The Not-So-Just World Hypothesis

I’ve long been skeptical of what psychologists call the Just World Hypothesis.  A standard statement:

[T]he just-world hypothesis is the tendency to attribute consequences to—or expect consequences as the result of—a universal force that restores moral balance. This belief generally implies the existence of cosmic justice, destiny, divine providence, desert, stability, and/or order, and is often associated with a variety of fundamental fallacies, especially in regards to rationalizing people’s suffering on the grounds that they “deserve” it.

One of the main forms of (alleged) evidence in favor of the Just World Hypothesis is that people derogate and blame the victims of crimes.  But I’ve simply never noticed this in real life.  All I’ve seen, rather, is that people claim that other people derogate and blame the victims of crimes.

To explore these doubts, I ran three Twitter polls.  Yes, I know this is far from decisive evidence.  But I still trust it more than many of the studies that got the Just World Hypothesis off the ground.

I started with two paired survey questions:

Responses match my expectations.  Virtually no one thinks that crime victims are “highly” or even “somewhat” blameworthy.  Almost everyone thinks that crime perpetrators are “highly” or at least “somewhat” culpable.

My last survey zoomed out to the Big Question:

Well look at that!  Disbelievers in the Just World Hypothesis outnumber believers by over 2:1.  Only 3% of respondents think the world is “Very just.”

Are my respondents atypical?  Indubitably.  Nevertheless, I have much more confidence that my results will replicate on a national representative sample than the published academic work on this topic.  If anyone wants to try, feel free to use my questions!

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Get Off the Pendulum: The Trap of Reactionary Thinking

When I was younger, I used to enjoy riding Pharaoh’s Fury at the Coastal Carolina fair. This big sphinx-headed boat swung back and forth on a mechanical arm, terrifying and thrilling the riders, and (in our imaginations) we thought about what it would be like if it went upside down – dumping us all out.

This ride is much like how most people and cultures do their thinking about values in politics, religion, and cultural norms. We swing in one direction, then another, then back again.

For a while one major viewpoint dominates. That viewpoint oppresses or annoys a strong minority until it eventually creates a strong reaction and a pendulum swing in the other direction. Cultural control comes into the hands of the new majority, which oppresses or annoys the new minority, and the cycle begins again.

You can see the pendulum in action in a society’s relationship with religion: when religion dominates, secularists react (see the antitheist movement), and when secularism dominates, religionists react (see the fundamentalist movement). I’d argue that the intensity of both antitheism and fundamentalism are driven by feelings of disenfranchisement and oppression (and therefore more vulnerable to lazy thinking) rather than *just* differences of opinion.

You can especially see the pendulum in action on norms around gender roles and masculinity/femininity. For a long time, men (they still do in most cases) held and abused power over women. Fortunately for everyone, some women got pissed off and produced feminism. At some point, the swing toward feminine empowerment began to (at least appear to) correspond with a deemphasis of masculinity and a deconstruction of the important social role of males and masculinity. That has produced another swing in the direction of revived masculinity – some fantastic, but some unhealthy and unhealthily angry with feminism. In any case, if this reaction succeeds, it may only trigger another swing back in the other direction.

You can see the pendulum on a macro scale as well as in the micro scale of individual thinking. Everyone seems caught up in one reaction or another to the swinging of the belief pendulum. Perhaps you’ve gone through changes in your own beliefs. How often were you shifting your beliefs because of a sense of annoyance, or boredom, or anger, or contempt?

Of course, thinking on a pendulum is stupid. Thinking based on reaction and based on majority/minority belief status blinds you to complexity and to the actual merits of arguments.

And unfortunately, unlike a pendulum limited by Newton’s laws, the pendulum of reactionary thought in politics and philosophy can continue to swing wider and further out with each cycle – until everyone falls out of the ride (to borrow the earlier metaphor).

There are alternatives.

If you use discernment, you’ll watch to separate out your reasoned beliefs from your reactionary/emotional/tribal ones. When you do that, you’ll be surprised how non-partisan and hard-to-categorize your beliefs become.

Maybe the left has good things to say about unjustly-acquired wealth. Maybe the right has good things to say about individual skill and responsibility in building wealth. Maybe the right answer includes and transcends (to borrow a phrase from Ken Wilber) both.

Maybe the feminists have good things to say about structural injustices toward women. Maybe the masculinists have something good to say about the importance of independent manhood.

Maybe the secularists can teach us something about being. Maybe the religionists can teach us something about the ground and sacredness of being.

When your beliefs can become this nuanced and non-tribal, you can be insulated from most of the worst effects of the social pendulum. But always watch out for what irritates you in others’ beliefs and actions. The irritation will always be there, but you can’t let it push you to change much in your values – or at all in the values that matter most.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over

“Imagine what would be possible right now with ideas that are bold enough to meet the challenges of our time, but big enough, as well, that they could unify the American people [like the 9/11 attacks did],” said South Bend, Indian mayor Pete Buttigieg in his opening statement at the September 12 Democratic presidential nomination debate. “That’s what presidential leadership can do. That’s what the presidency is for.”

US Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) said she plans on “unifying the country” as president too.

“I know what’s broken. I know how to fix it,” US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) assured us as she applied for the job of running nearly every aspect of our lives.

The other candidates, and most if not all recent presidents, display the same symptoms of — there’s really no other term for it — narcissistic megalomania.

If you’re going to go to the trouble of running for president, a good first step might be to crack open a copy of the US Constitution and find out precisely what, as Mayor Pete says, “the presidency is for.”

In simple terms, it goes something like this:

Congress, supposedly within rigid confines also set forth in the Constitution, legislates. The president’s job is to execute Congress’s will.

Yes, the president has veto power, but Congress can override a presidential veto with a vote of 2/3 of both houses.

Yes, the president is commander in chief of the armed forces, but only when they are “called into the actual Service of the United States,” which is when Congress declares war (the founders frowned on standing armies).

Yes, the president appoints executive branch officials to carry out Congress’s instructions, but the highest of those officials have to be confirmed by the Senate. Ditto the Supreme Court justices who referee disputes of law.

Yes, the president can negotiate treaties, but once again those treaties have to be ratified by the Senate to become law.

The presidency is not “for” weird schemes to “unify the country” with “bold” and “big” ideas. It’s not the president’s job to figure out what’s “broken” and “fix it.”

The president, under the Constitution, is not “in charge.” He or she is a functionary with extremely limited powers.

But the Constitution has clearly become passe. Congress has (unconstitutionally) handed over much of its power to the executive branch and (dysfunctionally) failed to wisely exercise what little power it still claims.

We’re most of a century into what some call the age of the “imperial presidency” — America’s sickening descent to the status of banana republic.

No wonder candidates for the presidency act like they’re running for Mom or Dad of Everyone.

“[W]hether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain,” wrote 19th century anarchist Lysander Spooner: “That it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.”

American politics routinely confirms that diagnosis.

The Constitution is dead. It’s time to start over from scratch.

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War in All But Name as US State Department Offers Bribes to Pirates

If at first you don’t succeed, spread some money around. The Financial Times reports that the US State Department is offering cash bribes to captains of Iranian ships if they sail those ships into ports where the US government can seize them.

The offers are funded from a “Rewards for Justice” program authorizing payouts of up to $15 million for “counter-terrorism” purposes. It’s  not about counter-terrorism, though. It’s about doubling down on US President Donald Trump’s decision to violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, usually called the “Iran Nuclear Deal.”

The other parties to the deal —  especially France, the UK, and Germany — don’t want to let the deal go, but also don’t want to enrage Trump by violating the unilateral sanctions he’s imposed on Iran. The Iranians, on the other hand, have made it clear that unless those other countries find ways to deliver meaningful sanctions relief, they’re abandoning the deal too. They’ve started taking concrete steps in that direction.

On July 4 — Independence Day in the United States — members of the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines boarded an Iranian oil tanker, the Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar. They seized ship, crew, and cargo in an act of open piracy.

The pretext for the seizure was that selling oil to Syria violates European Union sanctions. But neither Iran nor Syria are EU member states, and the tanker was taken in international “transit passage” waters. That’s like giving a speeding ticket to a driver in Hungary for violating  Kazakhstan’s speed limits.

Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, plausibly asserted that the seizure was requested by the US government. The ship was released after Iran agreed that the oil would not go to Syria (its whereabouts and destination remain unknown as of this writing).

In the meantime, a US court had issued a seizure warrant — for an Iranian vessel, carrying Iranian oil, to a non-US destination, clearly outside any reasonable definition of US jurisdiction. And the Iranians had hijacked a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in reprisal for the taking of Grace 1.

So now the US State Department is reduced to simple bribery in its attempts to clean up after Trump’s 2016 campaign promise to get the US out of the “nuclear deal.”

Under the deal, the Iranians went beyond their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to “end” a nuclear weapons program which the US intelligence community didn’t even believe existed. All they got out of it was some relief from sanctions that should never have been imposed, and the return of some money stolen by the US government decades ago. All the US got out of it was an empty propaganda victory.

But electoral politics required Trump to throw even that tiny trophy away. He had to either promise foreign policy belligerence SOMEWHERE or risk establishment mockery as a peacenik. Enter the Israeli lobby and Sheldon Adelson’s millions. Iran drew the short straw.

So did we. This is war in all but name and only likely to escalate as Election 2020 draws nigh.

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Michael Drejka is a Political Prisoner

Just over a year ago, Michael Drejka fatally shot Markeis McGlockton in a Clearwater, Florida convenience store parking lot. On August 23, a jury found Drejka guilty of manslaughter.

Drejka should never have been charged with a crime.

Pinellas County sheriff Bob Gualtieri initially, and correctly, concluded that Drejka’s actions were protected under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The charge was only filed after a calculated public relations campaign to create a “public outcry” based on political issues of gun rights and racial injustice.

Let’s review the facts:

McGlockton physically attacked Drejka, blind-siding him and taking him by surprise, driving him to his knees in a parking lot with no plausible place to flee (even if Drejka had been obligated to attempt to do so), then loomed aggressively over him as a second potential assailant (McGlockton’s girlfriend) moved to Drejka’s right. Drejka drew his weapon and shot McGlockton. All of this transpired in a matter of about five seconds.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law required a reasonable belief on Drejka’s part that firing his weapon was “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”

Jury foreman Timothy Kleinman admits that “Markeis Mcglockton unnecessarily provoked Mr. Drejka by pushing him,” but claims that “[a]t the same time, using the gun wasn’t needed.  … He had time to think, ‘Do I really need to kill this man?’”

Forgive me if that statement causes me to doubt that Kleinman or any of the other jurors have ever found themselves in a situation where they were required to make “a kill or possibly be killed” decision over a of span of five seconds or less.

Speaking of doubt, let’s talk about the jury’s obligation. Their job was to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Drejka acted maliciously or negligently rather than in legitimate self-defense. Based on the key piece of evidence — surveillance video from the store — such a conclusion borders on the impossible.

Even Kleinman admits that Drejka was acting in self-defense up to the instant he pulled the trigger: “I think simply drawing the gun would have been enough.” Kleinman had as long to think about that as he cared to take in the comparative safety of the jury room. Drejka had seconds to think about it, on his knees, in a parking lot, during a violent physical assault that took him by surprise.

So why are we here? Because some politicians and political activists found a “lightning rod” case to push their agendas with. That’s a bad reason, an inherently corrupt purpose, for charging a man with a crime.

Yes, Drejka started an argument. But McGlockton started a fight. That bad decision cost Markeis McGlockton his life. It shouldn’t cost Michael Drejka his freedom.

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Siege at Ruby Ridge: The Forgotten History of the ATF Shootout That Started a Militia Movement

The Siege at Ruby Ridge is often considered a pivotal date in American history. The shootout between Randy Weaver and his family and federal agents on August 21, 1992, is one that kicked off the Constitutional Militia Movement and left America with a deep distrust of its leadership – in particular then-President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.

The short version is this: Randy Weaver and his wife Vicki moved with their four kids to the Idaho Panhandle, near the Canadian border, to escape what they thought was an increasingly corrupt world. The Weavers held racial separatist beliefs, but were not involved in any violent activity or rhetoric. They were peaceful Christians who simply wanted to be left alone.

Specifically for his beliefs, Randy Weaver was targeted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in an entrapping “sting” operation designed to gain his cooperation as a snitch. When he refused to become a federal informant, he was charged with illegally selling firearms. Due to a miscommunication about his court date, the Marshal Service was brought in, who laid siege to his house and shot and killed his wife and 14-year-old son.

Randy Weaver was, in many ways, a typical American story. He grew up in an Iowa farming community. He got decent grades in high school and played football. His family attended church regularly. He dropped out of community college and joined the United States Army in 1970. After three years of service, he was honorably discharged.

One month later he married Victoria Jordison. He then enrolled in the University of Northern Iowa, studying criminal justice with an eye toward becoming an FBI Agent. However, he dropped out because the tuition was too expensive. He ended up working in a John Deere plant while his wife worked as a secretary before becoming a homemaker.

Both of the Weavers increasingly became apocalyptic in their view of the world. This, combined with an increasing emphasis on Old Testament-based Christianity, led them to seek a life away from mainstream America, a life of self-reliance. Vicki, in particular, had strong visions of her family surviving the apocalypse through life far away from what they viewed as a corrupt world. To that end, Randy purchased a 20-acre farm in Ruby Ridge, ID, and built a cabin there.

The land was purchased for $5,000 in cash and the trade of the truck they used to move there. Vicki homeschooled the children.

Continue reading Siege at Ruby Ridge: The Forgotten History of the ATF Shootout That Started a Militia Movement at Ammo.com.

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