What cognitive dissonance means in Colorado Springs

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“You can observe a lot just by watching.” — Yogi Berra

Cognitive dissonance is, like “cellar door,” a lovely linguistic dyad. The words trip sweetly off the tongue, yet lose a lot in translation.

To open the cellar door (particularly if you live in a dilapidated Westside Victorian) is to descend into a dark and disorderly realm filled with dusty boxes of junk.

Cognitive dissonance keeps us from opening the door, looking at the junk with new eyes and tossing it out.

The phrase was coined by Leon Festinger in his 1956 book “When Prophecy Fails,” which examined the followers of an apocalyptic cult when the world failed to come to an end. It’s defined as the “feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting ideas, beliefs or values.”

You may have a basement full of useless junk, yet believe that you’re not a hoarder. You may have a head full of absurd, contradictory ideas, yet believe that you’re a rational person.

What do you do?

You can admit error and move on, or you can continue to float serenely down your favorite river — denial.

It may be uncomfortable to hold multiple conflicting beliefs, but building a whole new belief system is even more uncomfortable.

That’s why otherwise sensible Republicans claim not to believe in global warming or evolution, while steadfastly asserting that nothing makes a house safer than an assault weapon or two. That’s why Mitt Romney ran against his own record, and why Bill Clinton still believes he didn’t have sex with that woman.

Here in Colorado Springs, cognitive dissonance isn’t just an obscure psychological phenomenon, but the best way of describing the thought processes of those who lead us or aspire to do so.

They’ve never listened to Yogi. They watch, but they don’t observe. They remember our city’s glory days — the extraordinary population growth through the second half of the 20th century, the boom in high-tech manufacturing, the flowering of religious nonprofits, the steady growth of the military — and cling to the past.

Gay-friendly young professionals? A passing fad — those young people will come to their senses! Massive investment in downtown renovation? Another fad — all downtown needs is more parking!

Get rid of Martin Drake Power Plant? Delusional thinking! Raise taxes? Absolutely no way — we need to be the most business-friendly city in the country, with low taxes, minimal regulation and cheap utilities.

These truths are self-evident. We’re Colorado Springs, and our way is the best way.

Maybe so, but let’s look at some figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unemployment rates, December 2012, selected Colorado metropolitan areas (not seasonally adjusted):

Colorado Springs, 8.8 percent;

Boulder, 5.5 percent;

Denver/Aurora/Broomfield, 7.4 percent;

Fort Collins/Loveland, 5.9 percent;

Greeley, 8.4 percent;

Pueblo, 10.5 percent;

Grand Junction, 8.6 percent.

We’re bouncing along near the bottom. We have a stagnant employment base, declining air traffic, 25 years of deferred public infrastructure investment, and a conservative leadership class.

Our principal asset may be an aging billionaire now focused on getting a National Football League team to move to Los Angeles. We’re a city that openly yearns for the noise, smell and environmental disruption of the oil and gas industry, apparently ready to sacrifice clean mountain air for the sulfurous tang of volatile hydrocarbons.

What about Fort Collins, Denver and Boulder? Their residents are everything we’re not — more youthful, exuberant, welcoming, innovative and ready to invest in their cities. They’re not prisoners of the past, but explorers of the future. They’re busy creating 21st century cities, not age-in-place nursing homes for cranky Baby Boomers.

We recycle the past. We’re busy devising plans to attract 20th century tourists, Mom & Dad & Buddy & Sis, eager to see the USA in their Chevrolet. We have no idea how to attract and retain smart young people. We listen to the hopeful jock worshippers who think that hordes would flock to an Olympic Hall of Fame/Wall of Fame. Talk about recycled ideas — that one was first proposed for a site on the Banning Lewis Ranch more than 25 years ago!

New leadership won’t solve our problems. We need therapeutic intervention on a city-wide scale. Or we can follow the path of least resistance and ignore the lessons of reality.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.” — Yogi Berra

5 Responses to What cognitive dissonance means in Colorado Springs

  1. “What about Fort Collins, Denver and Boulder?”

    add another difference- wealth. Of all the places I’ve lived, CS was certainly the poorest. You have to settle for less when you live in Colorado Springs.

    Thank God We left
    March 26, 2013 at 9:46 am

  2. John,

    We may be missing a key ‘driver’ in this quest to resolve ‘cognitive dissonance’ And that is: relevance.

    The progressive, inclusive, and enlightenment of Boulder, Fort Collins and Denver suits the needs of those residing in those areas.

    The regressive, exclusionary and provincial nature of Colorado Springs suits the needs of those living in Colorado Springs.

    Because a zebra has a neck too short, and stripes rather than spots, they do not desire to be a giraffe. Zebras eat short grass. Giraffes go for high leaves.

    Those things that you find descriptive of Colorado Springs may not need ‘change’ as it quite well suits the desires of those who are happy not trying to be something which they cannot be.

    Invest in retirement homes, buy a Republican bumper sticker and:

    ‘Be Happy, Don’t Worry’

    Rick Wehner
    March 26, 2013 at 10:59 am

  3. Yes, I agree, the sclerotic and ossified nature of the Springs has made me set my sights on Denver and Boulder when I graduate this fall with my Master’s in computer science from CTU.

    Watching a story on PBS about Chattanooga, another city in addition to Kansas City to have ultra high speed Internet , it occurred to me that doing something similar in CS could really drive economic renewal.

    But since the local govt can’t even address the storm water issue, the more realistic approach is for me to move.

    phoebeschmidt@gmail.com
    March 26, 2013 at 8:07 pm

  4. One of your best. Glad to see you still have moments of lucidity, John!

    Dave Gardner
    March 29, 2013 at 2:35 pm

  5. John – Do you really think that “the flowering of religious nonprofits” is part of our “glory days”? I view it as the beginning of our slippery slope downhill into bigotry and intolerance. WHY do you think we lost most of our hi-tech companies here? You guessed it – the flowering of religious nonprofits.

    The El Pomar Foundation, otherwise a boon to the city, certainly took the wrong turn when they engineered having Focus move here, which attracted all of the other similar-minded groups. The result: we lost lots of high-paying tech jobs and gained lots of low-paying jobs for narrow-minded people.

    Phil
    April 1, 2013 at 5:05 pm