Humans are exceptional. We have large brains, opposing thumbs and binocular vision. We can speak loudly and in many tongues. We have extended our family units into tribes, societies, and global systems of trade and commerce. We went to the moon and invented popcorn.
And all this happened in the blink of an evolutionary eye.
Then, by some quirk of fate, many of us developed an equally exceptional trait. We discovered cognitive dissonance.
We learnt to bend our brains to mentally justify shortcomings when faced with a problem, therefore separating oneself from the problem.
Take a moment to think just how useful this is.
You can know virtually nothing about a topic but can still claim expertise in it. This might be mouthing off in the pub with your mates on what Tiger has to do to win another major to berating the leader of the opposition in the highest chamber in the land.
It can allow mediocrity to have more influence than is ever justified.
You can ignore the fact that $3, the price of the coffee you just bought at Uptown Baristas, is an amount that over a billion souls must make stretch to cover all their daily needs.
Once everyone is separated from a problem it can be duly forgotten. The truth is easily lost in the cloud of dissonance. After a time the cloud clears, as most do. There, basking in the sun’s rays is the problem, smiling sweetly.
We have done this with almost all the really serious issues of our and future times: water resources, food security, wealth inequality, super bugs, pandemics, and a host of environmental issues.
It could be that it’s just all too hard for our thinking brains — the thinking fast and slow argument. Certainly, dissonance is a lazy solution to problem solving. Except that problems are not resolved they are just ignored.
Whilst this is at least partly true. We are lazy and lack courage to resolve truly difficult issues we can be brave. In the moment the extraordinary is possible. Actions in wartime trenches to random acts of kindness prove we are capable and exceptional.
So here is a suggestion. Let’s say ‘sod this for a game of soldiers’ and banish cognitive dissonance from our lives.
All we have to do is become aware when we hear ourselves or our mates or our leaders lurch into a justification.
Then make a mental note that says, “A justification is like most things on the internet, best ignored”.
Then we’d get to see what happens next.