The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Ideology’

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Situationism

Posted by Jon Hanson on January 18, 2014

mlk1.jpgThis post was originally published on January 22, 2007.

* * *

Monday’s holiday provides an apt occasion to highlight the fact that, at least by my reckoning, Martin Luther King, Jr. was, among other things, a situationist.

To be sure, King is most revered in some circles for quotations that are easily construed as dispositionist, such as: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Taken alone, as it often is, that sentence seems to set a low bar. Indeed, some Americans contend that we’ve arrived at that promised land; after all, most of us (mostly incorrectly) imagine ourselves to be judging people based solely on their dispositions, choices, personalities, or, in short, their characters.

Putting King’s quotation in context, however, it becomes clear that his was largely a situationist message. He was encouraging us all to recognize the subtle and not-so-subtle situational forces that caused inequalities and to question (what John Jost calls) system-justifying ideologies that helped maintain those inequalities.

mlk2.jpgKing’s amazing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is illustrative. While being held for nine days, King penned a letter in response to the public statement of eight prominent Alabama clergymen who denounced the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations. The prominent clergymen called King an “extremist” and an “outsider,” and “appeal[ed] to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”

Regarding his “outsider” status, King insisted that the us-and-them categories were flawed, and that any meaningful distinction that might exist among groups was that between persons who perpetrated or countenanced injustice, on one hand, and those who resisted it, on the other:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. . . .”

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

mlk3.jpgIn describing the injustice itself, King sought to remove the focus from individual behavor and choice to the situational forces and absence of meaningful choice that helped to shape that behavior:

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place In Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”

In terms of his methods, too, Dr. King was a situationist. He understood that negotiating outcomes reflected the circumstances much more than the the disposition, of negotiators. The aim of demonstrations was to create a situation in which questions otherwise unasked were brought to the fore, in which injustice otherwise unnoticed was made salient, and in which the weak bargaining positions of the otherwise powerless were collectivized and strengthened:

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused tocivil-rights-protest.jpg negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. . . . Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”

In the letter, King expressed his frustation, not just with the egregious racists, but also — no, moreso — with the moderates who were willing to sacrifice real justice for the sake of maintaining the illusion of justice. King put it this way:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’ . . . .”

mlk4.jpgAnd King recognized the role that laws could play in maintaining an unjust status quo. Of course, he criticized the laws that literally enforced segregation, but he didn’t stop there. He criticized, too, the seemingly neutral laws, and the purportedly principled methods of interpreting and applying those laws, that could serve as legitimating cover for existing disparities:

“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.”

King explained that many churches, too, were implicated in this web of justification — caught up as they were in making sense of, or lessening the sting of, existing arrangements:

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”

mlk5.jpg

So, yes, Reverend King urged us all to help create a world in which people were “not . . . judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But King said much more. He recognized and tried to teach those who would listen that getting to that world would mean examining and challenging the situation — including our beliefs, our laws, our ideologies, our religious beliefs, our institutions, and existing allocations of opportunity, wealth, and power.

Judging those who are disadvantaged by the content of their character is not, taken alone, much of a solution. It may, in fact, be part of the problem. As Kathleen Hanson (my wife) and I recently argued, the problem “is, not in neglecting character, but in attributing to ‘character’ what should be attributed to [a person's] situation and, in turn, to our system and ourselves.” Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, far more effectively: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

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

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Situationism

Posted by Jon Hanson on January 21, 2013

mlk1.jpgThis post was originally published on January 22, 2007.

* * *

Monday’s holiday provides an apt occasion to highlight the fact that, at least by my reckoning, Martin Luther King, Jr. was, among other things, a situationist.

To be sure, King is most revered in some circles for quotations that are easily construed as dispositionist, such as: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Taken alone, as it often is, that sentence seems to set a low bar. Indeed, some Americans contend that we’ve arrived at that promised land; after all, most of us (mostly incorrectly) imagine ourselves to be judging people based solely on their dispositions, choices, personalities, or, in short, their characters.

Putting King’s quotation in context, however, it becomes clear that his was largely a situationist message. He was encouraging us all to recognize the subtle and not-so-subtle situational forces that caused inequalities and to question (what John Jost calls) system-justifying ideologies that helped maintain those inequalities.

mlk2.jpgKing’s amazing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is illustrative. While being held for nine days, King penned a letter in response to the public statement of eight prominent Alabama clergymen who denounced the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations. The prominent clergymen called King an “extremist” and an “outsider,” and “appeal[ed] to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”

Regarding his “outsider” status, King insisted that the us-and-them categories were flawed, and that any meaningful distinction that might exist among groups was that between persons who perpetrated or countenanced injustice, on one hand, and those who resisted it, on the other:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. . . .”

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

mlk3.jpgIn describing the injustice itself, King sought to remove the focus from individual behavor and choice to the situational forces and absence of meaningful choice that helped to shape that behavior:

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place In Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”

In terms of his methods, too, Dr. King was a situationist. He understood that negotiating outcomes reflected the circumstances much more than the the disposition, of negotiators. The aim of demonstrations was to create a situation in which questions otherwise unasked were brought to the fore, in which injustice otherwise unnoticed was made salient, and in which the weak bargaining positions of the otherwise powerless were collectivized and strengthened:

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused tocivil-rights-protest.jpg negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. . . . Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”

In the letter, King expressed his frustation, not just with the egregious racists, but also — no, moreso — with the moderates who were willing to sacrifice real justice for the sake of maintaining the illusion of justice. King put it this way:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’ . . . .”

mlk4.jpgAnd King recognized the role that laws could play in maintaining an unjust status quo. Of course, he criticized the laws that literally enforced segregation, but he didn’t stop there. He criticized, too, the seemingly neutral laws, and the purportedly principled methods of interpreting and applying those laws, that could serve as legitimating cover for existing disparities:

“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.”

King explained that many churches, too, were implicated in this web of justification — caught up as they were in making sense of, or lessening the sting of, existing arrangements:

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”

mlk5.jpg

So, yes, Reverend King urged us all to help create a world in which people were “not . . . judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But King said much more. He recognized and tried to teach those who would listen that getting to that world would mean examining and challenging the situation — including our beliefs, our laws, our ideologies, our religious beliefs, our institutions, and existing allocations of opportunity, wealth, and power.

Judging those who are disadvantaged by the content of their character is not, taken alone, much of a solution. It may, in fact, be part of the problem. As Kathleen Hanson (my wife) and I recently argued, the problem “is, not in neglecting character, but in attributing to ‘character’ what should be attributed to [a person's] situation and, in turn, to our system and ourselves.” Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, far more effectively: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

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

The Exaggerated Situation of Polarization

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 14, 2012

Situationist friend Dave Nussbaum has more terrific posts over at, Random AssignmentsBelow, we have re-blogged portions of his timely piece about how “extremists exaggerate polarization.”

Why have American politics become so polarized? Maybe they haven’t – maybe it’s just you? New research reveals that partisans, especially those on the extremes, overestimate the amount of polarization that actually exists. The phenomenon, called polarization projection,helps us to understand how it is that people on both ends of the political spectrum mistakenly assume that there is a much wider gap between the two sides than there actually is.

Making the problem worse, people at the political extremes – those who have exaggerated views of how polarized the country is – are also the ones who are most politically active. This can end up translating extreme partisans’ mistaken views into the election of politicians who are more extreme than the people they represent, particularly in the context of intra-party primaries (Nate Silver recently documented this effect among Senate Republicans).

When the gap between the two parties appears to be enormous, compromise becomes difficult. We become less likely to see our political adversaries as having the same basic goals as us (like improving the country and the lives of its citizens) while having different opinions of how to achieve those goals. Instead, they become the enemy. And compromising with the enemy is not pragmatic, it’s disloyal.

Just ask Richard Mourdock who recently ousted six-term Republican senator Dick Lugar in the Indiana GOP primary. He told Brian Howey of the Evansville Courier and Press:

“I recognize there are times when our country is incredibly polarized in that political sense. Right now is one of those times. The leadership of the Republican Party and the leadership of the Democratic Party are not going to be able to reach compromise on big issues because they are so far apart in principle. My idea of bipartisanship going forward is to make sure that we have such a Republican majority in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate and in the White House, that if there’s going to be bipartisanship, it’s going to be Democrats coming our way, instead of them trying to pull Republicans their way.”

Dick Lugar’s biggest sin, it seems, is that he was occasionally willing to side with Obama and the Democrats. He worked with then-Senator Obama on a bill that to secure nuclear material abroad, and voted to confirm President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. As Obama himself said in a statement released after Lugar’s defeat, “While Dick and I didn’t always agree on everything, I found during my time in the Senate that he was often willing to reach across the aisle and get things done.” A willingness to compromise meant the end of Senator Lugar, or, as Tea Partiers in Indiana liked to refer to him, “Obama’s favorite Republican.” Another moderate Republican Senator, Maine’s  Olympia Snowe, also decided not to seek re-election, saying that she does “not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term.”

But let’s get back to the research – what’s the evidence that suggests that it’s the extremists that overestimate the amount of political polarization? . . . [continued]

Read the entire post on Random Assignments.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Conflict, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Political Situation of Support and Opposition to Gay Marriage

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 6, 2012

Situationist friend Dave Nussbaum continues to write terrific posts over at, Random AssignmentsBelow, we have re-blogged portions of his recent post about how President Obama’s support of gay marriage led Republicans to become more opposed to it.

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan posted a new Washington Post/ABC News poll tracking changes in approval for legalizing same sex marriage. Sullivan noted that following Obama’s announcement this month that his support of equal rights for same sex couples has “evolved” into support for marriage, there has been a rise in support for legalizing gay marriage among Democrats and Independents. Meanwhile, among Republicans the reverse is true:

“As the country as a whole grows more supportive of gay equality, the GOP is headed in the other direction. Republican support for marriage equality has declined a full ten points just this year – a pretty stunning result. Have they changed their mind simply because Obama supports something? In today’s polarized, partisan climate, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I wouldn’t be surprised either. This is how partisans often react to anything coming from the other side: whatever it is, they don’t like it. Partisans will argue that they are opposed to whatever it is the other side is proposing purely on its merits. We all like to believe that when we evaluate a policy we are responding to the policy’s content, but very often we’re far more influenced by who is proposing it.

For example, in a pair of studies published in 2002, Lee Ross and his colleagues asked Israeli participants to evaluate a peace proposal that was an actual proposal submitted by either the Israeli or the Palestinian side. The trick they played was that, for some participants, they showed them the Israeli proposal and told them it was the Palestinian one, or they showed them the Palestinian proposal and told them it came from the Israeli side (the other half of participants saw a correctly attributed proposal). What they found was that the actual content of the plan didn’t matter nearly as much as whose plan they thought it was. In fact, Israeli participants felt more positively toward the Palestinian plan when they thought came from the Israeli side than they did toward the Israeli plan when they thought it came from the Palestinians. Let me repeat that: when the plans’ authorship was switched, Israelis liked the Palestinian proposal better than the Israeli one.

The same is true when it comes to Democrats and Republicans. In a series of studies published by Geoffrey Cohen in 2003 (PDF), he asked liberals and conservatives to evaluate both a generous and a stringent proposed welfare policy. Although liberals tend to prefer a generous welfare policy and conservatives tend to prefer a more stringent one, the actual content of the policy mattered far less than who proposed it. Not only were liberal participants perfectly happy to support a stringent policy when it was proposed by their own party (while the reverse was true for conservative participants), neither side was aware of the influence of the source of the policy proposal. So even though their partisan affiliations were more important than the content of the policy, both liberal and conservative participants claimed that they were basing their evaluations of the welfare policy strictly on its content. New research by Colin Tucker Smith and colleagues, published in the current issue of the journal Social Cognition (4), suggests that the influence of the policy’s source on our evaluation of the policy’s content happens at an automatic level and can happen without our awareness.

So perhaps it should not be terribly surprising that President Obama’s support for marriage equality has led to increased support among Democrats and more opposition from Republicans. . . . [continued]

Read the entire post on Random Assignments.

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Posted in Classic Experiments, Conflict, Emotions, Ideology, Morality, Naive Cynicism, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Review of “Ideology, Psychology, and Law”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 30, 2012

Over at The Jury Expert, You can read an insightful review (by Rita R. Handrich, PhD) of Jon Hanson’s recent book, Ideology, Psychology, and Law” (Oxford University Press). [Introductory chapter available, here].

It opens this way:

Trial consultants, and the very best trial lawyers, practice with an awareness of the law, the domain of the case facts, and the way jurors are likely to understand and misunderstand all of it. If these avenues of thought had a single intersection, you would find that Jon Hanson has been living on that corner for 25 years. As a Harvard Law School professor and prolific writer, he has done much to keep me and many others informed of the traffic coming from these diverse directions. . . .

Read the entire review here.

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Posted in Book, Ideology, Law, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Haidt on “The Righteous Mind”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 7, 2012

From Wired:

Jonathan Haidt is a professor in social psychology and author of The Righteous Mind, an examination of the intuitive foundations of morality and its consequences. He has some disgusting stories for you.

Imagine, if you will, a man going to a supermarket, buying a ready-to-cook chicken, taking it home, and having sexual intercourse with it. He then cooks it and eats it.

Or imagine a brother and sister who go on holiday, and end up sleeping together. They feel that it brings them closer, and are very careful with birth control so there’s no absolutely chance of pregnancy.

Don’t worry if you found these stories sick and wrong — most people do. But trying to pin down what exactly is wrong with these stories can be tricky. No one is harmed, the food isn’t wasted, the siblings are happy, yet it’s somehow still wrong. This is “moral dumbfounding’, the strong feeling that something is wrong without clear reasons as to why that is. According to Haidt, this offers a deep insight into human morality, and has profound implications for politics and religion.

Haidt’s studies bear out his message is that for every one of us, however rational we think we are, intuition comes first, and strategic reasoning second. That is, we rationalise our gut instincts, rather than using reason to reach the best conclusion. So, with the chicken story, you’re left scrabbling around for reasons to explain why something is wrong when you just know that it is. For Haidt, this is something that modern thinking has failed to recognise. “In America there was a long period where we were trying to teach kids critical thinking, and you never hear about it anymore because it didn’t work,” says Haidt.

Haidt sees our reasoning mind and intuition as a rider on top of an elephant, with the rider (reason) serving the elephant (intuition). But he doesn’t necessarily see this as a flaw. “You need to learn how to get the rider and elephant to work together properly. Each have their separate skill, and if if you think that the rider is both in charge and deserves to rule, you’re going to find yourself screwing up, and wondering why you keep screwing up. I think maturity and wisdom occur when someone gets good integration between the rider and the elephant — and I picked an elephant rather than a horse because elephants are really big and really smart. If you see a trainer and an elephant working together it’s a beautiful sight.”

Not only do we start with a conclusion and work backwards when making moral judgements, the different moral tenets you use define where you lie on the political spectrum. Broadly, the left makes moral judgements mostly based on harm and fairness, while the right has a broader palette — harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

So when, for example David Cameron suggests children should be more deferential, Haidt sees this as textbook: “That’s the authority foundation right there. Respect for authority is an offensive idea to people on the left, but it is quite sensible to social conservatives. It’s speaking directly to the elephant. Did he suggest this because he has really long been upset about the decline of authority, or is he maybe doing this to appeal to the more working-class traditionalist voters, those who vote Labour but are socially conservative at heart?”

But isn’t this simply another typical liberal college professor finding yet another way to attack the right? Haidt says that his work into morality has changed his politics, making him less of a liberal, and more of a centrist: “I’ve really become less enamoured of liberalism and more enamoured of conservatism. I think both are important. It’s a yin-yang thing, you need both and if you let either side run things they’re going to screw it up in very predictable ways.”

Our flawed post-hoc reasoning, our cherry-picking of evidence to suit our instincts, makes us poor policy makers, and creates politics that is tribal, confrontational and ill-suited to solving the world’s problems. “Our reasoning is very good as a press agent and lawyer,” says Haidt, “But we’re so biased, no individual can design social policy just using reason. But once you can accept what reasoning is and what it is designed to do, you can start to design groups and institutions that can do a pretty good job of it. When you put people together, you can think of each person as being like a neuron, and if you put us together in the right way then you can get some very good reasoning coming out of it.”

Haidt’s plea is for us to avoid the demonisation of those we see as morally suspect by understanding the way we reach these moral judgements. Like any evolved mechanism, our brain is a hotchpotch of compromises rather than a perfectly designed machine. Our understanding of others starts with understanding ourselves.

“It’s easy to see how flawed and biased and post-hoc everyone else is. If you realise that it’s true about you too, at least you’ll be a little more modest, and if you’re a little more modest then you’ll at least be a little bit more open to the possibility that you might be wrong. There is some wisdom to be found on all sides, because nobody can see the whole problem.”

Watch Haidt’s TED talk on “the real difference between liberals and conservatives” below:


Related Situationist posts:

To review a collection of posts examining the the situation of ideology, click here.

Posted in Book, Conflict, Emotions, Ideology, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Low-Effort Cognition and Political Ideology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 25, 2012

From University of Arkansas Newswire:

When people use low-effort thought, they are more likely to endorse conservative ideology, according to psychologist Scott Eidelman of the University of Arkansas. Results of research by Eidelman and colleagues were published online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“People endorse conservative ideology more when they have to give a first or fast response,” Eidelman said. “This low-effort thinking seems to favor political conservatism, suggesting that it may be our default ideology. To be clear, we are not saying that conservatives think lightly.”

While ideology – either conservative or liberal – is a product of a variety of influences, including goals, values and personal experiences, Eidelman said, “Our data suggest that when people have no particular goal in mind, their initial cognitive response seems to be conservative.”

Eidelman collaborated with Christian Crandall of the University of Kansas; Jeffrey A. Goodman of University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire; and John C. Blanchar, a University of Arkansas graduate student, on studies reported in “Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism.”

The researchers examined the effect of low-effort thought on the expression of ideology in several situations. In a field study, bar patrons were asked their opinions about several social issues before blowing into a Breathalyzer. Whether the individual self-identified as liberal or conservative, higher blood alcohol levels were associated with endorsement of more conservative positions. The results indicated that this was not because the conservatives drank more than the liberals.

The results were not just the alcohol talking: In one lab experiment, some participants were asked to respond quickly to political ideas, while others had ample time to respond. In another, some participants were able to concentrate while responding to political statements, while others were distracted. In both cases, participants with less opportunity to deliberate endorsed conservative ideas more than those who were able to concentrate.

In a fourth study, deliberation was manipulated directly. Some participants gave their “first, immediate response” to political terms, while others gave “a careful, thoughtful response.” Those instructed to think in a cursory manner were more likely to endorse conservative terms, such as authority, tradition and private property, than those who had time to reflect.

The researchers stressed that their results should not be interpreted to suggest that conservatives are not thoughtful.

“Everyone uses low-effort thinking, and this may have ideological consequences,” they write. “Motivational factors are crucial determinants of ideology, aiding or correcting initial responses depending on one’s goals, beliefs and values. Our perspective suggests that these initial and uncorrected responses lean conservative.”

More.

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Image from Flickr.

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Jon Hanson on Law and Mind Sciences

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 15, 2012

Harvard Law School just published an interview with Jon Hanson.  We’ve posted it in full below.

Director of the Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School (PLMS), Professor Jon Hanson has long combined social psychology, economics, history, and law in his scholarship. After PLMS hosted several conferences featuring leading mind scientists and legal scholars, Hanson collected the work of many of the contributors in a book he edited, “Ideology, Psychology, and Law” (Oxford University Press). [Introductory chapter available, here].

In the following Q&A, he speaks about the new book, the connection between law and mind sciences, and his own work in a field that has grown rapidly over the past 20 years.

What sparked your interest in the study of mind sciences and the law?

My interest has evolved through several stages. Although I studied economics in college, I did so with special interest in health care policy, where the life-and-death decisions have little in common with the consumption choices imagined in neoclassical economics. Purchasing an appendectomy through insurance has little in common with buying a fruit at the market.

After college, I spent a year studying the provision of neonatal intensive care in Britain’s National Health Service, attending weekly rounds with neonatologists at London hospitals, meeting with pediatricians in rural English hospitals, interviewing nurses who were providing daily care for the infants, some of whom were not viable, and speaking with parents about the profound challenges they were confronting. Those experiences strengthened my doubts regarding the real-world relevance of basic economic models for certain types of decisions.

In law school, I studied law and economics, but tended to focus on informational problems and externalities that had been given short shrift by some legal economists at the time. After attending a talk by, and then meeting with, the late Amos Tversky, I became an early fan of the nascent behavioral economics movement.

It wasn’t, however, until I spent a couple of years immersed in cigarette-industry documents in the early and mid 1990s that I felt the need to make a clean break from the law’s implied psychological models and to turn the mind sciences for a more realistic alternative.

What was it about the cigarette documents that had that effect?

Well, they made clear that the tobacco industry articulated two views of their consumers – an inaccurate public portrayal, and a more accurate private view.

The first, which the industry conveyed to their consumers and to lawmakers, was of smokers who are independent, rational, and deliberate. Smokers smoke cigarettes because they choose to, because smoking makes them happier, even considering the risks. The industry thus gave consumers a flattering view of themselves as autonomous, liberated actors while assuring would-be regulators that there was no need to be concerned about the harmful consequences of smoking. Smokers were, after all, just getting what they wanted.

The second view of the consumer, which was evident in the industry’s internal documents, was of consumers as irrational, malleable, and manipulable. The industry’s confidential marketing strategy documents, for instance, made clear that the manufacturers theorized and experimented to discover how to target, persuade, lure, and chemically hook young consumers to take up and maintain the smoking habit. That internal understanding of consumers had nothing in common with the industry’s external portrayals.

I came to the realization that, unfortunately, the latter view of the human animal is far more accurate and, furthermore, that failure to understand the actual forces behind human behavior may be contributing to injustice.

How did that realization influence your research?

In the late 1990s, I put my writing down and devoted a couple of years to learning what I could about the mind sciences – social psychology, social cognition, cognitive neuroscience, and the like. Those fields, coincidentally, were blossoming with new theories, new methodologies, and new findings and insights, most of which created challenges to the fundamental assumptions in law and legal theory.

What were some of those insights?

To keep things simple, I’ll boil them down to two big ones.

First, mind scientists had learned that most people in western cultures operate with a naïve and commonsensical model of human psychology that presumes that an individual’s actions reflect a stable personality or disposition and little else. From that perspective, people are presumed to be in control of, and responsible for, their behavior and its consequences.

By the way, that’s the same model of human behavior that is employed in law and conventional legal theory. And it’s the same model that the tobacco industry actively promoted.

The second big insight was that that model of human behavior is fundamentally wrong. People are moved less by a stable disposition and more by internal and external forces that generally go unnoticed in our causal stories. The errors go beyond our causal assessments of other people’s behavior; we confuse and deceive even ourselves, believing our own reasons, when social science reveals those reasons often turn out to be mere confabulations.

What does that mean for the law?

Exactly. That’s the big question. My briefest answer is: a lot. The book is one place where the contributors and I begin to sketch some of the answers.

Given the large gap between what the law assumes and what the mind sciences have shown to be true, my initial goal has been to understand the breadth and contours of that gap and to develop a better understanding of the psychological and contextual forces behind human behavior. I have resisted the strong urge to focus on only those psychological tendencies that can lead to straightforward but narrow implications for law.

Having said that, abandoning the familiar, if wrong, conception of human behavior is daunting and unsettling; it calls for establishing new knowledge structures and being open to some humbling truths about ourselves and some uncomfortable truths about our justice system.

I expect that several generations of lawmakers, legal academics, and lawyers will be grappling with the implications of what mind scientists are discovering about human behavior. Indeed, they will have to do so, if we are ever going to find meaningful solutions to many of our thorniest policy challenges.

Is this entirely new terrain?

I shouldn’t give the impression that I am alone in the wilderness. The approach I’ve taken has its origins in the legal realism movement, and there is actually significant overlap with parts of more recent legal theoretic schools of thought, from law and economics to critical legal studies.

Furthermore, there are other scholars around the country exploring this terrain, and I have been extraordinarily lucky to work with a number of remarkable students over the years, including Melissa Hart, Doug Kysar, David Yosifon, Adam Benforado, Michael McCann, and Mark Yeboah.  Most of those students have gone on to make their own path-breaking contributions to law and mind sciences.

Can you say more about how the field has evolved and your involvement in it over the last 20 years?

Well, 20 years ago, only a small but important corner of psychology known as “decision theory” or “behavioral economics” was getting much attention among legal theorists. Roughly, the research and evidence in that field disputed the “rationality” assumption of the “rational actor” model. I co-authored several articles arguing that those insights suggested that market actors could, would, and do manipulate the risk perceptions of consumers.

A decade ago, I co-wrote a pair of law-review articles (“The Situation” and “The Situational Character”) introducing some of the broader insights of mind sciences and speculating on some of their implications for law. The articles were among the first of their kind, and contested even the “actor” portion of the “rational actor” model. At the time, many readers from legal academia found the research we reviewed to be foreign and hard to fathom.

Five years ago, I began the Project on Law and Mind Sciences. With then-Dean Kagan’s support, some technical know-how from Michael McCann, and the aid of many outstanding students, I set up a website and blog and began holding annual conferences intended to help bridge the gap between the law and the mind sciences. In the meantime, numerous books have popularized the mind sciences, and several new law school programs and projects have been established around the country reflecting and reinforcing this burgeoning interdisciplinary approach.

As of today, the mind sciences are, well, hot. There is now almost too much scholarship for me to keep up with, judges are beginning to cite such research in their opinions, and student groups are springing up in law schools, including the vibrant Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (or “SALMS”) at Harvard Law School. Every year, I hear from more 1Ls who tell me they chose Harvard Law School because of the exciting work that we’ve been doing.

Are other members of the HLS faculty now employing mind sciences in their work?

Absolutely. Alan Stone has been writing and teaching about the law and psychiatry since the 1960s.  Cass Sunstein and Christine Jolls, when here, were prominent leaders of the economic behavioralism movement. Several other members of the faculty employ mind sciences in elements of their scholarship and teaching. Lani Guinier, Bob Bordone, Martha Minow, Duncan Kennedy, Charles Ogletree, Bob Mnookin, Larry Lessig, Diana Feldman, Bruce Hay, Yochai Benkler, Glenn Cohen, and David Cope come to mind, and I’m surely forgetting some. Among our visitors this year, Dan Kahan and Martha Chamallas are prominent leaders in this interdisciplinary approach.

Many of us are interacting more often and more collaboratively with mind scientists in other departments of this University and beyond, and I would be surprised if we didn’t add a social psychologist to our faculty in the next decade, as other law schools have.

Your book has more than 20 contributors representing different disciplines. Does their work share a common theme?

First, let me emphasize that the book reflects the work of many students and my assistant, Carol Igoe, who helped organize the conferences on which much of the book is based and who helped in the initial editing stages as part of a seminar that I taught.

To your question, I need to be quite abstract to locate one common theme. If there is a single thread running throughout the book, it is that “how we think” affects “what we think” about law. Many of the contributors – social psychologists, political scientists, legal scholars among them – also consider the effects of “what we want to believe” on “how we think.”

More concretely, some authors examine the implications of the dispositionist conception of the person for the law. Others scrutinize and challenge the ideological premises of prominent legal goals, including utilitarianism and instrumentalism. Some consider the harmful effects of the “free market” ideology. Others look at the implicit motives underlying political ideologies – that is, left and right – while a few summarize evidence regarding the effects of political ideology on judicial decision-making. That’s a sample.

You write that the legal system is built on a dubious ideological framework. How so?

There are several ways in which that is true. Construing “ideology” broadly to refer to shared understandings of human behavior, I’ll answer by echoing what I’ve already highlighted. The legal system presumes that a person’s behavior is the manifestation of little more than a stable set of preferences, combined with a given supply of information, activated by the person’s will. Such perceived truths about what makes people behave as they do shape beliefs about why some groups are advantaged or disadvantaged or about how well certain systems or institutions operate. Unfortunately, those shared understandings are often incorrect.

How do ideology and psychology influence judicial decision making?

That’s another great question, which calls for a bigger answer than I can muster here. What I can say is that there seems to be little disagreement among observers of the legal system that judicial decision making is influenced by ideology. Although some point to Roe v. Wade while others point to Citizens United as their exemplar, the disagreement is over when and how judges are swayed by ideology.

Social psychology and social cognition help us see that there is no escaping the influence of ideology, any more than a person can speak without an accent.  Although we tend to hear the accents and perceive the ideologies of those who don’t share our own, we all have both.  So ideology is inescapable; pretending that we operate outside of ideology probably makes us more, not less, subject to its biasing influence.

More important, mind scientists have discovered some of the implicit motives and situational factors that push us toward one ideology or another, including political ideologies or legal-theoretic ideologies.

Will an awareness of mind sciences help an attorney in practicing the law?

I hope so.

Having an awareness of the power and effects of psychology and ideology on the law, a lawyer can better predict the outcomes of cases and more ably persuade jurors or judges to see a case their way.

An imperfect analogy is to a doctor who understands the underlying causes of a disease and not simply its symptoms. A lawyer who understands what is moving the law is like the doctor who understands the disease and its processes. Such a lawyer can be effective in taking on the tough, novel cases on the frontiers of the law.

Understanding the remarkable insights being generated by mind scientists similarly can help lawyers to understand and work with their clients or even to recognize and articulate injustices that might otherwise be missed.

My own teaching reflects my strong belief that law students will make better lawyers if they learn some psychology. At the very least, they will learn something about themselves.

A sample of related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ideology, Psychology, and Law – Introduction

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 29, 2012

On SSRN, you can now download the introductory chapter of Ideology, Psychology, and Law (published in 2012 by Oxford University Press and containing chapters from numerous Situationist Contributors and edited by Situationist Editor Jon Hanson).

Here’s a quick description.

Formally, the law is based solely on reasoned analysis, devoid of ideological biases or unconscious influences. Judges claim to act as umpires applying the rules, not making them. They frame their decisions as straightforward applications of an established set of legal doctrines, principles, and mandates to a given set of facts. As most legal scholars understand, however, the impression that the legal system projects is largely an illusion. As far back as 1881, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. made a similar claim, writing that “the felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed.”

More than a century later, we are now much closer to understanding the mechanisms responsible for the gap between the formal face of the law and the actual forces shaping it. Over the last decade or so, political scientists and legal academics have begun studying the linkages between ideologies, on one hand, and legal principles and policy outcomes on the other. During that same period, mind scientists have turned to understanding the psychological sources of ideology. This book is the first to bring many of the world’s experts on those topics together to examine the sometimes unsettling interactions between psychology, ideology, and law, and to better understand what, beyond and beneath the logic, animates the law.

This introductory chapter describes why this volume came together when it did and provides an overview of the general sections and the individual chapters and comments in the book. It begins with a brief, loose, and highly stylized history of the relationships between ideology, psychology, and law—a history premised on the oversimplifying assertion that something changed around the year 2000.

Download the chapter for free here.

Learn more about the book here.

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Imagined Ideological Divide

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 29, 2012

From Eureka Alert (regarding research co-authored by Situationist Contributor Peter Ditto):

Republicans and Democrats are less divided in their attitudes than popularly believed, according to new research. It is exactly those perceptions of polarization, however, that help drive political engagement, researchers say.

“American polarization is largely exaggerated,” says Leaf Van Boven of the University of Colorado Boulder, especially by people who adopt strong political stances. And when people perceive a large gap between political parties, they may be more motivated to vote. That message emerges from analyses of 40 years’ worth of voter data and could help predict voting behavior for the 2012 presidential election, according to social psychologists presenting their work today at a conference in San Diego, CA.

Polarization and political engagement

Much of the data comes from the American National Election Studies, a large survey of American’s political attitudes and voting behaviors from 1948 to 2008 funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and from a nationally representative sample of American adults from 2008. Using a subset of 26,000 respondents from this data, John Chambers of the University of Florida and colleagues studied the degree to which people estimate differences between Republicans’ and Democrats’ attitudes. They found that the actual gap between the parties’ political attitudes has not increased substantially over time and that members of both parties have consistently overestimated the size of that gap.

Moreover, Chambers’ team found that those who perceived the greatest political polarization were more politically engaged – for example, more likely to have voted in the last election, tried to influence the vote of other voters, attended political rallies, or donated money to a party or candidate. “These findings may have important implications for election outcomes,” Chambers says. “Particularly in close or hotly-contested elections, the balance may be tipped in favor of the party whose members perceive more polarization between the two parties.”

Indeed, in the 2008 Presidential election, people who strongly supported either Obama or McCain perceived Americans as more polarized than did people whose support for either of the two candidates was more moderate, according to work by Van Boven of the University of Colorado Boulder. His NSF-funded study likewise found that people who perceived Americans as more polarized were more inclined to vote in the presidential election compared with people who perceived less polarization – independent how strongly they supported Obama or McCain.

Morality drives people to the polls

In another analysis from the 2008 election, moral conviction also significantly predicted the likelihood to vote, even when statistically controlling for people’s ideology, says G. Scott Morgan of Drew University. His research team surveyed 827 US residents about their political orientation, intentions to vote, and degrees of moral conviction on several issues, including abortion, same-sex marriage, tax cuts, and healthcare reform. They found that no party holds a monopoly on moral conviction.

The study counters the notion that conservatives’ political views and behaviors might be more greatly shaped by morality than those of liberals, Morgan says. Indeed, during the 2012 political campaign, he says “liberals and conservatives seem similarly likely to feel moral conviction about the issues that are important to them.”

Moral convictions change factual beliefs

Other researchers are investigating how people view morally controversial political issues. They are finding that people’s moral sensibilities shape their perceptions of facts.

Brittany Liu and Peter Ditto of the University of California, Irvine, tested how people’s perceptions of the costs and benefits of capital punishment changed when they read essays advocating either its inherent morality or immorality. The essays changed not only participants’ perceptions of the inherent morality of capital punishment but also beliefs about whether capital punishment deterred future crime or led to miscarriages of justice. “Changing participants’ moral beliefs led to corresponding changes in factual beliefs,” Liu says.

Related survey work found a similar pattern of results across many different issues, including forceful interrogations, stem cell research, abstinence-only sexual education, and global warming. The results help explain some of the major impediments to bipartisan cooperation, Liu says. “For both liberals and conservatives, there is no clean separation between moral intuitions and factual beliefs,” she says. “This affects how politicians and partisans interpret scientific and economic data, making compromise difficult as both sides hold drastically different beliefs about the relevant facts and data.”

Related Situationist Posts:

Posted in Ideology, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Situationism

Posted by Jon Hanson on January 15, 2012

mlk1.jpgThis post was originally published on January 22, 2007.

* * *

Monday’s holiday provides an apt occasion to highlight the fact that, at least by my reckoning, Martin Luther King, Jr. was, among other things, a situationist.

To be sure, King is most revered in some circles for quotations that are easily construed as dispositionist, such as: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Taken alone, as it often is, that sentence seems to set a low bar. Indeed, some Americans contend that we’ve arrived at that promised land; after all, most of us (mostly incorrectly) imagine ourselves to be judging people based solely on their dispositions, choices, personalities, or, in short, their characters.

Putting King’s quotation in context, however, it becomes clear that his was largely a situationist message. He was encouraging us all to recognize the subtle and not-so-subtle situational forces that caused inequalities and to question (what John Jost calls) system-justifying ideologies that helped maintain those inequalities.

mlk2.jpgKing’s amazing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is illustrative. While being held for nine days, King penned a letter in response to the public statement of eight prominent Alabama clergymen who denounced the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations. The prominent clergymen called King an “extremist” and an “outsider,” and “appeal[ed] to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”

Regarding his “outsider” status, King insisted that the us-and-them categories were flawed, and that any meaningful distinction that might exist among groups was that between persons who perpetrated or countenanced injustice, on one hand, and those who resisted it, on the other:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. . . .”

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

mlk3.jpgIn describing the injustice itself, King sought to remove the focus from individual behavor and choice to the situational forces and absence of meaningful choice that helped to shape that behavior:

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place In Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”

In terms of his methods, too, Dr. King was a situationist. He understood that negotiating outcomes reflected the circumstances much more than the the disposition, of negotiators. The aim of demonstrations was to create a situation in which questions otherwise unasked were brought to the fore, in which injustice otherwise unnoticed was made salient, and in which the weak bargaining positions of the otherwise powerless were collectivized and strengthened:

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused tocivil-rights-protest.jpg negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. . . . Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”

In the letter, King expressed his frustation, not just with the egregious racists, but also — no, moreso — with the moderates who were willing to sacrifice real justice for the sake of maintaining the illusion of justice. King put it this way:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’ . . . .”

mlk4.jpgAnd King recognized the role that laws could play in maintaining an unjust status quo. Of course, he criticized the laws that literally enforced segregation, but he didn’t stop there. He criticized, too, the seemingly neutral laws, and the purportedly principled methods of interpreting and applying those laws, that could serve as legitimating cover for existing disparities:

“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.”

King explained that many churches, too, were implicated in this web of justification — caught up as they were in making sense of, or lessening the sting of, existing arrangements:

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”

mlk5.jpg

So, yes, Reverend King urged us all to help create a world in which people were “not . . . judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But King said much more. He recognized and tried to teach those who would listen that getting to that world would mean examining and challenging the situation — including our beliefs, our laws, our ideologies, our religious beliefs, our institutions, and existing allocations of opportunity, wealth, and power.

Judging those who are disadvantaged by the content of their character is not, taken alone, much of a solution. It may, in fact, be part of the problem. As Kathleen Hanson (my wife) and I recently argued, the problem “is, not in neglecting character, but in attributing to ‘character’ what should be attributed to [a person's] situation and, in turn, to our system and ourselves.” Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, far more effectively: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in History, Ideology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Ideology, Psychology, and Law – Available Now!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 12, 2012

Edited by Situationist Editor Jon Hanson, Ideology, Psychology, and Law examines the sometimes unsettling interactions between psychology, ideology, and law and elucidates the forces, beyond and beneath the logic, that animate the law.

Here is some of the glowing praise for the volume from, among others, several Situationist Contributors:

“Ideology, Psychology, and Law is a revolution in the making. Encyclopedic in its breadth, this volume captures a moment – like the early heady days of the law and economics movement – when bold, new inquiries are suddenly possible.  For those who still cling to the centrality of preferences and incentives, thisbook will be usefully threatening.”

~ Ian Ayres, William K. Townsend Professor, Yale Law School, and author of Carrots and Sticks: Unlock the Power of Incentives to Get Things Done

“This volume is the first of its kind, employing the latest mind science research to illuminate the motivated and unconscious inspirations for ideology, law, and policy. The superbly edited and timely volume is a highly accessible, interdisciplinary collection, bringing together the perspectives and insights of many of the world’s most thoughtful and influential social psychologists, political scientists, and legal scholars. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to better understand the psychological winds buffeting our institutions of collective governance.”

~ Philip G. Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Stanford University

“With this collection, Jon Hanson and the contributors to this volume have gone a long way towards breaking the iron grip that Law and Economics have held on serious legal policy analysis. By incorporating insights from psychology and other behavioral and mind sciences, this volume maps animportant and inspiring interdisciplinarity that will guide path breaking work in the future.”

~ Gerald Torres and Lani Guinier, co-authors of The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy

“This volume shows what ideology is and does. The chapters written by psychologists demonstrate that there is little about the mind’s work that can be called ‘neutral.’ The legal scholars who contribute to this volume push forward to ask how the law must itself bend toward justice, if such is the case. This compendium contains facts and ideas that, if heeded, may bring the law closer to the aspiration that everybody be equal before the law.”

~ Mahzarin R. Banaji, Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Department of Psychology, Harvard University

“Insightful, comprehensive, boundary-spanning. Hanson pulls together research and ideas from multiple disciplines to create a new way of looking at the most important legal questions of our time.”

~ Sheena S. Iyengar, S.T. Lee Professor of Business, Columbia Business School and author of The Art of Choosing

Purchase information here.

Posted in Book, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Paul Bloom on Disgust

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 19, 2011

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Ideology, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Ideological Bias in Social Psychology?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 2, 2011

On January 27th, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt gave a provocative talk at the annual convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.  His presentation has since received a lot of press (including John Tierney’s New York Times article on the talk). Edge has posted a version of Haidt’s talk as well as a variety of responses (here).  Below, we’ve posted the response by Situationist Contributor, John Jost.

* * *

Social psychology is not a “tribal-moral community” governed by “sacred values.” It is wide open to anyone who believes that we can use the scientific method to explain social behavior, regardless of their political beliefs. Nor is our “corner” of social science “broken” when it comes “race, gender, and class,” as Jonathan Haidt claimed in response to Paul Krugman. Rather, social psychologists have made cutting edge advances in understanding the subtle, implicit, nonconscious biases that perpetuate inequalities concerning race, gender, and class.

Haidt’s essay sows confusion; he misrepresents what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. By focusing on scientists’ personal beliefs rather than the quality of their work, Haidt perpetuates the myth that social scientific research simply exemplifies the ideological biases of the researchers. No doubt this energizes those who are eager to dismiss our findings. But polling firms are paid by clients, including political campaigns, and this fact neither determines nor invalidates the poll’s findings. Similarly, the personal beliefs of social scientists may (or may not) be one of many factors that affect the decision of what to study, but those beliefs are, at the end of the day, scientifically irrelevant.

This is because we, as a research community, take seriously the institutionalization of methodological safeguards against experimenter effects and other forms of bias. Any research program that is driven more by ideological axe-grinding than valid insight is doomed to obscurity, because it will not stand up to empirical replication and its flaws will be obvious to scientific peers — all of whom have been exposed to conservative perspectives even if they do not hold them.

If we do concern ourselves with the results of Haidt’s armchair demography, we should ask honestly whether social scientists are too liberal or society is too conservative. After all, when experts and laypersons disagree, we do not usually rush to the conclusion that the experts are biased. Haidt fails to grapple meaningfully with the question of why nearly all of the best minds in science find liberal ideas to be closer to the mark with respect to evolution, human nature, mental health, close relationships, intergroup relations, ethics, social justice, conflict resolution, environmental sustainability, and so on. He does not even consider the possibility that research in social psychology (including research on implicit bias) bothers conservatives for the right reasons, namely that some of our conclusions are empirically demonstrable and yet at odds with certain conservative assumptions (e.g., that racial prejudice is a thing of the past). Surely in some cases raising cognitive dissonance is part of our professional mission.

We need science, now more than ever, to help us overcome ideological disputes rather than getting bogged down in them. We do not need conservatives to become conservative social psychologists any more than we need liberals to become liberal social psychologists. Our “community” still holds that policy preferences should follow from the data, not the other way around. Sadly, Haidt puts the ideological cart before the scientific horse. I simply cannot agree that — especially in this political era — it would be good for our science to reproduce the ideological stalemate and finger-pointing that has crippled our government and debased our journalism.

* * *

Read the other responses here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Education, Ideology, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

A Horror Movie for Palinites?

Posted by Adam Benforado on January 19, 2011

Despite my love of cinema, I tend to always fall behind on catching the latest movies.

Case in point: during the past weekend, I finally had the opportunity to see The King’s Speech, which my own grandmother watched and wrote me about . . . last year.

As a sort of New Year’s resolution, I’m attempting to be a bit more up-to-date on this front, and, thus, I’m going to dedicate this blog post to a film that hasn’t even been released yet, but that should be of interest to Situationist readers.

What caught my attention about the preview for the film was that it seemed as if it could easily be modified into a Sarah Palin 2012 political advertisement.

In the opening frames, we watch Senate candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) as he first crosses paths with the ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt).  There is clearly an attraction, but, as the film website explains, “just as he realizes he’s falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart.”

Who are these mysterious men?

“[T]he agents of Fate itself—the men of The Adjustment Bureau—who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together.”

As one Adjustment Bureau agent explains, “We are the people who make sure that things happen according to plan.  We monitor the entire world.”

David (er, Matt) is then faced with a momentous decision: “let her go and accept a predetermined path . . . or risk everything to defy Fate and be with her.”

In the trailer, David explains, “All I have are the choices I make, and I choose her,” as the following lines scroll across the screen:

If you believe in free will.

If you believe in chance.

If you believe in choice.

Fight for it.

So . . . yes, perhaps I’m off my rocker (watch the trailer below for yourself), but I think the narrative of the film could have been pieced together straight from Palin’s tweets: (1) Americans are rational actors who can make their own choices and should be allowed to pursue freely their own conceptions of the good; (2) the agents of big government are extremely dangerous and are intent on controlling our environments; (3) Obama’s regulatory state (including the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection) is a paternalistic nightmare; . . . and, of course, (4) we must let our values and guts tell us what is right, and not allow regulators with their misguided “science” and “reason” to direct us (in one of my favorite moments in the trailer, one of the agents of the Adjustment Bureau is heard saying, “Remember we tried to reason with you.”).

Okay, readers, consider yourselves provoked.  What do you think?

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Entertainment, Ideology, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Situationism

Posted by Jon Hanson on January 15, 2011

mlk1.jpgThis post was originally published on January 22, 2007.

* * *

Monday’s holiday provides an apt occasion to highlight the fact that, at least by my reckoning, Martin Luther King, Jr. was, among other things, a situationist.

To be sure, King is most revered in some circles for quotations that are easily construed as dispositionist, such as: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Taken alone, as it often is, that sentence seems to set a low bar. Indeed, some Americans contend that we’ve arrived at that promised land; after all, most of us (mostly incorrectly) imagine ourselves to be judging people based solely on their dispositions, choices, personalities, or, in short, their characters.

Putting King’s quotation in context, however, it becomes clear that his was largely a situationist message. He was encouraging us all to recognize the subtle and not-so-subtle situational forces that caused inequalities and to question (what John Jost calls) system-justifying ideologies that helped maintain those inequalities.

mlk2.jpgKing’s amazing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is illustrative. While being held for nine days, King penned a letter in response to the public statement of eight prominent Alabama clergymen who denounced the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations. The prominent clergymen called King an “extremist” and an “outsider,” and “appeal[ed] to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”

Regarding his “outsider” status, King insisted that the us-and-them categories were flawed, and that any meaningful distinction that might exist among groups was that between persons who perpetrated or countenanced injustice, on one hand, and those who resisted it, on the other:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. . . .”

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

mlk3.jpgIn describing the injustice itself, King sought to remove the focus from individual behavor and choice to the situational forces and absence of meaningful choice that helped to shape that behavior:

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place In Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”

In terms of his methods, too, Dr. King was a situationist. He understood that negotiating outcomes reflected the circumstances much more than the the disposition, of negotiators. The aim of demonstrations was to create a situation in which questions otherwise unasked were brought to the fore, in which injustice otherwise unnoticed was made salient, and in which the weak bargaining positions of the otherwise powerless were collectivized and strengthened:

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused tocivil-rights-protest.jpg negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. . . . Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”

In the letter, King expressed his frustation, not just with the egregious racists, but also — no, moreso — with the moderates who were willing to sacrifice real justice for the sake of maintaining the illusion of justice. King put it this way:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’ . . . .”

mlk4.jpgAnd King recognized the role that laws could play in maintaining an unjust status quo. Of course, he criticized the laws that literally enforced segregation, but he didn’t stop there. He criticized, too, the seemingly neutral laws, and the purportedly principled methods of interpreting and applying those laws, that could serve as legitimating cover for existing disparities:

“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.”

King explained that many churches, too, were implicated in this web of justification — caught up as they were in making sense of, or lessening the sting of, existing arrangements:

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”

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So, yes, Reverend King urged us all to help create a world in which people were “not . . . judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But King said much more. He recognized and tried to teach those who would listen that getting to that world would mean examining and challenging the situation — including our beliefs, our laws, our ideologies, our religious beliefs, our institutions, and existing allocations of opportunity, wealth, and power.

Judging those who are disadvantaged by the content of their character is not, taken alone, much of a solution. It may, in fact, be part of the problem. As Kathleen Hanson (my wife) and I recently argued, the problem “is, not in neglecting character, but in attributing to ‘character’ what should be attributed to [a person's] situation and, in turn, to our system and ourselves.” Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, far more effectively: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in History, Ideology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Warming World or Just World?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 27, 2010

From UCBerkeley News:

Dire or emotionally charged warnings about the consequences of global warming can backfire if presented too negatively, making people less amenable to reducing their carbon footprint, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.

“Our study indicates that the potentially devastating consequences of global warming threaten people’s fundamental tendency to see the world as safe, stable and fair. As a result, people may respond by discounting evidence for global warming,” said Robb Willer, UC Berkeley social psychologist and coauthor of a study to be published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.

“The scarier the message, the more people who are committed to viewing the world as fundamentally stable and fair are motivated to deny it,” agreed Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology and coauthor of the study.

But if scientists and advocates can communicate their findings in less apocalyptic ways, and present solutions to global warming, Willer said, most people can get past their skepticism.

Recent decades have seen a growing scientific consensus on the existence of a warming of global land and ocean temperatures. A significant part of the warming trend has been attributed to human activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the mounting evidence, a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year found that 48 percent of Americans believe that global warming concerns are exaggerated, and 19 percent think global warming will never happen. In 1997, 31 percent of those who were asked the same question in a Gallup poll felt the claims were overstated.

In light of this contradictory trend, Feinberg and Willer sought to investigate the psychology behind attitudes about climate change.

In the first of two experiments, 97 UC Berkeley undergraduates were gauged for their political attitudes, skepticism about global warming and level of belief in whether the world is just or unjust. Rated on a “just world scale,” which measures people’s belief in a just world for themselves and others, participants were asked how much they agree with such statements as “I believe that, by and large, people get what they deserve,” and “I am confident that justice always prevails over injustice.”

Next, participants read a news article about global warming. The article started out with factual data provided by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. But while half the participants received articles that ended with warnings about the apocalyptic consequences of global warming, the other half read ones that concluded with positive messages focused on potential solutions to global warming, such as technological innovations that could reduce carbon emissions.

Results showed that those who read the positive messages were more open to believing in the existence of global warming and had more faith in science’s ability to solve the problem. Moreover, those who scored high on the just world scale were less skeptical about global warming when exposed to the positive message. By contrast, those exposed to doomsday messages became more skeptical about global warming, particularly those who scored high on the just world scale.

In the second experiment, involving 45 volunteers recruited from 30 U.S. cities via Craigslist, researchers looked specifically at whether increasing one’s belief in a just world would increase his or her skepticism about global warming.

They had half the volunteers unscramble sentences such as “prevails justice always” so they would be more likely to take a just world view when doing the research exercises. They then showed them a video featuring innocent children being put in harm’s way to illustrate the threat of global warming to future generations.

Those who had been primed for a just world view responded to the video with heightened skepticism towards global warming and less willingness to change their lifestyles to reduce their carbon footprint, according to the results.

Overall, the study concludes, “Fear-based appeals, especially when not coupled with a clear solution, can backfire and undermine the intended effects of messages.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Value-Affirmation, and the Situation of Climate Change Beliefs,” Global Climate Change and The Situation of Denial,” “Al Gore – The Situationist,” The Situation of Climate Change,” “Getting a Grip on Climate Change,” “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” “Denial,” Thanksgiving as ‘System Justification,’” “The Heat is On,” and “Captured Science.”

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

Why Do Lawyers Acquiesce in their Clients’ Misconduct? — Part IV

Posted by Sung Hui Kim on August 6, 2010

This is Part IV of my series, exploring the reasons why lawyers acquiesce in their clients’ frauds and other misconduct.  For background, please access Part I, Part II and Part III of this series.  In this segment, I will focus on the relationship between lawyers’ “role ideology”—normative visions about their professional role—and the inclination to “go along to get along” when their high status clients (or, more accurately, high-paying client representatives) want to engage in financial shenanigans that impact our capital markets.

Don’t think this is an issue?  It is now 2010 and we are still recovering from the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.  No doubt, some lawyers looked the other way when their client representatives wanted to engage in deception.  The difficulty for researchers like me who want to learn more about this type of problem is that information about the lawyer-client relationship is ordinarily privileged (to be sure, there are a number of exceptions, e.g., the crime-fraud exception).   Luckily, we have the following story of the former associate general counsel of Lehman Brothers, based on some excellent reporting by James Sterngold of (Bloomberg) BusinessWeek, which you can directly access here: Lehman Bros. story.

But here’s a brief synopsis of the news story from BusinessWeek:

Oliver Budde faced a momentous life decision.  In February 2006, he had resigned from his position as associate general counsel from Lehman Brothers, a venerable (and publicly traded) investment bank in which he worked for nine years.  He had been disappointed with the lack of transparency in how his firm had disclosed certain long-term restricted stock units (RSUs) that were granted to senior executives, including former chief executive officer (CEO) Richard S. Fuld Jr.  After raising the issue with his superiors in the general counsel’s office, he was told that Lehman’s outside attorneys at a prestigious law firm had blessed the policy to exclude unvested RSUs from the annual compensation tables in the SEC filings.  Budde disagreed with this aggressive interpretation of the rules and voiced his objections.  Eventually, he quit the firm.

Later on that year, the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it would require the clear reporting of unvested RSUs and other stock-based awards in public filings.  Eager to see if the firm would now fully disclose the controverted RSUs, Budde pored over the proxy statement released in March 2008.  “I looked several times, and my jaw just dropped,” he said.  “What happened to the RSUs?”

After performing some calculations, Budde determined that CEO Fuld’s compensation was $409.5 million, rather than the mere $146 million disclosed in the proxy statement.  Apparently, Lehman had counted only two of fifteen RSU grants. After considering his options, Budde decided to blow the whistle and report Lehman’s noncompliance to the SEC and Lehman’s board of directors.  On April 14, 2008, he sent a detailed two-page e-mail to the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.  After describing Fuld’s failure to disclose more than $250 million in RSU grants, Budde wrote:

The last thing the country needs right now is another investment bank in crisis.  I have wrestled with this over the past five weeks, since I first read the proxy.  This is not a shot at retribution, and I am in no way a disgruntled former employee (disappointed, even disgusted, yes).  I walked away freely from Lehman, and my ethical concerns in a number of areas were no secret to my superiors there. (Sterngold)

For his efforts, Budde received only a form “thank you” letter from the SEC.  His letters to the Lehman board were also ignored.  But Budde’s calculations were supported by a Yale Journal of Regulation article entitled, “The Wages of Failure: Executive Compensation at Bear Stearns and Lehman, 2000-2008” (Bebchuk et al.).  Of course, as it turned out, potential securities fraud was just one of the myriad problems afflicting Lehman at that time.  In September 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed in the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. (Sterngold)

The Oliver Budde story raises a number of questions, the answers to which we still do not know.  One wonders: to what extent did the in-house and outside lawyers of Lehman Brothers (other than Budde) actively engage their client representatives (CEO Fuld among others) on whether it was ethically proper to exclude unvested RSUs from the annual compensation tables in the SEC public filings?  Setting aside whether it was explicitly required by the SEC regulations at the time, didn’t the concealment of material amounts of compensation cause the lawyers to at least pause and consider the ethical implications, especially in light of public furor over runaway executive compensation?

My guess is that if those lawyers paused, they didn’t pause for long.  It is likely that by the time this issue arose at Lehman Brothers, experienced lawyers had (more or less) fallen into the habit of analyzing ethical problems in a way that bleaches out the moral content.  Social psychologists call this gradual transformation “ethical fading.”

More provocatively and more generally, I wonder whether societal views about lawyers’ role can in fact contribute to lawyers’ acting unethically, which, of course, belies the notion that lawyers should be professionally independent from their clients.  I’d like to explore the issue of whether the normative visions of the lawyers’ role are the “dog wagging the tail” or the “tail wagging the dog.”

Role Ideology

Lawyers can be professionally molded to accommodate various conceptions of lawyering, with some conceptions creating greater pressures to align with clients than others.  The effect of all these alignment pressures (including the alignment pressures stemming from economic self-interest) is that lawyers’ ethical judgments will sway in the client’s favor.  (To be clear, I am focusing exclusively on lawyers who represent high-paying corporate clients.  I am fully aware that the opposite problem—lawyers exploiting or taking advantage of clients—occurs with many individual or less affluent clients.)

One key variable in determining the strength of an agent’s accountability to her principal is her understanding of the nature of her role as attorney and the ideological or normative commitments that such role entails – role ideology.  Ideologies about the law come with their own particular normative vision of lawyering and the lawyer’s role. Conversely, roles come “ready-made,” packaged by society, with their own sets of ideologies or “normative guidelines and values that give meaning and shape behavior.”  Even an ideology that purports to view the lawyer’s role in “morally neutral” or “agnostic” terms still makes a normative choice that we should view her role in such terms.

Role ideologies serve two functions.  First, they constitute nontrivial ex ante situational influences that define the universe of socially acceptable norms for that role, to whom or what the lawyer is accountable, and what degree of alignment to (or independence from) the de facto principal (i.e., the client representative) is socially appropriate.  When acting in accordance with a role, one simply acts as others expect one to act.  As put by philosopher Gerald Postema, “Although there is a personal or idiosyncratic element in any person’s conception, nevertheless, because the role of lawyer is largely socially defined, significant public or shared elements are also involved.”  Thus, socially defined role ideologies can lend ideological legitimation to a given style of lawyering (e.g., lawyering based on “client supremacy”), making it a more palatable option.  Over time, a lawyer may come to identify with a particular role ideology and come to believe that her unethical choices are in fact entirely consistent, and even possibly endorsed, by such role ideology.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, role ideologies can serve to legitimate any post hoc rationalizations of unethical behavior by framing the ethical problem in a manner that makes it more attractive to act unethically.  As Postema explains, “By taking shelter in the role, the individual places the responsibility for all of his acts at the door of the institutional author of the role.”  For the person who fully identifies with her role, the response “because I am a lawyer,” or more generally “because that’s my job,” suffices as a complete answer to the question “why do that?”  And cognitive dissonance theory predicts that when our internal attitudes do not correspond with our actions, then our internal attitudes are likely to shift to harmonize with our past actions.

In modern legal culture, various role ideologies are available.  At one extreme is the “officer of the court” view, the grand vision of a public-regarding role for lawyers that contemplates a broader professional obligation than to act only in the client’s (or the lawyer’s) self-interest.  Under this model, inside counsel, simply by virtue of being a lawyer, would be accountable not only to her client representative but also to the public. In this world, the alignment generated by accountability to the de facto principal might be partial (at best), since lawyers would not only have to consider management’s (perhaps fraudulent) goals but also the public welfare.  Of course, outside of the legal academy, most lawyers do not live in this world.

At the other extreme, the lawyer’s role is shaped by a “law is the enemy” or “libertarian-antinomian” philosophy (to use Robert Gordon’s nomenclature), which sees regulation contemptuously as nothing more than a tax on business, a hindrance to the wheels of private commerce.  This view is reflected in President Reagan’s inaugural address statements: “[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  At Enron, such a view was endorsed by management: senior managers had conducted a skit in which one of the themes was deceiving the SEC.  Under this view, the lawyer’s role is to assist the client in devising creative ways to circumvent the law regardless of any harm to third parties or the underlying purposes of the law.  As the view that is most hostile to law, the alignment to the de facto principal (who favors unlawful actions) would be strong.

In the middle, two agency-centered conceptions characterize how many lawyers view their role. One traditional conception of lawyering that has found tremendous longstanding support by the organized bar and the rules of professional ethics is that the lawyer should be committed to the “aggressive and single-minded pursuit of the client’s objectives” within, but all the way up to, the limits of the law.  Her zealous advocacy should not be constrained by her own moral sentiments or commitments but only the “objective, identifible bounds of the law.”  Thus, under this model of partisan loyalty, the lawyer is instructed to interpret legal boundaries from the perspective of maximizing client interest.  In this client-centered world, the alignment to the de facto principal would also be strong.

Another middle-of-the-road ideology is the “agnostic” view that law is a “neutral constraint,” and – accordingly — the lawyer’s role is that of an amoral risk-assessor.  This view is characterized by the lack of moral imperative to comply with the law and the lawyer’s moral detachment from the law.  The lawyer’s role is diminished to that of a counselor who games the rules to work around the constraints and lower “tariffs” or “taxes” as much as possible.  While this view is not openly hostile to the law, it is not respectful of and thus corrodes the legitimating force of the law.  The lack of moral imperative to observe the law means that noncompliance is a feasible, even reasonable, business option.

Which role ideologies predominate in today’s corporate legal practice?  In my view, one can find empirical evidence of all these role ideologies with different lawyers and in different contexts.  That said, I think the two middle-of-the-road ideologies dominate modern corporate representation.  You will find the “zealous advocate” model being emulated in litigation practice.  The image and rhetoric of the “zealous advocate” also get invoked every time the legal profession fends off external regulation (e.g., regulatory attempts by the SEC).  (See Lawyer Exceptionalism in the Gatekeeping Wars for more on the external regulation of the American bar.)  You will also find a variant of the “zealous advocate” model that substitutes “adversarialism” with “entrepeneurialism” among transactional lawyers who believe that they are “greasing the wheels of commerce.”  And, in my opinion, you will find many lawyers who view themselves as amoral risk-assessors.  Any of these normative visions of lawyering can be stretched to accommodate unethical behavior.

My guess is that those lawyers who accommodated Lehman Brothers’ desire to be less transparent in their public filings were (at least for the moment) adopting something close to the amoral risk-assessor model (which, frankly, is easy to do in highly technical fields like securities regulation or tax).  In short, they were “just providing advice,” telling clients what the pros and cons of a proposed course of action are and then leaving it to the clients to make the final call, even if that final decision is unethical and/or requires the lawyer’s full-blown assistance to implement.  Many lawyers feel they can engage in this ethical division of labor (“so long as I give accurate advice and not encourage you to break the law, you can do what you want”).

But are these role ideologies the dog wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog?  This question invariably invokes a longstanding debate in social psychology about the extent to which “reasoned deliberation” influences behavior.  Some think reason plays a large role in explaining human behavior.  Others, like psychologist Jonathan Haidt at Virginia, think that reasons—or more accurately—culturally supplied explanations are more likely to be the rational tail wagging the emotional dog, in other words, a post-hoc construction intended to justify more automatic—and typically, self-interested—judgments.  But Haidt qualifies this position.  He says that since we are highly attuned to group norms (and subject to strong conformity pressures), we are much less likely to engage in conduct that clearly violates those norms.  Accordingly, explicit moral reasoning plays an ex ante role in societies by defining what is or is not acceptable behavior.

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For a more thorough treatment of this topic, please read my more comprehensive works, The Banality of Fraud: Re-Situating the Inside Counsel as Gatekeeper, Gatekeepers Inside Out, and my most recently published article – Lawyer Exceptionalism in the Gatekeeping Wars—which relies on insights from cognitive science to explain why the rhetoric of lawyer exceptionalism, invoked when the legal profession fends off external regulation, is nonetheless so appealing.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Part I, Part II and Part III of this series and “How Situational Self-Schemas Influence Disposition,” “Categorically Biased – Abstract,” “The Situation of John Yoo and the Torture Memos,”  “The Affective Situation of Ethics and Mediation,” On the Ethical Obligations of Lawyers,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part II,” Person X Situation X System Dynamics,” “Situation” Trumps “Disposition” – Part I & Part II,” andThe Need for a Situationist Morality.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Palliative Function of Ideology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 6, 2010

Jaime Napier is an Assistant Professors of Psychology at Yale University. Her primary research interest is the effects of societal injustice, including how members of advantaged and disadvantaged groups diverge in their perceptions and explanations of injustice; how political and religious ideologies may ameliorate the outrage associated with perceived injustice; and the consequences of accepting or rationalizing injustice on individual subjective well-being and self-esteem.

At the third annual conference on Law and Mind Sciences, which took place in March of 2009, Napier’s fascinating presentation was titled “The Palliative Function of Ideology.” Here’s the abstract:

In this research, we drew on system-justification theory and the notion that conservative ideology serves a palliative function to explain why conservatives are happier than liberals. Specifically, in three studies using nationally representative data from the United States and nine additional countries, we found that right-wing (vs. left-wing) orientation is indeed associated with greater subjective well-being and that the relation between political orientation and subjective well-being is mediated by the rationalization of inequality. In our third study, we found that increasing economic inequality (as measured by the Gini index) from 1974 to 2004 has exacerbated the happiness gap between liberals and conservatives, apparently because conservatives (more than liberals) possess an ideological buffer against the negative hedonic effects of economic inequality.

You can watch her presentation on the two (roughly 9-minute) videos below.

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For more information about the Project on Law and Mind Sciences, click here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Blame Frame – Abstract,” “The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis,” Conference on the Free Market Mindset,” “Sam Gosling on the Meaning of the Stuff in our Situation,” Ideology is Back!,” Barbara Ehrenreich on the Sources of and Problems with Dispositionism,” The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” John Jost on System Justification Theory,” John Jost’s “System Justification and the Law” – Video,” The Situation of Political and Religious Beliefs?,” “The Situation of Ideology – Part I,” and “The Situation of Ideology – Part II.”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Ideology, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

System Justification and the Meaning of Life

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 9, 2010

Situationist Contributor John T. Jost and his co-authors Lindsay E. Rankin and Cheryl J. Wakslak recently published a fascinating article, titled “System Justification and the Meaning of Life: Are the Existential Benefits of Ideology Distributed Unequally Across Racial Groups?” 22, Social Justice Research 312 (2009).  Here’s the abstract.

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In this research, we investigated the relations among system justification, religiosity, and subjective well-being in a sample of nationally representative low-income respondents in the United States. We hypothesized that ideological endorsement of the status quo would be associated with certain existential and other psychological benefits, but these would not necessarily be evenly distributed across racial groups. Results revealed that religiosity was positively associated with subjective well-being in general, but the relationship between system justification and well-being varied considerably as a function of racial group membership. For low-income European Americans, stronger endorsement of system justification as an ideology was associated with increased positive affect, decreased negative affect, and a wide range of existential benefits, including life satisfaction and a subjective sense of security, meaning, and mastery. These findings are consistent with the notion that system justification satisfies psychological needs for personal control and serves a palliative function for its adherents. However, many of these effects were considerably weakened or even reversed for African American respondents. Thus, the psychological benefits associated with religiosity existed for both racial groups, whereas the benefits of system justification were distributed unequally across racial groups.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “John Jost Speaks about His Own Research,” The Situation of Ideology – Part I,” “The Situation of Ideology – Part II,” “Ideology is Back!,” A System-Justification Primer,” “Barbara Ehrenreich on the Sources of and Problems with Dispositionism,” The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” John Jost on System Justification Theory,” John Jost’s “System Justification and the Law” – Video,”

To review other Situationist posts about system justification or ideology, click here or here respectively.

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Situationist Contributors, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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