Leader has a certain appeal in parts of socially conservative Australia, not only among Christians but also within Australia's growing Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim communities.

Okay, that's a strong argument for senility too, because Hendo was trotting out the same line that he used only last December:

Some voters, including Muslims, are attracted by Abbott's social conservatism. The fact that he is married with adult children is not a minus. Also social conservatives of all faiths – Christian, Hindus and Muslims alike – tend to support the Coalition's opposition to same sex marriage. (here)

But the pond prefers cognitive dissonance, because it captures the essential problem.

Abbott's social conservatism is exaggerated by some; but wait, Abbott's social conservative is much loved by all, especially Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

So there it is.

Abbott isn't really a conservative, no matter what Hawker and Marr might say, yet he's loved by conservatives because he's a conservative. And rabid ratbags with fundamentalist religious beliefs, no matter if they're Islamic or Christian or Hindu, especially love him.

You can see why the pond's head began to spin, but it seems Hendo's head also started to spin.

Because right after that, he feels the need to say that everything we've read up to this point in relation to popularity - and especially Abbott's popularity - is entirely irrelevant:

In any event, political success in Australia does not necessarily relate to popularity.

So why have we endured endless chat about Abbott and his alleged popularity, especially amongst Muslims and Hindus?

Well it builds to an even bigger cognitive dissonance:

Most of our successful leaders have not been beloved. In the last Morgan Gallup poll taken before he became prime minister following the dismissal of Whitlam in November 1975, Fraser had a disapproval rating of 54 per cent - about where Abbott's is today. Yet Fraser led the Coalition to a huge victory in December 1975.

That's right, Hendo wheels in Malcolm Fraser, a man whom he routinely loathes and disses in print these days, as evidence that Tony Abbott is on the right track.

Never mind that Fraser's government was wretched, a missed opportunity for reform, and that now in his dotage he's adopted attitudes and positions he rarely managed when he was head prefect - a contradiction Hendo loves to point out, except when using Fraser to show how Tony Abbott is headed to victory. BecauseAbbott's much loved, and immensely popular, except popularity doesn't count, especially if he's loathed in the way that Malcolm Fraser was loathed ...

Where's Mark Latham when he's needed?

Wouldn't it have been simpler for Hendo to spare us all the anguish of a long column, and instead just write how he loves Tony Abbott, loves and hugs him to death, no matter if he's unpopular?

Too late, the pond is down the rabbit hole of cognitive dissonance, and there's no way back, only tears, and potions labelled "drink me" and maybe a puff or two with a caterpillar ...


  1. Whenever you mention Gerard, I'm reminded of this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AA7Ub1c2cI

  2. DP, you may be aware of various authors, like, bloggers, who keep telling themselves they are in the vanguard of a great, new frontier of awareness. That Twitter feed at the bottom of the screen of Qanda is a pretty good example. The problem there is, one dismissive wobble of the Vanstone arm and reality is restored. "Howard dismissed all malefactors from his purview, toot sweet." The Twitter wails "What about AWU .....?" but it's too late.
    But there is a star in the East. Mal (The Guru) Turnbull picked up on a piece by David Gelernter (victim of Unabomber and author of Mirror Worlds). Maybe Gelernter is onto something, maybe some of the writers in the Comments are right, too.
    Whatever, when spear-carriers for the "social media" complain that newspapers & radio aren't taking any notice of The Issues, it's good to know cognitive dissonance exists and one may step through the looking-glass for relief.

  3. That's really harsh Tim Rust, if also fair and just, and not being into spoilers, we won't mention D Dog, but there's something in that mournful tone for sure.

    And by golly you visit some strange places Trevor. The ABC seems to have taken a shine to Amanda Vanstone and keep buffing her up, but sadly the lady ain't for buffing, at least on radio.


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