Part 3 – Overcoming Dissonance

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” 
― George Orwell, 1984

In Part 2, I explained the eight methods of mind control that manipulative groups use. In this part, I’m going to focus on outlining strategies of manipulation that I think are prevalent in the trans community in particular, in the hopes of helping readers to recognise and combat undue influence, and exercise full freedom of thought. I’ll also be going into the concept of cognitive dissonance, what triggers it, and how to protect ourselves from it.

 

Recognising Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the state of having one’s inner beliefs conflict with one’s observed reality. When we feel that we are unwilling or unable to change our beliefs to reflect reality, human nature dictates that we will subconsciously change our perception of reality to conform to our beliefs.

For some, cognitive dissonance manifests most clearly as a visceral feeling, such as:

  • being so obviously and unquestioningly correct in a debate that you find yourself unable to explain why the other person is wrong, so you withdraw from the discussion.
  • confusion so intense that it’s as if your mind has gone entirely blank and stopped functioning. you cannot string thoughts together anymore, and the only relief comes from dropping the subject entirely.
  • hopelessness. if all ideas presented to you feel ‘wrong’, there must be something fundamentally wrong with you. you feel unimportant and unworthy, and resolve not to think about the issue anymore.
  • an almost paranoid fear that everyone is against you. their ideas conflict with your reality, a reality you are unable to put to words and explain to them. they are attacking you and you feel defenseless: you have the need to turn to others to assure you that your experiences are real.
  • being overwhelmed by some undefinable emotion that is not fear, but experiencing the emotion itself makes you feel afraid. you believe that if you feel this way for too long, it will be too much to bear. you shy away from the thought or idea that triggered this feeling. in the future, you avoid the subject as much as you can.

Of course, simply feeling confident, confused, hopeless, or afraid when confronted with new ideas is not necessarily indicative of cognitive dissonance. There are plenty of reasons why we might feel those things. But understanding how dissonance makes us feel on an emotional level can be the first step to recognising it and confronting it in ourselves. If one or more of these emotional states resonates strongly with you, and is something you experience on a regular basis when confronted with certain ideas, please keep the following paragraph in mind.

Cognitive dissonance is not a shortcoming. It’s not a personal flaw. It’s a quirk of psychology and the way we process information and form opinions, and it’s something everyone on earth can experience, and most likely will experience at some point in our lives: sometimes only on a benign, inconsequential level, and sometimes in a way that negatively affects us on a day-to-day basis.

The only way to protect ourselves from cognitive dissonance is to be willing and able to change our inner beliefs as we learn and grow. As people under the influence of manipulative groups are likely to be punished if their views stray too far from what’s “acceptable”, they may fall victim to cognitive dissonance as they try to rationalise why observed reality does not reflect the group’s ideology.

 

Inducing Dissonance

Here are some conflicting ideas I’ve seen promoted within the trans community. To be clear: this is not a personal value judgement on which of these ideas is correct. There are some where I don’t think either of the ideas are correct. This section only serves to point out that each set of statements are contradictory and that both beliefs cannot reasonably be held at the same time.

Gender is innate
Gender is a social construct

Being trans is inherent
Some people detransition

Trans people need medical help for their physical dysphoria
Gender identity is unrelated to physical sex

Gender is an identity
Gender is a hierarchy

Gender is nebulous and has no definition
Misgendering is hurtful 

Here is a table outlining the beliefs people may form when confronted with two of these conflicting ideas. Please take note that neither ‘adjusting’, ‘repackaging’ or ‘denying’ are inherently good or bad ways to respond to new information because new information is not always accurate. This is not a table of which beliefs are true or false. It is simply an outline of several different ways we might be compelled to act when confronted with two conflicting ideas.

 

Belief Observation Conflict Adjust Deny Repackage
Gender is innate Gender is a social construct Social constructs are not innate; they can be deconstructed Gender identity is not innate. My gender identity is what I relate to the most, based on the current social constructs prevalent in my own culture Gender is innate. We’re all born with an inherent gender identity. Only gender roles are a social construct. Gender is a social construct that must be upheld. Deconstructing gender means trans people would cease to exist.
Being trans is inherent; if you identify as trans, you were always trans Detransitioned people exist Being trans is not necessarily a permanent state; knowing yourself to be trans may not mean that you will always be trans Some people identify as trans, and then cease to identify as trans. They were trans, and now they are not anymore. Detransitioned people were never trans. They were confused, or lied about being trans. Detransitioned people were trans, and they still are; their former gender identity is still legitimate and they are in denial
Gender has nothing to do with physical sex Trans people want HRT and SRS to treat their dysphoria If dysphoria comes from societal influence, it should be eased by changing society, not by changing one’s physical body My idea of what a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ should physically look like is innate. I was born with a brain more reminiscent of the opposite sex. I’m not pursing treatment because of my gender identity, or how my dysphoria makes me feel. I’m doing it simply because I feel like it. Dysphoric trans people are suffering from internalized transphobia and cissexism. They want to look like a cis person, because they are ashamed to be trans.
Gender is an identity; it can be fun Gender is a hierarchy; it can be violent Women are victims of violence and oppression: all genders are not seen as equals in society We experience oppression based on the gender we’re percieved as. Disidentifying from a social hierarchy does not remove its presence in our lives. Gender as an identity and gender as a hierarchy are unrelated concepts. We experience oppression based on the gender we identify as.
Gender is nebulous and has no meaning or definition Misgendering is devastating If gender doesn’t tell us anything about a person and is just a label, why should it be offensive to be referred to as another gender? Gender isn’t meaningless: it’s how we categorise personalities. When someone misgenders me, they deny who I know myself to be. Misgendering is devastating because it reminds me of my dysphoria, not because it denies my gender identity. Because gender has no inherent meaning, trans people get to collectively decide how important it is.

 

If you recognise any of these thought processes in yourself, I would strongly to urge you to consider the issue at hand. Is it possible that, based on conflicting information you have received, you currently hold two beliefs which contradict one another? And if so, does analysing these beliefs make you feel a spike of one of the strong emotions outlined in the previous section, followed by the urge to shut down your train of thought, and focus on something else?

And, taking into account Lifton’s concept of thought reform, is it possible that some avenues of thought are off-limits to you? Would your friends, acquaintances, or community members feel the need to punish you in some way for having certain thoughts, or using certain terms in the privacy of your own mind?

The only advice that can be given to overcome cognitive dissonance is to question everything: to analyse every belief and hold no ideas sacred. This is a lot more difficult to achieve when a person is under the influence of a manipulative group. As a result of the mind control methods discussed in Part 2, openly questioning our held beliefs can have consequences, such as being publicly exposed and humiliated, being shunned and discarded by friends, or simply realising that the world isn’t as easy to understand as we originally thought. Sometimes, we feel that overcoming our dissonance is just not worth the consequences. That is one reason why mind control is so successful. People in manipulative groups forget that there is more to the world than the subculture they’re embroiled in — that inner peace and balance is always, objectively, more important than pleasing other people.

 

Recognising Manipulation

Guilt and fear are the emotional experiences which lie at the core of every manipulative group. The reality is that we have probably all, at some point in our lives, gone out of our way to make someone feel guilty or afraid in an attempt to control their thoughts or behaviour. I can think of one time that I, personally, sent a very cruel and emotionally loaded message to someone online who had expressed an opinion that I found abhorrent about a topic that I was sensitive about. Though I wasn’t consciously thinking this at the time, my goal was to make them feel so awful about themselves that they were forced to reconsider their views — to emotionally devastate them to such a degree that they would have no choice but to see things the way I wanted them to.

And although most of us have probably done something like this in the past, that doesn’t make it okay. As adults, we have to accept that we do not have the right to try to dictate other people’s thoughts or behaviour, no matter how strongly we feel about the matter. If we cannot sway someone with facts and reasoning, we do not then go about trying to change their mind by toying with their emotions. That is manipulation, by definition. And if we succeed in our manipulation to the degree that we are able to control a person’s emotions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours due to the way we have guilt-tripped and terrorized them, that is known as undue influence, or mind control.

We know that this is how manipulative groups thrive. Thus, I think it’s extremely important to be aware of what is happening when someone is trying to change your mind in some way, whether it’s through gentle persuasion, friendly debate, or heated argument. We all sometimes experience conflict when it comes to our personal views, and we all wish everyone could see things the way we do. This is why it’s so crucial that we understand how to ethically put forward our own opinions, and how to recognise when someone else is failing to do so.

 

Logical Fallacies

A logical fallacy is, simply put, a flaw in reasoning. When we’re analyzing our own and other people’s opinions, it helps to know and understand some of the common pitfalls we can encounter when trying to make sense of new ideas.

This table of logical fallacies includes the names of some fallacies, as well as some questions we can ask ourselves during debates to make sure that we are being logically consistent, honest, and fair. We can also apply these to other people’s arguments to ensure that they are engaging in good faith with us, and to help identify any red flags for manipulation or dishonest intent.

 

Fallacy Ask Yourself…
Ad Hominem Am I ignoring this person’s argument in favour of criticising their character? Would this argument be more palatable if it had been made by someone else?
Strawman Am I misquoting or paraphrasing this person while responding to them? Are my personal feelings interfering with my perception of their argument?
Appeal To Emotion Am I quoting murder, rape, or suicide statistics when the issue at hand is unrelated to physical violence? Am I equating verbal debate or personal opinions with physical violence?
Tu Quoque Did I address and attempt to clarify or correct the problems with my argument? Am I more focused on proving this person wrong than being factually correct myself?
Loaded Question Was my response unfair or cruel? How would I feel if someone said this to me? How would I respond?
Bandwagon Can I think of any cases where the overwhelming majority turned out to be in the wrong? In 50 years, when there is more information available about this topic, will I feel secure about my current views?
Appeal to Authority Have I done enough of my own research on this topic? Have I considered the views of more than one authority figure? Do I understand what I learned, or am I just repeating it?
Composition/Division Do I form views based on categories, rather than individual circumstances?
False Equivilence Am I comparing the issue at hand to a different issue? Can I explain my points without making any comparisons?
No True Scotsman Have I noticed a pattern of in-group members immediately being dismissed as ‘fake’ when they do something wrong? Does this make me feel safer within the group, or less safe? If I did something wrong, would this reasoning be applied to me?
Sunk Cost Would I feel ashamed if I conceded to this person’s argument? Is my pride on the line?

 

 

Linguistic Ambiguity

One manipulation technique that I have noticed has become prevalent in online debates, particularly about abstract concepts such as sexuality and gender identity, is linguistic ambiguity. Transcribed from this youtube video,

Word salad is when you just spew a series of words that actually don’t really connect to each other within the context of the speaker’s own sentence or paragraph — nor do they relate to the question or the conversation. […]

We’ve taken that term […] and applied it to what politicians do. So you ask a politician a direct question, and they word salad the answer. You get a sequence of words that is about the subject, that clearly is around the question that you’ve asked or that is appropriate to that sequence in the conversation, but it’s really not answering anything and it’s really not saying anything.

[…] And it is confusing. Absolutely, it’s confusing. It’s a technique that we’re trained to use in neurolinguistic programming and hypnosis to draw the other person into a trance. When you use a sentence that has neurolinguistic programming it’s called “linguistic ambiguity”. So you say a sentence that doesn’t really follow it’s own syntax, and as the person becomes confused […], as you’re talking to them and you’re using your special hypnotic tone of voice which is so smooth and calm and relaxing, you’d say something like,

“I don’t know if it was time for you before to relax, and sleep down, now, or maybe just later, what we could find ourselves doing is going into that state right before sleep where people find they can dream and have everything that they ever desired…”

And that sentence, if you write it out, is like, what– my English teacher would punch me ’round the back of the head. It doesn’t go anywhere, it doesn’t make sense. But by using word salad — “linguistic ambiguity” — I induce a state of […] positive confusion, which then allows the brain to go into this submissive state of, “I don’t really know what he’s saying, I’ll let the embedded commands go in.”

If that word salad that I just gave you, if it made you feel relaxed it’s because I used the words “relax”, “go down”, “to dream”, “to sleep”… that’s where the embedded commands go in.

This is something to look out for when someone puts forward an argument. If someone’s viewpoint is expressed in a way that is very long, rambling, and difficult or impossible to understand, it could be an example of manipulative linguistic ambiguity. Look out for instances where the argument starts off simple and reasonable but then quickly spirals out of control and become confusing. Also, look out for instances where an argument contains several buzzwords that you recognise and understand, but lacks a cohesive overall meaning.

I could also use word salad to introduce things that trigger things in you. I could use it to imply that you’re […] a nasty person, that you’re dishonest, that you’re immoral…

If someone’s argument is dense and “went over your head”, yet triggers a feeling of shame, hurt, inferiority, helplessness, or any number of similar emotions, this is a major red flag for linguistic manipulation.

 

Conclusion

People who are in and around the trans community simply do not deserve to be treated like this. Nobody deserves to be given constant misinformation, and presented with ever-shifting goal posts so that they go through life with a constant, lingering feeling of confusion and uncertainty. Nobody deserves to be manipulated, even “for their own good”, by being bombarded with emotionally loaded rhetoric and black-and-white value judgements about their personal sense of morality. It is possible to make up our own minds about important issues without anyone else intervening. It’s possible to form our own views on what’s true and what’s ethical without being afraid of what will happen to us if other people don’t like it.

To close this chapter, I’d like to put forward a thought experiment, in the form of a question.

Imagine that for twenty-four hours, nothing that you thought or said could be held against you. For twenty-four hours, you could think and say whatever you wanted without fear of criticism, ostracisation, or backlash. No matter how controversial, or inconsequential, you could focus your mind on anything you chose and ponder any notions that occurred to you.

During these twenty-four hours, what would you choose to think about?

What would you choose to say?

How would it make you feel?

And how does it make you feel, presently, to imagine this?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s