Society’s Bogeymen

I toss around terms like “cognitive dissonance” quite a bit, and I feel the need to occasionally attempt to convey exactly what sort of baggage I carry with such terms when I use them. I am fairly certain that I’ve explained it before, but I’ll explain it again: when I refer to cognitive dissonance in society, I am specifically referring to the way that people are forced to cope with the world in which they live. We go to work and school everyday, promised a better life if only we work harder. All the while we’re bombarded with gossip about celebrities and socialites, news about philandering bankers and stock traders, stories about corrupt politicians, and so on and so forth. I shouldn’t need to explain how most of these people share something in common: they are rich, and they are lazier, more selfish, and/or more dishonest than the general population.

I am generalizing to some extent, but I don’t have the time to go through and quantify each and every statistic, but the overall truth remains the same: we are told that by being good, honest, hardworking people that we can improve our lot. However, we find that those who are at the top of the ladder are often the most unjust, dishonest, lazy people of society. Though I believe people are naturally selfish, most of us are unwilling (or unable) to be so selfish that we would thoroughly compromise our values for material gain. We sometimes make small exceptions, and perhaps we do that quite a bit. It seems evident that when it comes down to it, though, most of us would not completely sell out our fellow man for our own greed.

The most materially successful people are the greedy, yet we ourselves are not willing to compromise so thoroughly. How do we reconcile this? As much as we parrot the ideals of democracy, I think each person is largely aware that our votes change little in our society. We might donate to certain causes, we might volunteer our time, some of us even attend protests and rallies. Even then, we effect so little change that it can be demoralizing. All the while, in order to survive, we have to participate in this same system that rewards callous greed. We have jobs, some of us have nice cars, some of us take the bus. The struggle remains largely the same, though: we work for those people at the top, and they give us some percentage of the revenue we help to generate. Sometimes that percentage is more fair than others. Our very survival depends on holding up the same system that I think we all know is corrupt. This is the very essence of cognitive dissonance: we simultaneously love and hate ourselves and our livelihoods and the society in which we live.

The simple solution is to create bogeymen. We blame sexism or racism or homophobia or war or illegal immigration or the tech industry or some vague idea of social oppression. While certainly there are individual examples of oppression (sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.), the idea that modern society is inherently oppressive against these certain minority groups seems detached from the reality. (Granted, LGBTQQIAAP rights certainly are behind the legal standard of equality that other groups experience.) In other words, we take the traditional ideas of oppression (patriarchy, et al.) and apply it to the modern era in order to create an intellectual problem that can be sorted through. If we can blame society’s problems on patriarchy, we can change the system without getting rid of it! The same example rings true, I think, in other iterations of social justice. When we can identify a bogeyman that affects only some group of people, then the system seems salvageable. It seems possible that we can create this scapegoat and then the problem will be solved.

Yet this is a stellar¬†example of using an emotional coping mechanism that is passive. We comfort ourselves by creating an internal paradigm where there is some battle being waged by men versus women, or whites versus minorities, and so on. The reality is that people are inherently selfish. Yes, there are racists; yes, there are sexists; yes, there are prejudiced people who simply hold wrongheaded, stereotyping views. The reality seems to be that people are insecure. The more insecure a person is, the more selfish he or she is likely to be. If I don’t know how I will get my next meal, I’m much more likely to do something bad to you in order to guarantee that I’ll eat tonight. The more chaotic the system is, the less predictable it is. The less predictable it is, the less security we have. Therefore, the more chaotic the system, the less secure we are. We live in a society where our jobs, our retirements, our homes, and so on cannot be guaranteed. It is chaotic and unpredictable, and we therefore are more likely to be greedy and selfish towards one another. That seems fully apparent to me.

Using these passive coping mechanisms only serve to perpetuate the system that seems to be spiraling into further chaos and unpredictability. It seems to me that the best way, if not the only way we can counteract this is to throw off our bogeymen and to be a little kinder towards one another. Live moderately, and show people that you can be trusted. If we learn to voluntarily trust one another, we might not yet be slaves to greed. We ought to stop blaming each other and find an active solution. We ought to show compassion and altruism, because it seems to me that there is no other way that we can thwart our descent. I think that by showing compassion as opposed to self-centered egoism that there is some progress to be made yet. Perhaps the only way we can redress our cognitive dissonance with society is to quell our own greed and selfishness by fostering trust and security.

Society’s Bogeymen

Political theatre

I’m borrowing a term that, admittedly, is entirely non-clever and unoriginal for what I’d like to discuss here. The political theatre is probably an unfamiliar term for the majority of people, but I find that there really isn’t anything that’s a better explanation of the way that our modern system operates. However, I mean this a little more deeply than is probably to be expected.

When we talk about the political theatre, usually we use the term just to describe all the things that go along in politics, similarly to when we use the term “the sports arena.” However, that is entirely not the case here, and that is why I am somewhat reluctant to even use it. Politics simply is a theatre. It is an entertainment show, nothing more. It should occur to most people that most of politics seems to be focused on highly polarizing or highly emotional issues. It is not even simply this – political types attempt to focus and proliferate the passion that is associated with different issues in a way that amplifies the negative effects from the strife. For instance, Republicans and Democrats in the United States have been arguing over abortion for decades. The fact that politicians focus solely on this issue so often (think about how Republicans and Democrats get famous – it’s over issues like this [see Wendy Davis for example]) only illustrates the point further that there is an incentive for this obsession: an easy wedge issue for campaigns, and a distraction. These are two things that any politician is more than happy to have.

When you begin to think about it, politics in America (and across the world) has been so dramatized and personalized that now we experience something new – a rising class of elites that is directly pitted against the “little people.” This rising class of elites possesses a significant amount of control straight from the hands of the public because they are elected to act on wedge issues – issues which will never go away as long as these politicians want to hold sway over the public. While we argue about social problems, the politicians continue to get rich and make their friends rich. I have a lot of trouble believing that income inequality in the United States and other Western nations exists for much reason beyond this corruption. The fact that rich folks often pay less in effective taxes than the rest only goes to show that the focus of politicians is not on governing – it’s on wealth.

Insofar as getting out of a hole like this is concerned, I don’t know if there is much a person can do for now. The only way for a few ultra-powerful elites to be toppled is for a vast majority to oppose them. For now, most people would rather play right into their hands. Even now, the elites seize on the income inequality issue and attempt to make little band-aids to fix the “problem” (minimum wage, etc.), when the problem they see is merely a symptom of the pathogen they have injected and inflamed in our society – absolute corruption and greed in the face of all reason and compassion for other human beings. We have a serious problem, and it’s primarily a problem of information. Don’t get caught into the left-right dichotomy that has been set up for us – because it is not truly about left versus right. It has not been for a long time.

Political theatre