Cognitive Dissonance

Every day, I shift back and forth between three ‘personas’, completely incompatible systems of belief, worldviews and ways of trying to make sense of the world. One writes:

This ‘Dave’ believes there will come a time, probably in about ten years, when I will be ready to sacrifice my life to defend this planet. Whether this entails attempting to ‘block, break, or take’ the tools of its destruction, and regardless of how hopeless and useless I may know my personal direct action to be, I will act.

Meanwhile, a second ‘Dave’ writes:

This second Dave is not outraged by collapse, but equanimous about it. He thinks the first Dave is bone-headed for risking his life to achieve an impossible goal, or even getting pointlessly worked up about it. The first Dave thinks the second is disconnected and in denial of his true feelings, his grief and shame and rage, and is giving up, and hence disappointing colleagues and letting down all life on earth.

And then there is a third ‘Dave’ who writes:

This third Dave doesn’t think Dave has any free will, and more than that, doesn’t believe Dave, and Dave’s ‘reality’, is anything more than a construct of the brain. He believes all there is is ‘what is apparently happening’, neither ‘real’ nor ‘unreal’, just ‘apparent’. So he believes there is no planet, no life, no individual, no civilization, no collapse, and no time, not ‘really’, and that hence the beliefs of the other two Daves are based on illusions and therefore quite absurd, akin to believing that action must be taken to correct something that happened in a dream, or that there needs to be a serious coming-to-grips with what was learned in a dream.

The first and second Daves are completely puzzled by the third Dave, and worry that he might be dissociating because the anxiety, grief and shame about collapse are just too hard to bear.

But for the most part the three Daves have little to say about each other, because they live in different worlds. As readily as they appear to take turns occupying this body and typing the words in this blog, they are not simultaneous.

I go back and read the three articles linked above, and they all seem evocative, interesting, compelling, and earnest. As I read them I nod and say to myself: Yes, yes, and yes.

They are completely incompatible. Can they all be ‘right’, whatever that means?

The first Dave’s message feels right. The second Dave’s message seems logically and rationally right. The third Dave’s message has been seen, during so-called ‘glimpses’, to be obviously right, and continues to seem intuitively right at some deep level.

For some people, I think the cognitive dissonance of all this would be just too much to handle, and suspect they would jettison two of the three incompatible views. As Euan Semple recently wrote, being at war with yourself is a losing battle.

I have learned, somewhat begrudgingly, to live comfortably with uncertainty and ambiguity, and the endless cognitive dissonance. I’m not even sure there is a ‘right’, and I’m not perturbed that this weary little body I presume to inhabit, with its insatiable curiosity, its ever-doubting nature, and its passion to know how the world really works, and to decide if that’s OK or not, seems further and further away from coming to any conclusion or understanding.

I have a sense that, if I were able, for just a few moments, to change places with a bird, all of the confusion would be gone. Barring that, I’m growing content with never knowing, with acknowledging more and more often that I don’t know, and just trying to cultivate a sense of wonder about it all.

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