“Cognitive dissonance is the mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The unease or tension that the conflict arouses in people is relieved by one of several defensive manoeuvres: they reject, explain away, or avoid the new information.”

That begs the question: Do we all suffer from mass cognitive dissonance?

Here’s an experiment for you: ask everyone at the dinner table if they believe in animal cruelty. Chances are, other than self-proclaimed sociopaths (and they do walk amongst us), everyone will say they don’t.

Next, ask them: do you eat meat? Again, chances are most will say yes. This, dear readers, is an example of cognitive dissonance, a psychological concept used to explain the mental discomfort one feels when one holds opposing or contradictory views- in this case, being against animal cruelty whilst consuming meat, the rearing of which involves plenty of animal cruelty. It’s not necessarily hypocrisy. I know plenty of people who believe dogs should be pets, and cows should be food. But most of us believe we are inherently good and that in the face of great suffering, we would act to stop it. The thing is, most of us are unaware of how cruel industrial animal agriculture really is.

Thanks to social media, and the internet, it’s easier for activists and undercover investigative journalists to share the reality of the industry with the world. Their work means that more of us know now that baby calves are violently separated from their mothers at birth, that male chicks are incinerated because they produce no eggs, that pigs are not given space to walk for most of their lives…and on and on. The result of us finding out? Cognitive dissonance, which can cause great stress to ourselves and can result in feelings of shame, anxiety and guilt. How can we keep thinking of ourselves as good human beings, when we know we are participating in great suffering?

I believe the pandemic and the rise of in-your-face environmental activism has ushered in an era of mass cognitive dissonance (this is different from climate anxiety) and we will be feeling the effects for decades to come.

Certainly, younger generations, notably millennials and zillennials, are already dealing with these feelings (they spend all their time online so are more likely to be confronted with their cognitive dissonance on the regular) and that’s one of the big reasons you are seeing millions of young people turn away from eating meat, excessive air travel, owning too much stuff, boycotting unethical brands and more. They truly are our last hope. As for the rest of us, time to confront our dissonance head-on.