The Situationist

Archive for November, 2012

Michael Pollan on the Political Situation of Food

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 29, 2012

Host Harry Kreisler welcomes writer Michael Pollan for a discussion of the agricultural industrial complex that dominates consumer choices about what to eat. He explores the origins, evolution and consequences of this system for the nations health and environment. He highlights the role of science, journalism, and politics in the development of a diet that emphasizes nutrition over food. Pollan also sketches a reform agenda and speculates on how a movement might change Americas eating habits. He also talks about science writing, the rewards of gardening, and how students might prepare for the future.

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For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Education, Food and Drug Law, Ideology, Marketing, Politics, Video | 2 Comments »

Marion Nestle on The Situation of Our Food

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 28, 2012

Related Situationist posts:

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Environment, Food and Drug Law, History, Marketing, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Deeply Captured Situation of Sugar

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 25, 2012

Mother Jones has a superb new article on the deeply captured situation of sugar.  It begins as follows:

ON A BRISK SPRING Tuesday in 1976, a pair of executives from the Sugar Association stepped up to the podium of a Chicago ballroom to accept the Oscar of the public relations world, the Silver Anvil award for excellence in “the forging of public opinion.” The trade group had recently pulled off one of the greatest turnarounds in PR history. For nearly a decade, the sugar industry had been buffeted by crisis after crisis as the media and the public soured on sugar and scientists began to view it as a likely cause of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Industry ads claiming that eating sugar helped you lose weight had been called out by the Federal Trade Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration had launched a review of whether sugar was even safe to eat. Consumption had declined 12 percent in just two years, and producers could see where that trend might lead. As John “JW” Tatem Jr. and Jack O’Connell Jr., the Sugar Association’s president and director of public relations, posed that day with their trophies, their smiles only hinted at the coup they’d just pulled off.

Their winning campaign, crafted with the help of the prestigious public relations firm Carl Byoir & Associates, had been prompted by a poll showing that consumers had come to see sugar as fattening, and that most doctors suspected it might exacerbate, if not cause, heart disease and diabetes. With an initial annual budget of nearly $800,000 ($3.4 million today) collected from the makers of Dixie Crystals, Domino, C&H, Great Western, and other sugar brands, the association recruited a stable of medical and nutritional professionals to allay the public’s fears, brought snack and beverage companies into the fold, and bankrolled scientific papers that contributed to a “highly supportive” FDA ruling, which, the Silver Anvil application boasted, made it “unlikely that sugar will be subject to legislative restriction in coming years.”

The story of sugar, as Tatem told it, was one of a harmless product under attack by “opportunists dedicated to exploiting the consuming public.” Over the subsequent decades, it would be transformed from what the New York Times in 1977 had deemed “a villain in disguise” into a nutrient so seemingly innocuous that even the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association approved it as part of a healthy diet. Research on the suspected links between sugar and chronic disease largely ground to a halt by the late 1980s, and scientists came to view such pursuits as a career dead end. So effective were the Sugar Association’s efforts that, to this day, no consensus exists about sugar’s potential dangers. The industry’s PR campaign corresponded roughly with a significant rise in Americans’ consumption of “caloric sweeteners,” including table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This increase was accompanied, in turn, by a surge in the chronic diseases increasingly linked to sugar. Since 1970, obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled, while the incidence of diabetes has more than tripled.

Read the entire article and related items here.

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Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, History, Ideology, Life, Marketing, Public Relations | 1 Comment »

Revisiting Milgram and Zimbardo’s Studies

Posted by Adam Benforado on November 23, 2012

A new essay in PLOS Biology returns to the path-breaking research of Stanley Milgram and Situationist Contributor Phil  Zimbardo and asks whether the studies demonstrate the power of blind conformity or something else.  In particular, the authors, Alex Haslam and Stephen Reicher, are interested in the possibility that social identification might be driving the dynamic.  As Haslam explains, “Decent people participate in horrific acts not because they become passive, mindless functionaries who do not know what they are doing, but rather because they come to believe — typically under the influence of those in authority — that what they are doing is right.”

Here is the abstract of the paper:

Understanding of the psychology of tyranny is dominated by classic studies from the 1960s and 1970s: Milgram’s research on obedience to authority and Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. Supporting popular notions of the banality of evil, this research has been taken to show that people conform passively and unthinkingly to both the instructions and the roles that authorities provide, however malevolent these may be. Recently, though, this consensus has been challenged by empirical work informed by social identity theorizing. This suggests that individuals’ willingness to follow authorities is conditional on identification with the authority in question and an associated belief that the authority is right.

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Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | 3 Comments »

Thanksgiving as “System Justification”

Posted by Jon Hanson on November 21, 2012

This post was first published on November 21, 2007.

The first Thanksgiving, painting by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris

Thanksgiving has many associations — struggling Pilgrims, crowded airports, autumn leaves, heaping plates, drunken uncles, blowout sales, and so on. At its best, though, Thanksgiving is associated with, well, thanks giving. The holiday provides a moment when many otherwise harried individuals leading hectic lives decelerate just long enough to muster some gratitude for their harvest. Giving thanks — acknowledging that we, as individuals, are not the sole determinants of our own fortunes seems an admirable, humble, and even situationist practice, worthy of its own holiday.

But I’m interested here in the potential downside to the particular way in which many people go about giving thanks.

Situationist contributor John Jost and his collaborators have studied a process that they call “system justification” — loosely the motive to defend and bolster existing arrangements even when doing so seems to conflict with individual and group interests. Jost, together with Situationist contributor Aaron Kay and several other co-authors, recently summarized the basic tendency to justify the status quo this way (pdf):

Whether because of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, or sexual orientation, or because of policies and programs that privilege some at the expense of others, or even because of historical accidents, genetic disparities, or the fickleness of fate, certain social systems serve the interests of some stakeholders better than others. Yet historical and social scientific evidence shows that most of the time the majority of people—regardless of their own social class or position—accept and even defend the legitimacy of their social and economic systems and manage to maintain a “belief in a just world” . . . . As Kinder and Sears (1985) put it, “the deepest puzzle here is not occasional protest but pervasive tranquility.” Knowing how easy it is for people to adapt to and rationalize the way things are makes it easer to understand why the apartheid system in South Africa lasted for 46 years, the institution of slavery survived for more than 400 years in Europe and the Americas, and the Indian Caste system has been maintained for 3000 years and counting.

Manifestations of the system-justification motive pervade many of our cognitions, ideologies, and institutions. This post reflects my worry that the Thanksgiving holiday might also manifest that powerful implicit motive. No doubt, expressing gratitude is generally a healthy and appropriate practice. Indeed, my sense is that Americans too rarely acknowledge the debt they owe to other people and other influences. There ought to be more thanks giving.

Nonetheless, the norm of Thanksgiving seems to be to encourage a particular kind of gratitude — a generic thankfulness for the status quo. Indeed, when one looks at what many describe as the true meaning of the holiday, the message is generally one of announcing that current arrangements — good and bad — are precisely as they should be.

Consider the message behind the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation. In 1789, President George Washington wrote:

“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks—for His kind care and protection of the People of this Country . . . for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed . . . and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions . . . . To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.”

Bush - Times OnlineExisting levels of prosperity, by this account, reflect the merciful and omniscient blessings of the “beneficent Author” of all that is good.

More recently, President George W. Bush offered a similar message about the meaning of the holiday:

“In the four centuries since the founders . . . first knelt on these grounds, our nation has changed in many ways. Our people have prospered, our nation has grown, our Thanksgiving traditions have evolved — after all, they didn’t have football back then. Yet the source of all our blessings remains the same: We give thanks to the Author of Life who granted our forefathers safe passage to this land, who gives every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth the gift of freedom, and who watches over our nation every day.”

The faith that we are being “watched over” and that our blessings and prosperity are the product of a gift-giving force is extraordinarily affirming. All that “is,” is as that “great and glorious Being” intended.

Fom such a perspective, giving thanks begins to look like a means of assuring ourselves that our current situation was ordained by some higher, legitimating force. To doubt the legitimacy of existing arrangements is to be ungrateful.

A cursory search of the internet for the “meaning of Thanksgiving” reveals many similar recent messages. For instance, one blogger writes, in a post entitled “Teaching Children the Meaning of Thanksgiving,” that:

your goal should be to move the spirit of Thanksgiving from a one-day event to a basic life attitude. . . . This means being thankful no matter what our situation in life. Thankfulness means that we are aware of both our blessings and disappointments but that we focus on the blessings. . . . Are you thankful for your job even when you feel overworked and underpaid?”

Another piece, entitled “The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving” includes this lesson regarding the main source of the Pilgrim’s success: “It was their devotion to God and His laws. And that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about. The Pilgrims recognized that everything we have is a gift from God – even our sorrows. Their Thanksgiving tradition was established to honor God and thank Him for His blessings and His grace.”

If we are supposed to be thankful for our jobs even when we are “overworked and underpaid,” should we also be thankful for unfairness or injustice? And if we are to be grateful for our sorrows, should we then be indifferent toward their earthly causes?

A third article, “The Productive Meaning of Thanksgiving” offers these “us”-affirming, guilt-reducing assurances: “The deeper meaning is that we have the capacity to produce such wealth and that we live in a country that affords us our right to exercise the virtue of productivity and to reap its rewards. So let’s celebrate wealth and the power in us to produce it; let’s welcome this most wonderful time of the year and partake without guilt of the bounty we each have earned.”

That advice seems to mollify any sense of injustice by giving something to everyone. Those with bountiful harvests get to enjoy their riches guiltlessly. Those with meager harvests can be grateful for the fact that they live in a country where they might someday enjoy richer returns from their individual efforts.

quotation-thanksgiving-3.pngYet another post, “The Meaning for Thanksgiving,” admonishes readers to be grateful, because they could, after all, be much worse off:

[M]aybe you are unsatisfied with your home or job? Would you be willing to trade either with someone who has no hope of getting a job or is homeless? Could you consider going to Africa or the Middle East and trade places with someone that would desperately love to have even a meager home and a low wage paying job where they could send their children to school without the worry of being bombed, raped, kidnapped or killed on a daily basis?

* * *

No matter how bad you think you have it, there are people who would love to trade places with you in an instant. You can choose to be miserable and pine for something better. You could choose to trade places with someone else for all the money they could give you. You could waste your gift of life, but that would be the worst mistake to make. Or you can rethink about what makes your life great and at least be happy for what you have then be patient about what you want to come to you in the future.

If your inclination on Thanksgiving is to give thanks, I do not mean to discourage you. My only suggestion is that you give thanks, not for the status quo, but for all of the ways in which your (our) own advantages and privileges are the consequence of situation, and not simply your individual (our national) disposition. Further, I’d encourage you to give thanks to all those who have gone before you who have doubted the status quo and who have identified injustice and impatiently fought against it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

 

To review the full collection of Situationist posts related to system justification, click here.

Posted in History, Ideology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Good, the Bad, and the Baby

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 19, 2012

From 60 Minutes:

The above video is from “The Baby Lab” which aired on Nov. 18, 2012.

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Posted in Altruism, Evolutionary Psychology, Morality, Video | Leave a Comment »

Illusion of Motion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 17, 2012

 

Review more Situationist posts containing illusions here.

Posted in Illusions | Leave a Comment »

Baumeister on the Situation of Self-Regulation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 15, 2012

From YoungMinds:

How do we learn self-control as children?What bolsters will power? What undermines it?Is self-control a skill that can be practiced and taught?How can we encourage young people to perform to their potential?

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Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Happiness or Meaningfulness – But Not Both

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 13, 2012

Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Vohs, Jennifer Lynn Aaker, and Emily N. Garbinsky have just posted their excellent paper, titled “Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract:

Being happy and finding life meaningful overlap, but there are important differences. A large survey revealed multiple differing predictors of happiness (controlling for meaning) and meaningfulness (controlling for happiness). Satisfying one’s needs and wants increased happiness but was largely irrelevant to meaningfulness. Happiness was largely present-oriented, whereas meaningfulness involves integrating past, present, and future. For example, thinking about future and past was associated with high meaningfulness but low happiness. Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness. Concerns with personal identity and expressing the self-contributed to meaning but not happiness. We offer brief composite sketches of the unhappy but meaningful life and of the happy but meaningless life.

Download the paper for free here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Political Polarization

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 11, 2012

From This American Life:

Everyone knows that politics is now so divided in our country that not only do the 2 sides disagree on the solutions to the country’s problems, they don’t even agree on what the problems are. It’s 2 versions of the world in collision. This week we hear from people who’ve seen this infect their personal lives. They’ve lost friends. They’ve become estranged from family members. A special pre-election episode of our show.

Listen to the episode here.

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Posted in Conflict, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Podcasts, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Citizens United Cartography

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 7, 2012

From NPR:

Explore political ad spending through creative cartography. This animated map shows where superPACs and other outside groups spent their money — over a six-month period during the general election — to air political ads aimed at influencing the presidential race.

Read the related NPR article here.

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Posted in Deep Capture, Ideology, Politics, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situational Effect of Negativity on Voting

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 5, 2012

From Forbes:

Two studies published this month uncover some of the influences that play on the mind as we approach the voting booth.

Think Negative, Think Certain 

The first study, published in the British Journal of Social Psychology uncovers the power of negativity in framing political attitudes.  Researchers presented participants with information about two fictional candidates – one conservative, one liberal – for a position on a government board.

After reading about the two candidates, some participants were asked if they “supported” or “opposed” the liberal candidate and some were asked if they “supported” or “opposed” the conservative candidate. Participants who were led to frame their opinions negatively (“opposed”) – regardless of their underlying preference – expressed more certainty about their attitudes than did participants who were led frame their opinions positively (“supported”).

A follow-up experiment reinforced this result, but also showed that the effect was much stronger when the participants were able to think carefully about the candidates.  The effect was diminished when participants spent less time thinking about the candidates.

Quoting George Bizner, the lead author of the study, “Our prior research showed that framing an opinion in terms of opposition yields stronger attitudes than does framing it in terms of support. The most interesting point from our latest research is that this effect is actually stronger when people process the messages more deeply – when they are motivated and have been able to think about the issue. So, perhaps counter-intuitively, the people who care the most about the issues or candidates seem more likely to be affected by the bias.”

Read the entire article, including the summary of the second study here.

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Posted in Ideology, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Citizens United Primer

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 3, 2012

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Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Politics, Video | Leave a Comment »

Don Kinder on the Role of Race in the 2012 Election – Today

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 1, 2012

“He’s Still Black: The Role of Race in the 2012 Presidential Election”
With Dr. Don Kinder, University of Michigan Political Science
Thursday, Nov. 1, 12 pm
Austin North
Free Chinese food!

In 2008, Americans chose Barack Obama to be the 44th president of the United States. The following morning, The New York Times proclaimed that Obama had succeeded in “sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease.” With ease? No. There are good reasons to believe that Obama was elected president in spite of his race. But that was then. Four years later, are we any closer to post-racial politics? What role will race play in the 2012 election?

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Posted in Events, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics, SALMS, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

 
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