Cognitive dissonance

If you’ll indulge me a moment, I’d like to discuss two prominent examples of cognitive dissonance in relation to two ongoing debates – opposition to “sustainable living” as a concept, and hostility towards treating drug use as a health problem.

It’s always seemed a bit odd to me that anyone could seriously oppose the idea of people living as “sustainably” as possible. The opposite of “sustainable”, obviously, is “unsustainable” – and the point of something being “unsustainable” (the definition, in fact) is that you cannot keep doing it indefinitely. And of course no-one, least of all the “however I like” crowd, is advocating a style of living that they believe is doomed.

The problem is that most of the people opposing what “greenies” mean by “sustainable living” seem to have convinced themselves that their own lifestyle is itself actually sustainable. That fossil fuels will somehow magically last indefinitely; that emitting greenhouse gases will not have the effect on a large scale that it does in an actual greenhouse; that the more fresh water we use the more will somehow fall from the sky; that the planet will somehow develop a way of dealing with our waste that doesn’t affect our ability to live on it. The argument isn’t whether living “sustainably” is a sensible thing – even your hardest core anti-greenie doesn’t want to run out of water or electricity – it’s what living “sustainably” means.

Personally, I’d love to be convinced that doing whatever the hell I like with what appear to me to be limited resources will have no consequences whatsoever. I’m just yet to hear an argument along those lines that makes the slightest bit of sense.

Similarly, the argument for throwing drug users in prison. The primary reason why we proscribe certain substances is that we want to save members of the community who might be tempted from the negative effects of that drug. Criminalising drugs is not a method of addressing drug crime – almost by definition, it creates it – instead, it’s advocated as a means of addressing a potential health problem.

And yet the same people who justify their support for the “War on Drugs” on health grounds oppose dealing with drugs as a health problem once the War has been established. They oppose safe injecting rooms. They oppose spending public money on the massively overstretched programs to help drug addicts manage and conquer their addictions. They just want to send them to jail.

How does that make any sense? How can you justify a War on Drugs on the grounds of concern for users’ health, and then refuse to countenance measures to treat drug use as the health problem it is? How can you claim to care so much for users that you want the government to spend millions upon millions of dollars keeping drugs away from them, and then care nothing for their well-being when it fails?

Belief in the sustainability of unsustainability; viewing drugs as a health problem but not a health problem. Mindsets that only make sense if you don’t think them through.

ELSEWHERE: The Daily Telegraph – yes, the Daily Telegraph – published an article yesterday about the ludicrousness of refusing to allow sufferers of painful or terminal illnesses – such as cancer – to have access to medical marijuana and other cannabis-based medications.

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27 responses to “Cognitive dissonance

  1. Leaving the drug issue aside for the moment – I don’t think the denialist crowd are indulging in cognitive dissonance so much as unbelievably juvenille, ideology-driven stupidity.

    To me this is most evident in the way they seamlessly (and shamelessly) move between a wide range of conflicting positions, from the somewhat sensible “the world is warming but the outcome can be managed” to the childish lunacy of “the world isn’t warming at all, and any evidence that it is must be the result of a global conspiracy of scientists who want to marry Hitler”.

    You can be in the middle of a discussion with a denialist about the former when they will suddenly, and inexplicably, shift to the latter (and vice versa). It doesn’t seem to bother them that the two positions are effectively contradictory – all that appears to matter is that they are disagreeing with what they see as a ‘leftist’ position.

    The saddest thing (from my persective) is that your fundmantal point is correct Lefty – everyone wants to live sustainably, ergo a valid and vibrant discussion could be underway about what is sustainable. Instead we are stuck at the start line, unable to get past the moronic head-in-the-sand denial that we constantly see from our Righties.

    They must, somewhere down deep, realise that a reckoning is coming between humanity and the limited resources we are consuming, but they are having far too much fun ignoring it and bashing greenies to seriously contemplate how we are going to deal with it.

    That’s why you detect so much glee in people like Blair and Bolt – they’re having fun with this issue, and like any child are willfully ignoring adult sensibilities in case they take that fun away.

  2. On the drugs issue, I think those who don’t want to treat it as a health issue aren’t basing their support on the “War on Drugs” on concern for the health of others, it’s more “drugs are bad, mmmkay?”

  3. “it’s more “drugs are bad, mmmkay?””

    Yes, but I wonder if they can say why? If not concern with the health of users, or the effect on the rest of us of drug crime (the inevitable effect of criminalisation), then in what way are drugs so bad that we should spend millions upon millions and destroy countless lives criminalising them?

  4. Two observations of mine over time:

    1. Those who mock people who make every effort to implement sustainability principles into their daily lives are more prone to righteous indignation when a spotlight is shone on their own lifestyle choices.

    2. Those who support the War on Drugs also seem more likely to support small government. In the US the War On Drugs swelled government bureacracy and enforcement personnel.

  5. Northern Exposure

    Yes, exactly. I want my meth to be unregulated! Disco Biccies for the kiddies! Let the coke run free! Decriminalisation is the way to go while we spit in the faces of rehabilitation staff who don’t ever get any kind of acknowledgement for the hard, dangerous work they do at the moment. Ask anyone in rehabilitation and they will tell you that the current system for dealing with addicts who are arrested doesnt work, but it’s better than nothing. If you’ve ever seen an addict go cold turkey with no support from trained professionals then you would agree. I don’t care what kind of hippie-freelove research, or who ran it (See every study ever) but marajuanna is not a safe, laughing-gas-of-vegetation-makes-me-hungry drug, it is a psychotrope, it will fuck you up after prolonged use, and thats proper job, not really strong cigarettes lung cancer, thats warped sense of reality. But you are right, we need to stop treating addicts like enemy combatants and people who need our help to stop a life threatening mental disorder.

  6. then in what way are drugs so bad that we should spend millions upon millions and destroy countless lives criminalising them?
    I think the Fielding target base would claim to have an issue with it’s negative influence on family values, and the risks it places on their little ones being drawn into those shady drug crowds..

  7. And if their little ones ARE drawn into those drug crowds, it’s tough titty for them! WE TRIED DAMMIT.

  8. On the issue of suatinabailty, I couldn’t agree more Jeremy. I am sure there is a book or PhD in this for someone who wanted to analyise the situation thoroughly.

    Although, I wonder if the denialism line is only drawn between left and right. Would it more aptly be drawn between those who are pragmatic realists willing to consider new ideas and confront what they mean; and those who are – well in denial – and want very much to avoid the confrontation of any change?

    Blair and Blot revel in the division and make it far worse, perhaps evoking a line by blaming the ‘left’ or the ‘greenies’ to whoever is in their sight today. I sometimes wonder if they believe what they are saying, or just say it to assuage a juvenile need to be the centre of attention.

    Mondo has hit the nail on the head about one group:
    “… [it is] most evident in the way they seamlessly (and shamelessly) move between a wide range of conflicting positions, from the somewhat sensible … to the childish lunacy …. You can be in the middle of a discussion with a denialist about the former when they will suddenly, and inexplicably, shift to the latter (and vice versa).”

    I have been kicking around in the sustainability room for a few decades now and am still regularly surprised by the expression of fear that seem to pop out of many faces when people new to the information are confronted with some of the facts the whirl around in the environment movement every day.

    Sometimes these same fearful souls are close to my personal politics, other times not. What I think is different is the way they then express the fear – denialists on the right tend to sling off in every illogical direction they can conjure, claiming everything is a conspiracy backing their convictions with the statement that the market will be the savior of everything if the lefties would get out of the way. Whereas the left leaning denailsts retreat into a more base kind of denial, seeking to avoid the subject, and any form of exposure to it, in the hope it will go away.

    This is a bit stream of consciousness … apologies for that.

    Having sprouted about sustainability … you will be glad to know I know absolutely nothing about drugs!

  9. Northern Exposure

    God-fearing milo-loving children don’t fall into drug crowds…not ever ever ever.

    Mostly because if they do, their parents disown them in about the same ammount of time it takes for milo to heat up in the mircowave.

  10. All this stuff in the comments about denialists (a term which I note you did not use) is quite annoying. It lumps anybody who does not agree with the commenters point of view into a box… oh… denier. Problem solved. Labelled.

    Its more complex than that.

    I don’t call myself a denier, or an anything-er. I’m a person. I don’t like waste. I also don’t like others telling me how to live my life.

    So I recycle like mad. I turn lights out. I use those hideous CF lamps full or mercury. And I bought a trailer load of illegal naughty lamps before they became illegal – because they have their uses (CFL’s for example, or lousy in toilets – lots of on/off switching cycles shortens their life, then they fail, it costs you more money, the energy balance is WRONG for that application).

    In South Australia, with little water, I have buckets in the shower, and tip the water so saved on the lawn. And I resent people telling me I can’t water my lawn but its OK to fill a swimming pool. Hypocrites!

    So – sustainability means different things to different people. Doing things to minimise use of water, food, energy, whatever all makes sense – both economically and for whatever other environmental reason you care to name. Doing it willingly is one thing. Being forced to do it because of somebody elses world view is what I have a problem with.

    So, I don’t like being told to eat less meat, to use stupid lamps in places where they don’t suit, that I can’t use water. I’m smart enough to decide where makes sense to me. Perhaps not everybody is smart enough to think through to consequences…. but I still have a problem with forcing “solutions” onto everybody.

  11. The term denialist is used to refer to a specific class of people who simply refuse point blank to accept a given reality because reality is difficult or uncomfortable.

    It is entirely appropriate to use in these contexts IMO.

  12. I have to agree that I am concerned about the sustainability of continued fossil fuel usage, however an understanding of pricing and cost in an economic sense seems to be ignored by those who advocate immediate, paradigm (yes, I had to use that word as nothing else really fitted) shifting solutions. As fossil fuels become more scarce, the cost associated with sourcing them, as well as the natural increase in price that occurs when shortages start to become apparent will have the effect of increasing the price at the end user. If electricity prices go up, people use less electricity – a natural outcome that is an entirely rational human behaviour. Australians value their quality of life – the majority of the world is a shitty place for various reasons. Thats a fact and no government, individual or organisation has the means and will to change it in the next couple of hundred years at least. I want my kid to grow up with the same quality of life if not better. That includes having the freedom to access resources at the level that he deems fit to pay for. I also value my freedom, which includes freedom from government imposed solutions. I also want actual action taken to reduce emissions such as converting the La Trobe valley power stations to natural gas – something that would make an ACTUAL dent in emissions rather than a cap and trade scheme which even the green left don’t want to have (niether do a fair number of economically conservative righties). My dream is a world wide, benchmarked and enforcable price on the per-tonne CO2 emissions. The problem is global and not local. There is no point for Australia to go a cap and trade alone. China and India will just laugh and thank us privately for the competative advantage. When I start seeing actual solutions that do not involve massive amounts of money (taxpayer money) being transferred worldwide, I will have a little more faith in the international community and governments. Until then, stay out of my life and don’t impose ridiculously complex and rortable schemes in my country thank you.

    Oh and I support everything that Ashleigh says above.

  13. Northern Exposure

    On the issue of sustainability, the growth of crops like cotton and alfalfa, which needs huge ammounts of water, is completely ridiculous. There are huge damns, which are filled to twice or three times the capacity of the dams in the south-east every 9 months, and huge tracts of land in the north of australia the could be easily turned to farming. Farming in the south east should be abandoned, that alone could be a game changer in terms of water conservation. Water recyc plants should also be used down there, it doesnt make sense that they arent already, do people think that every drop of water they use hasnt been through millions of other things already?

  14. On Drugs, some people just have addictive personalities and need to not take them in the first place. I have watched a mate turn into a paranoid and delusional recluse who teetered on the verge of losing his job (after losing a very lucrative management job 4 years ago because he needed to hit the bong in the morning just to cope with the day). He promised me dozens of times that he was going to quit but an addiction is an addiction. So I found out who his dealer was and informed the cops. It was the only thing that worked, but he is a shadow of what he used to be. My cousin is 40 years old and has been a ward of the state in SA since he was 25. He is utterly fucked and we can’t give him any cash at all or he’s straight out to Hindley street looking to score. And that’s after 15 years of treatment. How would legalising drugs have helped him?

    Legalising and having state control of the drug market would certainly remove the vast majority of the higher level drug crime and violence associated with international drug production and smuggling. But how does making cocain, mary j and heroin available from state approved facilities help avoid the health issues associated with drugs? Fantastic, you just got a clean hit of herion from a safe needle in a state injecting room. You are as high as a kite. What happens when they come down? What happens when they want their next hit because their “normal” is now when they are high and their “abnormal” is when they are sober? Start rationing? What then stops the black market for drugs for all those who can’t just get by with state approved hits? Just like sly-grog runners who buy a carton for $40 bucks in Alice and then sell it for $200 in an alcohol restricted community?

    I realise that there are not any easy answers but other than smoking a bit of weed in high school, all my friends and families experiences with the effects of drugs have been extremely negative – and thats been with state help, prescriptions and counselling. How does it help to make getting drugs easier and without the stigma associated with doing something illegal (something which stopped me smoking weed).

  15. “It’s always seemed a bit odd to me that anyone could seriously oppose the idea of people living as “sustainably” as possible.”

    yes, but there is a large group of people who don’t believe in sustainability. they believe the world will soon end in a fiery cataclysm. Who cares if the world gets trashed? their precious souls are going to heaven…

  16. As fossil fuels become more scarce, the cost associated with sourcing them, as well as the natural increase in price that occurs when shortages start to become apparent will have the effect of increasing the price at the end user.

    But Cecil – the whole point of AGW theory is that the damage done to the environment by the time the market gets round to restricting our fossil fuel use will be catastophic.

    You’re correct to note that we’ll eventually stop using them for market-based reasons but it’s not really logical to apply this as an argument against restricting their use now (assuming you accept AGW theory of course).

    The use of asbestos as a building product, for example, may have eventually stopped for other market-based reasons (e.g. being sued by cancer sufferers) but most people accepted that the government needed to step in now and ban it before it did any more damage to actual people.

    In fact there are countless more examples of your (and our) freedom being similarly infringed in order to protect people and/or the environment, yet most would accept that these are necessary.

    I don’t really understand why you think that government intervention in the energy market is fundamentally different.

  17. Mondo, the problem is that most people are unconvinced about the sustainability issues that are propogated by watermelon fruitloops of the green persuasion.

    Most of their guff looks highly speculative and more designed to enhance their political power. One thing is certain: if a leftist advances a political scheme it will involve the state taking more of your money and freedom to empower lefty do-gooders.

    Where there is a clear and present danger people are usually supportive of government intervention.

    However, ‘sustainability’ is now understood as code for the peculiar sexual practices of dribbling hippies by which they mean to fuck us over. Happily most people are wise to these power-crazed loons. That is one advantage of democracy – it is harder for the elites to seize power and to implement their crackpot ideas.

  18. “I don’t really understand why you think that government intervention in the energy market is fundamentally different.”

    Then let it do something that has an actual impact. Pay to convert all of our coal fired stations to natural gas. That’s a good a use of taxpayers dosh as any other solution and actually will meet the governments targets on emmission reductions. Imposing an inherently rortable cap and trade system is not a good idea. What happens when the price of emmissions collapses, as it has done recently in the U.S. and Europe? They can just pump out as much as they want to whilst passing on the prices to the consumer.

    If the government is so committed, why isn’t it getting back into the infrastructure game and building solar, wind farms and dare I say it, nuclear? Build them and then operate them as a government owned entity or sell them off to the private sector. Why is direct action never an option? Why the need to impose an economy wide solution when power generation is the real issue in Australia?

  19. You’re preaching to the converted Cemil – I agree that the market-based solutions currently proposed are excessively complex, utterly rortable and frankly unlikely to result in the sort of change required.

    Direct government investment in alternative energy power stations and R&D around promising new technologies would be my preferred option. A ‘tax and spend’ approach, if you like.

    I also think we should consider whether a certain level of environmental change is ‘tolerable’ when measured against the cost (and economic risk) of trying to prevent it. Simply insisting that any change is unacceptable, and that it must be stopped at all costs, is a bit fundamentalist.

  20. I don’t have an opinion.

  21. “I also think we should consider whether a certain level of environmental change is ‘tolerable’ when measured against the cost (and economic risk) of trying to prevent it.”

    If the climate change fundies (and don’t tell me there aren’t extremists on the other side as well) accepted that humans only have a limited impact on climate and stop telling us that every natural disaster (which have been happening since the beginning of earths history and WILL continue to happen even if we all go back to the caves) is as a result of climate change, a lot of sceptical people might take the whole thing a bit more seriously. I don’t think that I haven’t seen a natural event that hasn’t been blamed on climate change! Bullshit! Just be honest and admit that the human contribution to climate change can be managed but we have fuck all chance of telling mother nature what to do. She can wipe out a couple of hundred thousand people any time she likes and there is not a thing we can do about it.

    Once again a debate is best had by ignoring extremists from both sides of the spectrum.

  22. watermelon fruitloops
    lefty do-gooders
    dribbling hippies
    peculiar sexual practices
    the elites
    power-crazed loons
    crackpot ideas

    Mum! Mum, look! I just did an SB post!!

  23. If the climate change fundies accepted that humans only have a limited impact on climate . . .

    Cemil, while I agree with some of what you’ve said I’m interested as to whether you have any basis for the rather sweeping claim above?

    Why are you stating that humans can have only a limited impact on climate?

  24. An example of cap-n-trade being “a bad fing” (OK – showing my age from Warner cartoons of old)…

    British Steel… now Corus… owned by some large company based in India. Shut down a steel mill in the UK and sold the emissions permits – giving an income of about 3 BILLION pounds or some such insanely large amount.

    Built a steel mill in India with the same capacity.

    Net result: emissions the same. New steel mill in India with lower labour costs. Buncha poms out of work. Huge windfall gain for new owner.

    How is this good?

  25. “Why are you stating that humans can have only a limited impact on climate?”

    Why can’t we then stop natural disasters? Because the forces at play are way out of our capability to do anything about them.

    Yes, we can nuke the planet and kill all life on it (except for cockroaches and Chuck Norris!) but we are only one input into the earths climate. The sun is vastly more important.

    The point that I am trying to make is that our habitation of the planet will result in some natural environmental degredation in order to achieve a certain lifestyle. And lifestyle is good considering we only get one of them. What I want is balance in the debate and recognition that we didn’t move to fossil fuels overnight and we will not stop using fossil fuels overnight, despite what some of the more extremist environmental groups keep claiming.

  26. “we are only one input into the earths climate. The sun is vastly more important. “

    Um, obviously. The point is that we can adjust our contribution when it becomes a problem. There’s not much we can do about the sun.

  27. Why can’t we then stop natural disasters? Because the forces at play are way out of our capability to do anything about them.

    Our inability to stop natural disasters is hardly a rational basis for stating that we have no ability to influence climate, even on a large scale.

    The point that I am trying to make is that our habitation of the planet will result in some natural environmental degredation in order to achieve a certain lifestyle.

    Of course it will – nobody is arguing against that. The AGW issue is about preventing that damage from becoming so large that it impacts out ability to habitate the planet and degrades our lifestyle.

    we will not stop using fossil fuels overnight, despite what some of the more extremist environmental groups keep claiming.

    I get it now – you’re railing against an ‘extremist greenie’ strawman that doesn’t exist. If you can find one person who has seriously advocated the immediate cessation of fossil fuels I’ll be surprised. If you can find one mainstream politician advocating it I’ll be amazed.

    Cemil – 99% of the AGW movement is advocating measured, rational and effective change in order to preserve our planet and lifestyle. Your apparent preference for ignoring them and engaging the 1% hysterical fringe instead places you totally outside mainstream debate on this issue.

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