Humans are an adaptive species, and we have acquired a variety of psychological coping mechanisms to help us as we attempt to deal with the dramatic mismatch between our DNA and the demands of corporate civilization. The ability to compartmentalize is one such mechanism. Compartmentalization involves the restriction of our scope of thought and awareness so that it encompasses manageable amounts of internally-consistent information. By compartmentalizing, we are able to erect conceptual boundaries separating incongruent or conflicting features of experience. As a too-common example, consider the environmental activist who nonetheless commutes several miles to work each day and continues to purchase innumerable products that are energy-intensive and ecologically corrosive to produce and dispose of. Or, closer to home, consider the anarcho-primitivist who sits in his air conditioned office and uses a laptop computer to compose blog posts about the evils of technology and the need to unplug from civilization.
When compartmentalization breaks down, it can lead to an uncomfortable psychological state known as cognitive dissonance. When the person recognizes inconsistency in his or her beliefs, behaviors, or facets of experience, he or she employs one or more additional cognitive strategies in order to reduce the dissonance. For example, the anarcho-primitivist might rationalize his use of technology by claiming that sometimes it is necessary to fight fire with fire, or that he is trying in his small way to facilitate the destruction of the machine from the inside, as a monkey-wrench in the gears, etc. I’m not quite sure how environmental activists rationalize simultaneously protesting and participating in the destruction of the planet.