Advice from György Lukács on Dealing with Cognitive Dissonance

From History and Class Consciousness by György Lukács:

I think that I would be departing from the truth if I were to attempt to iron out the glaring contradictions of that period by artificially construction an organic development and fitting it into the correct pigeon-hole in the ‘history of ideas’. If Faust could have two souls within his breast, why should not a normal person unite conflicting intellectual trends within himself when he finds himself changing from one class to another in the middle of a world crisis? (Preface to the New Edition, 1967).

Lukács’ discussion of cognitive dissonance, and the reasons for it, reminded me of my own internal conflicts that have developed since I landed in Israel – conflicts between the secular and the religious, the particular and the universal, the rational and the spiritual. Looking back on the week, I realized that I’ve simultaneously been an adamant anti-Zionist and a fierce believer in Jewish peoplehood, a committed atheist  and a traditional Jew, and rationally analytical and subconsciously spiritual. These contradictions aren’t permanent. And even now I can feel and see certain paths out of my muddled thoughts. But these incessant internal conflict reflect my changing personal circumstances – “changing from one class to another in the middle of a world crisis.” I moved from suburban New Jersey to the slums of South Tel Aviv. I left a comfortable, English-speaking environment and moved to a country where expressing myself in the native language remains difficult. I relocated from a country where I was one of many minorities to a country where I am part of the majority – all of this in the midst of climate change, upcoming elections, the threat of war, and financial collapse.

What is there to do? How can I come to terms with my contradictory thoughts? Lukács continues:

Mental confusion is not always chaos. It may strengthen the internal contradictions for the time being but in the long run it will lead to their resolution. Thus my ethics tended in the direction of praxis, action, and hence towards politics. And this led in turn to economics, and the need for a theoretical grounding there finally brought me to the philosophy of Marxism. (Preface to the New Edition, 1967).

My mental confusion, too, is beginning to be resolved through praxis and action. Volunteering has opened my eyes to the need for universal, liberal democracy in Israel, even if that means losing the  Jewish character of the state. And it seems that the very nature of a state, let alone an ethnocratic one like Israel is today, violates major tenants of Judaism. Socialism and universalism can be reinforced by my cultural and religion. Though reconciling socialism and Judaism is difficult, I already feel the links between Marx and Maimonides, between Luxembourg and Leibowitz. The Jewish tradition, which has been hijacked by nationalists, can be used as a source of inspiration for emancipatory and revolutionary change.

We need not cede our claim to interpret the tradition to those who would use it for oppressive and exploitive ends.

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