Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance

There is a psychological bias that we as humans have when it comes to attributing causes to behaviour, depending on whether the subject of the attribution is one we like — ourselves, friends, or people we agree with making them part of our ‘in’ group — vs. subjects we do not like.

When it comes to someone we feel positively about we are more likely to attribute positive actions as being a natural result of who they are. Or another way — as a result of intrinsic qualities of the person. Giving money to a homeless person is because they are generous. Compassionate. Anything negative this person does on the other hand is likely to be viewed as a result of the situation or circumstances. Extrinsic from the person. If they snapped at someone — it is because they’re just over tired. Having a bad day. Need to get away from it all for a bit.

These tendencies flip when you are considering someone you dislike. Suddenly this person when giving money to the homeless is just doing it to escape the situation and conversation with the homeless person. When this person you dislike snaps at someone — they are just a grumpy, nasty person. Clearly.

I think that if we’re not careful, that this can translate easily enough into a tendency to rationalise (or not) a particular course of action depending on who our views happen to align with.

I am of course referring to the Blizzard reaction to Hearthstone champion Blitzchung expressing support for the Hong Kong protestors. Blizzard ultimately ‘fired’ Blitzchung and the commentators from his interview. Blitz also had his tournament winnings stripped. A harsh response. With a range of responses and views expressed so far.

Before I get to my response… A quick jump back to earlier this year, and Sport.

Israel Folau

Image result for israel folau

If you’re unfamiliar with the name — let me catch you up. Until recently Israel’s claim to fame was as Australia’s best Rugby player, bar none.

He is also a devout, fundamentalist Christian. Earlier in the year he tweeted that all homosexual people were going to hell. He included drunks, thieves, liars and a few other types in there to round it all out.

Rugby Australia had warned Israel in the past for similar — although not quite this inflammatory — sort of social media post. And in fact had amended his contract to include a clause barring Folau from making… well, exactly this sort of post.

Ultimately — and much to the surprise of absolutely everyone — Rugby Australia ultimately decided to enforce their contract. They terminated Folau, their star player. Just like that a multi-million dollar contract was torn up.

It became a hotbed of debate. Accusations of religious persecution were thrown around left and right. Folau (already a millionaire, mind) even attempted to setup a ‘Go Fund Me’ site to cover the legal expenses of fighting the decision on these grounds. When Go Fund Me pulled the page on the grounds of refusing to support such views, an Australian Christian activist group came in to collect on Folau’s behalf.

The decision through the end of all this though has essentially boiled down to the fact that Folau had consciously, and in full understanding of what he was agreeing to, signed the amended contract curtailing his ability to make social media posts of a bigoted, derogatory or otherwise inflammatory nature that could by association bring the Australian Rugby Association into disrepute.

My Opinion on the Folau Case?

Frankly, I was out for his blood.

I can barely begin to tell you how surprised I was Rugby Australia took action. I absolutely expected some small slap on the hand, a reprimand, a warning that the contract forbade such posts and they most certainly did not represent the views of Rugby Australia.

And then… Just a desire for it all to be swiftly forgotten and the news cycle to move on.

But RA took a stand. With the contract as their vehicle, RA took a stand. And I wholeheartedly agreed. That bastard knew what he was doing. Thought he could use his status to flaunt the rules — but he was in willful breach of contract.

Get. Him.

And then the Blizzard case?

Some have already pointed out that Blizzard technically had the right to do as they did. There was a rule in the tournament covering Blizzard from any commentary that might in some way offend all or part of a given population group.

Damnit.

Because this time I agree with the cause of supporting the rights supposedly guaranteed to the Hong Kong people.

Sure — there are some differences between the two cases. But by and large, to retain any degree of cognitive consistency it is necessary to determine whether I truly believed it right to enforce the contract (or rules) or at least acknowledge that for me it isn’t that at all, and it was the views themselves I was responding to.

And the answer for me came down to…

…both.

In both instances — Rugby Australia and Blizzard were acting within their rights to terminate their respective contracts. They were entitled to do it.

I don’t think anyone can argue that, really.

But acting within your rights doesn’t intrinsically make the act itself right. Causes matter. Intent matters. Putting an end to someone spreading a message of bigotry and hate is a good cause. Not allowing someone viewed as a hero continue to shape the young boys of a whole nation with such messages is something worth doing. That needed to be done.

Blizzard bowing to Chinese pressure — and this is 100% what I believe happened — to protect a revenue stream… *sigh* …Look, if we cut all else away and look at it from a raw business perspective, it was the right call for them to make. There is no world in which the Western fall-out costs them more than the entirety of their Chinese revenue stream. Any belief to the contrary is unfortunately a delusion.

But that doesn’t make it right, or something that we should just accept and let slide. The people protesting in Hong Kong are there to endeavour to protect rights that are legally protected for another 28-years. I’ve even seen some mocking of those attempting to take any kind of gesture-based stand and that isn’t OK either. Sure, as a business Blizzard might’ve been entitled to the action they took.

But so to is everyone who then decides this isn’t something that they, personally, wish to support or associate with.

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13 thoughts on “Cognitive Dissonance”

  1. What will be interesting and I’m sure open for scrutiny will be the revised tournament rules for next season.

    I did see something where the NBA will not be doing before or after game interviews. Probably to keep what’s happening from blowing up further.

    • A ‘smart’ move on the part of the NBA, where the goal is simply to move China back into the closet away from the limelight. Similarly for Blizz, I’ve seen speculation (although I believe it is only that) that live interviews will be cut, with all interviews being instead pre-recorded to allow for cuts to be made before going to air if necessary.

      The goal for them will be to have it all blow over and go back into a state of collective forgetfulness.

      It will work for the most part. The lasting damage to Blizz and NBA both will be minimal.

      I guess what I find interesting to some extent is that certain other companies backed by Chinese money — like Epic — felt confident enough to step forward and say they would not censor. Who knows how truthful that is, but still. I suppose in Epic’s case they may simply have felt that they have a greater need to build positive will in the west than they do in being supported by China (for now).

  2. I believe cognitive dissonance is one of the key indicators of being human. When we get quasi-sentient AIs it wil be cognitive dissonance that allows us to tell them apart from us. My motto since I was a teenager has always been Emerson’s “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

    The stress there, however, is on “foolish”. Embracing cognitive dissonance doesn’t mean being a contrarian for the fun of it. It means taking every case on its own merits and considering as fully as possible the context. It has cross-overs with the currently-unpopular philosophical movement of moral relativism, which even has an off-shot known as “cognitive relativism”.

    You don’t make many friends expressing an attraction, let alone an adherence, to any of these but in nearly half a century of thinking and talking about these things positions around those nodes are about the only ones that have ever rung true to me.

    • Moral Relativism in a contemporary context is rife with issues. Not that Moral Absolutism isn’t, mind. Rather I suspect the truth lies — as it so often does — somewhere in the middle.

      I don’t believe it to be possible to set a singular set of all encompassing morals that cater to all cultures and beliefs. At the same time I do believe there are some immutable moral truths. People have a simple basic right not to be abused, raped or enslaved for example. There is no room to adopt a lens which attempts to justify such or to claim, ‘Well – we wouldn’t do it. But it’s just their way, so who are we to judge?’

      No time for that sort of hand-wavey-washey nonsense when it comes to such core values or violations of human rights.

  3. Could != Should is what I think it boils down to.

    The only part I question your belief in is your 100% certainty that it was a commercial consideration re: income stream from China.

    Let’s look at where the incident happened and the culture therein. Taiwan – Asian culture – hierarchical, face-saving. High probability that the instant action is cut streams, disavow everything to save face, and then kick up the decision on what kind of penalty to inflict to someone higher up on the food chain – either a local Blizzard Taiwan boss or consultation with Blizzard America (if one thinks that might actually happen before a decision is made.)

    If it’s a local boss, the “What would China like?” question is already in their mind subconsciously from the get go, coupled with face-saving by disavowing any relationship with the “deviant” behavior. The possibility of modifying a penalty to be less punitive is unlikely to even occur. It’s an easy path of least resistance to just enforce what’s already there, and get the PR to craft something formally innocuous.

    It could very well be that by the time Blizzard America hears about it, the decision to be made is, “do we support the decision made by our other company arm?” Most businesses will close ranks in that sort of situation, or you insinuate you have zero trust in your other employees to make any sort of decision.

    Not saying that this is what happened, but that is one possibility. Another (more ideal?) scenario is that there were a lot of coordinated conference calls between Taiwan and America before a united decision was reached. In which case, it was a decision by committee, wherein the commercial case with China -might- have been a one driving factor among many.

    Honestly, given the code of conduct is already there and written, the most likely train of thought would have been “this egregious behavior is unacceptable,
    (As in, deviates from what we would expect from someone representing our brand to do, especially unannounced,) let us enforce what we have already stated would be the penalty, period.”

    The odder decision is that regarding the casters. That seems to suggest more of a knee-jerk disavow everything and cut all relationships decision.

    The media jumped on the notice and spun the motives behind the incident supremely well, until few are even considering that there might have been more prosaic and less conspiracy Big Corporation/Kowtow to China reasons in play here.

    For another case of cognitive dissonance, think about whether it actually works in Hong Kong’s favor to have violent rioters running amok in their streets in the name of freedom of speech and democracy.

    From a moral and cultural standpoint, I am personally Western values #1 all the way. From a pragmatic standpoint, destroying their own economy allows China to put their own more central cities into economic ascendance, and steadily encourages more extreme elements to throw their hands up and say, “Look, we’ve been giving you guys a lot of rope to hang yourselves and a great deal of forebearance. We’re finally tired of the noise. You think that was a police state? No, -this- is” and clamp down, sooner and worse.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think shutting up and bending over to allow China to inexorably move in is right either. But finding constructive solutions or ways forward out of this mess is a lot trickier than just declaring and flagging allegiance to one side or another and exerting pressure on the other side.
    Jeromai recently posted…Playing Catch-upMy Profile

    • “Could != Should is what I think it boils down to.”
      Good, succinct summary.

      Wilhelm just shared in the Blaugust Discord this blog post from Blizzard: https://news.blizzard.com/en-us/blizzard/23185888/regarding-last-weekend-s-hearthstone-grandmasters-tournament

      Wherein incidentally they do in fact reverse the decision to withdraw the prize money from Blitzchung, and reduce his suspension to 6 months, and nominally reduce the firing of the shoutcasters to a 6 month suspension. (I am skeptical on this front, if they’re ever invited back… Well, I’ll be surprised. I think this just buys some time for the collective consciousness to move on for Blizz.)

      I don’t believe this post is going to do anything for those upset by the handling of the situation — however it came about, or for whatever reason it was done — but then I don’t think anything short of a full retraction and admission it was the wrong thing to do would.

      As for the violent turn the protests have taken — no, I don’t agree with it per se. I understand it, but I agree that it could pave the way for an escalation from the PRC. But it’s very much a case of two wrong’s don’t make a right. The violent turn doesn’t forgive the transgressions of the PRC or the erosion of the rights supposedly protected in the hand-over agreement.

  4. Although I’m far from an expert, one aspect of this I’ve not yet seen addressed is how the Taiwanese are reacting to this. Taiwan is not China, at least in law and despite what Beijing may want. So by taking this course of action Blizzard locally and globally has been seen to support Chinese policy and interests over those of their own host nation for the tournament; the strongly critical official response by Blizzard’s hosting partner Netease was issued within China not Taiwan. It adds another dimension to the firing of the broadcasters/presenters, they and the protesting gamer were punished for a statement a foreign nation didn’t like. A casual look at the few sources I can find in English appear to suggest the public mood in Taiwan (or at least among gamers there) is very much against this reaction by Blizzard (e.g. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3792820).

    It makes me deeply uncomfortable as a gamer and an individual as the much valued diversity and inclusivity that Blizzard has moved towards could so easily be eroded in future if the dollar increasingly trumps company values.
    Telwyn recently posted…To jump on-board or not? #ArcheageMy Profile

    • Thanks for the link, and you’re right — this angle hasn’t really been touched on elsewhere that I’d seen either.

      I think I’ll be steering clear of any Blizz-Activision titles for a while, but I can’t claim this as any great sacrifice as none were of interest at this moment anywho. I was interested in the Warcraft 3 remaster, but ah well. Can survive without it!

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