Laziness, Confirmation Bias and Cognitive Dissonance

            In the mid-1960s there was a hilarious dead-panned comic named Jackie Vernon who was a frequent guest on the Ed Sullivan Show. Among his other routines were stories about a friend named Sig Sakowicz. One story went like this: “Sig believed the world would come to an end on October 10, 1961 (long pause). . .and for him it did.”  At the time I sensed that I was hearing a profound truth in the guise of humor. Though I was a college student majoring in psychology, it was well before I’d heard of confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance or the self-fulfilling prophecy. 

            I recall the psychiatrist and best-selling author M. Scott Peck writing something to the effect that he believed laziness was the original sin. When I read this many years ago, I disagreed. I assumed he was talking about physical laziness. Physical laziness is better defined as a lack of motivation, and it is a character trait of the chronically depressed. However, in retrospect, Peck likely meant mental laziness—the deadly sin of sloth displayed in the arena of the intellect. One of Peck’s major themes was that “there are no easy answers” and that to address life’s complexities one needed to “think” both deeply and thoroughly.

      Adam and Eve’s original sin was in wanting to be like God—to have god-like knowledge and god-like potency. Satan offered them a shortcut to acquiring those qualities. His desire was to have the first couple re-enact his original sin of rebellion against God and he enticed them with the ploy of having god-like knowledge. He led them to believe that thru a simple disobedient act they could acquire a power that would enable them to be master of their own destinies. So, in choosing a shortcut, perhaps a form of laziness did play a role in original sin.    

            We now live in the era of information overload. This is particularly true for those of us who follow the news and who try to make some sense out of our nation’s psychosocial and political climate. Currently, my values are a bit to the right of center. Though I’m registered as a Democrat, I’ll likely vote for more conservative and Republican candidates in the next few years. In trying to stay informed I used to read at least one newspaper every day and some days two–followed the news on Yahoo, on the car radio and on the tube. In any given day I used to hear 15-20 min of talk radio. However, increasingly, it felt like integrating and making sense of what I saw and heard was a hopeless task.

      Sadly, it seems all is spin, hyperbole, half truths, and disinformation. Opinion is routinely presented as fact. I recall receiving several email forwards that were clearly blogs from some “conservative” with an axe to grind. They were someone’s opinion but they were presented as fact. They contained URLs to other blogs as though one could check out the veracity of what was being said. There were even references to Snopes.com attesting to their factualness. But several were bluffs and when you checked with Snopes you found that out.

      Rush and Fox News inform us that we can’t trust the main stream media. What Rush labels “the drive-by media” does seem to have a definite point of view, but they usually present the news without hyperbole or bombast and so their points of view do seem more reasonable. I routinely read op-ed pieces from the New York Times and Newsweek.  Almost daily I listen to NPR and occasionally I watch MSNBC.  I also read the uber-liberal blogs from RSN. Their collective style often reminds me of being lectured to by the rather liberal college professors I encountered at age 19 or 20.  In the 1960s I took what they said as the gospel truth.  After all, who was I to argue with them.  At the time I was majoring in experimental psychology and for many years I believed that science lit the path to the truth—and then I discovered that the supposedly impartial, empirical men of science held “theories” they were desperately seeking to prove, and that some were not above doctoring the data to arrive at their foregone conclusions.

       A few years back I noted the general intractability of many adult’s belief systems. It was apparent that most people tended to cling to their points of view even when the data showed they were wrong, and they went out of their way to discount or ignore facts that didn’t fit into their belief system. I later learned that this is a well researched phenomenon called confirmation bias.  It is a phenomenon, I believe, reflective of one’s comfort zone. I give myself some credit for generally trying to avoid that type of thinking. I try to be open minded and to face the facts regardless of how much cognitive dissonance they cause. This jibes with a point my pastor made in a sermon around 15 years ago. He said that we needed to be open to those from whom we least want to hear—that sometimes there is a message from God in what they are telling us. Of course now, sadly, that same pastor does not like to hear feedback that doesn’t go along with what he believes. But at the time I knew that I had been given a profound truth about God’s economy and at that point I resolved to be more open-minded and to not flinch from entertaining ideas that made me uncomfortable.

      The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth and that Spirit feeds us messages from many sources—some of which are secular. However, I believe that the most sure and frequent method the H. S. employs is the illumination of Scripture. None the less I believe that we have to be open to truth from other sources. I believe we should be open to dissonant facts whether it is in the area of politics or religion. I believe there is a blessing in an honest, prayerful struggle to integrate what we hear and read, and in our attempts to make sense of paradox. When we overly heed our own thoughts and prejudices we, like Sig Sackowicz, are in danger of living out a self-fulfilling prophecy. This happens to persons who can’t seem to stray much from some agenda or game-plan whether self-imposed or placed on them by others. David Koresh and the Branch Davidians are a tragic example which readily comes to mind. Koresh taught that the apocalypse was at hand, and for him and his followers it was.

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About diospsytrek

I am a licensed mental health counselor in Florida. I am also the author of four books. The books have to do with coping with depression and other mood disorders, and the nexus of psychological problems and spiritual warfare.
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4 Responses to Laziness, Confirmation Bias and Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Pamela Johnson says:

    Anyone who has seen Oliver Stone’s movie JFK might remember the beginning where President Eisenhower gives his farewell speech in 1961. Most of us are probably familiar with his caution concerning the “Military-Industrial Complex” and it’s “potential for disastrous or misplaced power.” He states the urgent need for “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.” He warns of the threat of conflict “now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology–global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method.” . . . . the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

    In 1961 time I thought that times were good. This was a wonderful country who would do anything to protect its citizens. We could believe what we read in the papers and what we heard on the evening news. Now I realize that I, along with many, had not taken seriously the President’s admonition to “be alert and knowledgeable.”

    We are indeed people who are “mentally lazy” when it come to pursuing the truth. We do not realize the media is owned by corporate and international banking interests. They are loyal to their own agenda and not ours. Is there at least one newspaper who has printed that “white phosporus” has been used by Israel to destroy innocent Palestinian citizens and children? I had to learn this by reading the online Electronic Intifada, a paper who presents the news from a Palestinian viewpoint.

    You won’t learn such news from American media, which is totally owned by secular “Jews/Zionists.” And the people now speaking out against such heinous practices are not Christians, but the Jewish people themselves. One can find on the internet a group called “True Torah Jews Against Zionism.” They are a non-profit group speaking out for the world’s Jewish people who do not support “the Zionist state called Israel.”

    The issue of Zionism is only one of many that we need to wake up and face. We need to focus our attention on the atheistic excesses which are behind the power of money–“insidious in method and ruthless in purpose.”

    The truth shall set us free, but to find it means we must be vigilant and receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, referred to in some Bibles as “the Counselor.” The Counselor is available to people who do God’s will. His direction, at least in my experience has been to focus on the individual and give him the direction needed for his own spiritual development. He will point to truth both in scripture and in secular writings. We must first transform ourselves before we can clearly perceive what is going on in the outside world. We can’t right wrongs of which we are a part.

  2. diospsytrek says:

    good feedback – you have a lot to say – you could start your own blog at wordpress.com – its pretty easy – i’ve been enjoying it even tho not that many read it.

    • Blog Writer Coming Soon says:

      Well, glad you decided to continue to write, being this post was a year ago. I’ve read several of your articles during the past few hours and have enjoyed all of them. I’ve been in a pretty low mood and I think I may suffer from some form of mild depression (I say that because I don’t want to do anything when I’m down, like clean my house, cook, eat, etc). So reading your articles tonight has really uplifted me. I’m considering starting my own blog as well. Anyway, another good article. Thanks for sharing.

      • diospsytrek says:

        thank you for reading and commenting – hope your mood improves – also hope you start your own blog – its easy to do do with wordpress & i think putting your thoughts out there would help lift your spirits – often, writting is therapy for me – i suffer dysthymia which is a mild to moderate depression of long duration – often life-long – my book “The Unwelcome Blessing” is about coping with depression from a Christian perspective – journaling or blogging is a way of venting & coping – the book is available thru amazon.com carl

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