I am only able to write and speak freely on this blog because people gave up their lives so that we could have a taste of freedom.
So this Memorial Day, I would like to say thank you to the men who died so that I can live the American dream. I can write what I want in this place. I can choose the career that I want and live the kind of life that is simply not possible- in so many other places. I can love my country and hate my government. That's legal and patriotic. But most importantly, I can recognize the truth. I don't have to make the truth conform to my beliefs any longer- I make my beliefs conform to the truth.
Please note that I said "any longer." This would be an excellent spot to offer up a definition of the term "cognitive dissonance."
Cognitive dissonance occurs when individuals are confronted by facts which are in conflict with their existing belief systems. This causes people to become quite uncomfortable. They have a choice to make when confronted with an inconvenient fact. (a) They can rationalize away the fact using any number of rationales and escape methods or (b) they can accept the fact as truth and readjust their beliefs.
Cognitive dissonance gets worse for people when a whole body of inconvenient truths and facts are presented or when the truth gets so overwhelming that they can no longer deny the possibility that they might have been wrong all along.
It has been my experience that people choose (a) almost exclusively. People will alter the truth to conform to their beliefs. People rarely let the truth alter their beliefs. This is the heart and soul of cognitive dissonance.
Let me offer up a wonderful example of this. As briefly as 7 years ago, I once believed that we lived in a democracy. In fact, I cannot remember any instructor anywhere including high school or college, that steadfastly maintained that the U.S. was founded as a republic and not as a democracy. This failure to distinguish the difference between a democracy and a republic includes a vast amount of otherwise educated human beings. I actually find it quite hard to fathom that so many people know so little about our republic. Yet, I numbered among the offenders not so long ago.
The difference between a republic and a democracy is enormous. A republic practices a rule of law where the minority are protected from the whims and oppression of the majority. In a democracy- it's mob rule. We practice some democratic principles for sure- but the founders were well aware of the oppression of the majority. Without law, democracy is simply mob rule. The rule of law is not important when the mob can make some rational case for ignoring it. The mob won out in 1942, when Japanese Americans were denied the rule of law and placed in relocation camps. Had someone, anyone, had the courage to mention that Japanese Americans enjoy the same rights as the rest of us and that we live in a republic, perhaps the mob could have been held at bay. But it wasn't. (I have had a healthy argument or two with people who still adamantly defend that decision)
So people chose (a) back then. The mob's best thinking thought Japanese Americans might be loyal to Japan. That fear, which amounts to nothing but an errant opinion or belief, strikes at the very heart and soul of cognitive dissonance. So you see, with no evidence, proof, or facts to back up their case- the mob won. They were not about to let the facts change their errant belief systems. They changed the facts- rationalized them- to suit their beliefs and they damaged a whole lot of people in the process.
I cannot tell you- how many times- I have gotten into online rants or read the comments of people who think we live in a democracy. If you asked 100 people in this country what kind of government we have- I am not kidding you when I say that I believe at least 95% would say we live in a democracy.
How profound and widespread is cognitive dissonance?
Cognitive dissonance applies to virtually everything in your life- not just politics- but every opinion and belief that you hold. Whether that's God, abortion rights, health care, or politics. We all hold beliefs and opinions. But that's all they are. That is all they ever were. A bunch of opinions that we march around like they are matters of fact and in the worst case- we adamantly defend our positions, diminish others, and sometimes kill other people who disagree. All of this ego insanity came to a head for me in 2007. And like some tsunami of awareness, it buried me. The waters have been receding ever since and revealing just how asinine all of that is.
The first step in arresting the harmful effects of cognitive dissonance is realizing that you have it.
There are millions upon millions of people who adamantly believe fraudulent opinions and who will refuse to bend- even when confronted with overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This is a dominant feature of politics. This is also a dominant feature of the human condition. Some of the most intelligent people I know- cannot grasp the simple truth that they might be wrong. The tsunami has not come for them. Perhaps it never will.
I don't try to make the best evidence bend to my beliefs anymore- I change my beliefs to accommodate the best evidence.
Does the sun always rise in the east? Not exactly- but I'm not sure it matters. It sure as hell ain't worth arguing about.