Cognitive Dissonance

Many summers ago…

I looked out towards the Pacific, saw the miles and miles of cultivated land and uniform buildings, hundreds of windows catching the sun and glimmering in the distance as a great fire.

We sat there, my brother and I, on the hill crowned with a solitary bench, overlooking the very land that had fostered us. Below our aching feet suburbia unfurled before us like so many uniformed soldiers. Houses stacked in neat little rows, their manicured lawns gleaming in green summer perfection. There was not a soul to be found in that display window world below. The streets were empty, the parks were lifeless, and the atmosphere eerily silent. Somewhere within me I longed to hear the sound of children’s laughter, but there was only the wind. Suddenly it felt like we were the last ones left.

How sad, I thought. How very sad.

A breeze sped west from the sea, rippling passed like so many fingers through my hair and headed towards the mountains that still burned from its summer preening; sending plumes of ashes and smoke into the valley below. In the miles and miles in front of me staring down from our little mountain lay everything we had ever known. How utterly microscopic our pristine world was.

“This is it!?” I spoke suddenly, compelled as I was to break the silence. “The culmination of all of our efforts…I don’t think we were meant for this. I think other people feel it too; I think they just don’t know how to listen. Why do you think apocalyptic fantasy is all the rage right now? Maybe, subconsciously, we long for this to come to an end.”

The words flowed out of me lucid and clear but the train of thought had no destination. It sped forward, unbound and undeterred along clear tracks of gray matter going nowhere.

“I harbor no faith in us as a species. Time and time again we have proven we do not deserve this. It’s all there, in the pages of history. I don’t think we are going to make it…Nations pursue conquest and domination every generation over dwindling resources constantly at war over invisible lands drawn in the sand.”

“We consume far more than we produce,” said my brother.

I pointed up at the blue sky, “We should all be going up there, together!” then stretched my arms out at the cities before me, “But we are too busy squandering over all of THIS! Nationalistic conditioning has blinded people to the idea of unification. We turn a blind eye to the suffering of others in other worlds. Our progression as a species has been halted in the name of capitalistic consumerism. Our governments have implemented systems to raise generations of comfortable consumers to buy, buy, buy; and all the while they are the ones who are being bought.”

“Working to feed the machine.”

I lowered my quivering arms, “The machine needs to die! All empires fall. And one day this age will end, with or without us. We were not, we were…then we won’t be.”

It had been hours since we dropped, but the LSD was still hot in our blood. Just moments ago we were running down the canyons of Laguna like half-naked Braves. Chasing what? I don’t know. It didn’t matter. I suddenly felt every muscle in me come alive and begged to burn. So I ran. Crossing small valleys in a matter of strides. My breath drowning out all other sounds. There was only me and the path and the wind billowing in my  hair. How I suddenly longed for four legs.

We stripped down to our underwear when we reached the ocean. She sparkled like some bygone Mediterranean jewel and I let those salty hues envelop me whole until I forgot to breathe. Beneath the surface the sunlight pierced the liquid veil and I looked on with burning eyes at natures dance. I was young and the world was brand new. That day the life I had been avoiding for months took me by the hand and begged me to participate. How could I refuse?

 

A hawk flew across us, moving with the breeze. I traced its trajectory, in awe of its perfect and most mechanical design. It’s plumes were brilliant, the tips of the feathers shining red beneath the sun like blood from a fresh wound.

“I see before me the futility of existence. I see life and at it’s most basic level, my consciousness deems it meaningless. Everyone wants to believe that life is this great miracle that is guided along by divine providence or some grand design. Life, in its basest terms, is the result of biological reactions between two compatible pairs of living organisms. People want to believe we are born with purpose, that every one of us was put here to accomplish something great; there are almost seven billion people on this planet and what? Everyone has a destiny they are meant to fulfill? No, we are born without purpose—”

“We have to find purpose. We can make a purpose.”

“That was my next point!” I shouted in excitement knowing he understood. “I know how pessimistic it sounds, but we are born without purpose, though I believe we can make our own. You are absolutely right. I see life, and I still see it as ‘meaningless’. There are people born that just live and die, but I can give it a meaning. I can make it mean something, what time I have here.”

“All I want is to see the world, to live and enjoy my life, and help as many people as I can. I think that would be enough…,” he said, speaking more to himself than to me.

“I think like that, about the absolutely absurdity of life, and then I think of us. You and me right now, sitting on this very bench. I think of all the steps, everything that ever happened to us that led us here, to this moment in time. I think of our Grandfathers, how Mom’s father ran away from home as a child and joined the circus and made his way to America. And I think of Dad’s father, how he landed at Normandy on D-Day and somehow, someway made his way up that beach without his rifle. Made it through that terrible war and made it home. Those men sired our parents. Our parents in all their own steps somehow made us and out of all that, here we are—sitting right here. One step in a different direction, a subtle shift in the wind and we wouldn’t be. And even us, we could have turned out very differently, you and I. But here we are, as we are. And that, that to me is amazing. That makes life beautiful to me,” I was nearly on the verge of tears. “I am torn between futility and beauty.”

“That called Cognitive Dissonance, when conflicting beliefs exist inside of a person.”

“That’s my personality…internally, I am constantly wrestling with myself. But you know, I am really beginning to like who I am. What I am becoming. And you, I am so proud of you. I like who you are, who you’ll become.”

“I like the person you are.” He said as my eyes began to well. And maybe that’s all I needed. Maybe that’s all we need, to be seen. Then he hit me, “But my pale ass is burning up! I gotta get out of the sun cause your dumb ass lost the sunscreen. Let’s go.”

“You go ahead. I want to be alone for a while.”

He took off down the path and disappeared. I made my way off the sidewalk and onto the dirt path that led up to a rocky Martian cliff. At the top, a man dressed all in white was flying a remote hobby plane. Suddenly I felt the compulsion that I had to go up there and see him. There was nothing else in the world that was more important.

I made my way up the steep rock face sure-footed and unafraid. I tried to be as silent as possible. A deep urge surfaced that pressed me forward just to see this man’s face. I walked behind him at a respectable distance, not making a sound. I caught his face for a moment from a peripheral glance. His eyes never left that plane. The drone soared silently as the hawks flew around it not quite sure what to make of the alien blue craft.

‘I bet he wishes he was that plane’, I thought. As I rounded on his right slowly moving further and further away from him I saw on his face a look I’d never quite seen on anyone before and it’s stayed with me ever since. There on his wrinkled canvas was painted an expression of pure bliss. I had never seen someone more content. So completely lost in a moment.

I smiled to myself and said, ‘I need to find my plane.’