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Writing => Daen's Musings => Topic started by: Daen on March 28, 2022, 03:58:26 AM

Title: DM26 Cognitive Dissonance
Post by: Daen on March 28, 2022, 03:58:26 AM
Some time ago I watched a TV show called Northern Exposure. It's about the residents of a small town in Alaska. It also touches on the relations between the American descendants of the town's founders and the descendants of the local Tlingit tribe that lives in the area. Being a third-culture kid, I found that especially interesting, including the adaptations made to the Christmas story to include Tlingit mythology. The idea of the Baby Jesus actually being a raven was great.

At any rate the main character I want to talk about, or rather one of his associates, is Maurice Minnifield, played by the exceptional Barry Corbin. Maurice starts out the show as a version of how Trump probably sees himself. Maurice is wealthy, mostly popular, but unlike Trump he's not only actually a military veteran, but a former astronaut as well. Sadly, he is a property developer, as well as often bigoted, especially against Asians and homosexuals.

In the second season Maurice meets Ron and Erick, who want to purchase one of his houses. He assumes they're business partners, and immediately gets along with them. He even has a meal with them, where they bond over shared interests such as cooking, antiquing, and their various military service histories. Ron and Maurice both served in Korea, a detail which will become important later.

When he finds out they're actually together, Maurice is disgusted and offended. Not just that they're gay, but that they have so many similar interests to him. After a talk with Chris, the local radio station operator and sort of unofficial advice guru, Maurice ends up selling the house to them, but his relationship with them remains antagonistic, for years afterwards.

A season later, a Korean man shows up in town, along with his mother and son. He doesn't speak a word of English, but his son translates for him while he's present. His name is Duk Won, and it turns out he's Maurice's biological son.

Again, Maurice reacts badly. He eventually acknowledges his relationship to Duk Won, but only after a blood test. He also assumes that Duk Won is just there for his money at first. When he learns that his son just came to town to get to know him, it throws him for a loop. Because this is a tv show, eventually he finds some common ground, even though he initially dislikes just about everything his son does and says. Once again he has a chat with Chris, who reminds him that his reaction to Duk Won is learned behavior, not instinctive. That means it can be unlearned.

Duk Won is a secondary character, and is barely mentioned in the series for the most part. He does show up again in the next season, though. With his fiancée, Pak Soon Ae. As is pretty on brand for Duk Won, he just wanted to bring her to meet his father, and to get Maurice's blessing for the marriage. Also on brand for Maurice, is the old jerk assuming that Duk Won is after money. At least at first.

Maurice enlists the aid of Ron, one of the gay men he dislikes for that reason, to translate for Duk Won. He finds out that Duk Won just wants his blessing, and gives it readily. Unfortunately, Ron pays Maurice a visit later on, with some disturbing news.

It turns out Pak Soon Ae is the daughter of Colonel Pak Soon Ye, a notorious North Korean war criminal who killed a great many people in Yang Dok. Maurice is horrified, and immediately withdraws his blessing. Duk Won, being dutiful to a fault, accepts his father's decision sadly but without any hesitation. He prepares to go home, with no further plans to get married.

Seeing how cut up his son is over this, Maurice eventually recants, and gives his blessing yet again. It's a very storybook ending, except for one thing: later on at the bar, Ron and Erick pay Maurice a visit. Ron berates Maurice, telling him that he never respected him as a man, but at least he respected Maurice's rank, and his military career. Now he views this blessing as proof that Maurice has become weak and soft. Ron then leaves, with Erick silently supporting his claims on the way out.

That part right there. That's what really stuck with me over the years.

Did Ron seriously think that Soon Ae had ANY control over her father's actions? She was just a kid at the time! It was doubtful she even knew what was going on, much less had the power to do anything about it! She was working as a librarian in South Korea when Duk Won met her! Does that sound like someone who condoned the actions of a North Korean Colonel? And yet he blamed her nonetheless. So much so that he blamed Maurice for allowing her to marry into his family!

Isn't the whole gay rights thing based on no choice? Isn't one of their main claims that they can't stop being gay, any more than they can stop breathing oxygen?? I get that, and I fully support it. I'm a big believer in not holding people accountable for things they can't control. But Ron (and Erick to a lesser degree), blamed her for something she couldn't control either!

That was my first real exposure to cognitive dissonance. Or at least the first exposure that really got through to me. The idea that people can do and say the right thing in one aspect of our lives, and then do and say the wrong thing in another aspect, even if the two actions are obviously in conflict with each other.

Maurice is pompous, overbearing, discriminatory and small-minded. Those faults lessen only slightly as the show goes on. But when it comes to his bigotry, at least he's not a hypocrite! He's open about who he can't tolerate, and why.

By  comparison Ron and Erick are polite, thoughtful, patient and longsuffering. And yet they honestly seem to believe that Soon Ae is at fault for her father's actions. I just couldn't wrap my brain around that. It seems that on tv at least, people who've been discriminated against, can discriminate, in exactly the same way, against others.

Where am I going with all this?

I'm not actually sure. I guess I'm making a point about internal hypocrisy. When I point at a politician and say that they promised something on the campaign trail and haven't delivered now that they're in office, it's not the same thing. In that case, the politician probably never even meant what they were saying in the first place. They just lied to get elected, as is sadly very common. No, what I'm talking about is us lying to ourselves. Truly believing that standing in judgement over others is right and just, while behaving in the very way that we judge as wrong. And worst off, not being willing to examine our behavior critically, and therefore never having any real chance of fixing ourselves!

A lot of tv shows and news opinion pieces put forward the idea that yes, discrimination is bad, but it only exists in overt cases. That the people we need to watch out for are the people who have thought through their bigotry, and act on it intentionally. Those sources conveniently gloss over unconscious bias.

I think the main source of cognitive dissonance is pretty easy to identify: whether we were raised with discriminatory ideas, or had preachers tell us in a hundred little ways to think a certain way about certain people, or had a single persuasive, highly gregarious friend who influenced us in that way... none of that matters. The result is the same in all cases: we treat people differently, and don't bother to think about why.

This is especially true in America. Not only do we have this patriotic theme underpinning so much of our media, we also have a deep-seated hatred of being told what to do. If I act in a bigoted way, and someone calls me out on it, my instinctive response is to dismiss them as being jealous or hateful themselves! Not just because I don't want to be told to change my behavior, or that I probably feel that as an American I already believe in the freedom of everyone, but mostly because I DON'T WANT to risk examining my own flaws!

The thing is, we have to. People don't stop growing up when we reach physical adulthood. The mind is always expanding and adapting and hopefully improving. If I refuse to listen to someone just because I'm afraid that they might be right about me, then I'm stunting my own growth. I'll remain a child- a dangerous child with the body and power of an adult- until I'm willing to actually examine my own motivations.

Now for someone like me, an aspiring author with a full-time job and very little social media presence, that's not particularly harmful. It might not be harmful in your case either. But for someone like, say, a corporate CEO, or the leader of a megachurch, or the president of a country... maybe we should take their power away until they've proven that they have the emotional awareness of an adult.