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May 2008
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Cognitive Distortion

There’s one problem often faced by those of us well versed in the facts of the drug war. We know the history and the science. We’re able to clearly distinguish the difference between negative consequences of drugs and negative consequences of prohibition. Our factual knowledge base is, quite frankly, overwhelming, and all of it points clearly, unmistakably, and inexorably to reform.
We’re even open to carefully considering opposing arguments (which fail the test of reason time after time), thus strengthening our confidence in the comprehensive nature of our information.
This didn’t happen overnight in most cases. It was the result of a lot of research, observation, and critical thinking.
So when we come across someone who opposes reform, we assume one of two things:

  1. They are profiting from the drug war (politically, financially, or sadomoralistically) and thus are uninterested in the truth.
  2. They simply don’t have the facts yet.

Once we’re relatively sure that the person is not category 1, then all we have to do is educate them. Right?
And yet, sometimes we find ourselves baffled by the reaction.
There are individuals for whom you could prove conclusively that:

  • Legalization would result in less crime
  • Legalization would result in reduced use of drugs by children
  • Legalization would result in reduced drug abuse
  • Legalization would result in enormous financial savings
  • Legalization would result in dismantling of dangerous criminal organizations

… and they would still look at you like you were a crazy person bent on destruction of civilization as we know it for even suggesting consideration of legalization, even in controlled, regulated and limited situations.
These people are suffering from a form of cognitive distortion. [The term is most often used in relation to cognitive therapy to deal with things like depression, but I think it’s also appropriate to this situation.]
The cause? An authority figure need combined with a lifetime of propaganda. This combination sets the information down in pathways that cannot be disrupted by mere facts. (The conflict between factual information and established pathways can even cause unpleasant cognitive dissonance, resulting in lashing out against the person with the facts.)
Now I’m probably generalizing way too much in this post, but I’m guessing that a weak and/or fearful mind is much more susceptible to this kind of thing.
On the other hand… if, as a child, you found yourself on occasion saying to yourself “Hey, my teacher got that one wrong,” — and it was because of your own knowledge and not blind adherence to some other authority figure (church/parents) — then I’m guessing you’re probably less susceptible to propaganda and this form of cognitive distortion.
How do you deal with those with cognitive distortion? (Other than years of therapy.) It’s not easy. Those with only mildly set propaganda pathways may be dislodged through gentle yet persistent repetition of facts. It also helps, of course, to eliminate the propaganda reinforcement (we’ve got to do something about the ONDCP).
Maybe, once we’ve legalized drugs, we can use some of those hundreds of thousands of empty prison cells and convert them to mental health facilities to help the cognitively disabled. We wouldn’t want them to suffer.

…. thus ends today’s two-bit psychoanalysis.

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