Welcome to the age of Cognitive Dissonance.
The thoughts I write here have little chance of being truly authentic, because such is the flood of content and information that I find myself washed away under there is very little chance of finding the free mindspace to put together a chain of thought that is in some way not an iteration or summary of things I’ve been influenced by. Of course, I’ve had to accept responsibility for this — because the condition is largely self inflicted; at least that is the conclusion that I have come to. This may be a trifle unfair, because the architecture of modern communications makes it increasingly difficult to remain in contact with geographically distant persons without resorting to the use of social media platforms that so juicily serve up snippets of things we might perhaps find interesting, and are undoubtedly easier to digest than larger, more complex tasks. They’re almost microdoses of anaesthetic to the modern condition; meaningful and meaningless in equal measure.
The digital echo chamber of social media and modern media means that we are surrounded by confirmation bias. Rather than broadening our outlooks as we originally thought we would when the Internet went mainstream in the mid 1990s we now face an information funnel that serves primarily to entrench opinion and repeat to us what we already think we know; with such a torrent of information and the wide level of syndication, repurposing and sharing, few of us have sufficient time to fact-check when confronted with the latest meme, soundbite or headline. This downward spiral shows little tendency of slowing-up, thus we find ourselves in virtual freefall from a position of at least having a chance of forming an independent view based on a variety of sources to skimming lazy clickbait headlines in a vain attempt to make sense of things. The sheer speed at which information travels carries with it some kind of ticket that encourages instantaneous judgement without reflection. We’ve become big on reaction but short on consideration.
To compound the above we also face situations daily that cause severe cognitive dissonance: we are told we should respect the opposite sex but are bombarded with objectifying imagery that we react to with reinforcement in the form of likes, shares, comments or silent longing, we are told to value holistic values yet form instant judgements based on financial success and social status as we scroll or interact, we are told that hard work brings rewards but are marketed-at with quick fixes to achieve the perfect life, or similar. Imagine, for a moment, the struggles we face internally — what that’s actually doing to us. The sound of the tiny voice inside rebelling but being inexorably crushed by adherence to accepted social norms. And again, and again. This affects how we feel about ourselves, how we relate to others, how we perceive the world, how we act, the choices we make and ultimately how we end up expressing ourselves. I’ve had this conversation many a time, and all too often those I discuss this with express a desire to check out of the system, to disassociate with society and try and do something in a way we feel we want to. Is it any surprise that in developed societies we find extreme ideas about off-grid living, totally sustainable subsistence lifestyles, homeschooling, raw, vegan, gluten free, sugar free, caffeine free, independence from fossil fuels and on and on ad infinitum? Naturally all of these are luxuries that 95% of the world’s population can only dream of.
The increasing borderisation of the world seems to only increase inequalities and reinforce prejudices and stereotypes. Thus, despite it being more affordable and easier than ever for those with Tier-1 passports to travel the world and enjoy the riches on offer, paradoxically it’s harder than ever for those unfortunate enough not to possess the correct accreditation via passport to travel, work, gain experience and better themselves. The fact that the most extreme cases of those on the other side of the borders have now landed smack-bang on the doorsteps of the “haves” in Europe seems entirely lost on the majority. The dehumanising rhetoric of a rabid media seems to have skewed judgement so far that it’s reasonable to surmise that dogs and cats appear to have better rights than people who’ve been bombed out of their homes or terrorised by despotic regimes, all of which stems from covert operations by shadowy operators acting within the legal frameworks of the governments elected in powerful Western “democracies”. Now, love dogs and cats as I do, it seems abhorrent than humans could deliberately show such a lack of basic human compassion as to classify other humans as “deserving” or “undeserving” — quite what the mechanism is that triggers this is unclear, yet we need to recognise that it exists so that we may perhaps do something about it.
There is no easy way out of this mess, for it’s been creeping upon us for the best part of 2 decades and rather than seek to correct the wrongs we feel at the pits of our stomachs we feel compelled to “Keep Calm and Carry On” as the somewhat scary tea mug suggests. If there’s one thing that’s clear — if we do follow tea-mug-wisdom we will continue to see an increase in inequality, less powers and rights for the individual and collective along with the near-perfection of technocratic societies we all secretly wish to leave. There’s often the temptation for authors to write some lifehack-style prescription for what we need to do to change things — I don’t think the problem is that simple to fix, because it’s now so deeply embedded in our everyday lives and the accepted norms of society. The first step is to acknowledge the issues and then start to think about these, slowly, deeply, as best suits us. Perhaps then if we feel disquiet, talk with our closest confidants — not in the hope of finding a solution but to understand what is happening and how we feel about that. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t look like it’s going to just disappear, so rather than ignoring it or denying it we’d do well to note its existence so that when it strikes we are aware of it. in this new paradigm there are no absolutes, nuance is everywhere along with its good friend complexity — thus we must beware of those offering simple answers, for as comforting as they may initially feel, there is little chance of them improving things. We need time to understand this new reality, to accept that two seemingly diametrically opposing facts may be true, for only then can we start to navigate this space more effectively.