Cognitive dissonance is holding two beliefs that are in opposition to each other, as if there is no conflict or disparity between them.
Trauma is often a sudden or even brutal resolution of that disparity in a way that results in your belief of how the world works and how we should behave in the world is disproved or so undermined that you cannot sustain the belief anymore.
The concept of post traumatic stress disorder took shape with the American soldiers returning from Vietnam – earlier veterans who experienced battle related traumas were deem shell shocked – they were distressed at what they say, but the world wars did not shake people in the same way, because they were fighting for a cause they believed to be right and war was the mechanism of re-affirming that rightness in the world. People managed their trauma with an ends justified the means mentality.
With Vietnam, the goals and purpose of the war were not as pure as with previous wars, and as a result, many soldiers experienced trauma for having to behave in a manner – shooting people – which was not morally just or defensible and it shook their identity as good and moral people to act in a way that was not moral and for a cause that was not just. Neither the means nor end were just, thus, cognitive dissonance resolved in a traumatic way, the realization that there was nothing good, moral or just.
Post traumatic stress disorder is not just for soldiers anymore.
People experience trauma of varying degrees as part of everyday life – certainly, being exposed to news – being sensationalized and focused on the sordid and morbid – results in a sense of the world being more dangerous and less kind than it actually is – and over time, people develop emotional calluses to cope or they become very nervous – either way, functioning in the world is impaired and disordered by the perceptions of a limited data set – if it bleeds it leads – and then through the filter of being indifferent, excited or anxious by the information.
But when trauma is personal – something happens to you that pulls the rug from under you, knocks you down or off your axis, when your sense of self and your place in the world in relationship to other people is not in harmony with your belief about how the world operates and you have to deal with a situation where the world is no longer safe or familiar, or no longer operating along the rules you have come to rely on – you are traumatized.
Your ability to recover, to find a new level or harmony is dependent on how far off your beliefs about reality and the reality you are confronted with and what kind of support system you have to access.
Because part of the rules of how the world is supposed to operate is your expectations of how you interact with other people – when they act in unexpected ways – such as being a bully or being an authority figure allowing the bullying – you are further traumatized and knocked off your axis and functioning, the world becomes smaller and scarier – and your ability to cope and bounce back is reduced and eroded.
The longer conflict is unresolved or the conflict escalates and more people either bully or condone bullying, the more traumatized you are and the more sensitized to repeated and lesser traumas you become.
Instinctively, we can only turn to ourselves, we can only know our own intention and motivation and soon trust is eroded to the point where you can’t tell who can be trusted – the idea of being utterly alone is unpalatable and likely why many people cling to religion, to feel as if they are a person of consequence, not alone, and they resolve the cognitive dissonance of being alone and not wanting to be, as that there’s a deity with a plan that we can’t know but includes this being alone, so it’s okay because there’s a plan that we’re not worthy enough to be in on but worthy enough to be included in the plan, so you just have to trust in the deity because people aren’t trustworthy.
Except the next cognitive dissonance that if being alone and outcast is part of the deity’s plan then other people are just carrying out their end of the deal to make sure the plan is carried out.
So in a way, religion can helps people deal with trauma or justify causing trauma, because people can connect their sense of the world and safety/purpose by their sense of being connected to something larger than themselves, because they cannot trust themselves or others. Religion is a worldview in which humans are not deserving, not trustworthy, thus, all things must occur for other and larger purpose, which we are not privy to know.
But religion is itself a cognitively dissonant belief – since there is no evidence or logic to religion being real. Other than religion exists and reflects and defines cultural boundaries between groups of people, sometimes like people and sometimes very opposite people.
Religion is a preference for a worldview that is not supported by reality – and this idea of the religion being untrue, results in anger and defensiveness – and this is why atheists especially and gay people generally are so hated in American society – because being atheist forces religionists to resolve their cognitive dissonance and gay people force them to deal with their inclination to conformity.
Atheists and/or gay/lesbian are outside of the norms, we do not conform therefore, we must be defective or demonized.
This is where sacred and secular come into conflict – because secular ideas and law allow for diversity, allow individuals to make choices and act on them – sacred ideas demand conformity and obedience.
Secular is respect for all people and sacred is worship of the divine – which is why religionists demand special consideration of their sacred sensibilities – why cartoons, images, artworks, commentary, disagreement and questions are offensive, censored, and violently responded to – sacred does not brook disbelief – which spills over to the political sphere as “my country, right or wrong.”
This is why it’s dangerous that Americans believe their country is a Christian nation when America was a founded as a secular nation where individuals were and are the unit of consequence – that the ability to criticize the government and express disagreement was the basis of America being founded – no more rule by kings – rule by the mob, er… democracy, er… well, a representative republic, anyway.
In theory, that’s how it’s supposed to work, and understand how it works and how it’s supposed to – woulda coulda shoulda – gets you back on an even keel and into recovery – by drawing on your support network of family and friends – and supporting them in turn and asserting yourself in conflict before people can knock you off your axis and traumatized you, and if they do, to have that network in place, to help you get up, dust yourself off and understand this new place in the world.
Which, if it doesn’t kill you, it does make you stronger, because you will go through an existential process to determine what has meaning and purpose and the understanding you develop of the world will be closer to the world as it is, and not how you would like it to be.
If you don’t experience an existential crisis, the trauma won’t kill you or make you stronger, it will just leave you walking wounded.
That’s a big part of understanding the difference between what is good and what is evil and not being concerned with the plans of others, especially plans that you cannot know you were considered in or had any part in forming – because that’s the first step that many plan makers miss – engaging others in the plan and connecting them to the goals and outcomes – sharing in the plan making commits people to the success of the plan.
So make your own plan for your life, engage your support network, family, friends, coworkers, people you meet – and engage them, engage the world. Be the best you that you can be in the moment and with the information and resources on hand, because in the big picture, that’s the best that any of us can do – and we have to accept that we and others will more often than not, won’t be capable of being our best at any given moment.
We have to cut each other slack, but not enough to hang ourselves or slip through the cracks. We are all what we each have to work and play with.
If you aren’t prepared to die for what you believe in, you don’t deserve to live
In the mid 1980’s on a school field trip from Chilliwack, a rural community, to Vancouver, the comparative Big City, I saw those words were hand lettered in white on the back of a denim jacket worn by a punk rocker.
Most of the other teens – the school was primarily cliques of head bangers and goody two show kids – on the field trip, made ooo and ahhh cat calls in complete non-comprehension and likely more to do with the fact of the young man being a punk rocker than the sentiment on his back. I sat frozen, looking at the words and absorbing them very deeply. When you’re a teenager, everything feels epic, life and death, but you don’t really have a sense of what those concepts really mean. Or what if anything, you believe in, never mind what would be worth dying for. Dying was for old people; except….. my favorite movie at that time, was TAPS, starring Tim Hutton and pre-Ridgemont High Sean Penn and introducing Tom Cruise as three military students who lead a student revolt against the closure of their school – to disastrous and predictable conclusion of romanticizing the death of youths for a cause greater than oneself.
This idea of martyrdom continues to hold sway, people who die for religion are made into saints, religions demand sacrifice of supporters and promise eternal afterlife rewards for those who die in service or at least, when taking out the enemies of religion.
In American, religious zealots are less willing to die themselves but are often fairly open to taking out those who they see as betrayers or enemies – shooting abortion doctors right inside their own community church if need be. The American zealots tend to prefer to live to kill more another day, but when they do end up dying, it’s more likely suicide by cop during a shooting event than taking their own life. Suicide being a sin for which you burn in hell, and apparently this is not balanced against the good of protecting the unborn by the murder of a medical doctor.
As if forcing a police officer into killing you is somehow different than doing it yourself….. might as well take up extreme sports as the avoid hell loophole to suicide and not traumatize another person.
Whereas, Islamic zealots are more the hands on martyrs, strapping on a bomb belt and detonating in the crowd – even though sometimes, they only manage to take out themselves – we have to give them kudos for being fully committed in a way that makes North American Zealots look like they are phoning it in.
Not that there’s anything remotely admirable about being a martyr or, for that matter a criminal. The admiration in American culture for the gunslingers, mobsters, gangsters, outlaw bikers and gangstas is on the same wavelength as admiration for saints and martyrs. They are all the same spectrum of rule breaking outsider who’s become romanticized in pulp fiction, movies and video games.
They are an archetype that fulfills the fantasy of rule breaking freedom, being the law unto yourself, to be the power or to be the one fighting the power. The reality is far short of the fantasy.
Criminals are no different than businessmen, they are in it for the prestige and the cash, the power and influence, one through force and the other through cunning. Their respective criminality and anti-social behavior is only limited by the scope of their reach – and businessmen have a far greater reach than criminals – organized or otherwise – as businessmen who put stockholders above employees, customers, financial institutions and the environment do far more damage to society than the most violent of criminals can hope to.
Criminals, be they in legitimate or underground business, are related to the zealot martyrs, in that they often feel entitled by a higher call or by some quirk of birth or force of personality, to be above or beyond the rules that apply to mortal and lesser men. To be rule makers unto themselves.
Hmmm, putting it that way – the dictator/politicians, criminal/business, outlaws and zealots are really the same spectrum of anti-social disorders. Especially with the recent revelation that many if not most American Republicans believe that they are called by god to run for office and that dictators assure their populaces that they are themselves divine – but never in a fun campy way, always the creepy religious way.
To some degree, the mentality of “live fast, die young” explains the willingness of criminals to accept life as brutal and short, to live and die in service of the gang or larger community, is no different than a person who is a religious martyr, who either dies as part of an assault on their religious foes or in self-sacrifice in self-immolation as a form of protest.
Western secular zealots are less self-sacrificing than their eastern counterparts generally, again, preferring to not be caught or to be killed by police or by the state after a media saturated trial. The most horrifying fate for the western murderous zealot would be to be caught and endure life in obscurity and prison; without even a made for TV movie to explain their crusade.
Perhaps if we could understand the nuance between a zealot willing to self-sacrifice and one who is only willing to sacrifice others, we could identify the thought process that allows a person to sacrifice life in the name of ideology.
The willingness to die for causes has traditionally been thought linked to the degree of economic participation and freedoms one had in their respective society.
For bigoted reasons, the 9/11 hijackers changed this idea – suicide bombers where thought of as disaffected, disengaged young men – but the 9/11 hijackers were middle aged, married and many with children and professional career credentials. Most of them were engineers by training and trade. The increase in female suicide bombers also flies in the face of convention.
I say for bigoted reasons, because Timothy McVeigh was middle class and employed and he looked and could have been anyone. Homespun terrorists hit too close to home to analyze perhaps, much easier to hand wring and wonder about the truth when we don’t have to examine ourselves too closely.
People are something in between herd and pack animals – we like just enough structure to provide a consistent and stable framework, but we also like our individuality and some freedom from restrictive social roles (gender or socio-economic). Collectively, anyway, some people reveal in anarchy and others rejoice in rigidity. To each their own comfort level, but most of us in the middle spectrum like these two extremes in some balance or variability – it maintains our illusion of not only freedom, but free will.
Aside: Here’s a terrible thought, what if the only true expression of free will is choosing to die?
It all comes down to what do you value, or, as the punk rocker wrote, what you believe in.
Do you believe in yourself or do you only credit you with value when you are in service or attached to something bigger?
I think that if you are not enough to assign value to, you have no option but to glom onto something bigger, be it religion, politics, sub-culture, anti-culture or social movement. But, by casting yourself in a supporting role, you become vulnerable to exploitation by people who have no problem with their own self worth and often will fall prey to people with the opposite problem – those who value themselves as better than everyone else.
Leaders of movements have dupes, pawns, toadies, hangers on, minions and disaffected fanatics to do the sacrificing.
It’s never the leaders of any movement who self-immolate or strap on a bomb belt – when the leaders of a movement die, it’s usually a result of either their own over-indulgence with drugs/alcohol or in a doomsday cult mass murder/suicide when the legal authorities come knocking and blaring music and blazing gunfire.
It doesn’t matter how much education or professional accreditation or career accomplishments or families one has, without self-worth, there can be no value or worth inherent in these accomplishments and connections. Without valuing yourself, you have no value to transfer or put into accomplishments or connections; and instead, seek external validation to convey worth and value to your person.
It seems to me, that in addition to fluoride to compensate for the state of dental hygiene, that the government may wish to add anti-depressants to the water. Except that governments of any kind prefer a compliant and only marginally disaffected population who feels bad enough to console themselves through shopping therapy, but not bad enough to get out and vote or revolt.
We find meaning and purpose when we are connected to other people, to the community and we can economically participate and contribute to the world. But this cannot be our only source of value – we have to value ourselves in order for other people to value our contributions and to value ourselves.
Individuals are the basic part that make up the larger blocks of family, friends, colleagues (packs), demographic groups (herds), and segments of society (hives). We are the parts that form the sum, and must in turn, be enhanced as a part by the resultant sum. It is not enough that we contribute, but our contribution must be honored and recognized uniquely.
By us being a part and merely feeding the machine without recognition and enhancement, without that feedback balance, it is little wonder then, that maladaptive and anti-social behaviours emerge, and eventually, bites the hand that has stopped feeding them.