our need for cognitive dissonance

Here is a passage from Harari’s remarkable bestseller to illustrate how each page provides a generous helping of food for thought:

Unlike the laws of physics, which are free of inconsistencies, every man-made order is packed with internal contradictions. Cultures are constantly trying to reconcile these contradictions, and this process fuels change.
[One of many examples] is the modern political order. Ever since the French Revolution, people throughout the world have gradually come to see both equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. Yet the two values contradict each other. Equality can be ensured only by curtailing the freedoms of those who are better off. Guaranteeing that every individual will be free to do as he wishes inevitably short-changes equality. The entire political history of the world since 1789 can be seen as a series of attempts to reconcile this contradiction.
Consistency is the playground of dull minds.
…. [Contradiction is] such an essential feature of any culture that it even has a name: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is often considered a failure of the human psyche. In fact, it is a vital asset. Had people been unable to hold contradictory beliefs and values, it would probably have been impossible to establish and maintain any human culture.

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (McClelland & Stewart, 2014), pp. 164-165.

Comments are closed.