The Situationist

Archive for May, 2008

Emotional Reactions to Law & Economics – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 17, 2008

Economics Books - Flickr

Peter Huang posted his latest manuscript, titled “Emotional Reactions to Law & Economics, Market Metaphors, & Rationality Rhetoric” (forthcoming in Theoretical Foundations of Law and Economics) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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This chapter makes three fundamental points about law and economics. First, although some people feel strong, negative emotional reactions to utilizing microeconomics to analyze non-business areas of law, others feel no such emotional reactions. This chapter advances the hypothesis that people who do not view the world exclusively through an economics lens are likely to experience negative feelings toward applying microeconomics to non-business law areas, while people who view the world primarily through an economics lens are unlikely to experience such emotional reactions. Second, although law and economics remains an uncontroversial subfield of applied microeconomics; it has become a dominant, yet still controversial field of scholarship in legal academia. This chapter proposes that differences in how most academic and professional economists perceive law and economics versus how most academic and professional lawyers perceive law and economics are due primarily to differences in how familiar they are with microeconomics presented in a mathematically rigorous fashion. Third, much research considerably and significantly qualifies many well-known and often quoted alleged benefits of competitive markets and unbounded rationality. People who are familiar with this research appreciate that the extent to which markets and rationality are socially desirable is more complicated than people do not understand this research suggest. This research involves not only traditional microeconomics, but also behavioral economics, cognitive psychology, social psychology, and neuroeconomics.


Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Cultural Cognition, Emotions, Neuroeconomics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mapping the Social Brain

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 16, 2008

What goes through your head when you hear that you have a good reputation or find out that your social status is slipping? Researchers are starting to find out. By examining brain activity through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), two groups of researchers report how our brains respond to information about reputation and social status in the journal Neuron this week.

Caroline Zink, a neuroscientist from the National Institute of Mental Health, and colleagues developed a simple game in which participants played for money. The participants were competing against themselves only. The researchers told the players, however, that other people happened to be playing the same game simultaneously and then gave the participants information about how well they were doing compared to these other players.

* * *

When participants in Zink’s study viewed a superior player, regions of the brain associated with social-emotional processing–like the amygdala–were activated. “If you think about it, it makes sense that you wouldn’t have the same kind of emotional response if it was a computer,” Zink says.

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Researchers also recently mapped the neural response to reputation. “Although we all intuitively know that a good reputation makes us feel good, the idea that good reputation is a reward has long been just an assumption in social sciences, and there has been no scientific proof,” says Norihiro Sadato, a researcher at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Aichi, Japan and author of another study in Neuron this week.

Sadato and colleagues report that when people are told that they have a good reputation, regions of the brain associated with the reward are activated. A good reputation prompts a similar neural response to a monetary reward. “We found that these seemingly different kinds of rewards (good reputation vs. money) are biologically coded by the same neural structure, the striatum,” Sadato writes in an email

Posted in Emotions, Neuroscience, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 16, 2008

Image by misterbisson - Flickr

Situationist contributor Dan Kahan, Donald Braman, John Gastil, Situationist contributor Paul Slovic, and C.K. Mertz, posted their fascinating paper, “Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White Male Effect in Risk Perception” (forthcoming 4 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 465-505, November 2007) on SSRN.

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Why do white men fear various risks less than women and minorities? Known as the white male effect, this pattern is well documented but poorly understood. This paper proposes a new explanation: identity-protective cognition. Putting work on the cultural theory of risk together with work on motivated cognition in social psychology suggests that individuals selectively credit and dismiss asserted dangers in a manner supportive of their preferred form of social organization. This dynamic, it is hypothesized, drives the white male effect, which reflects the risk skepticism that hierarchical and individualistic white males display when activities integral to their cultural identities are challenged as harmful. The article presents the results of an 1,800-person study that confirmed that cultural worldviews interact with the impact of gender and race on risk perception in patterns that suggest cultural-identity-protective cognition. It also discusses the implication of these findings for risk regulation and communication.

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Judges

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 15, 2008

Below we have mashed up three articles about the recent, highly contentious Wisconsin Supreme Court election — “Big money, nasty ads highlight Wisconsin judicial race” by Bill Mears for CNN, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of a fair judiciary” from The Economist, and “Gableman victorious” by Stacy Forster and Patrick Marley for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — and sprinkled in several illustrative Youtube videos of campaign ads.

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Justice is meant to be impartial. To this end, Britain’s judges are appointed for life. In America federal judges are as well. But in 39 states some or all judges must face election and re-election, often with unbecoming hoopla. An election to the Supreme Court of the state of Wisconsin has just involved about $5.5m and more than 12,000 aired advertisements. Habeas circus, one might say.

Michael Gableman defeated Louis Butler, an incumbent on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, on April 1st, and the cacophony has not yet subsided.

The scuffle has revealed two worrying traits of America’s judicial elections.

First, they have become bitter contests. In 2006 91% of Supreme Court elections featured television advertisements, up from 22% in 2000, according to New York University’s Brennan Center. Second, the war over tort, or liability, reform has turned judicial elections into a nasty battlefield—especially in those states where state Supreme Court justices are directly elected. Karl Rove, once George Bush’s Svengali, ascended in part by helping Texas businessmen fight trial lawyers for control of that state’s highest court. The most expensive judicial race in America’s history, a $9.3m fight in 2004, saw tort interests pour money into rival campaigns for a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court.

In Wisconsin the signs are troubling. The state’s new era of judicial elections began last year. A series of rulings had galvanised corporate leaders, explains James Buchen of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the state’s business lobby. In one ruling in 2005, the Supreme Court overturned the state’s caps on medical-malpractice cases. In another, the court ruled that a plaintiff could sue several manufacturers when he did not know which (if any) had caused him injury.

In 2007 groups from all sides poured cash into a state Supreme Court race, spending $5.8m. In Wisconsin’s April election, one estimate is that the candidates together raised about $1m (Mr Butler outspent Mr Gableman), while outside groups such as WMC and the teachers’ union spent more than $4.5m.

“What’s remarkable about this race is how dominant the outside groups have been,” said J.R. Ross, editor at “They’ve outspent the candidates themselves 10-to-1 on TV ads. They’re essentially drowning out the messages of Butler and Gableman.

“Wisconsin is the current hot spot in the culture wars that have played in the courts in recent years,” said Rebecca Kourlis, founder and director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, which works to improve the civil justice system. “More and more money is being poured into these judicial races, more planning on how candidates position themselves for a political audience. These elections have simply gotten out of control.”

[Gableman] raised far less in campaign funds than Butler, but benefited from support by such third-party groups as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s biggest business lobby; the Coalition for America’s Families, which advocates for what it calls conservative causes; and Wisconsin Club for Growth, [see their 30-second ad below] which supports lower taxes.

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates the three groups had spent a combined $1.4 million on ads.

The Greater Wisconsin Committee, a group that says it backs progressive causes, ran pro-Butler and anti-Gableman ads. The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teacher’s union, ran an anti-Gableman spot.

Gableman is supported by a coalition of sheriff’s and district attorneys, and Wisconsin Right to Life.

Butler has the nod from a number of judges, law enforcement groups and the state AFL-CIO.

This year’s flood of money might have drawn less censure if it had spurred a proper debate on judicial philosophy. It didn’t. Mr Gableman’s campaign produced an advertisement suggesting that Mr Butler, a black man, had helped free a black rapist. An advertisement supporting Mr Butler claimed that Mr Gableman was soft on paedophiles. Even WMC’s advertisements were about crime.

Unlike some states, Wisconsin does not require candidates to list themselves by party. Butler was appointed to the state high court in 2004 by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. He runs on his judicial and life experience. The only African-American on the bench, Butler, 56, has been a longtime judge.

He was previously a public defender, and that is where the current attack ads have focused. His opponent ran his first TV commercial suggesting Butler’s appellate defense of a child rapist led to the defendant’s early release. But the man had, in fact, served his entire sentence.

Butler said the integrity of the judicial system had been challenged by the negativity of the campaign and said reform was needed.

Gableman, who was criticized widely for an ad attacking Butler’s work as a public defender, said that voters deserved to know about the backgrounds of the candidates and that he was “very proud of the fact we ran a positive campaign.

“You don’t get a more stark contrast or clear contrast than that between a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney,” Gableman said. “Therefore, I don’t view it as a negative ad. I view it as an ad that illustrates the real differences of our professional backgrounds.”

A conservative group, Coalition for America’s Families, ran its own spot criticizing Butler for writing an opinion overturning another rapist’s conviction. The group also claimed he had “sided with criminals nearly 60 percent of the time,” a statistic it has not substantiated., a self-described “consumer advocate” for voters, called the ad “distorted.”

Gableman eventually called on the coalition to stop the ads.

Gableman, also a longtime state judge, calls himself a judicial conservative. He is a former prosecutor and campaigns on a tough law-and-order agenda.

A left-leaning group — Greater Wisconsin Committee — ran an ad suggesting Gableman got his job only because of political payback. The ad implied the judge was named to his current seat after a $1,250 campaign donation to then-Republican Gov. Scott McCallum, who appointed him. The ad was attacked by a non-partisan state monitoring committee. McCallum denounced the group as well, saying Gableman is well-qualified for the bench.

Regardless of the tenor of the campaign, money may be undermining faith in the court. A recent poll conducted for Justice at Stake, a group devoted to judicial independence, found that 78% of respondents in Wisconsin believe campaign contributions influence judges’ rulings.

The stakes in Wisconsin and nationwide are high, and are fueling renewed calls for reform on how judges are selected. The 19 states that held state Supreme Court elections last year shattered previous campaign cycle spending records — $34.4 million in all — which have increased steadily in the past decade.

The idea of judges running for elected office may seem like a strange concept, but it is the law in 21 states that have some sort of contested system for top judges. Thirty states — along with the federal system — appoint their judges, often under a merit selection system in which the governor gets the final say.

All 21 states will hold elections for Supreme Court seats this fall, but the early race in Wisconsin is considered a political bellwether of the tenor and sway outside partisan groups will have on how these campaign will be run.

The seven Wisconsin Supreme Court justices, including Butler, have already signed a letter saying they support the creation of a system of public financing for state Supreme Court campaigns.

The state Senate this session passed a bill that would have set up a system of public financing, but it did not advance in the Assembly

The question is whether to change the new dispensation and, if so, how? Comprehensive legal reform might help keep the tort war from seeping into judicial elections. But the elections themselves are unlikely to be scrapped. More feasible would be to pass reforms, such as public financing for campaigns or stricter rules to prevent conflicts of interest. In Wisconsin politicians and Supreme Court judges all work beneath the state capitol’s giant dome. It is getting hard to tell the difference between them.

A study released last October by the non-partisan Annenberg Public Policy Center found people in states with no partisan elections for judges had a higher level of trust and confidence in the judiciary. But two-thirds of those surveyed also preferred electing judges directly to having them appointed.

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For Situationist related posts, see “The Situation of Judging – Part I,” and “The Situation of Judging – Part II.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Gregory & Heard Illusion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 15, 2008

To read more about what you’re seeing and why, go to Arthur Shapiro’s Illusion Sciences Blog.

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Posted in Blogroll, Illusions, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Endowment Effect in Chimpanzees – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 14, 2008

Chimpanzee by lightmatter - FlickrSarah F. Brosnan, Owen D. Jones, Susan P. Lambeth, Mary Catherine Mareno, Amanda S. Richardson, and Steven Schapiro, posted their article, “Endowment Effects in Chimpanzees” 17 Current Biology, 1704-1707 (October 9, 2007) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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Human behavior is not always consistent with standard rational choice predictions. The much-investigated variety of apparent deviations from rational choice predictions provides a promising arena for the merger of economics and biology. Although little is known about the extent to which other species also exhibit these seemingly irrational patterns of human decision-making and choice behavior, similarities across species would suggest a common evolutionary root to the phenomena.

The present study investigated whether chimpanzees exhibit an endowment effect, a seemingly paradoxical behavior in which humans tend to value a good they have just come to possess more than they would have only a moment before. We show the first evidence that chimpanzees do exhibit an endowment effect, favoring items they just received more than items they prefer that could be acquired through exchange. Moreover, we demonstrate that – as predicted – the effect is far stronger for food than for less evolutionarily salient objects, perhaps due to historically greater risks associated with keeping a valuable item versus attempting to exchange it for another. These findings suggest that the larger set of seeming deviations from rational choice predictions may be common to humans and chimpanzees, and that the evaluation of these through a lens of evolutionary relevance may yield further insights in both humans and other species.

* * *

To read about a related paper, see “A New Theory of the Endowment Effect.”

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Talk Radio

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 14, 2008

Sue Wilson recently wrote an editorial for The Sacramento Bee, “Federal rules give corporation-backed conservative radio all the local voices.” In it she discusses several of the situational forces influencing what voices and viewpoints occupy the airwaves. We’ve posted much of the editorial below in part because reading it in its entirety helps set the stage for Rush Limbaugh’s reaction, portions of which are also included below.

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There’s a mournful hush in Sacramento these days, the empty sound of an entire political viewpoint quieted. More than 32,000 weekly listeners who once tuned to KSAC (1240 AM) to hear partisan Democrats beat up on President George W. Bush, now hear only Christian hip-hop.

There’s nothing wrong with Christian hip-hop; it’s a great outlet for artists breaking out of the gansta rap mold. But there are six other commercial radio stations licensed in the Sacramento area programming the Christian message. In the political realm, three local radio stations program 264 hours of partisan Republican radio talkers beating up on Democrats every week. Now, zero stations program any Democratic view whatsoever: 264-0.

This follows the national trend revealed in the 2007 Free Press and Center for American Progress study, “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio.” Nationally, 90 percent of commercial talk radio is conservative; only 10 percent is liberal. (This study does not include Public Radio, which by statute is required to provide differing points of view. . . .)

KSAC shared another characteristic with other liberal radio stations: It had a tiny, 1,000-watt transmitter. Tough for a little station that barely reached Sacramento’s suburbs to compete with 50,000 watt giant KFBK, whose signal stretches from Chico to Modesto, from Reno to that little town of San Francisco. Despite KFBK reaching millions more potential listeners, KSAC mustered an audience nearly 20 percent that of KFBK’s. (Its ratings were double local conservative station KTKZ, which has a 5,000-watt transmitter.) And Arbitron showed the progressive station’s audience was steadily growing. KSAC was the little station that could.

Until it couldn’t.

It wasn’t that Talk City didn’t have listeners, it’s that it didn’t have advertisers.

The radio business model is simple: Start a show, grow an audience and advertisers will follow. But that model doesn’t work for progressive talk radio.

Why would advertisers steer clear of progressive talk? Chris Jones, managing editor of the blog “the Hot Points,” writes: “What respectable business is going to send millions of dollars in ad revenue to people who bash the president, the country and the war on a constant basis? Not only that, but liberals never miss an opportunity to bash corporations as evil and crooked. Why the hell would big business support the enemy?”

Well, wait a minute. Plenty of advertisers supported radio shows that bashed then- President Bill Clinton, calling his pursuit of Osama bin Laden “wagging the dog.” But this misses the real point: Why are corporate dollars the sole arbiter of what information we the people get to hear on publicly owned airwaves?

The answer is policy-makers, with campaigns financed by those same corporations, changed two important rules. In 1987, then-President Reagan’s FCC got rid of the Fairness Doctrine, which required that radio and TV provide a “reasonable opportunity to hear both sides of controversial issues.” The Reagan administration thought the marketplace would provide its own balance.

Then, in 1996, Congress allowed a few companies to own unlimited numbers of radio stations. Huge conglomerates bought the best and biggest stations, and purchased multiple stations within the same market. Then they blanketed more than 1,700 stations with conservative talk. Using their newly created economies of scale, they offered businesses special packages to advertise on stations they owned both locally and nationally.

That in turn starved independent stations of revenue. It was good business.

But it shouldn’t be only about good business; it should also be about public policy and the discourse demanded by Democracy, a discourse protected well by the founders of broadcasting but ignored by recent deregulation.

Broadcasters make a deal when they obtain – for free – a license to broadcast in a community. In exchange for the opportunity to make millions of dollars, the broadcasters must serve the public interest – the public interest of all of the people, not just a targeted slice of audience most likely to buy their product. It should not be solely about corporations willing to shell out millions to market their message and to keep business-friendly politicians in office.

It should also be about revealing the information that Enron, Bear Stearns, Halliburton and other corporations would prefer to hide.

* * *

We have allowed policy-makers in this country to create a so-called marketplace to promote one message almost exclusively over another.

But there really is no marketplace at all. Anybody can start a new coffee shop across from Starbucks and compete for business. But almost nobody can just start a new radio station to compete for listeners; the airwaves are limited, and the frequencies are already taken – mostly by big corporations.

Considering a 2003 Gallup poll showing that 22 percent of Americans get their information from talk radio, we’re not just talking about what is fair play; we are talking about a threat to the democracy we hold dear.

* * *

It is time for all of us to take their lead, to remember that we the people own these frequencies, and to compel our representatives to put the public back into the public airwaves.

* * *

Here is a portion of Rush Limbaugh’s reaction, “SacBee Laments Right-Wing Talk Radio as a ‘Threat to Democracy.’ Notice how Limbaugh describes the success of conservative talk radio as solely the consequence of content and merit (disposition, not situation), while, in a way, recognizing that pro-commercial ideas are advantaged.

* * *

As you know, ladies and gentlemen, my adopted hometown is Sacramento, California. I worked out there at KFBK, 50,000 watt blowtorch, ’til this day carries the program, been on the air there since 1984, so 24 years at KFBK Sacramento, number one. And while there, one of my nemeses was the Sacramento Bee, the local newspaper owned by the McClatchy clan. It is still owned by the McClatchy clan, and it has still refused to accept what has happened to me, as evidenced by a story that is special to the Bee published yesterday. Headline: “Federal Rules Give Corporation-Backed Conservative Radio all the Local Voices.” This is a story, this is a hand-wringing, tear-jerker story of how liberal talk radio couldn’t make it out there, and damn it, it’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s because federal rules give corporation-backed conservative radio all the local voices. . . .

* * *

. . . . I would defy anybody to find me a liberal network show, nationally syndicated liberal show that registers any significant ratings anywhere. They don’t. And even those that get some numbers do not have advertisers. Sue Wilson here swerved into it. There’s a very simple reason why. . . . [I]f you are a corporation or a small business, why in the world would you spend any money on a radio station or a show which is demonizing you and the business community as the greatest modern focus of evil in the country outside of the US military? Why in the world would you do it? Not to mention advertising on these stations got no results because their audience hears a commercial for corporation, “Screw that corporation, I’m not going there.” If the corporation doesn’t do commercials bashing Bush — I mean this is an insane, lunatic fringe audience these people are trying to reach. Sacramento voter registration, when I was there, was 72% Democrat.

They’ve gotta start asking themselves, why does liberal programming not work? But they’re wringing their hands, “It’s just unfair, because corporations won’t put liberal talk radio on powerful stations. That’s right, Mr. Limbaugh, it’s really not fair. You get the big station, and they get the little Podunk stations. No wonder.” I got the big station and earned the right to be there, as has everybody else on KFBK, via content, content, content. This is not hard to understand, but these libs and the Drive-By Media want to portray this as some sign of corporate unfairness. . . .

“. . . . Why are corporate dollars the sole arbiter of what information we the people get to hear on publicly owned airwaves?” This is the reporter asking the question, which illustrates glittering ignorance of how the market works.

Let me answer your question, Sue. Corporate dollars are not the sole arbiter of what information you the people get to hear on publicly owned airwaves. Your little lib station, your little lib programming has had a couple of opportunities in Sacramento. Nobody wanted to listen to it. Corporations are not required to lose money in order to present a point of view and in such a way that irritates people just so there is so-called fairness. Besides, you’ve always got NPR, Sue. There’s an NPR outlet out there and assorted other liberal outlets with no ratings and no advertisers because they don’t have to. They’re paid for by the government! There is not one conservative radio network in the country paid for with government dollars. You got NPR. NPR is paid for with government dollars — radio and television. So go there. What has been demonstrated here is that for all the talk about a 50-50 country and this, that, and the other thing, the simple fact of the matter is that the liberal point of view as constituted today repulses people. They have chosen and demonstrated they have no desire to listen to it, not even lunatic fringe libs like it.

* * *

Notice how Limbaugh claims that progressive ideas are unattractive to American listeners despite the fact that he routinely laments the alleged liberal bias elsewhere in the media (beyond talk radio). Is it feasible that progressive ideas are palatable — preferred even — in the newspapers and on telvision, but repulsive on the radio?

The pair of items, we believe, nicely illustrate the naive cynicism dynamic (discussed in posts such as “Naive Cynicism,” and “Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008“), and the system-justification motive (discussed in posts such as “Patriots Lose: Justice Restored!,” “Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?” and “The Young and the Lucky.” The two pieces also confirm the deep-capture hypothesis (discussed in posts such as “Ayn Rand’s Dispositionism,” and “Deep Capture – Part X,” “The company “had no control or influence over the research” . . . .” and “The Situation of Judging.”).

Posted in Choice Myth, Conflict, Deep Capture, Entertainment, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, System Legitimacy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

B.F. Skinner’s Pigeon and a Red Block

Posted by situationistguest on May 13, 2008

In this one-minute video from the B.F. Skinner Foundation, a pigeon uses a red block as a stand. A pigeon positions itself on a block so that a leaf that was out of its proximity before becomes within its reach.

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Posted in Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of John Yoo and the Torture Memos

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 13, 2008

Situationist friend Andrew Perlman recently published a terrific editorial in The National Law Journal on the situation of John Yoo, “The ‘Torture Memos’: Lessons for all of us.” Here are a few excerpts.

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John Yoo - from WikipediaIt is easy to believe that John Yoo wrote his widely discredited “torture memos” because he holds radical views of presidential authority or because he has some unusual moral failing. The reality, however, may be far more ordinary and disturbing: He willfully followed the lead of White House officials who were eager to find a legal justification for torture. The banality of Yoo’s compliance shouldn’t excuse him in any way, but his mistakes can help us understand why attorneys might offer equally troubling legal advice in much less public settings.

We can draw some valuable insights in this regard from one of the most stunning social psychology experiments ever conducted. More than 40 years ago, Stanley Milgram found that, under the right conditions, an experimenter could successfully order more than 60% of adults to administer what they believed to be painful and dangerous electric shocks to an innocent, bound older man with a heart condition, despite the man’s repeated pleas to be let go. In essence, Milgram found that people are surprisingly likely to obey authority figures under certain conditions.

Social psychologists have identified many of the conditions that tend to promote this type of wrongful obedience . . . . [For a related list, see Zimbardo’s Situationist post here.]

Notably, the conditions that produced obedience in Milgram’s experiments probably also existed at the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) when Yoo wrote his infamous memos.

* * *

Of course, none of this justifies Yoo’s conduct or excuses him in any way. Indeed, Jack Goldsmith, the subsequent head of the OLC, rescinded some of Yoo’s memos and successfully resisted the same pressures that Yoo faced. Nevertheless, by trying to understand why Yoo would have offered fundamentally wrong legal advice, we can gain insights into why other lawyers in more commonplace professional settings might offer similarly bad advice to powerful figures, whether they are White House officials, important law firm partners or corporate executives. Our obedience might take the form of following a client’s request to bury a discoverable “smoking gun” document or offering evidence that we know is false, but the forces at work are ultimately the same

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To read all of Professor Perlman’s article, click here. In addition, we recommend his forthcoming law review article, “Unethical Obedience by Subordinate Attorneys: Lessons from Social Psychology” (forthcoming 36 Hofstra Law Review, 2007, available on SSRN), the abstract of which we have pasted below.

* * *

This Article explores the lessons that we can learn from social psychology regarding a lawyer’s willingness to comply with authority figures, such as senior partners or deep-pocketed clients, when they make unlawful or unethical demands. The Article reviews some of the basic literature in social psychology regarding conformity and obedience, much of which emphasizes the importance of context as a primary factor in predicting people’s behavior. The Article then contends that lawyers frequently find themselves in the kinds of contexts that produce high levels of conformity and obedience and low levels of resistance to illegal or unethical instructions. The result is that subordinate lawyers will find it difficult to resist a superior’s commands in circumstances that should produce forceful dissent. Finally, the Article proposes several changes to existing law in light of these insights, including giving lawyers the benefit of whistleblower protection, strengthening a lawyer’s duty to report the misconduct of other lawyers, and enhancing a subordinate lawyer’s responsibilities upon receiving arguably unethical instructions from a superiors.

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To watch a fascinating 4-minute interview by Bill Moyers of Jack Goldsmith about the situation of the DOJ decision making, click on the video below.

To view a 45-minute video in which Jack Goldsmith discusses the surprising role of lawyers in the war on terror, click on the following video.

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For a sample of related posts, see the series by Situationist contributor Sung Hui Kim, “Why Do Lawyers Acquiesce In Their Clients’ Misconduct?, Part I, Part II, and Part III, and the post by Situationist contributor David Yosifon, “On the Ethical Obligations of Lawyers.”

Finally, to listen to a fascinating set of This American Life stories of “the Bush Administration, its unique style of asserting presidential authority, and its quest to redefine the limits of presidential power” generally, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, History, Law, Morality, Politics, Social Psychology, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of the Mortgage Crisis

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 12, 2008

Image by gruntzooki - Flickr

Economist Robert Frank recently wrote an editorial for the Washington Post, titled “Don’t Blame All Borrowers,” in which he questions Senator McCain’s recent statement regarding possible that “it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers.” Frank takes a more situational perspective. We excerpt portions of his argument below.

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[W]hile Congress clearly should not rescue borrowers who lied about their incomes or tried to get rich by flipping condos, such borrowers were at most a minor factor in this crisis. Primary responsibility rests squarely on regulators who permitted the liberal credit terms that created the housing bubble.

Hints of how things began to go awry appeared in “The Two-Income Trap,” a 2003 book in which Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi posed this intriguing question: Why could families easily meet their financial obligations in the 1950s and 1960s, when only one parent worked outside the home, yet have great difficulty today, when two-income families are the norm? The answer, they suggest, is that the second incomes fueled a bidding war for housing in better neighborhoods.

It’s easy to see why. Even in the 1950s, one of the highest priorities of most parents was to send their children to the best possible schools. Because the labor market has grown more competitive, this goal now looms even larger. It is no surprise that two-income families would choose to spend much of their extra income on better education. And because the best schools are in the most expensive neighborhoods, the imperative was clear: To gain access to the best possible public school, you had to purchase the most expensive house you could afford.

But what works for any individual family does not work for society as a whole. The problem is that a “good” school is a relative concept: It is one that is better than other schools in the same area. When we all bid for houses in better school districts, we merely bid up the prices of those houses.

In the 1950s, as now, families tried to buy houses in the best school districts they could afford. But strict credit limits held the bidding in check. Lenders typically required down payments of 20 percent or more and would not issue loans for more than three times a borrower’s annual income.

In a well-intentioned but ultimately misguided move to help more families enter the housing market, borrowing restrictions were relaxed during the intervening decades. Down payment requirements fell steadily, and in recent years, many houses were bought with no money down. Adjustable-rate mortgages and balloon payments further boosted families’ ability to bid for housing.

The result was a painful dilemma for any family determined not to borrow beyond its means. No one would fault a middle-income family for aspiring to send its children to schools of at least average quality. (How could a family aspire to less?) But if a family stood by while others exploited more liberal credit terms, it would consign its children to below-average schools. Even financially conservative families might have reluctantly concluded that their best option was to borrow up.

Those who condemn them see a different picture. They see undisciplined families overcome by their lust for cathedral ceilings and granite countertops, families that need to be taught a lesson.

Yet millions of families got into financial trouble simply because they understood that life is graded on the curve. The best jobs go to graduates from the best colleges, and because only the best-prepared students are accepted to those colleges, it is quixotic to expect parents to bypass an opportunity to send their children to the best elementary and secondary schools they can. The financial deregulation that enabled them to bid ever larger amounts for houses in the best school districts essentially guaranteed a housing bubble that would leave millions of families dangerously overextended.

Congress should not bail out speculators and fraudulent borrowers. But neither should it be too quick to condemn families that borrowed what the lending system offered rather than send their children to inferior schools.

* * *

To read the entire op-ed, click here. For a sample of related posts, see “The Financial Squeeze: Bad Choices or Bad Situations?,” “The Situation of College Debt” – Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Posted in Choice Myth, Education, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Arthur Shapiro’s Amazing “Lucy in the Skies”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 10, 2008

To read about what you are seeing and why in this award-winning illusion by Arthur Shapiro, go to Illusion Science Blog.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Posted in Blogroll, Illusions, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ayn Rand’s Dispositionism: The Situation of Ideas

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 10, 2008

Atlas ShruggedLast week Clark Davis had a piece titled “Ayn Rand Studies on Campus,” on NPR’s Morning Edition, May 6, 2008. The story illustrates one of the many ways in which dispositionism is promoted (and, by implication, situationism is undermined).

To listen to the story (roughly 4 minutes), click here. We have excerpted portions of the transcript below and added two videos (the first and second parts) of a remarkable Dan Rather interview of Ayn Rand.

* * *

John Allison, CEO of banking giant BB&T, calls Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged “the best defense of capitalism ever written.” He says that Rand changed his life, and he’s working to ensure that the deceased author isn’t left out of the nation’s college curricula.

Since 2005, the BB&T Charitable Foundation has given 25 colleges and universities several million dollars to start programs devoted to the study of Rand’s books and economic philosophy. In January, the company announced it was donating $1 million to Marshall University in West Virginia.

Atlas ShruggedThe money would establish a course dedicated to Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, and help create the BB&T Center for the Advancement of American Capitalism on campus.

But not everyone at the university is excited by the gift. Rick Wilson, a sociology instructor at Marshall and head of the West Virginia Economic Justice Project, says that Rand’s philosophy, objectivism, is based on the view that selfishness is the only moral value.

“[Objectivism] goes against the collective wisdom of the human race, I think, pretty much everywhere,” says Wilson. “I think it’s a curious interpretation of philanthropy to use corporate money to promote, really, an extreme philosophy.”

Two years ago, faculty at Meredith College in North Carolina rejected a $420,000 grant from BB&T, citing concerns about allowing a corporation to develop curricula.

But Marshall professor Cal Kent, who is slated to direct the center funded by the grant, says BB&T officials just want to give students an additional perspective on capitalism.

“In my experience you’re not able to propagandize students,” says Kent. “Certainly that’s not our intent in this course, and if it were our intent, we would be doomed for failure from the beginning.”

Kent adds that Rand’s philosophy isn’t as scary as some of her detractors insist.

“It’s based on the idea of individualism,” he says. “That means the freedom of individuals to contract with other people, the freedom to choose their occupation, the freedom to do what they see as being in their own best self interest with the resources they have.”

* * *

* * *

To read a related Situationist post, see “Deep Capture – Part X.”

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Education, Ideology, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Interview of Eric Kandel

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 9, 2008

Here is a twenty-one minute interview of Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, discussing memory, free will, the history of science, Freud, and his work with pharmaceutical companies among other things. This video comes from Science Blogs.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Posted in History, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

What Counts as Rape?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 9, 2008

Image by SleEEpinGBeaUty - FlickrFrom NPR’s Day to Day story, If Your Neighbor Poses as Your Husband, Is it Rape?:

Massachusetts is the latest state to consider putting a new crime on the books: rape by fraud. Currently, a sex act only qualifies as rape if physical force is used. We talk to a woman who was tricked into having sex with her boyfriend’s brother, who pretended to be her boyfriend — and unable to convict him of rape because of this limited definition.

Under the new law, such forms of deception would be a crime. Some say the law goes too far, however, and could criminalize lies like, “Really, I’m divorced!”

* * *

To listen to the story, click here, and to read a brief Salon article on the topic, click here. For a related Situationist post, see “Unrecognized Injustice — The Situation of Rape.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Economic Journal Watch – Table of Contents

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 8, 2008

The latest issue of Economic Journal Watch includes several pieces of interest to Situationist readers:

Table of Contents with links to articles (pdf)

Download and Print Entire May 2008 Issue (134 pages, 1.8 MB)

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, Table of Contents | Leave a Comment »

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.)

* * *

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


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

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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

Deep Capture – Part X

Posted by J on May 6, 2008

This is the tenth part of a series on what Situationist Contributor David Yosifon and I call “deep capture.” The most basic prediction of the “deep capture” hypothesis is that there will be a competition over the situation (including the way we think) to influence the behavior of individuals and institutions and that those individuals, groups, entities, or institutions that are most powerful will win that competition.

Previous posts in this series (which are summarized at the bottom of this entry), reviewed a sample of the evidence indicating that pro-commercial dispositionism has been widely accepted as the presumptive starting place for policy analysis. The previous post in this series described the strategy of relying on credible third-party messengers. This post suggests how that strategy may have influenced legal theory and law.

(Situationist artist Marc Scheff is providing the remarkable illustrations in this series.)

* * *

There is a vast range of interconnected evidence (too vast to do justice to in this subsection) of pro-commercial interests investing to deeply capture the many “credible third parties” that might influence the many “targeted audiences” (including all of us) to accept pro-commercial worldviews. In this subsection we will focus on a small sample of that evidence. Although the sample is small, it will hit close to home for much of our audience and will, we hope, strike a more direct and personal chord than the Galileo discussion may have.

Consider the world of legal scholarship. Large business interests have attempted to locate, create, and sponsor the production and dissemination of pro-commercial legal scholarship by legal scholars who have served as credible, if often unwitting, spokespeople for business ends. More specifically, consider some of the evidence regarding the goals and influence of the John M. Olin Foundation.

According to the Olin Foundation’s Web site,

the general purpose of the John M. Olin Foundation is to provide support for projects that reflect or are intended to strengthen the economic, political and cultural institutions upon which the American heritage of constitutional government and private enterprise is based. The Foundation also seeks to . . . encourag[e] the thoughtful study of the connections between economic and political freedoms, and the cultural heritage that sustains them.

To advance that goal the Olin Foundation has, among other things, awarded tens of millions of dollars to prominent law schools for the promotion of law and economics scholarship. Over the past twenty years, Olin money has established law and economics programs, or “centers,” at several prominent law schools: the University of Chicago, Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown, Duke, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, George Mason, and the University of Virginia. In 1999, a year in which the Foundation paid out almost $20 million in grants to organizations around the country, \Harvard Law School’s John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business was in the middle of a four-year, $6 million grant, Yale Law School’s John M. Olin Program in Law and Economics was in the middle of a three-year, $1.9 million grant, and the University of Chicago Law School’s John M. Olin Program in Law and Economics was in the middle of a six-year, $2.5 million grant. In May 2003, Harvard received another grant from the Olin Foundation, this time for $10 million, “the largest foundation grant in the law school’s 186-year history.”

Olin money, as we will describe in more detail in subsequent work, has a significant influence not only in encouraging certain types of scholarship, but also in increasing the credibility of that scholarship. It establishes “centers” dedicated to law and economics theory, provides funding for journals through which law and economics scholarship can be stamped with the legitimacy of “peer review” by other legal economists, finances a series of workshops to encourage efficiency-oriented scholars to share and test their views at elite law schools, and gives scholarships and fellowships to top law students who participate in law and economics seminars and produce law and economics scholarship. In short, Olin money has helped to create and advance a critical mass of legal scholars, who begin with the strong dispositionist axioms of neoclassical economics, who write largely for one another and policymakers, and who view themselves (and are viewed by many others) as the only genuinely social scientific members of the legal academy.

The success of the Olin Foundation’s funding of law and economics seems fairly dramatic. Professor Steven Shavell, the director of Harvard Law School’s Olin Program, recently provided one measure of that achievement. Professor Shavell surveyed the academic appointments at the “top 10” law schools over the last decade. Of forty-three total placements, he found that, twenty-three were Harvard Law School graduates, and ten of those had been Olin fellows. As Professor Shavell told the Boston Globe, “[i]n the long run, we’re going to have a heck of an impact on who’s teaching at the leading law schools, and what the students are learning.”

We would go further. The Olin Foundation and the law and economics scholarship that it has subsidized have already had “a heck of an impact.” Indeed, the scholarly project that the Olin money has sponsored is the same project that is widely understood today to be the dominant paradigm for policy analysis. Professor Shavell has emphasized that the economic analysis of law “has changed the nature of legal scholarship, influenced legal practice, and already proven its tremendous value in policymaking and business.” Furthermore, the Olin Foundation’s Board of Trustees recently declared that their contributions have “supported a wide range of scholars and writers who significantly changed the content and direction of American academic and political discussion.”

Of course, the fact that the Olin Foundation poured millions of dollars into promoting law and economics does not necessarily imply that those investments played a significant causal role in the stunning success of the now-dominant paradigm. It may be, as most of its proponents presume, that law and economics was destined for greatness solely on the merits, and that Olin money simply facilitated an inevitable process that was already underway.

* * *

There are several reasons to suspect, however, that the Olin Foundation’s support, combined with numerous other situational influences, has played a pivotal causal role in the success of the law and economics movement. First, the success of law and economics appears to map closely with the precise ambitions and strategies of the key individuals behind the Olin Foundation: John Olin, the founder of the organization, and William Simon, its longtime president. After leaving his position as Treasury Secretary in the Nixon and Ford Administrations, Simon wrote two best-selling books that outlined his conservative and pro-commercial beliefs and his agenda for implementing them. Simon was a prominent, early exponent of the dispositionist, neoliberal worldview that seeks to promote private enterprise and to minimize the role of government–a worldview shared by John Olin. They also shared a belief that American universities at the time produced ideas and graduates that were dangerously antithetical to those ends. To Simon, this problem was tantamount to a war of liberty versus totalitarianism–a war with three fronts:

1. Funds generated by business . . . must rush by multimillions to the aid of liberty, in the many places where it is beleaguered.
. . . .
. . . [Foundations established by such funds must] serve explicitly as intellectual refuges for the non-egalitarian scholars and writers in our society who today work largely alone in the face of overwhelming indifference or hostility. They must be given grants, grants, and more grants in exchange for books, books, and more books.
2. Business must cease the mindless subsidizing of colleges and universities whose departments of economics, government, politics and history are hostile to capitalism and whose faculties will not hire scholars whose views are otherwise.
. . . .
. . . America’s major universities are today churning out young collectivists by legions, and it is irrational for businessmen to support them.
. . . .
3. Finally, business money must flow . . . to media which are either pro-freedom or, if not necessarily ‘pro-business,’ at least professionally capable of a fair and accurate treatment of procapitalist ideas, values and arguments. The judgment of this fairness is to be made by businessmen alone–it is their money that they are investing.

These are the three fronts on which to act aggressively if we are to create a sophisticated counter-force to the rising despotism. One of my own first actions on leaving the post of Secretary of the Treasury was toWilliam Simon Quotation accept the job of president of the John N. [sic] Olin Foundation, whose purpose is to support those individuals and institutions who are working to strengthen the free enterprise system.

Thus, Simon, with the support of the Olin Foundation, was trying to alter the playing field on which academic debate takes place–and trying to do so situationally. Furthermore, he understood that the dispositionism of law and economics is pro-business and that many alternative views, otherwise successful in the marketplace of ideas, are not. Simon presented American individualism, much as ad agencies presented the Marlboro Man, as the American tradition and the source of America’s greatness. However, like the Marlboro Man’s creators, Simon seemed to appreciate that such individualism, to be embraced as deeply as Philip Morris, Simon, and others desired, had to be heavily promoted, and reinforced if it is to be widely accepted. And he further understood that the situation can and should be manipulated by, among other things, choosing particular academics, programs, and scholarly camps to give “grants, grants, and more grants in exchange for books, books, and more books.”

In light of Simon’s (and thus the Olin Foundation’s) pro-business mission, there is good reason to believe that the Olin Foundation’s sizeable law and economics investment was money well spent. The point is strengthened when one considers that the Foundation engaged in a kind of “stage financing” of these programs: grants were intended to last for only a few years, at which point the Foundation would consider whether to renew its contribution to a particular program. The fact that the Foundation continued to renew many grants provides strong evidence that it believed that its investments were generating worthwhile returns in terms of encouraging pro-commercial worldviews (and discouraging alternatives) among students, academics, and policymakers.

* * *

Part I of this series explained that our “deep capture” story is analogous to the (shallow) capture story told by economists (such as Nobel laureate George Stigler) and public choice theorists for decades regarding the competition over prototypical regulatory institutions. Part II looked to history (specifically, Galileo’s recantation) for another analogy to the process that we claim is widespread today — the deep capture of how we understand ourselves. Part III picked up on both of those themes and explains that Stigler’s “capture” story has implications far broader and deeper than he or others realized. Part IV examined the relative power (measured as the ability to influence situation) of large commercial interests today, much like the power of the Catholic Church in Galileo’s day. Part V described other parallels between the Catholic Church and geocentrism, on one hand, and modern corporate interests and dispositionism, on the other. Part VI laid out the “deep capture hypothesis” a bit more and began loosely testing it by examining the role that it may have played in the “deregulatory” movement. Part VII provided some illustrative examples of how atypical “regulators,” from courts to hard-hitting news networks, reflect and contribute to deep capture. Part VIII contrasted different cultures for evidence of commercial interests in promoting dispositionism. Part IX described the strategy of employing third-party messengers.

Posted in Deep Capture, Legal Theory | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Alcohol, Hotdogs, Sexism, and Racism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 6, 2008

Via a terrific blog (the latest addition to our blogroll), Sociological Images, here is a remarkable video from a recent television episode of This American Life.

Lisa from Sociological Images writes: “This clip . . . shows what happens when (mostly) black women and (mostly) white men living in racially-segregated Chicago are brought together and the social rules of decorum are suspended. It is highly, highly disturbing.” She then calls for some comments from social psychologists. To read those comments, click here. We urge our readers to join that discussion.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll, Life, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

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 »

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