Cognitive Dissonance

The main reason I wrote my last post about comparing the Titanic disaster to our looming global problems was because of cognitive dissonance.  I felt a burning desire to explain these events in terms that most people could understand, whether they chose to believe my comparison or not.  For those unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia describes it as;

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The “ideas” or “cognitions” in question may include attitudes and beliefs, the awareness of one’s behaviour, and facts. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours, or by justifying or rationalising their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours.

So my two contradictory ideas that I hold simultaneously in my head, that is causing me an uncomfortable feeling is;

A.  That we are on the cusp of a global shit storm; hence the Titanic story, and

B.  Everywhere I look around me, everyone is going on with their business as if there is nothing wrong and everything is smelling like roses.  Even the global recession is over, so many commentators are saying (which I don’t believe for a second.)

Is it just me with this battle going on in my brain?  Some days I feel like it is going to explode, because everything I believe to be true about climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, environmental destruction, etc, I can see around me in small everyday things, but no one else around me seems to notice anything, except a minority of concerned citizens and politicians, few concerned bloggers and about 500 protesters that stormed the Hazelwood power station.

Do others share my pain?  Please let me know, and put me out of my misery!  Either way, I don’t mind, just share, please.


  1. says

    You need to sell a better message than we’re all on the Titanic and sinking. You will attract like minded people, but never reach those you really want to.

    If you want change in others, you have to believe in others. That’s the simple answer.

    Quick question: if you were stuck behind the wheel of the Titanic and saw the iceberg coming, would you turn the ship around to save people – or be stuck in your cognitive dissonance that no-one would believe there was a catastrophy to avoid?

    That’s not a criticism, just an illustration of how it’s pointless to convince people of their own demise – especially if they can’t see it. Doesn’t mean the danger isn’t there, they just can’t see it.

    So you can continue to beat yourself up over it, or just be happy that your own eyes have been opened and can do something about it.

    The happier you are, the more your words will impact on people searching for happiness too. Consider the passengers on the Titanic. They were merely looking for adventure and happiness. The passengers in this modern life, are doing the same.

    You know, you can have an effing good time steering the Titanic to safety – or you can be immobilised by the thought of the iceberg and talk yourself out of doing anything positive for others.

    Maybe you need to take a step back and acknowledge the work you (and our society) has done to date. The end goal is the desire, and one worth perserving with – but don’t kill yourself getting there or concinving others.

  2. Anonymous says

    If a government/ country had just gone into war, they’d manage to move quickly to make changes, create bans, and find resources…

    Individuals can make a difference… by putting united pressure on governments and corporations. If people are willing to start off with things they can do around the house, they increase their awareness, then move onto making choices about what they buy, where they shop, which energy provider they go with etc., and I guess the final stage is then becoming an activitist for the big issues, in whatever way they can.

    I’ve heard a few sayings:

    “One person standing on a scale might not weigh much, but alot of people standing on the same scale can weigh alot.”

    “A small ripple in a pond can become a big ripple.”

    Or think of it as a Pyramid Scheme!! The more people you get involved, and they all go onto to get others involved, then just the one person at the top of the pyramid CAN make a big difference!

  3. says

    I think there is another term for it – deluded optimism. Most people, when asked, will acknowledge the statistical likelihood of cancer (for example) or accidents but when asked if they think it will happen to them, they say No. 20 years ago I remember having a huge disagreement with a flat mate over using plastic bags – the idea that individuals can make a difference just didn’t wash with her. I’ve heard the same arguments over water usage – and when you realise how much water is used in industry then it does seem like household use is insignificant but it isn’t! I see a lot of change around me in attitudes and behaviours – some people will always deny the reality but others are trying not to be overwhelmed and are making small steps and that is really important. The shove is needed at a government level and change, as we know by the progress for women, is a slow process. It’s hard not to get despairing because we just don’t have that much time to fluff around. We need to make change NOW. I share your frustration but also don’t want to get paralysed. As frustrating as it is, a positive message, in small quantities, is more likely to effect long term change for most people than a loud protest (as much as I feel like scaling the walls myself).

  4. says

    I agree with Chookie. You can’t judge someone unless you walk a km in their shoes!! It’s those whose ‘problems’ are considerably less urgent than environmental issues that I sometimes feel peeved at, but again, who I am to judge what is an urgent problem to them or not…

  5. says

    There are plenty of people in Australia with considerably more urgent problems than environmental issues. Therefore, they may not be able to focus on the environment so much. They *would* care if they had the chance. It’s easy to be judgemental. I try only to be judgemental about people who ought to know better (Kev, I’m looking at you!).

  6. says

    the more people like you articulate your feelings the better off we may all be. remember your own epiphany and the enormous changes to your own lifestyle. keep blogging and connecting with people. we may be all individuals but we still pack a punch.
    kind regards.

  7. ecoMILF says


    “Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Arundhati Roy.

    We can only change the moment here and now one person at a time. You are giving, and doing, and learning and changing and teaching and growing. That is more than what most do. Continue on your path with a heart filled with compassion, love and joy. The bitter sweet truth is that creation is born of destruction. We will change… but many will choose the path of destruction before we can being to create again.


  8. says

    My cognitive dissonance comes more from:

    a) believing that the world & human civilisation is in a bad state of affairs… environmentally, ethically, financially etc.

    b) feeling cynical about the predictions and ‘facts’ related to that bad state of affairs… thinking perhaps the ‘sheeple’ might be onto something!

    I did several rambling blog posts about it… to-ing and fro-ing between thinking nothing we do will stop the downfall of society and maybe the Earth will be better off without humans here, to being motivated by books and articles I was reading, that *something* could be done!

    That’s how I came up with my blog ‘motto’ (and motto in life, of course)!

    And now, my husband has just reminded me I am supposed to be having an electronic sunset tonight!! LOL

  9. Margo says

    As my neighbour down the road says “I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe”, or at least Alice at the Mad Hatters tea party

    You are not alone :)

  10. says

    Quite a few of us share how you feel – but then again, we’re reading your blog, so you’re ‘preaching to the choir’ to be cliche.

    It is really frustrating talking with others who look at me like I’m a fruit loop, and say that the environment is ‘not their problem’.

    The issue that is facing me at the moment is that I do too much thinking an not enough doing. It’s all very well for me to say we should be doing such and such, but am I leading by example? Not enough, to be sure.

    Maybe if you feel like it, you could write a post of practical steps that you suggest we can take to live a more sustainable lifestyle – a beginners guide.

  11. Cosmic says

    You have found exactly the right description for the paradoxes that plague me. On the one hand I sort of rather hoped that the ‘global crisis’ might be a natural way to wake people up and force them into taking measures to reduce consumerism and stop the rape of the planet, but what happens? – we get ‘stimulus’ packages to increase consumerism – this sits very ill with me, and to think that we will return to the ‘normal’ materially debt ridden, spiritually bereft, socially and emotionally screwed fills me with dread for my kids and grandkids. We need a much deeper recession so that life values and skills can be revisioned.

  12. Amy Webber says

    Good work on pulling some psychological terms out of the bag… champion effort. I seem to be in cognitive dissonance every time I go to school lately… hooray for ignorant and disrespectful people!
    Also about the global warming and what not, whilst it is still the norm not to worry about the earth and the impacts we make in respect to carbon emissions, there are some out there who do actually care.
    However until the new norm of being globally conscious arises I am afraid that people will continue to act the way that they do. We have been raised as a wasteful society and until something that actually impacts the individual occurs I believe that people will carry on the way they are going, unfortunatly.
    Love you daddy xxx

  13. says

    I’m with you.

    More people are waking up, and change will happen.

    The key is, whether it will happen fast enough. Because we need to do a few key things:
    – reduce our population
    – reduce our consumption of consumer items, fossil fuels, meat and dairy
    – reforest our lands
    – relocalise our services and communities.

    That’s the deal in a nutshell.

    If we can do things, we’ll have it licked. I believe the earth is robust, but it can only heal if we give it some space and time to do so.

  14. says

    Hi Gav,

    You’re certainly not alone on this one.

    I actually got to the point at the beginning of this year that I mentally threw it all in. It wasn’t long before I picked up my responsibleness again and kept going but right then I needed a rest from the daily frustration. The frustration of living in a world that by its choices tells me every day that what I value is not important.

    Luckily between completing my PDC, presentation next week, and getting involved with a community garden project I can see some steps forward. They might be small and seriously inappropriate for the scale of problems we are facing but I can only do the best I can with the opportunities the universe provides.

    Kind Regards

  15. says

    Hi Gavin,

    You are most definitely not alone. Not only am I surrounded by people determined to stay blissfully unaware, I also have to deal with people who have said out right that it’s not their problem. And then proceed to take the piss out of me and my husband because we are trying to make a difference. I want to scream at them but I know that it will fall on deaf ears.

    We like to call ourselves the most intelligent species but in truth, we are the most arrogant. And that arrogance is costing millions if not billions of lives and because they are not human, friends or family, no one gives a shit. It’s not their problem. Fools.

  16. says

    Gavin, I often go around wondering how people can even think about anything else besides the looming demise of life as we know it on this planet. How it frustrates me when I’m listening to the radio (NPR no less!) and hear the idiots blithering on about celebrities or other trivial matters. I don’t know what to do, except write my congressperson and senator and urge them to take every possible action toward mitigating climate change.

  17. says

    Hi Gavin! Well thank you for so aptly describing my own frustrations – and putting the label on this feeling “cognitive dissonance” – why this is comforting I can’t say. Maybe it is just that I am not alone in this awful feeling? I get absolutely blown away by the way people (especially in this town I’ve nicknamed Camelot) just go about their lives and think people like us are doomsayers to be totally dismissed. Sure makes you want to scream WAKE UP doesn’t it?

  18. says

    Hi Gavin
    You are very definitely not alone in feeling this. When I hear people talking about everything getting back to “normal” I could scream at them WAKE UP!!!!. There is no way it is sustainable to live as we have been living. Things have got to change drastically.I think that we have a lot of nasty things coming our way. Maybe then people will realise, but will it be too little too late? If people give any thought at all to how things are going in the world, then it is soon swept under the carpet once the notion is put to them that to make any difference they have to seriously moderate their lifestyle. Mention that, and you won’t see them for dust.
    I have been feeling increasing isolated from everyone else around me. Friends and workmates, for whom the norm is numerous holidays and short breaks each year, always involving flying. They look at me as if I’m mad, when they know that I’m not up for all of that and if I do go away then I try to go by train.
    Closer to home, it’s also difficult. I try to get my husband to turn off lights and radios which are playing to empty rooms. The other day we had another run in about the amount of water he puts in the kettle. He says that I have turned into a fanatic. He is a good, caring man who is a great support to me in all other respects but this just illustrates the blind spot that the vast majority of people have about this.
    Sorry, this has turned into a long rant, but as you can probably tell, I needed to get that off my chest.
    Sometimes, I feel that there is no one else who understands how I feel. But you lot do, thank goodness.

  19. says

    Gave, trust me its not you ! I get so down over trying to get those around me, including family members to see what is going to come up and bite us on the bum in the not too near future…….my brain hurts and there are some days when I feel almost paralysed with inactivity because I know that I cant do this all on my own, but until the people who really need to make the changes, Gordon Brown, Kevin Rudd, Obama etc, do something sensible, then the little steps that we mere mortals can make are the only things that we CAN do. We have to take care of the things we can change, personally and the people we can influence , personally. Do I despair of the rest of the world sitting listening to the band on the deck of the Titanic, God I bloody well do. Some people aren’t even on the waiting list for a ticket, never mind being on the ship……..

  20. says

    You are not alone. I have heard it declared that the worst of the storm is over, or the storm is over in reference to the economic crisis facing our country. However people as still filing bankruptcy because they overbought and over extended, and many of those people see no reason to change the way they do things.

    We are headed for harder times, gas here is creeping, creeping skyward, and we are looking at a long, cold winter.

    People don’t want to admit to what is going on around them, because it would make them culpable…

  21. says

    Gavin, you are not alone. I used to teach about brown coal and at the same time I taught about alternative energy. In the 80s, in a fairly rigid religious school.

    Steps, little steps, one at a time. It’s the only answer.

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