Cognitive Dissonance

What Will We Choose?

I’ve just come home from two days of being relatively unplugged, and feel an initial sense of absolute shock over the insanity around the world.  It’s shocking to many to believe that the sheer amount of ignorance and racism that was displayed in Charlottesville yesterday is still happening in today’s world.  One mark of privilege is the inability to see that equality still does not exist in our society, and to diminish the amount of resentment, fear, and hate that still exists across middle-class, white America.  This is not a Post-Racial society… it never has been.  It’s a choice for the privileged to be color-blind and ignore the stark inequities that still pervade our social fabric.

I stopped being shocked by the actions and tweets of the president a while back because he’s made it very clear that we can always expect the outrageous from him.  However, I still keep finding myself shaking my head when I see how many people sit complacent, or are even ok, with his behavior, threats, and ignorance.  It’s no surprise that American extremists have rallied behind his behavior, feeling that it gives them license to take their beliefs to the streets, and even into action.

We are living in a world of cognitive dissonance: an inconsistency in thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors or decisions.  It is prevalent in every area of our lives, characterized by a stark contrast between our beliefs and actions.  It is the justification that we use when we make a choice, whether it is a choice to eat a bacon cheeseburger knowing that we have high cholesterol or breaking one of the commandments.  It is the shift of narrative, or blame, when we don’t want to see how our beliefs about a civil society should operate perpetuate the very things we are afraid of.  It is the inability to accept the results of study after study on social behavior and phenomena because the results indict our own attitudes and actions.

Cognitive dissonance can be used as a survival tool  for a soldier to justify their actions, or a marketing tool to convince people that harmful products are beneficial to us, or as a sermon that spouts love and tolerance, but goes on to say that they should only be applied to a true believer.  We don’t like it when we see these things in others, but we are all guilty of it in one sense or another.  In the case of extremists, they are acting on what they feel to be integrity with their belief system by choosing the parts that relate to a specific fear, desire for power and control, or rhetoric.  These things usually agree with or support ideas of dominance, exclusivity, or vengeance for perceived or real threats to a person’s belief system.

What we are seeing in the media through constant analysis from pundits, repetition of news, and consumer-driven marketing are justifications for keeping the status quo by re-framing victims as scapegoats and perpetrators as benevolent leaders.  What we see in every day life are the effects of systemic manipulation that keeps us from being able to see our own beliefs and actions as part of the formula for the chaos that is happening on wide-scale levels.  Furthermore, we are being traumatized daily by repetitive violent footage on the news and images in our entertainment that drives a low-level of anxiety which we feed through consumerism, addictions, and further justification of our own belief system as righteous and good.

It scares me to think of where our society is headed when we look at the big picture… enough so to sometimes make me want to crawl under a blanket and hide.  But it scares me even more to think that there is something that we can do to change our trajectory, yet the majority will continue to buy the lies that the problem lies outside of ourselves, in the latest and greatest demon, while we stay in our bubble and stop challenging our own perspectives, beliefs, and actions.

Can we challenge our own ideas and beliefs to see how we are perpetuating such ignorance in our own lives?  Can we challenge ourselves to do more than repost memes on social media decrying the actions of the other without direct action to hold our leaders responsible for their actions?  Can we challenge ourselves to double-check our media sources and look for facts over opinions or conspiracy?  Can we challenge ourselves to speak out when we see injustice on any level, instead of sitting back and allowing it to persist on both personal and global levels?

What will we choose?


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