America is the only nation brought forth by a set of beliefs, and those beliefs, captured so eloquently in our founding documents, are some of the most powerful and inspiring ever conceived. We consider this to be the land of the free, where the individual is supreme and nothing prevents us from going as far as our talents can take us. That image of America – that “brand” – is incredibly strong.
However, there’s a very large gap between that long-held image and the reality of America today. What was once a government built for the people is now a government run for the rich and powerful, one that throws the people under the bus whenever their interests differ from those of the corporate and political leaders who run the show.
And living in one world (the corrupt) while stubbornly believing you live in another (the ideal), despite mounds of evidence, causes a distinct kind of stress, often called cognitive dissonance.
Psychologists suggest that when people are in a state of cognitive dissonance, they’ll search for a way to resolve it, either by rejecting one view or the other as either wrong or unimportant. If you’re a smoker looking at the link between smoking and cancer, for example, you’ll either quit smoking or decide that the research is biased, wrong, or doesn’t apply (in other words, that you’re smart enough to quit before the long-term damage is done).
But what happens if you can’t resolve the two?
For most of us Americans, resolving our cognitive dissonance would mean either accepting that we’re impotent and living futile (and feudal) lives, or rejecting our lifestyles and actively fighting the rot in the system. If we’re not willing to do either of those, the dissonance stays – and eats at us.
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