The Economist Responds to The Situationist
Posted by JH 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:
- Sarah Palin a Naive Cynic?
- “The Tragedy in Tucson: What Do You Think?.”
- Motivated Skepticism
- “The Great Attributional Divide,”
- “Naive Cynicism,”
- “Legal Academic Backlash – Abstract,”
- “Emily Pronin on the Situation of Bias,”
- “Asymmetric Introspection and Extrospection,” and
- “The Situation of Polarization.”
You can review all of the Situationist posts related to naive cynicism by clicking here.