Cognitive dissonance: words bandied about by frustrated ‘conspiracy theorists’ as a verbal slap in the face to those ‘plugged into the matrix’. Justified or otherwise, cognitive dissonance (conflicting attitudes, beliefs, values or behaviours that often result in a varying degrees of discomfort or confusion) is undeniably a major reason for western society drifting further and further from anything resembling conscious, connected community.
Could it be that we are passively – even at times actively - contributing to the decline of society, by refusing to take a good look at our media and peer-instilled values and behaviors? For all the modern thrills and distractions, civilisation is in retrograde and we can’t pretend it’s nothing to do with us.
Cognitive dissonance is simple to spot if you’re the open-minded type – and that probably means you’ve painstakingly wrestled through your own jigsaw puzzle of complicated emotional debris to come up with something resembling consistent moral behaviours. After all, integrity is not exactly encouraged on the whole.
Whose fault is it anyway?
In 2018, it’s clear that we haven’t all perished in some prophesied apocalypse scenario yet, but why would we remain willfully ignorant at a time the world is clearly suffering from the ill effects of our collective turning away? Maybe because it’s uncomfortable, or dare I say just plain inconvenient?
We have become used to a paradoxical situation in which we unconsciously seek out comfort in a very uncertain world, yet we have become so cushioned in our self-created bubbles that we appear to have forgotten there is anything else going on outside them... or that we even had a reason for creating them in the first place.
Below are some of the ways in which need to get a collective grip if we want 2018 to be an improvement. Cognitive dissonance kicks in when we start to convince ourselves that we don’t indulge in such behaviours. Realistically, it’s to be expected that we’re all guilty of a few of them, but now is as good a time as any to get self-aware.
Social networking and selfie obsessions
When on earth did we become so narcissistic? I would hazard a guess that it was around the time sites like Myspace and Facebook sprang up. Like most other popular things in society, there are benefits. For instance, keeping in touch (with people we wouldn’t bother calling otherwise) networking, entertainment… but isn’t it mainly a narcissistic playground where we can convince ourselves that someone other than our psychotic ex is rifling through our every stylised moment?
The vulgar creation that is the ‘selfie stick’ says it all about our priorities in life. Not only are we trying to recreate a virtual, highly-edited and fantastical version of our own lives online, we are spending more time on it than we are in the physical company of others, or chatting to them on the phone.
Not too social, really, and what are we demonstrating as normal for our kids? Should we really be surprised when we find that our daughters have posted up five hundred profile pictures of themselves pouting in false eyelashes and caked in badly-applied makeup? What about when they bring home new friends in the form of questionable characters they met online?
It’s a funny one, patriotism. In reality, it could be described as the embracement of separation and division. Taken to an extreme it results in such delights as football hooliganism, glorification of war, and hatred of immigrants due to perceived losses as a nation. We might think we are showing solidarity by waving around our country’s flag, spilling beer on our shoes and snarling at our ‘opponents’ but we rarely seem to consider that we are displaying an embarrassing lack of evolution.
Divide and conquer is a time old tactic, and we play right into the hands of those who benefit from it; many even giving their lives in the process. It might seem overly simplistic or idealistic to say that nobody has the right to divide the planet into sections and decide who steps over what line, but consider that while culture is one thing, exclusion is another. Who is really benefiting from it? It doesn’t seem to be you or I. Not so? Try marrying someone from a different country.
It isn’t surprising that we feel a bit guilty about the world’s problems at times. After all, it is practically rammed down our throats via every mode of advertising, be it the London underground, Oxfam’s windows or the over-friendly guy in a red apron wielding his clipboard in the town centre. I am not suggesting that we don’t do anything to help. But what’s with the guilt?
Did we invent the laughable fallacy that is ‘world debt’ in order to keep certain countries in poverty and relying on the equally laughable, exploitative fallacy masquerading as ‘fair trade’? No. We also didn’t spend good money on vaccinating the impoverished instead of giving them food, water and shelter. Although we may have contributed to it.
Most of us, when we have thrown money at a popular problem, are not equipped to find out where our money is going even if we did bother to investigate. Yet something is seriously wrong when we are happy to publicly dump a bucket of ice over our heads for a moment of social media infamy in the name of a cause we knew nothing about.
We may be guilty of considering it important because someone said we should, only to find that the organization in question pocketed the majority of our cash, and used the rest to conduct experiments with ethics so questionable that we will probably be rallying about them en mass once that becomes fashionable.
All of this is happening while we strut past the homeless on our own streets, avoiding eye contact and mumbling something about drug addiction to our companion in order to appease the guilt we probably should be feeling for supporting a system which allows this while calling itself civilized.
We know they lie. Even those of us who are inclined to support one party or another will often admit their party doesn’t come up with the goods, says whatever is necessary to get the vote, then doesn’t follow through. Nobody seems to have much good to say about any of them. But how often do we ask why not?
It seems that there is a commonly-held view that the reason is incompetence – for whatever perceived reason, be it too many cooks, too much self-imposed red tape, Ed Milliband having been lobotomized at birth… whatever the opinion on it, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves what good all this voting is doing?
I would hazard a guess that its main function is letting them know we’ve fallen for the show. As for political correctness, that is another good example: a clever way of encouraging us to distance ourselves ever further from the idea of democracy until we forget that it once existed.
Here’s the general rule: If you’ve seen it advertised as food on TV, it probably isn’t. It’s thought that there are certain products that don’t actually contain any food at all, products so laden with synthetics and additives that there is zero nutrition to be had. You might as well be eating toilet roll. If your supermarket is selling it, it’s probably not going to be very good for you – whether that is whiskey, ready meals or purportedly healthy yoghurt - none of it is any good for you.
Even though the low sugar options on offer may keep our kids from being diagnosed with ADHD at the doctors, they are laced with aspartame (a dangerous neurotoxin posing as a sweetener) so the trip to the doc is only a matter of time. But hey, it tastes good and it keeps them quiet.
Just because our mothers didn’t mention that humans are the only species to drink the milk of another species (and way past babyhood at that)... if we are going to insist on drinking it, don’t we have a responsibility to find out what else is being put in the product?
When our bodies tell us we shouldn’t be doing it, we call ourselves ‘lactose intolerant’. Isn’t that just fancy terminology for ‘rejecting something unnecessary’? What an ordeal… but never mind the ordeal of the poor cows it’s coming from.
It’s about time we started checking the labels, making the effort to decipher the cryptic rubbish that passes as ingredients, and making informed decisions about what food is actually benefiting us. We can’t let Tesco decide that for us if we want to live past 60.
It is very trendy these days to engage in ‘shadow work’. Perhaps it makes us feel spiritual - and current - to be seen to be digging about in our own accumulated emotional dirt in an attempt to ‘cleanse our third eye’, improve the self, and so on. Don’t get me wrong; I think there is great value to be found in honest self-analysis and genuine effort to overcome destructive behavioural traits.
Yet it seems that what is commonly indulged is a tendency toward narcissistic outpourings and a conveniently evoked ‘victim mentality’. This isn’t helping anybody. Genuine spiritual growth is a private affair on the whole – sometimes we can help each other with our experiences, which is great. There are a lot of brilliant books out there for that reason; but for every gem of an honest book by a sincerely experienced author, there are fifty money-spinners full of clichés and unfounded claims relating to trends like the ‘law of attraction’.
I am certainly not writing these ideas off as having no value; on the contrary, I think they could be utilized well when injected with a healthy level of common sense and a bit of realism. Unfortunately, and perhaps in part due to political correctness, many believe that saying or viewing anything as negative is ‘not spiritual’, and anybody who 'calls a spade a spade' is considered neanderthal in their outlook; viewed with contempt down the lengthy nose of the self-appointed spiritual superior.
There's a certain irony in that…. of course, burying your head in the sand is fine. It is surely good to be idealistic, or nothing would ever change. But if we can’t be realistic with it, we will find ourselves going around in merry little circles, cooing false niceties while the sound of our tax-funded bombs tearing apart nearby countries drifts casually by in the background noise of the 9 o’clock news. I would have thought it would be ‘nice’ to be honest with ourselves about our responsibility to each other as human beings. Just saying.
Despite having pervy connotations, it’s actually just a term for having a strong enthusiasm for technology. Again, there is nothing wrong with that per se, but it’s clear that we are heavily reliant on many gadgets these days, to the point of antisocial exclusion. Kids barely seem to play outside anymore, except for the odd football match.
After all, why play outside when you can repeatedly punch a robot in the face for hours or steal cars while picking up derogatory terms that you can use on the girls you don’t like at school? On the plus side, it keeps them out of the biscuit tin for a few hours and means we can get through an entire episode of EastEnders on our wall-mounted, surround-sound HD TV.
It’s not an alien concept that our smart phones are making us dumb. For a start, between them and the omnipresent wifi, they have a poorly hidden reputation for totally frying our brain cells. And don’t forget, guys, if they’re kept in your pockets, that third eye the hippies are talking about could become a physical reality for your offspring.
If we are committed to understanding ourselves and our ingrained thought patterns, we are one step further down the path to collective change. We can never change another, and we should always take responsibility for our own effects on the collective state of affairs. Focusing inward is the only way than anything 'outward' ever improves. This is also the only way we can unravel our conflicting thoughts and belief systems. What are we contributing to? What are we allowing? What are we ignoring about ourselves? The answers are all there inside.