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Cognitive dissonance 18 September 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Canberra, Life, Philosophy, Politics.
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I am suffering, dear reader. I am suffering from cognitive dissonance.

I’m sure you have heard of that before: holding two or more beliefs at the same time, where those beliefs are incompatible in theory and practice.

I often suffer from cognitive dissonance, which is why I could never go into politics. The world is not sufficiently black or white for me to pick a side and not see the other’s merit. There are times I feel strongly one way or another, but often, I cannot reconcile conflicting beliefs to take a position on a matter. How easy it would be to be certain of yourself all the time.

This time around, it’s politics. Today, the Abbott government was sworn in. Out of 20 ministers, there is one female, and 19 male ministers. And I am struggling with this on two levels.

On the one hand, I am disappointed that there is only one woman in cabinet. I think there are plenty of capable, interesting, intelligent, measured, hard-working women in the Liberal Party. And I am sure there could have been more women on the front benches. I believe the government and the cabinet should represent the people that put them there, which may mean they should look like a cross-section of society.

On the other hand, I do not believe there should be a ‘quota’ of women that should be promoted (in any position), and merit should be the driver for appointments. I believe women are not ‘equal’ when they experience positive discrimination. I think they are equal when people no longer see their gender. As a woman, I would hate to think that I get to where I am in life because of (or despite of) my gender. I want to be respected, valued and appreciated for my brains, my abilities and my shutzpah.

I think selection bias, or the fact that one tends to select and promote people who look, feel, sound and behave like oneself, is a driver behind many appointments. And not just in government.

I don’t think it is necessarily done in a malicious way, but I think a leader who is unaware of his or her own bias might easily fall into the trap of promoting those like him- or herself. My selection bias might explain why I am disappointed there are no more women in cabinet. I want to see strong, capable women in places of power and decision making.

And as per my previous post, I think Abbott plays a dangerous game in terms of his outward views on women. Whether he actually holds a low opinion of women or whether the media is just portraying him as such, is not really the point. However, I do think it less than politically astute to give his opponents more fodder, which is what this cabinet has done. And to say he was ‘disappointed’ there were not more women on the front bench was outright silly – he chose the front bench.

There were countless Facebook posts in my feed over the past days reflecting a less-than-flattering view of “I cannot believe any woman would have voted for this government, and now you reap what you have sown” or worse still, “Abbott will take Australia 20 years back in time”. Simplistic gibes.

Because Abbott and his party did win. And it would have taken a significant number of female voters to get him there. It is, however, possible that women who voted for him are also suffering from cognitive dissonance.

The world is not black and white, and it is the varying levels of grey that makes it interesting. I will keep an open mind on this cabinet. May it do good for Australia.

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