Cognitive dissonance: The church of England, Wonga and Chocolate Bars.
As reported in the news this week Justin Welby (the Archbishop of Canterbury) has said that he wants to compete Wonga out of existence through the use of credit unions. This, in itself, is great: the interest rates charged by the likes of Wonga and other “pay day lenders” is extortionate and shouldn’t be allowed. However, it was later revealed that the Church of England had, inadvertently and indirectly, invested in Wonga even though this is against the ethical investment policy of the church. It seems that they used a “pooled investment vehicle” to invest and this had funded Wonga. Of course this is unfortunate and the church would not have deliberately or directly invested in Wonga. However these investment companies allow people not to really know (unless they were to ask) where the money is being invested and, therefore, allows them to claim innocence once it emerges that the money had been used in a way deemed unethical. Of course, though, it is likely that people know that investment companies often don’t stick to ethical codes but pretend no to know this so that they don’t have to deal with their actions in sending the funds that way and this may have been what happened. But this is something that we all do, for instance when we buy a chocolate bar that hasn’t come from an ethical source (most chocolate available on the shelves in the supermarket etc). In order to buy that chocolate bar we pretend that we don’t know of the shit, underpaid conditions that the chocolate has been produced through although we all, of course, do understand that this is what happens thanks to documentaries, news pieces etc. By pretending not to know, what we really know, we can convince ourselves on a superficial level that the chocolate “probably” hasn’t been produced unethically and therefore can cope with the decision that we have made to buy it and still believe ourselves to be moral beings. We all suffer from cognitive dissonance, a difference in what we believe (that people shouldn’t have to work in such crappy conditions to produce our chocolate) and our actions (buying chocolate bars that have been produced in crappy conditions), in some way and the pretence helps us to avoid dealing with this dissonance.
Our cognitive dissonance causes us to seek out the immorality and inconsistency within others. By pointing this out, even if only to ourselves, we are able to distract ourselves from our own dissonance by concentrating on someone else’s. Many people this week were keen to jump on the church’s “inconsistency” for this purpose. It is the perfect institution for this as it holds itself to be concerned with ethical issues and so we are able to point and go “look at what those supposedly ethical people have done, they are really bad”. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t point out where things have been gotten wrong, or gloss over it (and it certainly needs to be sorted out so that it doesn’t happen again) but perhaps we need to start by recognising our own cognitive dissonance before making lots of noise about someone else’s – we may just find it humbling.