"Shut up! Stop laughing! This ain't funny! This is a real gun!"
--Anonymous, un-apprehended bad guy, quoted this afternoon by my friend M., recalling how she got a fit of hysterical giggles while caught up in a convenience-store holdup on the Southwest Side of Chicago about 10 years ago.
Context: This week, M. is returning, for her brother's wedding, to her family's village near Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine. She remembered coming home to Chicago after her last family visit as a teenager: Sadness to leave her extended family, but relief to be back in Chicago, her home town. Especially, M. clung to the thought, "I'll never have to see another gun again."
"There were so many guns. Every day, everywhere, Israelis -- soldiers and settlers -- were pointing guns at my sisters and me and our friends."
She didn't mention it this afternoon, but I know that M. saw a boy she knew shot -- by an Israeli sniper -- for no reason. Not throwing stones (they always say that). Not doing anything but walking home from school.
I said that the laughing fit was cognitive dissonance, but I was using the term incorrectly.
I thought any kind of distress produced by a discord between what you expect to perceive and what you really perceive could be called cognitive dissonance, but in fact the definition is "the feeling of discomfort that comes from holding in the mind two conflicting thoughts at the same time."
M. was unable to perceive the robber's gun as real -- or the violent act that was unfolding as a real violent act -- because her feeling of relief at being home, away from the Occupation, was so strong.
Emotional certainty interfered with reality-checking.
There may be another term for this, but I don't know what it is.
One thing that comes to mind, of course, is PTSD -- but goofy armchair diagnoses are what you get when amateurs play parlor games with the DSM.