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How to Know You Triggered Your Critic Into Cognitive Dissonance, Save Yourself Time in Emails, etc

re: Scott Adams

Over the years of my various web sites, I’ve had plenty of emails that are less than constructive. It is also why I never added the time-sink of a discussion board. It took me a lot of wasted time and emotional stress to become efficient at dealing with unproductive emails. I’m still learning, but my COVID posts forced me to hone my skills. See my process for evaluating emails at the end of this post.

“Tells” for cognitive dissonance

This simple checklist courtesy of Scott Adams would have saved me a lot of headaches had I been consciously aware of it some years ago.

How to know you triggered your critic into cognitive dissonance:

  1. Changes topic.
  2. Goes ad hominem.
  3. Mind-reading.
  4. Word salad.
  5. Uses analogy in place of reason.
  6. Insists it is "complicated" and can't be summarized.
  7. The "So...." tell (indicates a straw man coming)

To this I would add the anti-intellectual destroyers of trust and insight:

  1. Labeling eg “____ denier”, “____ apologist”, “spreader of misinformation”, “narcissist”, etc, plus the usual “ist” terms. A form of ad-hominem, but a scorched earth approach, so worth calling out separately from regular insults. Anyone using this has no argument, the goal is to batter and destroy, not to learn or interact.
  2. Threats eg “will never subscribe/read again”. Manipulative person lacking an argument and too psychologically broken to ever formulate one.
  3. Appeal to consensus (as the basis for the argument)— truth by popular vote, anti-science/anti-logic. A person stating something is true by consensus not only lacks an argument, but lacks the intellectual ability to form one.
  4. Context dropping —  deliberate or ignorant omission of important details, personal circumstances, timeframe, quality of evidence, etc.
  5. Logical fallacies—  many logical fallacies sound reasonable because of the way they are presented, fooling even smart people. Some can be extremely useful for gaslighting people, such as as absence of proof is proof of absence, a powerful tool implented by not looking for what it is undesirable to find/understand/discover.

The above should be separated from logical fallacies. While logical fallacies may be employed when cognitive dissonance holds sway (and/or precipitate it), in general logical fallacies are an error in reasoning and can be debunked. The challenge is that debunking a logical fallacy may precipitate cognitive dissonance, or result in denial of the logic, since it is painful to experience CD.

Categorizing the clues

Consider the general categories into which these can be grouped (some more than one):

Evasion: changes topic, persists in mind-reading (failure to ask/clarify), analogy, "complicated can’t summarize", "So..." straw man.
Mean spirit: ad hominem labeling, threats, repeated mind-reading (never asks/inquires).
Anti-intellectual: changes topic, world salad, appeal to consensus, context dropping, analogy, "So.... " straw man.

Cognitive dissonance can sometimes cause a brain reboot (fascinating to observe), resulting in word salad, though some public personalities seem to be permanently afflicted with it, whether speaking or tweeting. See Scott Adam’s take on word salad.

True Confessions

Some of the “tells” are true confessions as to personal character. They are a gift of sorts, sparing you the time and effort of dealing with the irrational.

It is one thing to evade the issue, but quite another to use Labeling, Threats, Ad-Hominem. These Nasty Three are a red alert that you are dealing with a unstable/aggressive/vicious person. No productive conversation is possible. Add a filter to auto-delete that person’s emails. If approached this way, you also get a “free punch” (figuratively speaking), but indifference via silence speaks more eloquently.

Mind-reading is all too easy to do (eg misinterpretation, assumptions, team play). But when it repeats and makes no attempt to ask/clarify, add it to the Nasty Three, because it is a form of ad-hominem attack that repudiates your very essence, your thoughts—erasing your existence and replacing it with a hallucination.

Immunity — nope

Everyone is subject to cognitive dissonance. Me, you, everyone. The key is how often we succumb to it, and if we self-correct.

The more honest you are with yourself and others, and the more knowledge you have of the list above and similar, the more likely you are to recognize it in yourself. Always check your premises, and consider it a huge win if you find yourself in error (and correct it). While correcting a false premise can be uncomfortable, it ultimately means being happier, healthier, smarter, fairer, etc. It’s not your mistakes that count, but how you address them that matters.

Surely an AI could codify all this and in real-time let us know we are experiencing it? It would be a fantastic psychological biofeedback tool.

Our society today is so full of competing narratives that it can be difficult to know what is true or false, e.g., scientific studies, medical advice, the “news”. Checking premises is therefore a never-ending process, never a once-off. Don’t settle on cognitive commitments without serious intellectual effort.

Here’s a tool from The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense @AMAZON: when experiencing a communication that seems strange or even outlandish, always ask yourself “what could that be true of?” (the other person’s context?). Admittedly this can be difficult and I often have trouble applying it, but it can be a powerful way to avoid an immediate knee-jerk reaction.

Save yourself time dissecting emails

Time/frustration saver for separating the wheat from the chaff.

This process is what I actually do when I receive emails.

  1. Consider the subject of the email first. Sometimes it’s all you need to know.
  2. Consider the overall structure. Setting aside on-topic technical discussions, longer emails correlate strongly to a high level of emotional and/or intellectual investment. Not good or bad by itself, it’s a very strong signal to pay attention.
  3. Check the last part first for any of the signs of cognitive dissonance, because the pattern of <friendly><ad-hominem sucker punch> is often how it goes.
  4. If it passes these checks, read it.

It has been my experience that when I hit any instance/form of the Nasty Three that what follows will escalate. Stop reading, the first land mine is all you need to know.

And... apropos cognitive dissonance

Hotep Jesus interview.

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