Cognitive Dissonance in media on Honduras

The reporting about the political crisis in Honduras that started with the president’s violations of the Constitution in June, is typically characterized by a severe case of cognitive dissonance. The same reaction I have met when talking to foreign political observers.

Cognitive dissonance is when you at the same time hold two beliefs that are mutually exclusive. In the case of Honduras, the two beliefs are that “the popularly elected Congress represents the will of the people in a democracy,” and “Congress carried out a coup d’état.” There is actually a third assumption in this, namely that a coup is carried out by a small group, and that it is always un-democratic.

The problem is of course that a popularly elected Congress, one that truly represents the will of the people, cannot carry out a coup d’état by any reasonable definition of it.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any definition of a coup d’état, but if we try to create one, then the first and most obvious criterion is that it is a change of government that is executed by surprise. As opposed to a revolution. However, a more common definition says that it is executed by a small group, whereas a revolution is executed by a large group.

What a coup d’état and a revolution have in common is that they violate the form of government, they violate the constitution. This is another point of cognitive dissonance in regards to Honduras.

According to the constitution it is the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) that has the last word in interpreting the law. The SCJ remains intact after the alleged coup in Honduras, and it has declared that it, the court, ordered the arrest of Zelaya for violating the constitution.

One cannot at the same time hold the belief that the SCJ has the final word in interpreting the law, and that it was a coup in Honduras. Doing so will lead to cognitive dissonance.

When people are affected by cognitive dissonance, the reaction is typically not to change opinion, but to rationalize the opinion that violates the deeply held belief. The rationalization in relation to Honduras is to say that the Congress and the SCJ are biased, beholden to the oligarchy, and therefore the normal rules for who can and cannot carry out a coup d’état do not apply to Honduras. Honduras is a special case, they tell themselves. It is a banana republic, they add. It is so small and poor and underdeveloped that the normal rules of logic cannot possibly apply there, their subconscious is whispering to them.

Then came the election. Free and fair constitutionally mandated elections, with primaries held long before the crisis drew international attention to the country. A new cognitive dissonance, perhaps the greatest of them all: The coupsters insist on holding free elections, whereas the deposed, once democratically elected, president insists that the people must boycott them, and urges the international community not to recognize them.

It must be hard to reconcile the ideas that the “dictator” wants free elections, but the “democratic president” does not.

So a new rationalization is called in, namely that the elections are not free; that the voter turnout was much less than reported; that the opposition was not allowed to go vote; that the “coupsters” are running a brutal, repressive regime; that tens of people have been murdered or disappeared; and so on. Those afflicted with cognitive dissonance want to believe these things. It is therefore the easiest thing in the world to spread these lies, since the world wants to hear and believe these lies. The truth is much harder to sell.

OK, you may say, but how to convince a person suffering from cognitive dissonance and rationalizations? Unfortunately, it is not easy. Every person takes a different path. It always starts, it seems, with some piece of evidence that does not fit into the puzzle, that becomes the drop that makes the whole thing start unravel, as the person himself starts searching for facts, and stops accepting what he or she hears from “trusted sources”.

There are no trusted sources, by the way. Only you yourself.

However, there is a simple explanation of the facts that does away with the cognitive dissonance. It is to separate two acts on June 28th: The deposing of president Zelaya, and the exiling of citizen Zelaya.

People believing it was a coup do not separate those acts.

The deposing of the president was legal, constitutional, and democratic.

The exiling of a citizen was illegal, unconstitutional, and should be brought to trial. And it still may.

If one distinguishes the issues at hand in this manner, there will be no cognitive dissonance. Just disappointment that it takes so long for the prosecutor to prosecute. However, if the international media had focused on this issue, instead of irrelevant mud-slinging on the country, perhaps they would have worked faster? Just a thought…

3 thoughts on “Cognitive Dissonance in media on Honduras”

  1. Editorial Diario Tiempo, Honduras
    3/12/2009

    En el desarrollo de los acontecimientos en la cámara legislativa del día de ayer, el “día histórico”, parecía haberse regresado –como en la Máquina del Tiempo, de H. G. Wells— a la Nueva Inglaterra, Estados Unidos, del siglo XVII, y el terrible juzgamiento inquisitorial de Las Brujas de Salem, descrito en forma magistral por el dramaturgo Arthur Miller.

    Todos los elementos de fanatismo, de maldad, de represión, de oscurantismo político, de fementido amor por la ley y la justicia, de intolerancia ideológica y religiosa, de desvergüenza, indignidad y deshonor, de entrega a la mentira y a la concupiscencia política, se hicieron presentes y dominaron la escena parlamentaria, de espalda a los procedimientos legales para reafirmar el ahorcamiento de la Constitución, de la democracia y del Estado de Derecho consumado el 28 de junio.

    Y toda esta barbaridad se comete en nombre del pueblo hondureño, de la libertad, la democracia y la majestad constitucional, con el objetivo, se dice, de servir a Honduras y lograr la integración y la unidad nacional en el nuevo gobierno, con absoluto respeto a los derechos humanos!

    Nadie con un mínimo de cordura puede siquiera ignorar, que no disculpar, ese comportamiento de la “clase” política de nuestro país, vívidamente representada ayer por la mayoría aplastante en el congreso nacional. Es previsible, entonces, un retroceso al Medioevo político, con un congreso fabricado a la perfección para el absolutismo gubernamental y como tribunal del Santo Oficio.

    Para la mayoría del pueblo hondureño, que no tiene idea de lo que fue la Inquisición en la época medieval, puede ahora tener una idea aproximada por la forma en que se desarrolló la “histórica” sesión de ayer, martes 2 de diciembre, del congreso nacional para resolver sobre la restitución del Estado de Derecho en Honduras y devolver al titular constitucional del Poder Ejecutivo el mando presidencial usurpado.

    Para cumplir con su cometido, el congreso nacional adoptó las formalidades de un Tribunal de la Santa Inquisición o Santo Oficio con la preparación de un grotesco espectáculo legislativo para condenar –sin pruebas ni debido proceso— a la horca o a la hoguera al gobernante derrocado por el golpe de Estado militar del 28 de junio.

    Solamente así tendría este congreso nacional –frente a los pocos, pero honrados diputados opuestos—la excusa para reiterar el rompimiento de la Constitución, perpetrado por el Legislativo, la Corte Suprema de Justicia, el Ministerio Público y el Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, en el seno de la conspiración de la élite política-empresarial y de las iglesias católica y protestante en comunión con el poder militar.

    La presentación de los “dictámenes” de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, del Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos y del Ministerio Público, plagados de falsedades jurídicas, de suposiciones improbables, de mentiras testimoniales y de cinismo político, lo mismo que de un “documental” propagandístico de manufactura nazi, es, con seguridad, el espectáculo político más burdo y perverso que se ha montado en el escenario hondureño. “Editorial del diario el tiempo Honduras 3 dic 2009.

    1. Quod erat demonstrandum (i.e., “which should be proved”).

      The typical reaction to cognitive dissonance is to become more extreme in ones beliefs. Check it out in Wikipedia.

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