Cognitive Dissonance Among the Apologists for Tyranny

20 October 2011


By most accounts Colonel Gaddafi is now dead, killed in Sirte, his hometown. There will, of course, persist stories of his survival and escape by those who want to believe or need to believe in the now deceased dictator, which in this case really means believing that an individual can defy the consensus of the international community. Because Gaddafi was killed in a military assault on Sirte, the circumstances of his death are surrounded by the fog of war. What I have pieced together from several media outlets is that Gaddafi was first captured alive, attempted to flee, and in flight was shot dead in a sewer. Strategic Forecasting additionally claimed that Gaddafi’s body was brought to Misurata where it was dragged through the streets. Similar events were reported in other media.

Throughout the campaign against the Gaddafi regime by NTC rebels it has been fascinating to watch the response to the media coverage of this struggle. The BBC has incorporated extensive reader comments into most of its stories, and I have noted with interest how many of these comment forums were disproportionately dominated by Gaddafi sympathizers who expressed contempt for Western media coverage of the fighting and confidence that Gaddafi and his supporters would ultimately triumph. These views are not likely to suddenly vanish with the admittedly symbolically important end of Gaddafi himself.

Here is a comment on a video purporting to show Gaddafi captured:

Total bullshit! Gaddafi wanted “the power to the people” and they had the power! Gaddafi never murdered women and children, this is a blatant propaganda lie, which was never proven! Even Human right groups stated that 250 people were killed on BOTH SIDES in clashes in Bengazi and Misrata! So don’t talk shit!

In this particular forum the writer of the comment was preaching to the choir. This comes from the Youtube site for RussiaToday, which is an English language news organization that purports to give a Russian perspective on the news, and provides coverage that emphasizes the evil intentions (and sometimes mere stupidity) of NATO and western governments.

We know from the fall of several dictators over the past few years that their spokesmen will go on claiming imminent victory right up to the moment that the spokesmen themselves become hunted fugitives. There is a possible explanation for this in what I wrote about Confirmation Bias and Evolutionary Psychology: believing in oneself against all rational odds probably has a significant differential survival advantage.

I also recently attempted to demonstrate (in David and Goliath) how petty dictators — think of Gaddafi, Mugabe, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosovic, and so forth — are able to hang on to power by appealing to both sides of the dialectic intrinsic to human nature of the simultaneous veneration of power and rebellion against power. The petty tyrant demonstrates his power through internal repression and immiseration while demonstrating his rebellion through external defiance of the international community.

When a dictator falls, this careful balance between internal power to be venerated and external rebellion to be admired collapses along with the power structures of the society created by the dictator. For those who have bought into the dictator’s illusions, this would prove to be a difficult moment in which the world would seem to be out of balance. The obvious response of course, in accord with the survival value of belief in oneself, is to continue even more strenuously to assert that your man was right all along and the nefarious, evil, and cowardly forces that have led to his downfall will eventually be rebuked. History will be the judge, they believe, and this future historical record, with the moral resolution it will provide, can be put off indefinitely, thus preserving the illusion indefinitely.

Still, I have to imagine that some significant degree of cognitive dissonance remains. I also remarked in David and Goliath how Gaddafi’s daughter continued the absurd rhetoric about the “Libyan people.” The consistent line of the Gaddafi regime, its sympathizers, and its mouthpieces, has been that the Libyan rebels were “rats” who would be hunted down, or that they are mindless pawns of a malevolent NATO conspiracy to remove Gaddafi from power. To believe, on the one hand, that Gaddafi represented “the people,” and to see on the other hand masses of Libyan people supporting the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, large numbers of rebel soldiers willing to fight and die in battles of days’ or weeks’ duration, an inchoate anti-Gaddafi political movement that has managed to survive for many months under difficult circumstances, and people celebrating the death of Gaddafi in the streets, must contribute to the cognitive dissonance of even the veteran denier of facts on the ground.

The response to this cognitive dissonance has been the continued assertion of Gaddafi’s good intentions and good works, the continued moral vilification and demonization of the rebel forces, disproportionate reportage of rebel atrocities and regime crony suffering, and the continued emphasis on the role of NATO and the NATO powers in the fighting in Libya.

Where is this all going? In Libya, where people actually had to suffer under Gaddafi, who had family members detained and tortured by his secret police, and who were forced to read his sophomoric Green Book, it is all going nowhere fast. Some few will continue to believe in Gaddafi, but not enough to prevent the political and military forces present in Libya today from attempting to create a successor society to Gaddafi’s Libya. And while the Gaddafi apologists pointed to the role of NATO air cover in the fighting, they will not be able to point to any NATO occupying forces in the reconstruction of Libya, thus making it difficult to rally remnants of the regime against a perceived external enemy and recreating the dialectic of internal power and external rebellion that is the mark of so many sick societies.

Outside Libya, however, the rancor and ressentiment will live on, given voice by Gaddafi’s surviving children and those who fled with the Gaddafi diaspora, transmogrifying itself over time and incrementally folding itself in with anti-Western sentiment the world over. Those within Libya with the strongest feelings will chose an angry exile and contribute to this rancor. However, even this familiar anti-Western and anti-American sentiment will have limits, because the Chinese economy will continue to grow, and as Beijing uses its growing economic power to involve itself around the world, it will not be able to retain an image of beneficence indefinitely, and it has long ago abandoned any pretense to representing the vanguard of revolutionary opposition to Western interests and the international consensus.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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4 Responses to “Cognitive Dissonance Among the Apologists for Tyranny”

  1. MisterEgo said

    A dictator removed for a lesser dictator… I wanted to include that at least Americans don’t kill you by calling secret police into your house, but then I realized they just target you randomly with high tech gadgets or promote sectarian/other violence in a country they are then eager to exit out of.

    Why don’t you do a piece on Bahrain when you get a chance? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts about it. Saudi Arabia as well, maybe Oman but I am bordering on my knowledge now. I’d mention Reagan, as well, but then, I am probably missing even more stuff from the American history.

    You mentioned China. China has the potential of a fart in space to become a superpower of the kind that America currently is within the next 50 years if ever. There is to much power decentralization currently going on through globalization for China to make a difference.

    And the excursions of America in the Middle East and Africa today pretty much mean that the American hegemony will continue as long as the last drop of oil exists in the oil rich countries. You are effectively removing the Chinese and Russian influence from the region by the promotion of “democracy”.

    I’d be the first to support America( and EU) if it did something other then simple expansion of it’s interests. It has no clue for the concept of universal interest and true democracy. Fucking 68 personnel in UN peacekeeping missions. Fucking Bangladesh has 10 736+.

    How do you expect anything less then resentment when “humanitarian missions” are performed while at the same time bullshitting about democracy.

    You have forsaken the ways of your founding fathers long ago. People that I have learned to admire greatly in the past few years for their deep care for the general well being of their country, building robust democratic systems to be perverted by those that came after. Not that that doesn’t happen with every government.

    There was a time when congressional authorization was required for a war to be fought (1798). Even then, barely enough weapons (ships) could be made. Right now it’s “meh, nice to have it, but can do without it”. UN is a joke not because it’s that by definition, but because it’s most powerful member does not consider it for anything more then a chat-room.

    Hopefully today’s wars will continue to be fought with proxies and economy and somebody will not be crazy enough to issue the launch codes…

    Lead by example, don’t complain about resentment, you sound like Gaddafi. At least his almost whole family is dead, so he has a reason or two to become a martyr in the eyes of the misled.

    America has yet to feel the true horror of pure, unconstrained nationalism that drives her (blowing wind in the sails of it’s enemies). My country has felt it. I know from experience that it will take more then 4 airplanes to bring the delusion crushing down. Hopefully it won’t be to costly for the world as a whole.

    Europe has always led when it comes to progressive ideas, for better or for worse. Perhaps it can change the world again. Or not…

    • MisterEgo said

      I always enter into a reply calm, and then the positive feedback loop of passion in writing kicks in and I end in less then acceptable mood at the end of it. Damn… I’m never going to be a politician if I fail to control this 🙂

      Interests are interests. To bad at least the ideals don’t get thrown out of the window (democracy, etc…) in the people at least when it comes to finding excuses for the actions of their government, not their own :). Then again, it could just be the spin that’s placed.

    • geopolicraticus said

      Dear MisterEgo:

      I am very happy to see that you are suffering no cognitive dissonance on the account of Gaddafi’s fall. On the contrary, you seem quite certain in your moral clarity.

      There is something to be said for lesser dictators, and it is this: they tend to kill far fewer people. There is also something to be said for the surveillance state as opposed to the police state, and it is this: the surveillance state may monitor you, but the police state is likely to take you into custody and shove a garden hose down your throat. While it would be better if there were no surveillance state at all, having to choose the lesser or two evils I would definitely opt for the surveillance state over the police state.

      Please note that, in regard to China, I specifically formulated my remarks in terms of the Chinese economy. There are more than a billion people in China, and their getting and spending is intrinsically powerful quite apart from any considerations of the Chinese military. I agree with you that the Chinese military will not be a peer competitor of the US military until some time in the future well beyond fifty years.

      You are absolutely right that I should write about Bahrain. I have been thinking about doing so, which means that I need to do some research. I hope to get to this soon.

      Can you name me a political entity — anywhere in the world, anytime in history — that has ever acted other than to further the extension of its interests? Nation-states have no friends, as has often been said, but only interests.

      Very Respectfully Yours,


      • MisterEgo said

        Hm… You are right, in that lesser dictators kill fewer people. Whether Gaddafi is a greater dictator is another question though. He probably hasn’t managed to butcher, even by conservative estimates, a 100 000 or so people (Iraq). Directly or indirectly. Even if you don’t count every victim in Iraq as a direct American consequence (you can’t), I’m quite sure that when you add up the total sums of all deaths by American hands in the last 20 years of foreign policy, I’m quote sure it will be a greater estimate. Even when you count the number of lives you “saved” from “dictators”. Few dictators managed to butcher 100 000+ in the last two decades… And I’m quite positive the Americans failed to intervene to stop it. I guess Ruanda is a gross example of a genocide, though I doubt that was a dictator. It seems to me that you pretty much conceded in the last paragraph that Americans do things out of altruism (like promoting democracy) so these accusations in this paragraph and the one bellow here are slightly pointless.

        Somebody smart in your country realized that it’s cheaper to promote “democratic” revolutions then to send in the army… probably democrats, since republicans are obviously stupid as proven in the last 8 years. Libya is not even close to being the first example of that. I just remembered Serbia(Kosovo)… And I mentioned Reagan earlier(it seems Contras were “democrats”… funny that they sound almost communist or something since they are so renowned for human rights violations, i was quote sure Contras weren’t (partially) democrats , until i jut checked Wikipedia). At least you are consistent in that respect, promoting “democracy”.

        Back to your question, You also asked me to find a country that didn’t abide by their best interest… That’s a though one. Wars are remembered… and I doubt that there is a “right” side in war. I guess that any country that was overrun by Hitler that didn’t stand a chance pretty much did something against it’s interest(Poland, Greece, Yugoslavia, Belgium etc, in contrast to Romania, Bulgaria, maybe Turkey)… but that’s way to gray, so it’s not the best of examples. War never is.

        I can’t find a truly good war example but I remember one peculiar thing about WW1. When Austria-Hungary gave that famous Ultimatum to Serbia after the killing of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo that was supposed to pretty much end it’s sovereignty, Serbia, an Ally or Royal Russia, asked it’s “powerful” ally for direction. The answer was pretty much: comply with as many points of the ultimatum as you can. Short story long, Serbia complied with all but one, and the rest is history.

        It’s history though, because Russia intervened. Emperor Nikolas II was fond of it’s ally, Serbia, though I seriously doubt it was in it’s best interest to give an ultimatum to Austria-Hungary(and Germany). I guess they thought he bluffed. He obviously didn’t. There was some interest for sure, but I doubt that a few million Serbs was enough to start a European, if not World War when his country was anything but prepared for it (and I am quote sure he knew that it wasn’t). Sometimes, it’s about principles (English with Belgium and Poland maybe?). I wanted to mention Taiwan and 1996 here but America is the biggest bully, so I can’t really count that. It was principles, at least.

        Lets move away from war. It’s though to find a “good” example there.

        You asked a tough question, but It seems I already answered it in my post before by accident… It’s not a glorious example, but it sure stings that country’s treasury…

        Countries that probably shouldn’t care:
        Bangladesh 10,736 (I had a feeling they were a dictatorship to explain it away, but boy oh boy, they are anything but)

        Pakistan 10,691
        India 8,935
        Uruguay 2,489
        Brazil 2,269 (why should they bother)
        South Africa 2,088
        China 1,995
        Italy 1,866 (and these)
        France 1,771 (and these)
        Indonesia 1,691
        Spain 1,109 (and these)
        Argentina 1,023 (and these)
        Ukraine 366 (these are probably bullied)

        etc… I guess the best examples are the first few, the rest are probably being pushed into it by Nato/EU/Russia if they are in Europe. South Africa is kind of present, though they might not fall into altruism that much. I noticed Italy and France there… interesting… America and Russia are the funniest there:

        Russia 362
        United States 82 (this seems updated, it was 56 if I was not wrong)

        I guess Americans and Russians don’t like to spread peace (peacekeeping missions). They are more about pure humanitarian causes, people in distress… I wouldn’t count Russia in here if they didn’t stomp out the Georgian military after they repulsed them (15 000+ dead). It’s obvious that it was a lesson in humility (Nato satelite) no matter how true are Medvedev’s words about crushing of any military power Georgia had (to prevent another invasion).

        Bangladesh… democracy (no idea how strong, but a democracy). 158 million people. Meh economy. Probably not worth it to keep 10 000 soldiers stationed in some shithole because of economic ties and “country pride”. I could be wrong, did not exhaustively research it, but It’s quite probable that there aren’t any Bangladesh oil companies in whatever country they are currently in. Here is a list:

        And i know it’s not about oil. It’s just a good euphemism for your interests.

        It’s not even your interests. You had nothing to look for in Iraq(Iraq was singled out long before WMD’s), Afghanistan(went in for Al Quaida, found Taliban… at least it’s about “democracy”)… It was about your nationalism (sorry, patriotism). 3 000 people dead… another Pearl Harbour. Yada yada… lots of feelings hurt…

        Obama/Bush smartened up (Bush after the fact). They realized a lot less fuss is generated with Star Wars(Pakistan) then with occupations. And “democratic” revolutions, of course. The number of casualties pretty much stays the same when it comes to bang for buck (terrorits/collateral)(2000+ in Pakistan, few if any terrorists, etc). Of course, you again generate “terrorists” with so many collateral, but that’s life, and you generate less.

        You think it helps. Droning and stuff. You probably feel great about it. Maybe it does… I am not so sure.

        Anders Behring Breivik. Briliant in many respects. Luckily not brilliant/resourceful enough (especially since he is a Neonazi). 90+ dead (teenagers). And his greatest feat? Misdirection. Blew up some shitty government building to clear the path for his real objective. The Socialist youth. His true feat. Virtually undetected for hours after the event (he could have slipped out of the country if he wanted to/had resources, he didn’t).

        1 guy, 90+ deaths. Brilliant strategist/tactician. I am not a person that dishes on people just because I don’t like them. Everybody has his bad/weak spot. I value true quality no matter where it arises from (the good or the bad).

        Those 19 goatfuckers in those plans had lots of balls but zero brains. “Luckilly” your defenses were as inadequate as most of your foreign policies where (14 ready for combat planes in the US, virtually zero cooperation with civilian authorities in case of emergency, the best plan your million star generals could imagine was a hijacking of a lone airplane). They slipped through. Lucky stupid goatfuckers from Saudi Arabia.

        Imagine if they had the ingenuity of Brevik (they still caused more deaths per person, but barely/luckily). I wanted to mention specific places I would target, but I’ll disdain, just in case somebody stupid might read this,no matter how small the chance. They went for your pride, not for the greatest number of dead.

        Stupid fucks weren’t even interested in learning to land when tutored by some obviously extremely stupid (mind my own business) Americans (Florida, i think). At least keep a fucking low profile.

        Funny thing is that I was 11, I came home from school, entered my room to see the twins on fire on the TV. It just happened minutes ago (and then the second one before my eyes, reality tv…), 2PM my time, 9 or so your time. My uncle cheered. I was happy with him as well. Why woudn’t I be… after 1999. Who was to blame me? It was within my right to cheer/be happy. That’s American democracy… I was 11 of course. Even I got caught up in that shit. I know better now.

        It’s not about those people in the towers, they pretty much minded their own business. It’s about stupid sheep (sorry, the original contained more expletives) like you, that willfully talks about things like foreign policy and doesn’t even attempt to at least condemn it. Interests rule. No matter how many corpses (ours or theirs) it takes to achieve them. How is that different from Hitler? Your “chosen people” are (fortunately) a little bit wider group. Or at least you don’t worry about mundane things like racial purity so you keep a lot of people alone…

        When people like you get their hand at power, stuff happens. Only ruthless and those with zero morals truly survive politics. Which is why fucks like Bush I and II, Obama and Clinton(and a long list before), people that never read the US Constitution, can even come within a hundred miles of the White House, or The Capitol.

        It’s bad this ( is toilet paper. It’s bad that EU is just a Germo-Francan colony (UK as well…. maybe). That toilet paper has the potential to unify the world(huge tracks at least) if only it was meant for something more then the chosen people. What US/EU(especially EU) is doing now is new form of colonization, not bringing of “democracy” to oppressed people.

        You still haven’t felt the true horror of your pride(patrio*cough*nationalism). 19 men like Anders Behring Breivik hopefully won’t arise, but somehow i fear that they will be necessary to break your nationalism/pride/stupidity… My country suffered through it’s nationalism. I know better. I didn’t take part of it, but I feel the consequences even today, even if small (economic if at all). You don’t. You never did. Your nationalism was bosltened after 2001 (that’s what generally happens when shit flies into your buildings). You are in a much better position for nationalism to even “benefit” you, if there is such a thing, but it will sting you too. No Empire lasts forever. Few (even in name only, like China) last a thousand years.

        I don’t argue for America to strengthen it’s enemies, but to keep the absolute army of possible friends it could muster (at it’s arguably most powerful point in history) at the point of a spear while (truly) helping few is 19-th century politics.

        A few more sentences about Gadaffi. He killed. You kill too (if not more)… He stole from his country… At least when Americans steal(from their own country), it’s legal… But he gave as well. Just watch at what kind of vehicles those people drive. You can’t find a fucking car in a city video older then 5 years. The blessings(and curse) of oil… Go to youtube and check for yourself, don’t trust me blindly. Contrast that with (heh) Serbia (or Egypt), and you might start to see a slightly less black and white picture (if a republican hawk like you can even do that, did i guess right?). Being from a country wronged a lot by the US(interests, no hard feelings), we get a more balanced story about Libya then you are served.

        Oh, and i know you don’t care, but it can be seen what the liberators in Libya did to Gadaffi on youtube as well. In his last hours. Some liberators… All the best wishes for Libyan people. Hopefully, in 15-20 years, they will get liberate themselves from these “liberators” peacefully, hopefully they won’t succumb to religious infighting like Egyptians now. Though their deeply tribal culture (except in few cities) gives them even more reason to succumb.

        To sum it up, I can barely understand(probably not support) Egypt, though I am not sure about the extent of American involvement (Obama was meeh about it, until it tipped, since Mubarak is a good lapdog). Libya is much more American style. Guns don’t fall from the sky like mana for the oppressed to rise up. I mentioned this back in August, even gave an example of the weapons used when no mana is falling (and the only weapons that can truly be used against the west (until they crush it, KFOR is not great at negotiating, hopefully they will at least talk/negotiate without backstabbing, so far they seem to be trying to back stab-play nerve games))…

        It takes a great change of hearth to realize the true problem: when you have people in your country that tell me that:

        1) The bomb (one bomb, mind you, not two) is the best thing that happened for the Japanese;
        2) and that 1 American >= 100 000 Iraquis

        it’s not hard to understand what drives you(patriotism*caugh*). And that guy is a “realist”, smart to a good extent as well, far from stupid. At the same time that guy exclaims that “you”(us) could be the “51st American state”, just don’t oppose us. We’d love to be (trust me, even through 1999, all the talk about democracy and human rights is nice), but somehow that option isn’t on the table no matter how hard we try to conform…

        And bending over backwards is truly not an option for all… few nations(if any) are capable of that…

        In the end, it all comes to interests… Maybe, just maybe, economic interests might wage the next war (though i doubt it)…The weight of chains is too great for some nations/peoples…

        Does that ring a bell?

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