Lies my teacher told me: everything your american history textbook got wrong (new york: touchstone, 2008)
Lies My Teacher Told Me Questions
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What is cognitive dissonance? What part does it play in the US's evolving conceptions of Indians?
This is the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.
Dissonance increases with:
•The importance of the subject to us.
•How strongly the dissonant thoughts conflict.
•Our inability to rationalize and explain away the conflict.
Dissonance is often strong when we believe something about ourselves and then do something against that belief. If I believe I am good but do something bad, then the discomfort I feel as a result is cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is a very powerful motivator which will often lead us to change one or other of the conflicting belief or action. The discomfort often feels like a tension between the two opposing thoughts. To release the tension we can take one of three actions:
•Change our behavior.
•Justify our behavior by changing the conflicting cognition.
•Justify our behavior by adding new cognitions.
Dissonance is most powerful when it is about our self-image. Feelings of foolishness, immorality and so on (including internal projections during decision-making) are dissonance in action.
If an action has been completed and cannot be undone, then the after-the-fact dissonance compels us to change our beliefs. If beliefs are moved, then the dissonance appears during decision-making, forcing us to take actions we would not have taken before.
Cognitive dissonance appears in virtually all evaluations and decisions and is the central mechanism by which we experience new differences in the world. When we see other people behave differently to our images of them, when we hold any conflicting thoughts, we experience dissonance.
Dissonance increases with the importance and impact of the decision, along with the difficulty of reversing it. Discomfort about making the wrong choice of car is bigger than when choosing a lamp.
This come up in the book "Lies My Teacher Told Me" when the author is discussing textbook coverage of Columbus' voyage:
After arriving in the 'New World', Columbus discovered natives who knew where gold could be found. Columbus desperately needed a big find like that to make his voyages seem worthwhile. So he began using some of the most horrific means imaginable to extract every ounce of gold from the natives, ultimately being responsible for the death of something like 99% of the human population on one island.
Obviously, most normal people couldn't stomach such measures outright. But cognitive dissonance and inventive thinking quickly provided a solution: natives were 'primitive' and 'savage', and according to some people even 'soulless'. Wiping them out was therefore no more a crime than pulling weeds from a garden.
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