The context was propaganda or novel ideas or something like that. It was said,
“…cognitive dissonance is when you are presented with two contradictory ideas, linked together in a way that forces you to redefine both”
That isn’t entirely true. It’s a stretch to interpret it that way, even though that could be one outcome.
I think it is simpler to start thinking of cognitive dissonance in the way that it refers to the feeling you get, perhaps even the unthought compulsions when you have two (or more?) contradictory facts about one thing. For example, perhaps you love to smoke and you love the idea of smoking; but, you also know that smoking will probably cripple you in some way. It isn’t that you redefine your love of smoking and redefine what it means to be crippled or to die in a particular manner. Rather, you feel that one of the ideas has to be eliminated or rationalized.
With the example of smoking, the most common result is just rationalization. There are a number of reasons for this, the least of which not being physical addiction. But also the social benefits which include a certain culturally bounded “style” and “fitting in” with the expectations of peers (or your perception of said expectations); its function as a conversational catalyst. There could be others, but the point is that the rationalization is a direct result of the brain trying to hold these two contradictory and subjectively true ideas at the same time. The decisions are usually made (“to smoke” or “not to smoke”) on-the-fly and in the moment.
There is another possible outcome to cognitive dissonance. This alternate outcome is what I latch onto: Cognitive dissonance can directly cause revolution. Under the right circumstances, it can force you to reexamine what the two terms mean, not simply “redefine” them or “rationalize” one or the other. The tension can defy all attempts at rationalization and result in re-creation.
Some events have made be wonder about the power of cognitive dissonance. During the presidential campaign (two years!), we heard all manner of supposed “facts” about the President Elect. Even I was shocked. Maybe, for all of the people out there who are afraid of Muslims and Arabs — and actually believe the foolishness about President Obama being both a Muslim and an Arab (are these crimes?!) — the election of this man they believed to be so dangerous could force them to re-evaluate their fears and reconsider what the real dangers are in the world.
Maybe that’s too optimistic.
[EDIT: Yes, that was too optimistic]