The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘System Justification’

Barbara Ehrenreich on the Sources of and Problems with Dispositionism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 10, 2009

From GRITtv: “Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book looks at the downside of looking on the bright side, which she says has undermined America.”

* * *

* * *

* * *

To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Barbara Ehrenreich – a Situationist,” The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?,” “Cheering for the Underdog,” “Ayn Rand’s Dispositionism: The Situation of Ideas,” Deep Capture – Part X,” “Promoting Dispositionism through Entertainment – Part I, Part II, & Part III,”

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Ideology, Illusions, Life, Positive Psychology, System Legitimacy, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Goutam Jois at Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 21, 2009

SALMS Logo Small 2 for WebsiteOn Thursday, October 22, the HLS Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) and the HLS American Constitution Society (ACS) are hosting a talk by Situationist Fellow Goutam Jois entitled “Stare Decisis is Cognitive Error”:

* * *

For hundreds of years, the practice of stare decisis — a court’s adherence to prior decisions in similar cases — has guided the common law. However, recent behavioral evidence suggests that stare decisis, far from enacting society’s “true preferences” with regard to law and policy, may reflect — and exacerbate — our cognitive biases.

The data show that humans are subconsciously primed (among other things) to prefer the status quo, to overvalue existing defaults, to follow others’ decisions, and to stick to the well-worn path. We have strong motives to justify existing legal, political, and social systems; to come up with simple explanations for observed phenomena; and to construct coherent narratives for the world around us. Taken together, these and other characteristics suggest that we value precedent not because it is desirable but merely because it exists. Three case studies — analyzing federal district court cases, U.S. Supreme Court cases, and development of American policy on torture — suggest that the theory of stare decisis as a heuristic has substantial explanatory power. In its strongest form, this hypothesis challenges the foundation of common law systems.

* * *

The event will take place in Pound 108 at Harvard Law School, from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m.

For more information, e-mail salms@law.harvard.edu. To download the paper click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, History, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Barbara Ehrenreich – a Situationist

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 14, 2009

Desert DaisyBarbara Ehrenreich’s terrific, highly situationist, new book is now on the shelves, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America.

From a related Time Magazine article here’s a brief sample of her writing on the topic of optimism.

* * *

If you’re craving a quick hit of optimism, reading a news magazine is probably not the best way to go about finding it. As the life coaches and motivational speakers have been trying to tell us for more than a decade now, a healthy, positive mental outlook requires strict abstinence from current events in all forms. Instead, you should patronize sites like Happynews.com, where the top international stories of the week include “Jobless Man Finds Buried Treasure” and “Adorable ‘Teacup Pigs’ Are Latest Hit with Brits.”

Or of course you can train yourself to be optimistic through sheer mental discipline. Ever since psychologist Martin Seligman crafted the phrase “learned optimism” in 1991 and started offering optimism training, there’s been a thriving industry in the kind of thought reform that supposedly overcomes negative thinking. You can buy any number of books and DVDs with titles like Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude, in which you will learn mental exercises to reprogram your outlook from gray to the rosiest pink: “affirmations,” for example, in which you repeat upbeat predictions over and over to yourself; “visualizations” in which you post on your bathroom mirror pictures of that car or boat you want; “disputations” to refute any stray negative thoughts that may come along. If money is no object, you can undergo a three-month “happiness makeover” from a life coach or invest $3,575 for three days of “optimism training” on a Good Mood Safari on the coast of New South Wales. . . .

* * *

Americans have long prided themselves on being “positive” and optimistic — traits that reached a manic zenith in the early years of this millennium. Iraq would be a cakewalk! The Dow would reach 36,000! Housing prices could never decline! Optimism was not only patriotic, it was a Christian virtue, or so we learned from the proliferating preachers of the “prosperity gospel,” whose God wants to “prosper” you. In 2006, the runaway bestseller The Secret promised that you could have anything you wanted, anything at all, simply by using your mental powers to “attract” it. The poor listened to upbeat preachers like Joel Osteen and took out subprime mortgages. The rich paid for seminars led by motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and repackaged those mortgages into securities sold around the world. . . .

* * *

Below are some excerpts from the introduction of her new book explaining that, optimism notwithstanding, Americans are not necessarily better off.

* * *

Surprisingly, when psychologists undertake to measure the relative happiness of nations, they routinely find that Americans are not, even in prosperous times and despite our vaunted positivity, very happy at all. A recent meta-analysis of over a hundred studies of self-reported happiness worldwide found Americans ranking only twenty-third, surpassed by the Dutch, the Danes, the Malaysians, the Bahamians, the Austrians, and even the supposedly dour Finns. In another potential sign of relative distress, Americans account for two-thirds of the global market for antidepressants, which happen also to be the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. To my knowledge, no one knows how antidepressant use affects people’s responses to happiness surveys: do respondents report being happy because the drugs make them feel happy or do they report being unhappy because they know they are dependent on drugs to make them feel better? Without our heavy use of antidepressants, Americans would likely rank far lower in the happiness rankings than we currently do.

When economists attempt to rank nations more objectively in terms of “well-being,” taking into account such factors as health, environmental sustainability, and the possibility of upward mobility, the United States does even more poorly than it does when only the subjective state of “happiness” is measured. The Happy Planet Index, to give just one example, locates us at 150th among the world’s nations.

* * *

Bright-Sided CoverBut of course it takes the effort of positive thinking to imagine that America is the “best” or the “greatest.” Militarily, yes, we are the mightiest nation on earth. But on many other fronts, the American score is dismal, and was dismal even before the economic downturn that began in 2007. Our children routinely turn out to be more ignorant of basic subjects like math and geography than their counterparts in other industrialized nations. They are also more likely to die in infancy or grow up in poverty. Almost everyone acknowledges that our health care system is “broken” and our physical infrastructure crumbling. We have lost so much of our edge in science and technology that American companies have even begun to outsource their research and development efforts. Worse, some of the measures by which we do lead the world should inspire embarrassment rather than pride: We have the highest percentage of our population incarcerated, and the greatest level of inequality in wealth and income. We are plagued by gun violence and racked by personal debt.

While positive thinking has reinforced and found reinforcement in American national pride, it has also entered into a kind of symbiotic relationship with American capitalism. There is no natural, innate affinity between capitalism and positive thinking. In fact, one of the classics of sociology, Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, makes a still impressive case for capitalism’s roots in the grim and punitive outlook of Calvinist Protestantism, which required people to defer gratification and resist all pleasurable temptations in favor of hard work and the accumulation of wealth.

But if early capitalism was inhospitable to positive thinking, “late” capitalism, or consumer capitalism, is far more congenial, depending as it does on the individual’s hunger for more and the firm’s imperative of growth. The consumer culture encourages individuals to want more — cars, larger homes, television sets, cell phones, gadgets of all kinds — and positive thinking is ready at hand to tell them they deserve more and can have it if they really want it and are willing to make the effort to get it. Meanwhile, in a competitive business world, the companies that manufacture these goods and provide the paychecks that purchase them have no alternative but to grow. If you don’t steadily increase market share and profits, you risk being driven out of business or swallowed by a larger enterprise. Perpetual growth, whether of a particular company or an entire economy, is of course an absurdity, but positive thinking makes it seem possible, if not ordained.

In addition, positive thinking has made itself useful as an apology for the crueler aspects of the market economy. If optimism is the key to material success, and if you can achieve an optimistic outlook through the discipline of positive thinking, then there is no excuse for failure. The flip side of positivity is thus a harsh insistence on personal responsibility: if your business fails or your job is eliminated, it must because you didn’t try hard enough, didn’t believe firmly enough in the inevitability of your success. As the economy has brought more layoffs and financial turbulence to the middle class, the promoters of positive thinking have increasingly emphasized this negative judgment: to be disappointed, resentful, or downcast is to be a “victim” and a “whiner.”

* * *

You can read more about the book and purchase it here.   You can listen to an excellent, half-hour Talk of the Nation interview of Barbara Ehrenreich about the book here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Self-Serving Biases,” “The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?,” “Cheering for the Underdog,” “Ayn Rand’s Dispositionism: The Situation of Ideas,” Deep Capture – Part X,” “Promoting Dispositionism through Entertainment – Part I, Part II, & Part III,” “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV,” and “The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part III.”

Posted in Book, Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Emotions, Ideology, Life, Positive Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 23, 2009

Bomb ItAaron C. Kay, Danielle Gaucher, Jennifer M. Peach, Kristin Laurin, Justin Friesen, Mark P. Zanna, and Steven J. Spencer have recently published their article, “Inequality, Discrimination, and the Power of the Status Quo: Direct Evidence for a Motivation to See the Way Things Are as the Way They Should Be” (97 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 421– 434 (2009).  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

How powerful is the status quo in determining people’s social ideals? The authors propose (a) that people engage in injunctification, that is, a motivated tendency to construe the current status quo as the most desirable and reasonable state of affairs (i.e., as the most representative of how things should be); (b) that this tendency is driven, at least in part, by people’s desire to justify their sociopolitical systems; and (c) that injunctification has profound implications for the maintenance of inequality and societal change. Four studies, across a variety of domains, provided supportive evidence. When the motivation to justify the sociopolitical system was experimentally heightened, participants injunctified extant (a) political power (Study 1), (b) public funding policies (Study 2), and (c) unequal gender demographics in the political and business spheres (Studies 3 and 4, respectively). It was also demonstrated that this motivated phenomenon increased derogation of those who act counter to the status quo (Study 4). Theoretical implications for system justification theory, stereotype formation, affirmative action, and the maintenance of inequality are discussed.

* * *

In 2008, Situationist Contributor Aaron Kay presented some of research underlying that article at the Second Annual Project on Law and Mind Sciences Conference at Harvard Law School.  Below you can watch videos of his presentation in three parts.

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts see “Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?,” “Cheering for the Underdog,”The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV,” and “The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part III.”  To review all of the Situationist posts that discuss system justification motive, click here.

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

Independence Day: Celebrating Courage to Challenge the Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 4, 2009

Battle of Lexington

With the U.S. celebrating Independence Day — carnivals, fireworks, BBQs, parades and other customs that have, at best, only a tangential connection to our “independence,” — we thought it an opportune moment to return to its source in search of some situationism. No doubt, the Declaration of Independence is typically thought of as containing a dispositionist message (though few would express it in those terms) — all that language about individuals freely pursuing their own happiness. Great stuff, but arguably built on a dubious model of the human animal.

Declaration of IndependenceThat’s not the debate we want to provoke here. Instead, we are interested in simply highlighting some less familiar language in that same document that reveals something special about the mindset and celebrated courage of those behind the colonists’ revolt. Specifically, as Thomas Jefferson penned, “all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Part of what made the July 4th heroes heroic, in our view, was their willingness to break from that disposition to suffer evils. They reacted, mobilized, strategized, resisted, and fought because they recognized that their suffering was not legitimate — a conclusion that many in the U.S. and abroad vehemently rejected.

Situationist contributor John Jost has researched and written extensively about a related topic — the widespread tendency to justify existing systems of power despite any unfair suffering that they may entail. As he and his co-authors recently summarized:

Whether because of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, or sexual orientation or because of policies and programs that privilege some at the expense of others, or even because of historical accidents, genetic disparities, or the fickleness of fate, certain social systems serve the interests of some stakeholders better than others. Yet historical and social scientific evidence shows that most of the time the majority of people – regardless of their own social class or position – accept and even defend the legitimacy of their social and economic systems and manage to maintain a “belief in a just world.”

If we truly want to emulate and celebrate the “founding fathers” of this republic, perhaps we should begin by taking seriously the possibility that what “is” is not always what “ought to be.”

Happy Fourth!

* * *

To read a couple of related Situationist posts, see “Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?” and “Patriots Lose: Justice Restored!

Posted in History, Ideology, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

John Jost’s “System Justification and the Law” – Video

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 5, 2009

plms-logo2

At the 2007 Project on Law and Mind Sciences Conference, John Jost’s presentation was titled “System Justification and the Law.” Here is the abstract for his talk.

Although there can be little doubt that individual and group self-interest motivate human behavior to a considerable degree, research in social psychology has revealed a quite different and often powerful motive: the motive to defend and justify the social status quo. This motive is present (at least to some degree) even among those who are seemingly most disadvantaged by the status quo; in some cases, in fact, this motive is strongest among those who are the most severely disadvantaged. System justification theory seeks to elucidate the nature of this motive and the situations in which it operates.

* * *

Dr. Jost will summarize recent theory and research concerning the various  manifestations, antecedents and consequences of the system justification motive. He will also address its implications for the law, arguing that system justification motives sometimes result in behaviors that current legal thinking would not otherwise anticipate. For example, victims of discrimination or abuse complain less often than self interest would predict, and employees conceal evidence of corporate wrongdoing even at their own peril. The theory also speaks to the power of “framing” and suggests ways in which legal advocates can either amplify or dampen the system-justifying motives of those whom they would persuade. The existence of system justification poses significant psychological obstacles to social change in general and legal change in particular.

Below you can watch the videos of Jost’s fascinating presentation (roughly 30 minutes total).

* * *

* * *

* * *


* * *

To watch similar videos, visit the video libraries on the Project on Law and Mind Sciences website (here) or visit PLMSTube.

For information on the Third PLMS conference (scheduled for March 7, 2009), click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Implicit Associations, System Legitimacy, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Situationism

Posted by J on January 18, 2009

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mlk5.jpg

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

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

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

Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?

Posted by J on November 24, 2008

This post was first published on November 21, 2007.

The first Thanksgiving, painting by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted in History, Ideology, System Legitimacy | 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.

* * *

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 »

 
%d bloggers like this: