“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against the core belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit with the core belief” – Frantz Fanon
In a world where disconnection is rampant dissociation, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to navigate the unhealthy waters, and even more difficult to discover healthier waters. We often cannot even see how things are connected because we are so far removed from any sort of healthy community. Our nature deprivation is a pandemic. Like Dan Schreiber said, Dan Schreiber said, “We all share this cognitive dissonance, this dis-connectivity. So much so that in many cases, the connected ones seem insane!”
As it stands, cognitive dissonance is a formidable adversary. One that utterly destroys the majority of people. But this is something we alone must overcome. Indeed, a huge part of combating cognitive dissonance is gaining the ability to navigate between an outdated worldview and an updated one. Going from a conditioned state to a reconditioned state is no picnic, but the alternative is worse: stagnation. Here are seven ways to combat cognitive dissonance.
1. To Question is the Answer
“If you understand everything, you must be misinformed.” –Japanese proverbAnswers are for laymen. Questions are for the wise.
The first step toward gaining wisdom: question everything; the second step: question the answers. This is easier said than done. If combating cognitive dissonance is about asking deeper questions about life, then we must confess that we do not know the answers and that our powers of reason are limited. Like Hajime Tanabe said, “To philosophize, first one must confess.” Such confession can be excruciatingly painful on an existential level. One of the most difficult things a human being can do is question the self, especially as it applies to beliefs, worldviews, and cultural conditioning. That’s why most people feign invulnerability. The “shield” of their faith (invulnerability) is a hardened fear against the “sword” of questioning those beliefs (vulnerability).
Paulo Coelho said it succinctly, “A wise person is full of questions. A dull person is full of answers.”
2. Recondition the Precondition
“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” –Deepak ChopraHere’s the thing: human beings are absurdly insecure animals. The most insecure animal, actually. We tend to cling to comfort and discard discomfort in order to feel safe and secure. One could say we are addicted to comfort. But, as Farrah Gray advised, “Comfort is the enemy of achievement.” Indeed, it’s actually at the edge of our comfort zone where true growth is achieved. And there is no “edgier” aspect of our comfort zone than that which has been preconditioned. This preconditioning is typically a cultural conditioning, or preconceived notions (usually outdated and parochial) about the way the world works, passed down by our forefathers.
A key element to combating cognitive dissonance is learning how to soften the edges of this preconditioning and then going so far as to recondition those edges altogether. An updated comfort zone is a stretched comfort zone. The cocoon widens more and more, and it has the potential to encompass the cosmos. As Dean Jackson said, “When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.”
“The intellectual advancement of man depends on how often he can exchange an old superstition for a new truth.” –Robert Green IngersollIn a world of rampant anti-intellectualism and mindless zombies hell bent on remaining competitively disconnected, self-dialecticism is a warm cup of painful knowledge in a cold room of ignorant bliss. The Collins English Dictionary defines dialecticism as, “the philosophical concept that the world consists of opposite but not necessarily opposing ideas or concepts which, when put together, either negate each other or synthesize into a whole.”
In this respect, self-dialecticism is being more contextual, flexible, and holistic in regard to our perspective of self-as-world and world-as-self. It’s a meta-intellectual “conversation” between our individuality and our sense of interdependence, the constant tug-o-war between our animal-like nature and our god-like nature. It’s the ability to question between opposites, to remain flexible while being torn between spirit and flesh, finitude and infinity. Like Susan Neiman said in Why Grow Up, “Keeping one eye on the way the world ought to be, while never losing sight of the way it is, requires permanent, precarious balance. It requires facing squarely the fact that you will never get the world you want, while refusing to talk yourself out of wanting it.”
4. Cognitive Genesis
“An artist is not a special kind of person. Rather every person is a special kind of artist.” –Meister EckhartCognitive genesis is the realization that we are magnificent conduits in an infinite whole. Despite our boundaries, despite our mortality, despite our finite faculties, and despite our cognitive dissonance, we are meaning-bringing creatures despite a meaningless universe. We are Immanence daring dissonance into assonance. We are Enclosure risking closure into disclosure. Cognitive genesis is an ecstatic finite pattern counter-intuitively daring to become itself within the chaos of infinity. It’s an exploration of opposites, an explosion of curiosity, a connecting of dots that seem utterly disconnected. Cognitive genesis awakens the “wonder junkies” in us all. It puts the anarchy in art, the revolution in evolution, and the liberating love into letting love go. Like Reverend Adrian Cain said, “Change is stability. Creation never ends. Everything is a verb. The way in is the way out. The going is the goal.”
5. Self-Legerdemain (Ontological Sleight of Hand)
“A little bit of agitation gives resource to souls and what makes the species prosper isn’t peace, but freedom.” –MachiavelliSelf-legerdemain is creative legerdemind: a sleight of mind. It turns the tables on existential angst by using it as a sharpening stone for progress instead of perceiving it as a stumbling block or a roadblock. Cognitive dissonance is the emotional reaction to perceiving existential angst as a roadblock. Through self-legerdemain we trick ourselves into transforming boundaries into horizons and roadblocks into stepping stones. Indeed, a rough road often leads to greatness.
Rather than woe, than balking, than pity, give us adversity; against which we can tackle any number of obstacles. This way we become more flexible in our approach to existential and ontological adversity, and we’re better able to adapt and overcome. Self-legerdemain is an act of strategic healthy doubt in the face of the conflict of being and nothingness. It launches us into a bird’s eye view of the human condition, where we are free to be ontological mechanics and existential architects. Like Zlavoj Zizek said, “The true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their commonplace inertia, but to change the very coordinates of social reality.” And this requires an ontological sleight of hand against rampant cognitive dissonance.
6. Cognitive Humor
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” –Joseph CampbellAchieve adventure through courage. Achieve courage through joy. Achieve joy through creativity. Achieve creativity through curiosity. Achieve curiosity through a good sense of humor. Then wrap it all up by falling in love with love itself. But, as Jorge Luis Borges ingeniously opined, “To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god.”
And it is precisely this fallible god that we must mock and poke fun at, ridicule and tease, taunt and lampoon, jeer and mimic with cosmic joy and sacred humor. As a fallible species, cognitive dissonance is as much a fallible god as any god we have created. And so cognitive dissonance itself is combatted by a humor of the most high. It’s the counterintuitive ability to joyfully laugh at that which others take too dreadfully seriously. It’s a heightened state of humor that turns the tables on the cosmic joke and transforms us from being the butt-end of the joke into being the almighty laughers of the joke. Like Robert Frost quipped, “Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee, and I’ll forgive Thy great big joke on me.”
7. The Cognitive Guillotine
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” –Samuel BeckettEverything changes. Nothing stays the same. Feel the rawness of that fact, the bleeding-meat quality of it. It’s tragically delicious. It’s enchantingly heartbreaking. There’s an awful dread that comes with knowing that we are a fallible, prone-to-mistakes, and imperfectly mortal animals; but there is also a kind of terrible beauty to it, without which we wouldn’t have such concepts as meaning, beauty, and love. The idea that we can learn from our mistakes; that we can transform pain into knowledge, anger into courage, and hunger into love, is a profoundly ecstatic self-overcoming that has the potential to launch us into levels of evolution that we cannot currently fathom.
The cognitive guillotine is a chopping block of self-overcoming. It’s a constant shedding of the superfluous, a consistent “beheading” of the outdated and parochial thinking that has crippled our species into devolution. It’s a spiritual letting, an ontological bloodletting, and an existential letting go. It’s a sacred pruning toward numinous flourishing. So that which comes to us as root can go on as stalk, and that which comes to us as stalk can go on as a flowering Fibonacci sequence of human evolution in the throes of the “journey being the thing,” which soars through the magnanimous glory of falling and getting back up, of breaking apart and coming back together again, of failing and failing better, of living and living better, and striving for that almighty beacon of hope: PHI, the eternal Tao, Infinity, and the unattainable beauty of enlightenment.
About the Author:
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.