Cognitive Dissonance and Hypocrisy
There is a psychological theory called Cognitive Dissonance, proposed by Leon Festinger in 1956, which posits that people cannot tolerate contradictions in their own cognitions, or thoughts. So what we do is perform mental manipulations that reduce the discomfort of these internal contradictions. In ordinary language, we practice hypocrisy. Yes, we are all hypocrites, but we don’t realize it. I do not exclude myself from this category. I, too, am a hypocrite; you can see my hypocrisy better than I see it, just as I can see your hypocrisy better than you see it.
When it comes to hypocrisy, anti-bully psychology flies off the charts. Yet, thanks to cognitive dissonance theory, no one seems to be aware of this hypocrisy. “School bullying” seems to be the least controversial social issue in the history of humanity. Everyone on the entire political spectrum, from far right to far left, believes it is a good thing for schools to have anti-bully programs. Every race and religion seems to have jumped on the anti-bully bandwagon. The only articles you will find anywhere that question the value of anti-bully programs are authored by yours truly. David Smith, a Canadian psychologist, conducted a meta analysis of the research on whole school anti-bullying programs (DOWNLOAD NOW). He found that 86% of the published studies showed that the program had no benefit at all or made the problem worse. Yet he apparently could not believe his own findings, and alleviated his cognitive dissonance by proposing a number of reasons why schools should continue with these programs despite the scientific evidence of their rotten track records.
The anti-bully movement is possible because we believe that we are “the good guys,” and we have to get rid of those evil, power hungry people we call “bullies”. The truth is that we are aggressive creatures who are responsible for all kinds of atrocious actions, but we have many ways of deluding ourselves about our true nature. The bullies are not “them.” They are “us,” and if we were aware of it, we wouldn’t be so eager to go on an anti-bully campaign.
The results below are based on the surveys of 3,721 respondents at my seminars, almost all of whom are mental health professionals and educators. Of these, 2,984, or 80.2%, were female and 673, or 18.1%, were male.
Those Terrible “Imbalances of Power”
Anti-bully psychology is based on the idea that bullying is pathological and exists where there is an imbalance of power, and that we need to help the victims by taking away the power advantage of the bully.
This means that the normal, and preferable, situation is no imbalances of power. Sounds great, doesn’t it? How nice it would be to have a society without imbalances of power. Then there will be no bullying. Certainly you would be happy to live in such a society, right?
Except that such an organization has never existed and cannot exist. In all social organizations there is a pecking order. Can you think of one social organization, formal or informal, in which there are no imbalances of power? Even in the most closely matched prizefights, the two opponents do not have exactly the same power. In every company and school there is a power hierarchy. Even in an informal group of friends, some individuals have more infulence than others.
And even if such a society were possible – no imbalances of power – do you think we would be happy with it? Are students supposed to have the same power as teachers, teachers as principals, children as parents, citizens as the president? Nothing would get done because there would be no leaders and no followers.
Communism tried to get rid of imbalances of economic power but failed because the system is contrary to human nature. People found ways other than salaries to increase their power over others.
Items Related to Power
Item 2: Your salary is being renegotiated. You can choose between earning more or less for continuing on your current job. Which will you choose?
Results: 96.4% of respondents answered More.
Item 4: If I have a choice between purchasing an item at full price or half price, I will buy it at half price. Results: 98.3% of respondents answered Yes.
Item 3: I respect people who seek to increase their power over other people.
Results: 14.0% of respondents answered Yes.
Survey Items #2 and #4 show that virtually all of us would like to make more money for our current jobs while paying half price for the things we buy. Well, what do you think money is. Money is power over people, no more and no less. The one and only purpose of money is to get people to do things for you. You can’t offer money to a chicken and expect it to give you eggs. Mother Earth gets nothing for the materials we extract from her to make our products. All we pay for is human effort. However, most of us are completely unaware of this fact because we think of money as a thing. We believe we want equality, but we really want to accumulate as much people power (money) as we can and to give away as little as possible.
In nature, there is no such thing as money. Your power status is determined by your own physical strengths and the social skills for making allies (getting others to support you). However, in civilization, the ability to physically defeat others is not a very good way to get power. It is a good way to get yourself in jail. The most general way to amass power in civilization is money. The pecking order in civilization is largely synonymous with our financial status. But because we do not think of money as power over people, siuations that we would never tolerate in nature become routine in civilization.
If you were to ask me to give you advice for an hour, and I told you I’d be glad to, but in return you have to clean my house all week long, you would be furious. But money makes it possible for me to get you to do this, and you will even thank me.
How? If I am a lawyer who earns $300 an hour for giving legal advice, and you are a cleaning person charging $10 an hour, I can consult for one hour in the comfort of my office and pay you to clean my house all week long. Neat, isn’t it? I spend one hour in my luxurious office while you sweat away for thirty hours cleaning my dirt. And if I throw in a tip along with your pay, you will thank me for my generosity.
Why aren’t we aware that money is power over people? Because we don’t want to be. Otherwise we would feel too much guilt over our desire for more money. If your boss told you that your salary will be cut by 50%, you would be enraged. But when it comes to paying others for their product, you prefer to pay them half. Have you stopped to think that they also have mouths to feed and bills to pay? Of course not, because then you would have to experience cognitive dissonance.
Since we don’t dare call money “power over people,” we can go around smugly calling for eradication of power imbalances while desiring to maximize our own power over people.
Item #3 shows that only 14 per cent of us respect people who seek to increase their power over others. This means that 86% of us do not respect the kind of people we are. For if you want more money, what you really want is more power over people.
Most racial stereotypes have some measure of truth to them, otherwise they wouldn’t persist. A stereotype about Jews (my religious affiliation) is that we want to get as much money as possible and to give away as little as possible. I’m sorry to say, but this stereotype about Jews is completely unfair. When it comes to money, we all want as much as possible and to give away as little as possible. Is it our fault that we are better at it than you are?
Item 17: At least once in my life, I had the fantasy of being President or the best in the world at something.
Results: 66% of respondents answered Yes.
Item 18: At least once in my life, I had the fantasy of being Vice President or the second best in the world at something.
Results: 24.1% of respondents answered Yes.
Item 19: I would love to be perfectly average.
Results: 24.9% of respondents answered Yes.
We don’t want power over people. Yeah, right. Two thirds of us recall a desire to be the most powerful person in the country or to be number one in the world at something. Imagine: 66% of us competing with each other to be number one. Seems like we haven’t learned a thing from Sesame Street. We should want cooperation, not competition.
Being Vice President or second best in the world would also be an incredible accomplishment. Yet this is not good enough for most of us. Only 24% of us recall a desire to be number two. When is the last time you heard a child saying, “I want to grow up to be the second best baseball player in the world!” The biological drive is to be number one; number two is not in the genes.
The anti-bully psychology would have us believe that the normal thing is for everyone to want to have equal power over each other – meaning that we would all be average. Yet only 25% of us have a desire to be average. Most of us prefer to live in “Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average.”
There is no biological drive to be average; there cannot be. Mother Nature programmed us to strive to be number one, and you can’t become number one without upsetting the rest of us who also want to be number one.
Want to see a bully? Try looking in the mirror.