Friday, May 6, 2011

Amerinese Water Torture and the Cognitive Dissonance of Spreading Democracy

The death of Osama bin Laden and the Republican primary debate last night have reignited the debate on waterboarding. When asked to raise their hands if they supported the resumption of waterboarding under any circumstance they can think of Tim Pawlenty, Hermann Cain, and Rick Santorum aired out their armpits. (It gets hot under those lights.) Ron Paul and Gary Johnson refused to join the stink fest.

Of course, it was never called torture. It was referred to as "enhanced interrogation." Though, as any 8 year old boy knows, euphemisms are only used when we know we're doing something we're not supposed to be doing. "No sir, I don't know how he got that bloody lip and black eye. We were just 'playing'." This is akin to saying, "Oh that chinese water thing. That's just some drops on the forehead."

When the Japanese and German military performed this "enhanced interrogation" technique during WWII we cried foul. And rightly so. But when we do it, we turn a blind eye.

The crux of the matter is the cognitive dissonance we have when it comes to our team doing the dirty deeds. Last September Bryan Caplan, who blogs at EconLog, asked, "When Are We the Bad Guys?"
"OK, what would we have to do to be the bad guys?"  And my claim is that group-serving bias makes us quick to clear us and condemn them. (emphasis in original)
Last night, Tim Pawlenty said, "There is a group of radical jihadists, and we need to call them by name. And they believe it is okay to kill innocent people in the name of their religion." He's right. It's not okay to kill innocent people for your cause. And Al Qaeda killed 3,000 people on 9/11. And through other attacks have killed more.

But we have gone around the world and, at current count, according to the Iraq Body Count Project, have killed somewhere between 98,170 — 107,152 innocent people in the name of our form of democracy. That's more than 30 times the amount Al Qaeda have killed, yet we still see ourselves as righteous.

Even now, I experience this cognitive dissonance and group serving bias. Thinking of 9/11 makes me feel wronged, personally. As if the attacks were carried out on my family. I don't feel the same way when I think of those others killed. Even though logically I know I should feel 30 times as worse, that was them. 9/11 was us.

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