Scott Esk, The Tea Party, And Leon Festinger’s Warning

Ignore Leon at your peril, Republicans!

Ignore Leon at your peril, Republicans!

A Texas Republican, using my least favorite rationalization (#22. Comparative Virtue, or “It’s not the worst thing”)  to excuse the party’s intentionally insulting anti-gay platform, could argue, “Hey! At least we don’t want gays to be stoned to death!”

True. That would be the position of Tea Party candidate for the Oklahoma state Senate, Scott Esk.

In a Facebook exchange last year, Esk indeed endorsed, without espousing, killing gays:

“That [stoning gay people to death] goes against some parts of libertarianism, I realize, and I’m largely libertarian, but ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss…I never said I would author legislation to put homosexuals to death, but I didn’t have a problem with it.”

Contacted by Oklahoma magazine to clarify his remarks, Esk did indeed, saying:

 “That was done in the Old Testament under a law that came directly from God and in that time there it was totally just. It came directly from God. I have no plans to reinstitute that in Oklahoma law. I do have some very huge moral misgivings about those kinds of sins…I know what was done in the Old Testament and what was done back then was what’s just. … And I do stand for Biblical morality.”

Before going further, I have to give Esk integrity points for not claiming that he was taken out of context or misunderstood. He was honest, he accepted responsibility for his words, and he didn’t try to “walk back” his statement, as is the current fashion among all the Washington politicians we should not trust. His courage and candor are admirable.

If only he weren’t a hateful, ignorant fool.

Candidates, leaders and spokespersons like Esk are why the Tea Party may never be more than a fringe movement. A responsible, thoughtful, respectable political group would immediately drum out someone like Esk, rejecting his irrational, ugly and violent hostility to gays in unequivocal terms, just as it should convincingly condemn the racists and Neanderthal sexists in their midst. Because they don’t and won’t, however, the Tea Party, and if it doesn’t watch out, the Republican Party, will be doomed by a powerful phenomenon it obviously doesn’t understand: Cognitive Dissonance.

As psychologist Leon Festinger showed a half a century ago, we form our likes, dislikes, opinions and beliefs to a great extent based on our subconscious reactions to who and what they are connected with and associated to. This is, to a considerable extent, why leaders and celebrities are such powerful influences on society. It explains why we tend to adopt the values of our parents, and it largely explains many marketing and advertising techniques that manipulate our desires and preferences. Simply put, if someone we admire adopts a position or endorses a product, person or idea, he or she will naturally raise it in our estimation. If however, that position, product, person or idea is already extremely low in our esteem, even though his endorsement might raise it, even substantially, his own status will suffer, and fall. He will slide down the admiration scale, even if that which he endorses rises. If what the individual endorses is sufficiently deplored, it might even wipe out his positive standing entirely.

The implications of this phenomenon are many and varied, and sometimes complex. If a popular and admired politician espouses a policy, many will assume the policy is wise simply because he supports it. If an unpopular fool then argues passionately for the same policy, Festinger’s theory tells us, it might..

1. Raise the fool’s popularity, if the policy is sufficiently popular.

2. Lower support for the policy, if he is sufficiently reviled, and even

3. Lower the popularity of the admired politician, who will suffer for being associated with an idea that had been embraced by a despised dolt.

This subconscious shifting, said Festinger, goes on constantly, effecting everything from what movies we like to the clothes we wear to how we vote.

Here is a simple version of Festinger’s Cognitive Dissonance Scale:

Cognitive Dissonance

Now imagine that a moderate Republican–let’s call him Rocky— rates the party at around +7 on the scale—a good positive rating. Then he finds out that the Republican party has a candidate running under its banner who is on record as believing that stoning gays to death is the right thing to do. This opinion is anathema to his concept of reason and fairness, so much so that it is literally off the charts—a minus 15 or 20 or even a hundred. Festinger’s theory tells us that Rocky will be simply incapable of simultaneously holding the GOP at a +7 while the GOP is sponsoring a candidate who holds a view that is  so deep into negative territory. Rocky’s cognitive dissonance must be resolved, and the way it is likely to be resolved is for the Republican Party to be pulled down on his subconscious scale, probably below zero.

There are sometimes other ways of dealing with dissonance. President Obama’s supporters who are disappointed and even personally harmed by Obamacare may try to keep their hero high on their scales by disassociating him from the negative connection that would otherwise force them to lower his score. Thus they convince themselves that an agent with a low score—the Republican House—is really responsible for the fiasco. Now a low rated agent, not Obama, is attached to the health care law. This means that both Obamacare and the GOP can stay in negative numbers—no dissonance there!—while the President stays high.

A reader asked me off site whether it was ethical for the media to highlight dumb and offensive quotes by state legislators, the most flagrantly idiotic of which do seem to be Republicans. My view: sure it is. The media does this, without knowing the technical process, to lower the Cognitive Dissonance score of the Republican Party…reporters also tend to try to keep Democratic party scores high by somehow forgetting to mention the party affiliation of corrupt, criminal or embarrassing Democratic politicians, like Ray Nagin, Bob Filner and others whenever they can get away with it. Never mind journalists’  bias and motives, however: parties deserve to fall down the scale when they allow racists, bigots, ignoramuses, bullies or dimwits to represent them. And if a party is too insensitive,  mean-spirited and  stupid to realize that good, fair Americans don’t want to be associated with groups that allow candidates like Scott Esk to be associated with them, it deserves everything Cognitive Dissonance has in store for it.

Including oblivion.


Pointer: Fred

Facts: Slate



17 thoughts on “Scott Esk, The Tea Party, And Leon Festinger’s Warning

  1. So explain to me, Jack, why the cognitive dissonance scores of the Democratic Party among moderate Democrats was not pulled down below zero due to the statements of

    – Ray Nagin
    – Bob Filner
    – Alan Grayson
    – Alvin Holmes

    Your hypothesis that the “the Republican Party to be pulled down on [moderate Republicans’ subconscious scales], probably below zero” because of Scott Esk’s views is refuted by the fact that the Democratic Party was not pulled down on [moderate Democrats’ subconscious scales] despite the actions and words of the persons that I listed above.

    • That’s easy. If the Democrats nominated any of those guys AFTER they were convicted, disgraced, etc, that would have the predicted effect. So much for Filner and Nagin. An individual Democrat gone bad will have limited CD effect (though some), but nothing like what a party running someone actively embracing murdering gays..which, by the way, is lower on most people’s scales than simply graft or corruption, which a lot of the public tolerates anyway. Grayson is just a loudmouth who slanders Republicans. How would that bother even a moderate Democrat sufficiently to lower a Democrat on the scale? I don’t know the other guy, so he doesn’t even lower Democrats on MY scale.

      It’s not my theory, by the way.And it’s hardly controversial. You can argue about the extent of the effect in any given scenario, but the phenomenon is real.

        • Oh—THAT Alan Holmes.

          I think that moderate Democrats see nothing especially wrong with Black Democrats making racist comments about whites. I doubt most Democrats even find his comments especially offensive. I’m SURE even moderate Democrats are fine with Thomas being called an Uncle Tom. And, of course, most people have never heard of him.

          And all these guys are in a different solar system from a Tea Partier who says he agrees with stoning gays.

          • There is a difference. The TEA Party is not a Political Party, but a Movement with specific goals for limited government. Anyone can run and call themselves a TEA Partier, but there’s really no National Party, ala Dems & Repubs that bless a candidate and say that they are a member. Local TEA Parties can and often do run objectionable people on the Republican Line, who should be defeated at the polls. But again so do the Dems & Repubs; it’s just that the media give a pass to them because their views are deemed “acceptable” even though they may be just as repugnant as this turd. So no, ALL those guys are not different to this person. It’s just that the media have blessed their views, not society as a whole. If you let a Politician who wants to continue aborting babies in record numbers get away with that view, then he’s just as bad….he’s advocating murder.

            • That’s a view that intentionally ignores such nuances as science, law, and ethics. Reasonable, decent people may and have concluded that abortion is not only correct, societally acceptable and necessary, but also a right. Stoning someone to death because the Bible says they are sinners? Again, that can’t be justified even as an eccentric opinion. It’s proof of a damaged mind and ossified values.

              • Hypothetically, if I belive abortion is infanticide (-20 on the scale) then your claim that “Reasonable, decent people may and have concluded that abortion is not only correct, societally acceptable and necessary, but also a right” is a form of “Everybody does it” rationalization that is completely unpersuasive as an argument, and demonstrates some form of personal bias. Their support for legalized infanticide rules out reasonable and decent.

                For the record, my personal views are much more nuanced than the hypothetical above. I just didn’t see any point to the quoted line as an argument, because it would only make sense to people who already agreed with you.

                • How I interpret the claim is that if some people who are known to reach conclusions through reason believe something, then it’s worth looking into. Rather than rely on cognitive dissonance, we should try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

                  Therefore we should try to figure out what their perspective is and if it genuinely implies the conclusions they reach. Then we have to compare our sets of assumptions and see which ones track better with reality. If we all have the same information, we should draw the same empirical conclusions, and then somewhat arbitrary priorities come into the issue at some point once we have a clear picture of what happens. There is no reason, ever, to claim that something is obvious when the only real reason one believes it is because they were raised to (by intellectually irresponsible parents). We’re never going to get anywhere if people don’t learn to move from the random points of view they adopted as children.

                  If we want to solve these longstanding problems, we need to make sure people don’t play fast and loose with empirical statements, nor try to pass of normative statements as empirical ones. When it comes to priorities, however, we need to learn how to compromise and respect each others’ feelings. That’s another rare skill.

  2. How do I resolve the cognitive dissonance of the years of watching left supporters advocate killing unborn babies, hunting down and killing people who hunt, doing unspeakable things to Sarah Palin and her children, making movies about killing George Bush, etc. etc. The sheer volume of the hate that is not just not called out by the left or any of it’s leaders or supporters, but actively excused, and/or covered up is staggering.
    My respect for politicians in general is retrievable only with a post hole digger. If we are putting cognitive dissonance on a scale the left leaves me reeling more often than the right does.

  3. And we shouldn’t forget the pass violent Muslim jihadists get from the left for their behavior. Which includes stoning women and homosexuals. Today. Not in the distant past.
    Cognitive dissonance is a lot like hypocrisy. Easier to see in others than in ourselves or the people or agenda we embrace.

  4. Being fair, Esk did say that it should be a local – city or even community – rather than state issue. As a Libertarian he was uncomfortable with it being state-wide.

    So it would be up to home-owners associations and the like to make that decision.

  5. Scott Esk is not a “Tea Party endorsed” candidate. Several media outlets are reporting that and it drives me crazy. There really is no tea party right now in Oklahoma to speak of. Esk was involved in the tea party years ago before he was a candidate but that group has disbanded.

    • Good to know. That is how he has been described. So he is a tea party candidate because he is a whack job, in the eyes of the press, not a whack job endorsed as a candidate by the tea party.

      • I just make that point is there is no tea party organization here in Oklahoma that can say “this guy is nuts, he’s not one of us and we don’t share his views”. Many people have said that, including the Oklahoma libertarian party. The republican party can’t make statements on candidates during a primary so their hands are tied. We all know he is a vile person.

  6. Cognitive dissonance and its thrall over most of the voting public (and everyone else, for that matter) is a huge societal problem which politicians and the media exploit. If you can link ideas to labels, then whatever you stick the label to gains all the benefits or detriments of the idea connected to it, whether it deserves them or not. Such is the game politicians play: symbolism is based on rules and labels combined with ideals and dreams (or nightmares.) What makes matters worse is that this technique is entirely separate from politicians’ social adroitness, although none of these skills give their policies any substance.

    In order to avoid people being controlled by cognitive dissonance, I advocate that critical thinking be taught in schools, so that people learn to ignore irrelevant associations when forming opinions on things. For example, if an idiot endorses an idea, that doesn’t make the idea bad. That’s a basic logical fallacy called affirming the consequent: If an idea is bad, then its supporters are idiots (the reasoning goes), so if an idiot supports something, that must make it a bad idea, right? Nope; only fools think that the converse of a statement is equivalent to the original statement. Analysis users learn not to assume their instincts are correct, and instead evaluate ideas on their own merits using relevant evidence and logical principles. An idiot can stand for anything, and idiots have to be right some of the time, so the fact that an idiot supports an idea will not lower a rational person’s opinion of that idea, no matter what the rational person’s instinct is.

    Alternative spin: “Even an idiot can see that this is a good idea!” Which really doesn’t help your case, either. Is it so hard to just ignore idiots as evidence one way or the other? It’s not like they have the magical ability to always be wrong; they’re idiots because what they believe has no bearing on reality either way.

    Rationality, critical thinking, analysis… These should be basic skills, and maybe even a requirement for voting.

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