Larry Craig, Cognitive Dissonance and the Closet
I want to take a moment to move past the obvious humor and entertainment factor of Larry Craig continuing to make himself public and to stand fast against what seems clear and obvious to everyone else and take a minute to talk about the closet. It’s not just that being a closet case is difficult or complicated, it’s that it can create cognitive dissonance of serious proportions.Cognitive dissonance is what happens when your behavior conflicts with your beliefs about yourself. One thing that confuses people about this is just how it manifests itself after the fact. Often, what happens is that we find some way to resolve this inconsistency, but we can do so through a variety of means, and they’re not always obvious. The classic case involves a study where some individuals get paid $1 to tell a lie and others get paid $20.
Those who get paid $1 are more likely to end up believing the lie because they have no justification for it. Those who get paid $20 are less likely to believe the lie because they felt as though it was worth the $20 to tell the lie. It seems counterintuitive at first, but it makes sense when you think about it– if you’re paid extremely well to do something unethical, you have a mental justification for it. If you’re not paid much at all, you need some other justification. What better justification than simply pretending to yourself that you didn’t lie?
In Larry Craig’s case, we have an extreme example: in a case where he’s caught dead to rights doing something untoward, he can’t deal with it. So he pretends it didn’t happen. For six months.
There’s a point when you do this long enough that, if your delusions are extreme enough, you actually start to believe it never happened yourself. From everything in Craig’s case it looks as though he’s split himself in two– one compartment of his mind dealing with Larry Craig, senator, and another compartment dealing with Larry Craig, closet case.
is it any wonder that someone as deeply closeted as this is clinging as much as possible to his senator persona? He’s entirely dependent on the notion that he is “not gay” to the point where he’d actually have the statement posted on his official senate web site. How much more of a dichotomy can he create for himself?
And the thing is, it shouldn’t make a damned bit of difference. He shouldn’t have to step down for being a closet case. He shouldn’t lose his senate seat because of an untoward sexual moment. But in his own mind, he should. It’s not anyone externally that’s creating this pressure on him. It’s his own internal homophobia. It’s his fear of self, of what he, at some level, knows himself to be.
And I have to admit– I have no sympathy whatsoever for Larry Craig, Senator Not Gay. But I have real sympathy for Larry Craig, closet case, fighting like hell to hold onto the part of him that is separate from his own internal fears and demons. The sadness of being so deeply afraid of one’s self that he has to keep going out in public to push the issue probably makes it worse for him and his family, but I see exactly why he’s doing it.
He’s running scared.