This is a guest post by Mitnaged
We read often, and it is part of the lived experience of those who monitor sites like Comment is Free, that certain hate-filled commenters are attracted there because CiF offers such excellent facilitative qualities for them to spout their barely-concealed Jew-hatred under the guise of the antizionism they argue that it is.
AKUS has addressed elsewhere the role of the internet in initiating, exacerbating and maintaining such hatred. I would like to touch on another aspect of this phenomenon:
The internet is as capable of presenting alternative viewpoints to undermine those which incite hatred as it is of underscoring that hatred. Why might it be that these alternatives cause so much psychological and cognitive discomfort to the haters that they are incapable of taking any of them on board, and indeed they result in a backlash of yet more hatred as the haters cling on to the distorted ideas even in the face of proof that their belief in them is misplaced?
“I’ve made up my mind – don’t confuse me with the facts”
The basic idea behind cognitive dissonance theory is that people do not like to have dissonant cognitions. In fact, many people argue that the desire to have consonant cognitions is as strong as our basic desires for food and shelter. As a result, when someone does experience two or more dissonant cognitions (or conflicting thoughts), they will attempt to do away with the dissonance. This, I believe, underlines what I perceive to be the mindless hatred which is displayed on CiF.
The above statement may well reflect the being-in-the-world of such Israel-/Jew-haters. Their psychological comfort depends upon their being able to believe that what they think is true. They tend not to question what they are told if it resonates with what they think, and they are incapable of reality-testing their beliefs because if these are found to be in error then it will have to result in a radical change in their whole self-concept and their being-in-the-world.
Phil Barker tells us that Leon Festinger published a theory of cognitive dissonance in 1957. It begins with the notion that cognitions can pertain to any variety of thoughts, values, facts, or emotions. For instance, the fact that I like watching soaps is a cognition as is the fact that I am a man. People have countless cognitions in their heads.
Most cognitions are unrelated. For instance, the two cognitions mentioned before (that I am a man and that I like watching soaps) are unrelated. Some cognitions, however, are related and are “consonant,” meaning that they go together.
However, sometimes we have cognitions that are related, but may be opposites. For instance, a person might like ice cream, but might also be trying to lose weight. These two thoughts are problematic — if this person eats ice cream, then s/he may gain weight, and if s/he really wants to lose weight then s/he cannot eat ice cream. These types of cognitions are referred to as “dissonant.”
Cognitive dissonance results from the inability to hold in consciousness two ideas which are perceived to be in conflict with each other – in this case let’s argue that such a dissonant thought might be that (a) Palestinians have been wronged and their resorting to terrorism is therefore justified but that (b) Palestinian terrorism damages Palestinians at least as much as does Israeli reaction to it. To have to hold these thoughts and admit to them results in great psychological discomfort, particularly if the holder of them has publicly stated in all or nothing terms that s/he takes the side of one party or the other. In such cases the emotional discomfort which results may well lead to yet more emphasis of the one-sided and distorted viewpoints in an attempt to achieve consonance (albeit consonance which is based on false premises) and emotional comfort.
“I believe it and many others do too”
Further to complicate this already murky state of affairs, we have the notion that people who feel increasingly threatened by the cognitive dissonance which results from the challenges to their world view tend to band together with others who believe likewise, in order to try to achieve consonance from the validation of their views. In other words, it seems as if there is some sort of safety in numbers for such people – that they lack the courage of their convictions if challenged unless they can belong to or refer to such a peer group.
On CiF, for example, we get posters such as Papalagi who until recently would regularly quote Ilan Pappe as a reputable historian although Pappe’s work had been soundly trashed by more reputable historians such as Benny Morris and also by Ephraim Karsh. The reiterative nature of Papalagi’s posts in this vein are not unique – other CiF “favourites” continue to bang on the same old drum regardless of the increasing weight of evidence against their arguments but I would wager that the posts in reply to Papalagi, which painstakingly point out Pappe’s shortcomings as an historian, increase Papalagi’s cognitive dissonance.
A more mature person might be able to cope with the emotional discomfort caused by this threat to his world view arising from hard evidence. A more mature person might perhaps enter into further debate or even climb down from his original position in the face of that evidence. Papalagi, however, does not evidence this strength of character and, like many Israel-hating CiF regulars, his apparently unshakeable belief becomes apparent – that if he continues the reiteration, often in the same wording again and again, its content will suddenly become acceptable and Papalagi’s (and Pappe’s) detractors will vanish (and of course they do in some cases, not because they disagree with Papalagi, but because their posting rights are pulled, often unreasonably and without explanation). That CiF detractors become stronger – such as via the setting up of CiFWatch – in the face of such immature “debate” seems not to register at all, however.
The causes of Jew- and Israel-hatred are many and varied and are beyond the scope of this article, but I believe that the Israel haters/anti-Jewish racists on CiF hold in common this inability to tolerate the cognitive dissonance resulting from being presented with provable facts which are at variance with their beliefs, and the immense discomfort which results from this causes them to hate those whom they perceive to be responsible for it, and to act out that hatred towards them in print, rather than sit with and explore the discomfort.
The haters’ critical faculties, by which they might examine erroneous viewpoints shored up by questionable evidence, are often but not invariably bypassed in the pursuit of emotional comfort, or the venting of the built-up feelings of hatred which, being immature, they cannot contain. This venting aspect of an attempt to achieve consonance by “I’ve made up my mind so don’t confuse me with facts” is excellently evidenced in the YouTube video of the interview with the egregious John Sullivan.
Note how Sullivan clings to his hatred like a drowning man to a life raft and how this escalates to the point that it distorts his perception of the good wishes for Christmas from his Jewish interviewer at the close of the interview at 3:51 minutes, and prevents him from doing the decent, mature thing by ignoring the good wishes if he feels unable to respond in kind.
On the other hand, and in the same video at 1.41 minutes onwards, John Beynon, when asked how he could countenance the use of his church by supporters of Islamist terror whilst at the same time condemning the killing in the Middle East, admits that the interviewer may have a point. We can see here how the more mature person might deal with cognitive dissonance, without necessarily abandoning his point of view and without seeming hate-filled. Beynon might be a useful role model for the anti-Israel posters on CiF.
The apparent imperviousness to reasoned argument which is very evident on CiF may be best explained as a sort of doublethink – a concept promoted by George Orwell (1949) in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Doublethink was set out there, on p.32 of the Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London edition as:
“..The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth..” (Emphasis added).
And also as the following, which reflects the mindset of many CiF authors and the worldview of CiF itself:
“..To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink…”