The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Naive Cynicism’

The Economist Responds to The Situationist

Posted by Jon Hanson on November 25, 2011

W.W. at The Economist takes issue with my 2007 post (reposted on Wednesday) about “Thanksgiving as System Justification.” Readers can judge for themselves the merits of the critique.

The purpose of this post is simply to point out that The Economist article and the comments that follow it exhibit the naive cynicism dynamic that we have written about several times on this blog.  Here’s one recent description:

Situationist Contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson have written extensively about a dynamic they call “naive cynicism.”

Their work explores how dispositionism maintains its dominance despite the fact that it misses so much of what actually moves us. It argues that the answer lies in a subordinate dynamic and discourse, naive cynicism: the basic subconscious mechanism by which dispositionists discredit and dismiss situationist insights and their proponents. Without it, the dominant person schema – dispositionism – would be far more vulnerable to challenge and change, and the more accurate person schema – situationism – less easily and effectively attacked. Naive cynicism is thus critically important to explaining how and why certain legal policies manage to carry the day.

Naive cynicism often takes the form of a backlash against situationism that involves an affirmation of existing dispositionist notions and an assault on (1) the situationist attributions themselves; (2) the individuals, institutions, and groups from which the situationist attributions appear to emanate; and (3) the individuals whose conduct has been situationalized. If one were to boil down those factors to one simple naive-cynicism-promoting frame for minimizing situationist ideas, it would be something like this: Unreasonable outgroup members are attacking us, our beliefs, and the things we value.

With that dynamic in mind, consider the following excerpts from The Economist post and the comments that followed it:

NO HOLIDAY is safe from the scolds. Independence Day? A celebration of the American exceptionalism behind our bogus claims to legitimacy as a “benevolent” neo-imperialist global hegemon. Christmas? A sickening display of consumerism run amok and a case study in Christian mythology crowding out pagan good cheer. (Take your pick.) Memorial Day? An exercise in the elevation of those who kill and die for the state without asking too many questions about it. Veterans Day? Ditto. Labor Day is all right, I guess, if you’re red. Columbus Day? Ask a Seminole. Now here we are on the cusp of Thanksgiving. Other than lamenting the white man’s plundering, murdering, colonising ways (ask an Iroquois) what else is there to say to take the fun out of the national day of gluttony here in the home of the bravely obese? Plenty!

Before you stuff yourself to the gills with the flesh of innocent birds fattened in disgustingly inhumane conditions, please read this discourse on “Thanksgiving as ‘System Justification’“, by Jon Hanson, the Alfred Smart Professor of Law at Harvard. In a nutshell, “system justification” is the socio-psychological process by which turkeys come to welcome their impending slaughter. Every society is rife with injustice. System justification is how we convince ourselves it’s all for the best.

“Manifestations of the system-justification motive pervade many of our cognitions, ideologies, and institutions”, Mr Hanson says. For example, Harvard University might be said to make extremely privileged people comfortable in their mostly unearned wealth and prestige by helping them develop a super-classy shared vocabulary for expressing their mildly guilty feelings about it. Mr Hanson, demonstrating how this is done, worries that Thanksgiving, as Americans celebrate it, is but one more prop shoring up the corrupt current dispensation.

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*  * * If you think it’s only healthy to set aside politics now and then and bask wholeheartedly in the warm love of family, you’re probably part of the problem.

Economist commenters (of which there are many) piled on praise for, and agreement with, W.W.’s critique.  The shared sense seems to be that  W.W. is correct:  “Unreasonable outgroup members [namely, Jon Hanson and other scolds like him] are attacking us, our beliefs, and the things we value.”  Here’s a sample:

“Thanks for reminding us of how messed up our world is Economist.”

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I’m thankful that my tuition helps provide Professor Hanson with plenty of income to contribute important insights on law and policy while living in style.

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The big-brained ape is a jerk.

Sitting down to a feast with those dear to you is just fine by me. I guess I must be part of the problem.

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To say that this Hanson person gives idealists, liberals and academics a bad name is to be guilty of gross understatement.

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This article is from someone who sees the life extremely bitter, and wants everybody to see the same. OK, life has its problems, in the US and everywhere. But I think that to see the glass always half-empty is a very sad way to live.

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Some folks have no sense of humor, cannot ever lighten up, and consider every particle of existence to be a big political issue.

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the writer needs to lighten up and spend some with loved ones (if he has any…) . . . .

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I don’t think there is any need to throw guilt into something that promotes community and family life.

Related Situationist posts:

You can review all of the Situationist posts related to naive cynicism by clicking here.

Posted in Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Situationist Contributors, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Kennedy and Pronin on the Spiral of Conflict

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 16, 2011

A group of  Harvard Law students are blogging over at the Law & Mind Blog.  Here is one of their posts about a chapter by Situationist Contributor Emily Pronin and Kathleen Kennedy (forthcoming in from Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson’s  book, “Ideology, Psychology, and Law”).  The post is authored by HLS student Michael Lieberman.

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In their chapter, Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict, Kathleen Kennedy and Emily Pronin examine what they see as a major cause of breakdowns in negotiation, both small- and large-scale: a tendency of each side to view the other side’s position as biased and preference-driven (rather than based on objective facts). Kennedy and Pronin explain that we tend to see signs of bias all around us – some even posit that United States Supreme Court justices fall short of impartiality in their decisions. The only place, it seems, where the tendency to detect bias is weak is in ourselves: people have a tendency to perceive others as susceptible to the influence of biases while at the same time viewing themselves as relatively unaffected by those biases. That asymmetry has been referred to as a bias blind spot. One example of this bias blind spot with particular relevance to those of us in law school is the widespread disagreement over the validity of high-stakes standardized tests, such as the LSAT. High performers are inclined to resent the “obvious bias” of poor performers who claim that the test is invalid and should not be used; poor performers, by contrast, are inclined to resent the “obvious bias” of high performers who champion the tests’ use.

The first component of Kennedy and Pronin’s bias-perception conflict spiral is that disagreement leads to an even stronger perception that the other side is biased. That is, when people disagree, they view those with whom they disagree as biased or, more specifically, as unable or unwilling to view things as they are in “objective reality.” The reason is clear: “people generally have complete faith in the veridicality of their perceptions, and thus are suspicious of those who fail to share their perceptions.” Kennedy and Pronin offer support for this component with a review of several experimental and real-world cases of the tendency to perceive bias in action, including an experiment conducted among partisans involved in the struggle between Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland, in the wake of the “Good Friday Agreement” that established the conditions for peace in that region. Consistent with their hypothesis, partisans in the conflict tended to feel that those who led the opposing side were more prone to these biases than were those who led their own side.

The second component of the model is that the perception of the other side as biased leads to competitive and aggressive action, as opposed to cooperative and peaceful action. When dealing with an opponent whom one views as unable or unwilling to see things objectively, one may conclude that cooperative efforts (such as sitting down to talk things out, or providing relevant facts and arguments) are unlikely to be successful. The authors again cite several studies supporting the idea that people are likely to choose their responses to their opponents based at least in part on their assessment of the other side’s capacity for objectivity versus inclination towards bias.

Having outlined the framework of the bias-perception conflict spiral, Kennedy and Pronin proceed to apply their concept to the field of negotiation, both explaining when and how the spiral rears its ugly head and offering potential ways to stop it in its tracks. As the above outline would suggest, people seem to view their adversaries in negotiation as prone to bias, and that perception of bias leads them to act competitively in a way that interferes with efficient dispute resolution. After reviewing the weaknesses of strategies suggested by past research (perspective taking, epistemic motivation, and social grouping) Kennedy and Pronin suggest three strategies of their own to help achieve increased success in negotiations (strategies that may require bringing in a third-party mediator):

1. Non-counterarguing listening – Counterarguing listening, which the authors suggest most people engage in, involves thinking about ways in which one’s own position is superior and preparing counterarguments while an opponent is speaking. that can be leveled against the opposition when it is one’s chance to reply. An alternative to that listening approach would allow individuals to truly hear the other person by suppressing impulses to counterargue that content, so that individuals might reach a better understanding of their opponent’s actual position and of its underlying subtleties.

2. Introspective education – This strategy works to induce individuals to see themselves as less objective. By recognizing their own capacity for bias, individuals might be better equipped to resolve their conflicts peacefully once they realize that the other side, while biased, is no more biased than oneself and, therefore, likely has some rational reasons for believing what they believe. A mediator can implement this strategy by educating individuals on the psychology of implicit biases and providing them with concrete demonstrations of their own implicit attitudes (by administering the IAT, for example).

3. Temporal distance – Kennedy and Pronin explain: “Manipulating adversaries’ temporal distance from a conflict situation may also work to alleviate the bias-perception conflict spiral. Temporal distance (how far into the future an event is), as well as physical and social distance (how geographically distant or socially removed an event is), can increase the extent to which individuals see events in more global, indirect, or abstract terms,” which allows adversaries to adopt a cooler perspective toward the situation, including toward the disagreement itself and the opposing party. which might lead them to be more open to acknowledging both their own biases and their adversaries’ objectivity. Resulting reductions in individuals’ perceptions of either the size of their disagreement or the extent to which they are uniquely objective could interrupt or prevent the bias-perception conflict spiral.

In sum, Kennedy and Pronin’s framework focuses on the tendency of individuals to impute bias to others, especially others who disagree with them, and on the consequences of that tendency for conflictual behavior. Their examination of the psychological forces behind the conflict spiral, as well as their suggestions for overcoming it, offers valuable insight to the field of negotiation and mediation, which is particularly useful in a world that is so often divided into opposing interests and groups.

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Go to the Law and Mind Blog here.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Paul Rosenberg Answers: Palin is a Naive Cynic

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 21, 2011

Last week The Situationist asked this question: Was Sarah Palin exhibiting the naive cynicism dynamic in her remarks about the shooting in Tucson (see video)?

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Several readers responded thoughtfully in brief comments, but Paul Rosenberg provided an outstanding, painstakingly thorough response over at Open Left. We highly recommend his post.

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For some related Situationist posts, see:

You can review all of the Situationist posts related to naive cynicism by clicking here.

Posted in Conflict, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Politics | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Sarah Palin a Naive Cynic?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 12, 2011

Situationist Contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson have written extensively about a dynamic they call “naive cynicism.”

Their work explores how dispositionism maintains its dominance despite the fact that it misses so much of what actually moves us. It argues that the answer lies in a subordinate dynamic and discourse, naive cynicism: the basic subconscious mechanism by which dispositionists discredit and dismiss situationist insights and their proponents. Without it, the dominant person schema – dispositionism – would be far more vulnerable to challenge and change, and the more accurate person schema – situationism – less easily and effectively attacked. Naive cynicism is thus critically important to explaining how and why certain legal policies manage to carry the day.

Naive cynicism often takes the form of a backlash against situationism that involves an affirmation of existing dispositionist notions and an assault on (1) the situationist attributions themselves; (2) the individuals, institutions, and groups from which the situationist attributions appear to emanate; and (3) the individuals whose conduct has been situationalized. If one were to boil down those factors to one simple naive-cynicism-promoting frame for minimizing situationist ideas, it would be something like this: Unreasonable outgroup members are attacking us, our beliefs, and the things we value.

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Is Sarah Palin exhibiting that dynamic?  Below the video of her remarks you can read some excerpts from the transcript.

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It’s inexcusable and incomprehensible why a single evil man took the lives of peaceful citizens that day.

There is a bittersweet irony that the strength of the American spirit shines brightest in times of tragedy. We saw that in Arizona. We saw the tenacity of those clinging to life, the compassion of those who kept the victims alive, and the heroism of those who overpowered a deranged gunman.

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President Reagan said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.

The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country’s future.

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Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions.  And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

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As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, “We know violence isn’t the answer. When we ‘take up our arms’, we’re talking about our vote.” Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box – as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next. That’s who we are as Americans and how we were meant to be. Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional.

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No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.

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America must be stronger than the evil we saw displayed last week. We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy.

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You can review a list of related Situationist links in the following post: “The Tragedy in Tucson: What Do You Think?.”

In addition, here are few more:

Finally, you can review all of the Situationist posts related to naive cynicism by clicking here.

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Video | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Attributional Divide – Top 10

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 30, 2010

Situationist contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson’s article “The Great Attributional Divide: How Divergent Views of Human Behavior are Shaping Legal Policy,” (57 Emory Law Review, 2008) recently made the SSRN all-time top-ten list for or Journal of Law & Society: Private Law – Discrimination Law eJournal. Here’s the abstract.

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This article, the first of a multipart series, argues that a major rift runs across many of our major policy debates based on our attributional tendencies: the less accurate dispositionist approach, which explains outcomes and behavior with reference to people’s dispositions (i.e., personalities, preferences, and the like), and the more accurate situationist approach, which bases attributions of causation and responsibility on unseen influences within us and around us. Given that situationism offers a truer picture of our world than the alternative, and given that attributional tendencies are largely the result of elements in our situations, identifying the relevant elements should be a major priority of legal scholars. With such information, legal academics could predict which individuals, institutions, and societies are most likely to produce situationist ideas – in other words, which have the greatest potential for developing the accurate attributions of human behavior that are so important to law.

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To download the article for free, click here.

To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see Legal Academic Backlash - Abstract,” “Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?,” “The Great Attributional Divide – Abstract,” “The Situation of ‘Common Sense’,” The Situation of Political Animals,” “Do NOT Read This Post!,” Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?,”Your Brain on Politics.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Ideology, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Sarah Palin – Objectification – Reaction – Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 16, 2009

Sarah Palin Convention - By Tom LeGro, NewsHour

Eric Deggans, has a nice article in the Saint Petersburg Times summarizing research by psychologists from Univesity of South Florida, Jamie L. Goldenberg and Nathan A. Heflick.  Their research examined the objectifying effects of thinking about Sarah Palin’s appearance.  Immediately below, you will find excerpts from Deggans’s article.  Below that, you’ll find some reflections from Jamie Goldenberg regarding the negative reaction of some conservative media to her research.

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Two researchers at the University of South Florida have developed a study that suggests . . . that a random group of Republicans and independents asked to focus on Palin’s attractiveness felt less likely to vote for the GOP ticket in last November’s elections.

“The idea is that when you focus on a woman’s appearance, this objectifies her, or turns her into an object in your eyes,” said Jamie L. Goldenberg, an associate professor of psychology at USF and co-author of the study, titled “Objectifying Sarah Palin: Evidence that Objectification Causes Women to be Perceived as Less Competent and Fully Human.” “What we found is these perceptions influenced people’s likelihood of voting.”

In their experiment, Goldenberg and graduate student Nathan A. Heflick assembled a group of 133 undergraduates at the school a month before the election. After noting their characteristics — 27 percent were male, 45 percent were Democrats, 24 percent were Republicans and the rest were independents — they were randomly separated into four groups.

Two groups were asked to write about Palin and two groups were asked to write about actor Angelina Jolie. Within each pair, one group was asked to write their thoughts and feelings about the subject’s appearance, and the other was asked to write about the person. They then asked respondents how they would vote in the coming election.

Goldenberg said that, after factoring out Democratic respondents (who solidly supported Obama), the Republicans and independents asked to write about Palin’s appearance said they were less likely to vote GOP than those who simply considered Palin as a person.

“There was an overall tendency to perceive Sarah Palin as less competent than Angelina Jolie,” said Goldenberg, noting their results fell in line with previous studies indicating that, in high status and political jobs, attractive women were perceived as less competent in ways attractive men and women in other jobs were not.

. . . .Goldenberg said the study, which is to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, may spark more questions than it answers.

“What you can’t tell from this is what did they finally do in the end?” said Joel Cooper, a professor of psychology at Princeton University and editor of the journal publishing Goldenberg and Heflick’s study. “But at the moment they thought of (Palin) as a beauty queen, they were less likely to consider voting for (her) … Knowing that is important for campaigns and how we understand each other.”

Another question: Are female politicians who play down their appearance, like Hillary Clinton, instinctively on to something?

“We wouldn’t say attractiveness is a bad thing,” said Goldenberg. “But having people focus on your appearance and not what you say and who you are, is a bad thing.”

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From Miller-McCune, here are some excerpts from “Peeling Away the Media Reaction to ‘Objectifying Sarah Palin’“:

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Over the few months time we spent on our latest study on the objectification of women in the public eye, our lives as scientists played out normally.

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But then the media got hold of our findings and the subsequent reaction was always surprising – and often appalling.
In his Psychology Today blog, Dr. Stanton Peele reviewed my (Goldenberg, the female member of the research team) appearance on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” with an insulting recapitulation. He mocked my performance, and then he drew attention to my “revealing top” (a round-neck T-shirt, worn on an 85-degree day in Florida and with no foreknowledge that I would be on national television that day).

Dr. Peele’s criticism of my failure to describe the study in a brief sound bite was not atypical of media and Internet blog reactions (although it was all the more surprising since it was written by a “scientist”). But, in Peele’s case, and others, we were silently amused by the irony. Here I was, being objectified and described as incompetent, while the people reporting our findings failed to make the connection to our research findings (some even argued that my appearance invalidated the findings)!

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We believed that, if anything, the study would be spun to be pro-Palin (“she would have been perceived as competent if only the media would have focused on her personality instead of her appearance”). However, the right-wing media reaction was most often defensive and downright hostile. There appeared to be two primary sources of contention. One, people were incensed at the comparison of Palin to a mere actress, Angelina Jolie. And two, people assumed that the study tested and concluded that attractiveness and competence are incompatible — no matter that this was neither tested nor concluded.

In response to the first accusation, the critics failed to comprehend that we are social psychologists with a basic interest in the consequences of objectifying women . . . .

The results also revealed a general tendency for participants in the study to perceive Palin as less competent than Jolie. This is not entirely surprising considering that Jolie was likely evaluated for competence as an actress and Palin as a prospective vice president of the United States. And while the majority of our participants described themselves as Democrats, the study was not designed to shed light on this difference. Nevertheless, Bill O’Reilly harped on this difference . . .and became most frustrated when I, Goldenberg, tried to explain to him that this was not a central component of the study.  [Take a look at the video below (warning: the video is quite low-quality, but it nicely illustrates how some in the media may be unable to "get it.")]

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Why is it that the media and Internet bloggers responded to this research with such an uproar?

Here is our take: For one, the nonscientific community was suspicious of our agenda. In a medium where most information serves some political/social/personal agenda, it was simply inconceivable to most people that this research lacked those motivations. In addition, the insensitive comments that were expressed over the Internet (and in hate mail directly sent to us) also demonstrate a type of dehumanization. Viewing us through a television screen or computer monitor (or not at all) most likely functioned to dehumanize us, brazening people to say things that they would never say to a “real” person.

In addition, we were confronted with real-life evidence of the tenacity of people’s efforts to protect their beliefs. This is a common finding in social psychology, that when people have an existing belief — that liberal academics will attack Palin – they will ignore contrary evidence (that this was a scientific study and it could be seen as supporting Palin).

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To read all of Goldenberg’s reflections on her first major encounter with the media, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Objectification,”Hillary Clinton, the Halo Effect, and Women’s Catch-22,” “Legal Academic Backlash - Abstract,” ” Naive Cynicism - Abstract,” ” The Situational Power of Anonymity,” Internet Disinhibition,” and The Social Awkwardness of Online Snubbing.”

Posted in Ideology, Politics, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

John Jost on Political Psychology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2008

jostHere is an excellent interview of Situationist contributor John Jost by an intern from the Breakthrough Institute.

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Why is the study of political psychology important?

At its best, political psychology has the potential to improve, on the basis of reason and evidence, our political institutions and public policies so that they are more congruent with what we know about human behavior.  Social and political psychologists have, over the decades, offered sophisticated analyses and practical interventions with regard to stereotyping, prejudice, authoritarianism, sexism, aggression, nationalism, terrorism, war, and conflict resolution.  [See Political Psychology book here.]

You conclude that fear motivates conservatism, but does this mean progressives should avoid fear-based appeals entirely? What about when dealing with genuinely scary things like terrorism and global warming?

For decades social psychologists have known that fear-based appeals in and of themselves are unhelpful and counterproductive, because they lead people either to deny problems that are too painful to face or to simply feel helpless and incapacitated.  I think that we see both of these responses to the threat of global warming all the time.  So, if you use a fear-based appeal you must simultaneously provide people with a clear, constructive solution to the problem.

In general, conservatives are much better than progressives at doing that, maybe because progressives tend to get bogged down in a complex, overly nuanced analysis of the problem.  “We’ll kill all the terrorists,” may be an unrealistic goal (even setting aside the question of whether it’s a desirable goal), but it does assuage the fear, at least temporarily, in clear and unambiguous terms.  Even with regard to global warming, conservatives (when they admit the problem) state simply that, “The market will fix it.”  That’s simple and makes people feel better in the short run, even if it turns out to be false.  Progressives who use fear-based appeals need to get better at communicating a clear (and reassuring) solution whenever the threat is made salient.  Otherwise, I think that it will backfire.

What are some examples of the ways progressives have dealt with fear effectively?

I think that in the U.S. context, the best historical example is probably Franklin D. Roosevelt, who famously declared in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  This statement reframes the whole question of what the real threat is, highlighting the fact that fear can be a truly destructive political force, and that it can erode democratic systems from within, as Roosevelt was about to see with respect to Europe.

But Roosevelt did not stop at the level of rhetoric.  He proceeded to roll out dozens of specific social and economic programs that were clearly designed to address the economic fears of the citizenry.  For the most part he presented these solutions in clear, confident, certain terms.  The solutions he proposed were unabashedly liberal, and he explained why they were good solutions for the problems that faced the nation.  In other words, he promised to solve the problems and, in many ways, he did.

What kind of response does your work get from conservatives?

Conservatives are typically more bothered by oversimplified (mis)representations that sometimes spread through the media (especially the blogosphere), than by the actual details of our research.  Once they learn about it, conservatives are prone to concede that there are personality and/or cognitive style differences between liberals and conservatives.  There is obviously a difference between saying that conservatives score higher (on average) than liberals on personal needs for order or structure and saying that conservatives are stupid or crazy, but some people can’t (or, more likely, don’t want to) grasp the difference.

There are several ironies concerning the most hostile responses, though.  Some people send hate mail that tends to confirm the worst, most authoritarian picture one could have of extreme conservatives.  They are hardly helping their cause, it seems to me.  Other negative responses in the blogosphere run the gamut from “ho hum,” “this is obvious,” and “we already knew this” to “this is outrageous” and “what bullshit.”  Well, it can’t be both trivially true and spectacularly false.  We need to conduct research in psychology because everyone thinks they know what really drives their own behavior (and that of others) and also because nearly everything about psychology sounds obvious once you know it to be true.

One might conclude from your study that conservatism is almost an aberrant behavior — a coping mechanism of sorts. Was this your intention?

No, I think that comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of psychology as a discipline; people assume that if psychologists are studying it, then it must be pathological in some way.  In fact the opposite is probably closer to the truth in this case.  Conservatism is intuitive, ordinary, commonplace, and probably has natural psychological advantages over liberalism.  It makes a great deal of sense that when people feel threatened they would stick to what is familiar and known, that is, the status quo.  All of us, even progressives, want to feel good about most of the customs, traditions, and institutions that surround us, and it can be a painful, disillusioning process when we feel disappointed in our country, its leaders, and its institutions.

To use one of the terms that is central to our research program, I think that everyone is motivated—at least to some degree—to engage in “system justification.”  In this respect, I think that liberals and progressives are probably at a disadvantage.  The notion that we should tolerate and respect people who are different from us and that we should offer equal protection even to those who reject or flout traditional norms is somewhat counterintuitive, in a psychological sense.  In the context of human history as a whole, this liberal, tolerant, open-minded, egalitarian view is newer and far more of an “aberration.”  As a philosophical belief system or a cultural innovation, it could be considered an accomplishment of our species, insofar as it was unlikely to catch on given our evolutionary background.

You posit that “resistance to change” and “acceptance of inequality” are the core dimensions of conservative thought. What are the core dimensions of liberal and progressive thought?

Actually, what we say is that at the core of the left-right (or liberal-conservative) distinction there are two basic values or polar orientations: (1) advocating vs. resisting social change, and (2) rejecting vs. accepting social and economic inequality.  These two aspects tend to be correlated because traditional social arrangements were hierarchical and authority-based, and over the last several centuries most of the challenges to the status quo have been in the direction of increased rather than decreased egalitarianism.  Thus, as a general rule, leftists are more in favor of social change and egalitarianism (with respect to outcomes as well as opportunities), whereas rightists are more in favor of tradition and more supportive of hierarchical social systems.

9781841690704What do you think are the best practical applications of your research?

One of my former doctoral students, Hulda Thorisdottir, conducted what is probably the best applied test of our ideas in her dissertation work.  She conducted several experiments in which she demonstrated that threatening stimuli (such as frightening movie clips) elicit a temporary increase in closed-mindedness (measured with a subset of items from the “need for cognitive closure” scale) and that increased closed-mindedness was associated with an affinity for conservative policies and opinions.  She also showed that threat can increase approval of liberal policies, but only when those policies are communicated using certainty-oriented language.  That is, liberal opinions must be offered as confident, unambiguously good solutions that will definitely solve the basic problem.  Otherwise, they are dismissed under conditions of threat.

What do you think of the current economic panic in this country? Alan Greenspan recently observed that the current economic mess is “the most wrenching” since World War II; Fortune magazine’s Allan Sloan, who’s been covering the business of business for decades says, “I’m more nervous about the world financial system than I’ve ever been in 40 years.”

Yes, I do think that there are serious economic concerns looming, and the yawning gap between rich and poor has created an opportunity for the country to make an economic left turn.  The Democratic candidate for president should make a note to himself (or herself), just as Bill Clinton did in 1992, that says, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  But I do not think that panic helps progressives, as I said before, because fear inhibits the desire to experiment with bold, new initiatives, and that is the essence of progressive thinking.  Progressives in the 21st century need to be as bold and creative as their predecessors in the last century who made the U.S. a moral leader on the world stage and not just a military and industrial leader.  More than ever, progressives need to offer clear, courageous, and scientifically compelling solutions to the many problems that confront us.  The solutions they propose should be realistic and congruent with what we know about the causes of human behavior; that is, they should be informed by political psychology.

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For related Situationist posts, click here.

Posted in History, Ideology, Politics, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Legal Academic Backlash – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 20, 2008

Situationist contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson have posted their latest article, Legal Academic Backlash: The Response of Legal Theorists to Situationist Insights (Emory Law Journal, Vol. 57, No. 5, 2008) on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

* * *

This article is the third of a multipart series. The first part, “The Great Attributional Divide,” argues that a major rift runs across many of our major policy debates based on our attributional tendencies: the less accurate dispositionist approach, which explains outcomes and behavior with reference to people’s dispositions (i.e., personalities, preferences, and the like), and the more accurate situationist approach, which bases attributions of causation and responsibility on unseen influences within us and around us.

The second part, “Naive Cynicism,” explores how dispositionism maintains its dominance despite the fact that it misses so much of what actually moves us. It argues that the answer lies in a subordinate dynamic and discourse, naive cynicism: the basic subconscious mechanism by which dispositionists discredit and dismiss situationist insights and their proponents. Without it, the dominant person schema – dispositionism – would be far more vulnerable to challenge and change, and the more accurate person schema – situationism – less easily and effectively attacked. Naive cynicism is thus critically important to explaining how and why certain legal policies manage to carry the day.

Naive cynicism often takes the form of a backlash against situationism that involves an affirmation of existing dispositionist notions and an assault on (1) the situationist attributions themselves; (2) the individuals, institutions, and groups from which the situationist attributions appear to emanate; and (3) the individuals whose conduct has been situationalized. If one were to boil down those factors to one simple naive-cynicism-promoting frame for minimizing situationist ideas, it would be something like this: Unreasonable outgroup members are attacking us, our beliefs, and the things we value.

We predict that naive cynicism is a pervasive dynamic that shapes policy debates big and small. We argue that it can operate at a particular moment or over long periods of time, and that it is embraced and encouraged by both elite knowledge-producers and the average person on the street.

This Article examines the reactions of prominent academics to situationist scholarship. As we argue in this Article, na¿ve cynicism, operating as we predict above, has played a significant role in retarding the growth and influence of more accurate situationist insights of social psychology and related fields within the dominant legal theoretical frameworks of the last half-century.

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To download the article for free, click here. To read a collection of related Situationist posts, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Legal Theory, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Naive Cynicism – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 8, 2008

Image by Wetsun - FlickrSituationist Contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson have posted their recent article, “Naive Cynicism: Maintaining False Perceptions in Policy Debates” (57 Emory Law Journal (2008)) on SSRN. The paper was recently listed on SSRN’s Top Ten download list for LSPLDL: Political Process, and is a featured article on the Emory Law Journal Website. The abstract is pasted below.

* * *

This is the second article in a multi-part series. In the first part, The Great Attributional Divide, the authors suggested that a major rift runs across many of our major policy debates based on contrasting attributional tendencies (dispositionist and situationist). This article explores how dispositionism maintains its dominance despite the fact that it misses so much of what actually moves us. It argues that the answer lies in a subordinate dynamic and discourse, naïve cynicism: the basic subconscious mechanism by which dispositionists discredit and dismiss situationist insights and their proponents. Without it, the dominant person schema — dispositionism — would be far more vulnerable to challenge and change, and the more accurate person schema — situationism — would be less easily and effectively attacked. Naïve cynicism is thus critically important to explaining how and why certain legal policies manage to carry the day. (To download a copy, click here.)

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For a recent Situationist post illustrating naive cynicism at work, see “Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?.”

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Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Ideology, Legal Theory, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Daily Show’s John Oliver at the Pollies

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 7, 2008

“The best political ads have the ability to mislead us, demoralize us, and disenfranchise us from the political process . . . .”

~ John Oliver

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Emotions, Events, Ideology, Marketing, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?

Posted by Adam Benforado & Jon Hanson on May 5, 2008

This post was originally published on April 23rd. Because the “elitism” card continues to played, we thought it worthwhile to republish this post for those who might have missed it the last time.

* * *

In case you missed it, the last week and a half have been a bit rough for the golden boy from Chicago. To boil down hundreds of hours of cable news commentary, political punditry, and radio talk-showery: Obama called certain working-class Midwesterners bitter, and everyone else called Obama elitist. The conventional wisdom is that Hillary’s success in Pennsylvania last night was at least partially the result of Obama’s remarks.

The storm began when, speaking to a private group in San Francisco, Obama offered this take on the effects of economic stagnation in certain parts of Pennsylvania:

“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not.”

* * *

“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

In the debates about how deep the offense to Midwesterners might have been and, more important, how, if at all, Obama might recover from the gaff, relatively little attention was given to whether Obama’s remarks were accurate and to why the charge of “elitism” has been so common and such a show-stopper for democratic candidates in each of the last three presidential elections.

To answer those questions, it’s helpful to understand that there is a real, meaningful divide in America—a great rift that extends across debates. We’re not referring to the gulf between elitists and commoners, but rather a division in attributional proclivities: a divide between relative dispositionists and relative situationists. As we explore in an article published this week (“The Great Attributional Divide“), dispositionists tend to explain outcomes and behavior with reference to people’s stable dispositions (i.e., personalities, preferences, character, values and the like), and situationists tend to base attributions of causation and responsibility on unseen (though sometimes visible) influences within us and around us.

A situationist is more likely to view the housing crisis as not simply the result of bad apples making bad choices, but also, more significantly, about changing cultural beliefs concerning borrowing money, serious problems in our financial markets and regulatory regimes, and other system-level concerns. A dispositionist, when assessing a policy concern, is more likely to employ the words “bootstraps,” “hard work,” “tough love,” and “strength of character.” In those ways, the different methods of constructing causal stories and assigning fault color individual issues from gay marriage to welfare and from abortion to social security reform.

Those attributional styles also help define the walls of the broader liberal-conservative crevasse. Broadly speaking (with some notable exceptions), conservatives tend to be more dispositionist and progressives tend to be more situationist. That is true, in part, because, as Situationist contributor John Jost has demonstrated, (e.g., here), conservatives exhibit stronger needs for order, structure, and closure, a more potent sense of system threat, greater intolerance for ambiguity, and a greater acceptance of inequality, among other things — interior factors that align with the elements underlying dispositionism.

As this blog is devoted to documenting, despite being the dominant framework, dispositionism is a less accurate attributional approach than situationism. The mystery of how dispositionists nonetheless maintain confidence in their attributions is only explained by understanding a dynamic that we call “naïve cynicism”: the basic subconscious mechanism by which dispositionists discredit and dismiss more accurate situationist insights and their proponents.

As we explain in a forthcoming article, naïve cynicism predicts that, like most humans, dispositionists put great faith in the veracity of their perceptions and conceptions of how the world works. They see themselves as objective and reasonable and expect other reasonable and objective people to reach the same conclusions as they do. As a result, when a dispositionist encounters a situationist attribution that conflicts with his own causal story, that person experiences a cognitive conflict, and naïve cynicism provides a ready resolution: explaining the opposing attribution as the product of bias, ignorance, or some other flaw. Rather than engage the substance or merits of the conflict, naïve cynicism involves an attack on the perceptions, cognitions, or motivations of the individuals and on the institutions associated with the situationist conception. Without it, the dominant person schema—dispositionism—would be far more vulnerable to challenge and change, and the more accurate person schema—situationism—less easily and effectively attacked. Naïve cynicism is, thus, critically important to explaining how and why certain legal policies manage to carry the day—and why certain presidential candidates carry an election.

The details of naïve cynicism, as depicted in the above diagram (from our article), are too complex to review here, as are the various reasons why this dynamic is so effective. For present purposes, however, we can boil down all the factors to one simple naïve-cynicism-promoting frame that dispositionists employ to minimize situationist ideas: the individuals, groups or institutions that offer situational arguments are unreasonable outgroup members that are attacking us, our beliefs, our system, and the things we value. It is this frame that helps to energize, coalesce, and mobilize opposition to the relative situationist perspectives, individuals, and institutions and to further encourage dispositionism.

With that in mind, let’s return to Obama’s comments. Although inartfully phrased and somewhat lacking in nuance, Obama seemed to be hitting on a central situationist insight: people’s beliefs might be, at least partially, a product of their environments and experiences. People might be bitter because they felt powerless as a result of their situations, not because they had bitter “personality” types. People might be anti-trade or anti-immigrant, not because they had carefully assessed the various political positions and freely chosen the most convincing, but for the same reasons that struggling groups have historically felt animosity toward outgroups with whom they feel competitive. People might mistrust governments on economic issues and focus on religious or social issues in part because of the perceived futility of relying on the government to successfully address economic concerns.

Similarly, Midwesterner’s ideology might reflect internal situational forces that operate beneath the radar of conscious cognitions. Situationist contributor John Jost and his colleagues have found significant evidence, for instance, that “conservatives are, on average, more rigid and closed-minded than liberals.” There is, according to that research, “a clear tendency for conservatives to score higher on measures of dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity, nees for order, structure, and closure and to be lower to openness to experience and integrative complexity than moderates and liberals.”

In addition, “[c]onservatives are, on average, more likely than liberals to perceive the world as a dangerous place . . . and to fear crime, terrorism, and death. They are also more likely to make purely [dispositionist] attributions for the causes of others’ behaviors . . . and to engage in moral condemnation of others, especially in sexual domains. . . . Finally, [c]onservatives tend to hold more prejudicial attitudes than liberals toward members of deviant or stigmatized groups, at least in part because of chronically elevated levels of threat and rigidity.” Relatedly, as Jost and his colleagues have discovered, voting patterns in different regions and states (red and blue) have been found to correlate with variables such as voters’ “openness to experience.”

The evidence also suggests that external situational forces influence such internal situational tendencies significantly. The threat posed by 9/11, for instance, encouraged a shift toward conservative (dispositionist) ideological attributions and presumptions. Unstable social and economic situations would likely have a similar effect.

Put differently, Obama’s remarks – call them elitist if you like – do not seem far off from what social scientists have discovered about the situational influences on people’s ideologies and political proclivities.

Predictably, however, Obama’s comments were met with a strong dispositionist backlash, containing two key components: (1) the assertion that Obama’s remarks reflected his true (heretofore concealed) elitist disposition; and (2) that Obama’s comments were themselves an attack on us, our beliefs, our system, and the things we value.

Some of the more extreme backlash included several additional features: (1) the suggestion that Obama’s “slip” revealed the dispositions of all individuals and groups on the left; (2) that Obama’s views toward working-class Pennsylvanians reflect the view that all democrats and liberal institutions take of anyone on the right; and (3) that all of “them” on the left are a threat to all of “us.” Although extreme, Rush Limbaugh’s reaction illustrates the naïve cynicism backlash in its most strident form:

RUSH: . . . . So, Barack Obama, talking to a bunch of elitist millionaires and billionaires in San Francisco on April 6th, basically reveals what we have all known that all Democrats think of the people who make this country work. They hold average people in contempt! They don’t think average people are capable of overcoming the obstacles in life, they think they’re racists and bigots, homophobes and all of this, a bunch of hayseed hicks. This really isn’t news to those of us who have spent our lives studying leftists. . . .

* * *

. . . [W]hat’s happening here is that the Democrat Party, by itself, with its two top-tier presidential front-runners, is exposing who they are themselves for one and all to see. The Democrat Party is in an absolute mess over this because they know full well, when they’re in their little doors, behind their doors in the little cloakrooms in the privacy of their own moments, they are gnashing their teeth over the fact that the truth of who they are is coming out. Let’s go to the audiotape just to establish here what Obama said in San Francisco on April 6th, he was at a campaign fundraiser . . . . The quality is not all that good. But you can still hear it, and it’s indicative of who liberal Democrats are. Most importantly, it’s indicative of who Obama is! Obama is a radical socialist liberal. He always has been. His campaign has been an effort to cloud that, to mask it, to cover it up. . . .

* * *

OBAMA: It’s not surprising, then, that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

* * *

RUSH: . . . . So basically people are a bunch of racists and bigots and kooks and hayseeds. . . . So he makes these comments to a bunch of elitist San Francisco millionaires and billionaires, and the point here has to be made that Obama was not just talking about the people of Pennsylvania. He was talking about people in Missouri, and southern Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, Kansas, North Carolina, Alabama, flyover country, the people who make the country work. He is talking about all the people who did not use affirmative action to get into Harvard and Yale and Princeton, who don’t have the money to live in mansions in the cities; the people who I say make this country work; the people who will be in church on Sunday clinging to their God not because they have nothing else to hold onto, they cling to God — they are not even clinging to God, they are worshiping God. It is part of who they are. Now, this, to me, folks, makes all the Jeremiah Wright, Michelle Obama stuff crystal clear to anybody just glimpsing this. Damn the middle class, damn it. Michelle Obama has said as much, and so has Reverend Wright from the pulpit. The middle class, the people who pay the freight, the people who pay the taxes so these elites can destroy the country, the people who make the country work.

* * *

Now, what’s happened here, folks, is that Barack Obama has succeeded in attacking not only American values, he’s done it by attacking the Americans who embrace those values. . . . It is one of the most insulting comments that a presidential candidate could make. He’s going out, he’s attacking the customers. He’s attacking his voters. But this is who they are, folks, this is who liberals are. The great thing about this is that Barack Obama’s telling all of us what all Democrats think of average Americans, which is why they want them to become dependent, why they want them to vote Democrat, they want them to be undereducated, they want them to be bigoted, they want them to be angry all the time, they want them to be fed up, they want them to be filled with rage, they want them to be hopeless.

* * *

Contrary to his campaign being all about hope, he wants these people to be hopeless. . . . If there’s hate for the people who make this country work, if there is contempt for the people who make this country work, its home is smack-dab in the middle of the Democrat Party.

* * *

. . . . He said what he said. And what he said was that middle America is full of redneck, God-fearing racists and bigots. That’s what he said.

* * *

. . . . See, he’s bitter. Liberals are bitter and angry. You know this. You can listen to them talk about any circumstance in this country, any issue, from the war in Iraq to the economy to Wal-Mart to Big Oil to Big Drug, anything they talk about they are filled with rage, they are angry, and they want everybody else to be angry, they are bitter. . . .

* * *

. . . . The issue is that Obama exposed his attitude toward millions and millions of Americans which he had thus far concealed by dismissing previous efforts to reveal them based on his contacts and associations with people like Jeremiah Wright. This makes it totally clear to me why he will not disown and disavow Wright. He agrees with him! This is the same stuff that Jeremiah Wright believes. And his attitude is shared by the left in the media, the Democrat Party, universities, colleges, and so forth. When he made those comments to the San Francisco millionaires and billionaires, he was reinforcing their hateful and bigoted views.

In short, Obama as well as the groups or institutions with which he is associated are unreasonable outgroup members that are attacking us, our beliefs, our system, and the things we value.

Notice that built into Limbaugh’s logic are several tensions. For instance, Rush is, on one hand, indignant that “they” could prejudge “us,” but Rush has no trouble throwing large groups into a single category and calling them hateful and bigoted. More important, in denying that Midwesterners are bitter, he nonetheless seems to reflect and foment a deep bitterness.

Rush’s rant exemplifies an extreme version of naïve cynicism in action, but there are less extreme versions of the dynamic influencing other commentators and politicians.

Karl Rove, for example, underscored the “us” and “them” by suggesting that Obama’s words were”almost Marxian in this ‘they cling to their religion.’ I mean, you know, it’s sort of like it’s the opiate of the masses.”

Charles Krauthammer similarly attempted to draw a link between Obama and Marx, as he underscored Obama’s flawed disposition:

The idea that the working class people don’t understand the world and cling to religion, the opium of the people, as Marx says, and Frank’s book is a new way to state it. It is an old left idea which goes back 100 years, and it’s a classic idea that if they only understood what the upper, academic left understands, they would act differently.

* * *

What’s involved here, I think, is also a sense of this arrogance. It’s not only a personal arrogance. It’s a political, intellectual, and almost a class arrogance. And that, I think, in the end is going to hurt him, because it’s a question of character.

More important, the naive cynicism dynamic also characterizes the reactions of the other presidential candidates to Obama’s now infamous remarks.

McCain’s campaign, for instance, responded to Obama’s comments both by asserting that they revealed Obama’s bad disposition and by reassuring the public that the dispositionist take on the issues was reasonable and correct.

According to McCain, Americans don’t allow situations to change their dispositions. McCain pounded on the fact that the views of small town folks aren’t shaped by exterior events: “These are the people that have fundamental cultural, spiritual, and other values that in my view have very little to do with their economic condition.” The Great Depression did not erase “their confidence that America and their own lives could be made better. Nor did they turn to their religious faith and cultural traditions out of resentment and a feeling of powerlessness to affect the course of government or pursue prosperity.” Rather, “[t]heir faith had given generations of their families purpose and meaning, as it does today.” It was that American disposition “that made the world safe for democracy” and created “the wealthiest, strongest and most generous nation on earth.” Similarly, American’s “appreciation of traditions like hunting was based in nothing, nothing, other than their contribution to the enjoyment of life.”

In other words, Obama’s mistake was to characterize these people as not being in control of their beliefs, their ideologies, and their destinies. Obama’s situationist argument presented a “fundamental contradiction to what . . . America is”: a land where people think their own thoughts, embrace their own values, make up their own minds, and blaze their own trails all regardless of the circumstances. After all, Americans are disposition-driven choosers, not situational characters.

When later asked specifically about whether he thought Obama was an elitist, McCain was careful to maintain his “policy” of not engaging in character attacks and focused on the sin and not the sinner: “I think those comments are elitist,” McCain said. “I can only look at his remarks and say that those are certainly not the vision I have of America and its strength and greatness.” (Watch the video here.)

McCain’s senior advisers apparently did not feel similarly inhibited by that policy and were far more willing to call an elitist an elitist. As McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds explained, “Barack Obama’s elitism allows him to believe that the American traditions that have contributed to the identity and greatness of this country are actually just frustrations and bitterness.”

McCain adviser Steve Schmidt called it a “remarkable statement and extremely revealing.” And what did it reveal? Obama’s true disposition, of course. “It shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking.” Schmidt went further to underscore the extent to which Obama is an outsider: “[i]t is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans.” Moreover, it’s not just that Obama is one of “them” — the ivy-league, silver-spoon, Martha’s Vineyard crowd; it’s also the case that his outsider views are a threat to “us.” Obama’s remarks, according to Schmidt, hit the “heart and soul of this country.” And just in case anyone missed the emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral implications of this attack, Schmidt opined that “people will resent it and be very angry about it because that is not how most Americans view themselves. That’s now how most Americans view their lives in terms of practicing their faith or exercising their Second Amendment rights or having a desire to secure the borders in the country.”

Another spokesman for McCain responded to Obama’s defense of his remarks with this dispositionalizing gem:

“Instead of apologizing to small town Americans for dismissing their values, Barack Obama arrogantly tried to spin his way out of his outrageous San Francisco remarks. . . . Only an elitist would say that people vote their values only out of frustration. Barack Obama thinks he knows your hopes and fears better than you do. You can’t be more out of touch than that.”

In short, Obama and the groups and institutions with which he is associated are unreasonable outgroup members that are attacking us, our beliefs, our system, and the things we value.

Although the vitriol of some of the barbs may come as a surprise, McCain’s dispositionist backlash aligns with what we would predict; ideologically, he is already prone toward the relatively dipositionist attributional style – and politically, the strategy is a proven one.

Hillary Clinton’s use of the elitism card, on the other hand, is slightly more unexpected – not just because one is hard pressed to imagine a measure of “elitism” on which Obama scores higher than Clinton, but also because she is, at least when compared to most conservatives, a relative situationist. Apparently, though, trailing in the delegate count and with the clock ticking, the temptation to slice up her democratic rival has been too great for her to leave the potent political weapon of naïve cynicism in its sheath.

Hillary’s prepared remarks in the wake of Obama’s San Francisco speech emphasized that disposition not situation is the source of values and attempted to establish an “us” (composed of Hillary and mainstream American voters) and a “them” (composed of Obama and the rest of the outgroup cabal):

“Now, like some of you may have been, I was taken aback by the demeaning remarks Sen. Obama made about people in small town America. Sen. Obama’s remarks are elitist and they are out of touch. They are not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans. Certainly not the Americans that I know — not the Americans I grew up with, not the Americans I lived with in Arkansas or represent in New York.

* * *

“You know, Americans who believe in the Second Amendment believe it’s a matter of Constitutional rights. Americans who believe in God believe it is a matter of personal faith. Americans who believe in protecting good American jobs believe it is a matter of the American Dream.

* * *

“When my dad grew up it was in a working class family in Scranton. I grew up in a church-going family, a family that believed in the importance of living out and expressing our faith.

* * *

“The people of faith I know don’t ‘cling to’ religion because they’re bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich. Our faith is the faith of our parents and our grandparents. It is a fundamental expression of who we are and what we believe.

* * *

“I also disagree with Sen. Obama’s assertion that people in this country “cling to guns” and have certain attitudes about immigration or trade simply out of frustration. People of all walks of life hunt – and they enjoy doing so because it’s an important part of their life, not because they are bitter

. . .

“Americans are fair-minded and good-hearted people. We have ups and downs. We face challenges and problems. But our views are rooted in real values, and they should be respected.

. . .

“If we are striving to bring people together – and I believe we should be – I don’t think it helps to divide our country into one America that is enlightened and one that is not.

. . .

“People don’t need a president who looks down on them; they need a president who stands up for them. And that is exactly what I will do as your president.”

* * *

“Because I believe if you want to be the president of all Americans, you need to respect all Americans. And that starts with respecting our hard working Americans . . . .”

In short, Obama and the groups or institutions with which he is associated are unreasonable outgroup members that are attacking us, our beliefs, our system, and the things we value.

If the situationist account of things is complex and counterintuitive, the dispositionist account feels logical and appealing. With her back up against the wall, Clinton’s choice of dispositionism is a potentially savvy move. It’s just easier to get votes when you tell people what they want to hear and know to be true: You are intelligent, hard-working, patriotic heroes, who exercise your freedom to choose – and anyone who says otherwise is insulting you and is a threat to all you hold dear.

Hilary’s strategy may be successful in the short-run during her competition for the nomination. The problem, in our view, is that a longer-run perspective is needed in the competition for policy. By making dispositionist attributions Hillary is effectively endorsing dispositionism – she is legitimating and agreeing to play on a field that is not only badly flawed and uneven, but also favors the opposing team.

* * *

We’re pleased to report that the two articles on which thiis post is based are the featured articles on the Emory Law Journal Website (you can read a summary and access the articles there). To read other Situationist posts discussing the 2008 presidential campaign, see On Being a Mindful Voter,”Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Heart Brain or Wallet?” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Al Gore – The Situationist” and “Irrelevant Third Options in Presidential Campaigns.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Ideology, Legal Theory, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Great Attributional Divide – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 29, 2008

Image by aaardvaark - FlickrSituationist Contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson have posted their recent article, “The Great Attributional Divide: How Divergent Views of Human Behavior are Shaping Legal Policy” (57 Emory Law Journal (2008)) on SSRN. The paper was recently listed on SSRN’s Top Ten download list for LSPLDL: Political Process, and is a featured article on the Emory Law Journal Website. The abstract is pasted below.

* * *

This article, the first of a multipart series, argues that a major rift runs across many of our major policy debates based on our attributional tendencies: the less accurate dispositionist approach, which explains outcomes and behavior with reference to people’s dispositions (i.e., personalities, preferences, and the like), and the more accurate situationist approach, which bases attributions of causation and responsibility on unseen influences within us and around us. Given that situationism offers a truer picture of our world than the alternative, and given that attributional tendencies are largely the result of elements in our situations, identifying the relevant elements should be a major priority of legal scholars. With such information, legal academics could predict which individuals, institutions, and societies are most likely to produce situationist ideas – in other words, which have the greatest potential for developing the accurate attributions of human behavior that are so important to law. (To download a copy, click here.)

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Legal Theory, Life, Naive Cynicism, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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