Links and Comments: Conservatives and the Just World Fallacy

Among the dozens of articles in mainstream and progressive media (not to mention outraged posts by many of my Fb friends) about the insidious effects of the just-passed ‘Trumpcare’ law by the House of Representatives, here’s one that explores how Republicans can be so gleeful about passing a law that will cause many people to lose their health insurance — that will advantage the rich, and disadvantage the poor. It’s because conservatives/Republicans think the poor and disadvantaged deserve their fate.

Salon: The “pro-life” party has become the party of death: New research on why Republicans hate poor and sick people.

A belief in the “just world hypothesis” is a unifying theme in Pew’s findings: Republicans and conservatives are more likely to hold the erroneous belief that good things happen to good people and that individuals who suffer disadvantages in life that are out of their control are somehow responsible for their circumstances. The just world hypothesis is a fallacy.

In reality, people exist in a society where their life trajectories are largely determined by impersonal social and political systems. Nevertheless, the just world hypothesis can be compelling. It allows the privileged, the powerful and the rich to rationalize their opportunities: “I earned it! Those people are lazy!” “Good things happen to good people! Those people are immoral and made bad choices unlike me!” “Their problems aren’t my responsibility!”

The Just World Hypothesis is a fallacy. It’s not true. It’s a bias in the human mind, more or less present in a range among all people like the many other mental biases, that exists because it allows some people to move on with their lives without taking responsibility for the world around them. You can see how in many circumstances it might promote individual well-being, and the promotion of their descendants — lest such individuals get bogged down by the enormity of random and inevitable injustices in the world around them. At the same time, intelligent self-reflective individuals can become aware of how the world actually works — and still get on with their lives.

Here’s an essay on this by the aforementioned David McRaney: The Just-World Fallacy.

The Misconception: People who are losing at the game of life must have done something to deserve it.

The Truth: The beneficiaries of good fortune often do nothing to earn it, and bad people often get away with their actions without consequences.

This doesn’t mean that Republicans are necessarily heartless. (There used to be a contingent of intellectuals who defended conservative positions — e.g. William Buckley, et al. — but by now they have become overwhelmed by the racist, heartless, nationalistic, xenophobic elements of society. There seems to be no one making intellectual defenses of current conservative positions any more.)

It means that people who are heartless in this way tend to be conservatives, and therefore Republicans. (Despite the huge irony of WWJD.)

It means, to speculate just a bit, that the constellation of mental traits that includes the perception of agency in all things (from “God” to “everything happens for a reason”), conspiracy theories, the idea of the ‘prosperity gospel’, and many similar ideas, align toward one side of human nature — a side of human nature that advantages group competition in evolutionary history (as opposed to those *other* groups who are undeserving, like the poor and the disadvantaged) — that is opposite to the aspects of human nature that are creative, skeptical, and more likely to perceive the world as it is, whose aspects are manifested in individuals who are therefore, ironically, less likely to survive on their own. Bottom line: human species survival, across centuries and millennia of changing locales, as the species has spread across the planet, and changing climate conditions, as ice ages have come and gone, depends on both groups; on in-group thinking, and on independent thinking. Human history, and politics, swings back and forth among these ranges.

Cf., as always, Haidt, McRaney, and Wilson.

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