Thom Barker

Cognitive dissonance and the art of the vote

Even with the federal election almost eight months away, it already feels like we’re getting into the cycle. Last week both the Conservatives and the Christian Heritage Party (CHP) in Skeena-Bulkley Valley picked their candidates and I sat down with CHP leader Rod Taylor just after he got back from a trip to Saskatchewan and Alberta recruiting candidates.

It is fair to say Rod and I do not see eye-to-eye on most issues.

Nevertheless, I respect him. He does not vacillate from his sincere and firmly-held beliefs and he lays out a political program that is clear and consistent with those, a rare quality in a political climate that is frequently rife with partisan hypocrisy.

In that regard, Skeena-Bulkley Valley seems to be well-served. I have also found over the years that the NDP’s Nathan Cullen is a straight shooter, which is perhaps one of the reasons why his fellow MPs from all parties named him parliamentarian of the year last year.

Of course, just because someone has sincere and firmly-held beliefs does not make them right. Sincere and firmly-held beliefs are often the result of misinterpretation, or worse, wilful misrepresentation of facts.

Journalists have an obligation to ferret out these misinterpretations and misrepresentations, to present, within reason, both sides of an argument. The “within reason” part of that can be tricky. People believe, sincerely and firmly, all kinds of crazy stuff, not all of which are worthy of ink on paper. In short, not all opinions are created equal.

I have often marvelled at how two people, with similar life experience, can look at the same information and come to polar opposite conclusions. Even more stunning is an individual person can simultaneously subscribe to two conflicting ideas. This is called cognitive dissonance (CD).

I believe it is a necessary element of human survival. I feel really bad about how factory farm animals are treated and the impact our carnivorous habits have on the environment. On the other hand, I need to eat, I like meat and buying the factory farmed stuff is the most convenient and cheapest way to get it. I can resolve the conflict in a number of ways, but ultimately still hold both views. People need to square the circle and if you look closely enough at anyone, you will find examples of cognitive dissonance and hence hypocrisy.

I think sometimes, though, we are too quick to play the hypocrisy card.

I’ve been writing a lot of stories about mining and pipelines recently, topics with built-in layers of conflict and controversy.

B.C. Premier John Horgan’s support for mining and (some) pipeline projects has earned him a lot of criticism along hypocrisy lines.

I don’t think that’s fair; I think I know where it comes from, though. The NDP has become associated with social justice issues, but at its core, it is a labour party. And labour issues often tend to go hand-in-hand with social justice issues, central to which is the growing inequity of wealth distribution with its trickle-down impact of, well, just about all societal ills.

Political parties, at least the successful ones, are coalitions and hence, the policies they come up with are compromises.

For the electorate, voting ends up being an exercise of CD. For many of us it means choosing the least-worst option. It means rationalizing our support for a party or candidate even though we don’t agree with them 100 per cent (or even close to that).

I feel like the upcoming vote is going to be an interesting one. It’s hard to view Trudeau 2.0 as one of Canada’s brighter moments, the other guy is a disaster waiting to happen, and the NDP still hasn’t figured out who they want to be. Add to that the fringes bristling with energy, particularly with the defection of Maxime Bernier from the Conservatives, and an electorate that, according to polls, has rarely been less loyal, and we could be poised for a raucous Oct. 21.

I can already feel my own CD sense tingling.

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