The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Us versus Them’

The Bush Frame: Us vs. Them; Good vs. Evil; Intentions vs. Consequences

Posted by J on January 16, 2009

George Bush FarewellPresident Bush’s farewell speech, like most (though not all) of his speeches, was full of dispositionism and largely devoid of situationist insight.

His final remarks were apparently intended to remind and assure us that “we” are dispositionally different from “them” and that our country and its people have an essential character (good) while other countries or individuals within certain other countries have a very different disposition (evil).  Here are some excerpts.

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America is promoting human liberty, human rights, and human dignity. We are standing with dissidents and young democracies, providing AIDS medicine to bring dying patients back to life, and sparing mothers and babies from malaria. And this great republic born alone in liberty is leading the world toward a new age when freedom belongs to all nations.

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As we address these challenges — and others we cannot foresee tonight — America must maintain our moral clarity. I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense and to advance the cause of peace.

. . . . America is a young country, full of vitality, constantly growing and renewing itself. And even in the toughest times, we lift our eyes to the broad horizon ahead.

I have confidence in the promise of America because I know the character of our people. This is a nation that inspires immigrants to risk everything for the dream of freedom. This is a nation where citizens show calm in times of danger and compassion in the face of suffering. We see examples of America’s character all around us. . . .

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In citizens like these, we see the best of our country — resilient and hopeful, caring and strong. These virtues give me an unshakable faith in America. We have faced danger and trial, and there is more ahead. But with the courage of our people and confidence in our ideals, this great nation will never tire . . . never falter . . . and never fail.

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In September of 2003, when President Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly to justify the preemptive war in Iraq, his tone was similarly dispositionist.

Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides: between those who seek order, and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change, and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man, and those who deliberately take the lives of men and women and children without mercy or shame.  Between these alternatives there is no neutral ground.

If “moral clarity” requires insisting that there are just two forces — good and evil — and that a person or group or country is either one or the other, then I’m against it.  As many others have argued, one need not condone terrorism to attempt to understand the circumstances that would lead to terrorism; and, as far as policy goes, to attribute behavior solely to the person and not at all to the situation may be to treat the symptom and not the disease.  Moral clarity and the dispositionism behind it may simplify decision making, but, as we’ve witnessed, they do not necessarily lead to good or moral decisions.

President Bush seemed eager in his farewell remarks to downplay the consequences of his decisions and, instead, to remind us that he acted with the best of intentions — that, in other words, his disposition was good.  At one point he admitted that “[t]here are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I have always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right.”   Again, his focus is on disposition.

To fellow dispositionists, the message struck a chord.  Bill O’Reilly, for instance, had this reaction:

[President Bush] had the best interest of the folks at heart. President Bush is a patriot. He tried to do his best. I’m glad he gave a speech tonight.  We wish President Bush the best. He’s a patriot, a good man and I hope he continues to contribute to the country.

Eric Bolling, also from FOX, echoed that theme, writing: “Like him or not, [President Bush] has always done what he felt was best for us all.”

As did Laura Ingraham (FOX News Contributor):  “This man is a patriot. He’s a good man and he wanted the best for the country.”

Syndicated Columnist Cal Thomas went even further, praising the President  as a “good and decent man,” and then attacking the disposition of those who disapprove of Bush’s performance (that is, most Americans).  According to Thomas:

Democrats read the polls and their primary objective is power. As Bush’s approval numbers started to slip, Democrats ratcheted up their opposition and Bush, a non-ideological president, was unable to counter their bile with his own sense of goodness.

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Part of the problem with the Bush presidency was not him, but us. We don’t like inconvenience, war, or a bad economy. And when we were touched by each of these, we blamed the president for not restoring us quickly to our pursuit of pleasure and material things.     Most television shows do not last as long as the Bush presidency and that’s the other part of the problem. We project more on our presidents than they are able to give. Yet they don’t want to tell us that only we can make our lives better . . . .

I suspect that those who doubt the good intentions of President Bush are few and far between.  In other words, only a relative handful of Americans are claiming that Bush is an evil president.   Such “moral clarity” is lacking — as well it should be.  Good intentions may be desirable, but they are by no means sufficient to make a person a good president.

A situationist perspective does not focus on intentions.  As Situationist contributor Mahzarin Banaji has argued, our moral obligation is more demanding than that:  “if we haven’t exhausted every opportunity to know whether what we are doing is right, it will be no excuse for us to say that we meant well.”

Ultimately, the public’s lack of confidence in President Bush is not based on a sense that he intended to leave the planet in worse shape than he found it, but that he did so out of ignorance and arrogance and did not “exhaust[] every opportunity to know whether what [he was] doing [was] right.”

But one need not be a situationist to believe that the intentions of policymakers are not the sole measuring stick for the success of the policymakers.  At the conclusion of his pre-war speech to the U.N. General Assembly, President Bush himself admonished: “Our good intentions will be credited only if we achieve good outcomes.”

Considering where we have come since that speech, it is hard to see how one can say we have “achieve[d] good outcomes.”

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To read some related Situationist posts, see “Jeffrey Sachs on Our Situation – Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part V,” “Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tenet: ‘Guilty’,” “The Situation of Decision Making,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” “A Convenient Fiction,” “The Law and Situation of Military Propaganda,” “Um, I don’t make misteaks . . .,”  “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part VI,” and “With God on Our Side . . ..”

Posted in Ideology, Politics, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

“Us” and “Them”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 21, 2008

Us versus them t-shirtSam Sommers wrote a terrific situationist post, titled “The Power of Us,” on the Psychology Today blog.  Here are some excerpts.

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Customers who insist on paying with a personal check at the grocery store. Waitresses who don’t write down your order. People who sit right in front of you at the movies when there are other free seats in their row. . . . Drivers who insist on backing into spaces in wide-open parking lots. Squirrels.

All of the above would make my list of Top 10 pet peeves. But at the top, without question, would have to be people who charge into elevators, head down, without waiting to see if anyone is getting off. Same with subway cars, for that matter. It’s just common courtesy, people. Which is what made the following interaction such a dissonance-inducing moment for me.

I was at the doctor’s office for a regular appointment and had to head up to the 7th floor. As the elevator doors opened and I began to exit, a middle-aged gentleman barreled in a clear hurry, like a Muscovite rushing into a bread store in the perestroika 1990s. I literally turned sideways to avoid a collision, feeling a bit like a torero sans cape. Clearly, this guy was worthy of Public Enemy #1 status.

But then a funny thing happened. He took a look at me, made a sudden U-turn, and followed me out of the elevator, all the while wheeling behind him his cart with several boxes on it. He pointed at my chest and asked, “did you go to school there?” Realizing that he was referring to the college name emblazoned on my t-shirt, I answered that, yes, indeed, this was my alma mater. “Me too,” he exclaimed. “What year did you graduate?”

And so began a 10-minute conversation that I wasn’t particularly thrilled to be having, what with my own dispositional aversion to small talk with strangers combined with the desire to check in on time for my appointment. But my fellow alum proved himself to be a pleasant enough fellow. And it’s always enjoyable to reminisce about familiar people and places from your past, especially when you went to a small school that doesn’t afford such opportunities that often. So we parted ways and I continued on to my doctor’s office in relatively good spirits.

And this is when it hit me–I had mentally pardoned my newfound friend from his otherwise capital offense. Now, I’m not saying I was wrong to do this. Why go around life bearing resentments and grudges against strangers for transgressions that are, objectively speaking, trivial? But were not for the common link established by my t-shirt, I never would have left this interaction in a positive mood, much less a somewhat favorable impression of this guy.

That’s the power of “us.” Sharing group membership with other people has dramatic effects on how we see and interact with them. Whether it’s a common alma mater or favorite sports team, whether it’s a more central aspect of identity such as race or religion, we’re more generous in our perceptions of fellow members of our own ingroups.

As written about by persuasively by social psychologist Marilynn Brewer, some of the disparities and prejudices that persist in our society likely have just as much to do with ingroup favoritism as they do outgroup derogation or dislike. Distinguishing between these different causes of intergroup disparity is clearly important, especially for efforts to remedy differential outcomes in any domain.

At the same time, from a practical perspective, differential outcomes are differential outcomes. It matters little to the job applicant who is passed over for a position whether the job went to someone else because of ingroup favoritism towards the competition or because of outgroup prejudice directed towards her. It is of little solace to the Black defendant hit with felony charges for a borderline offense that the relative leniency shown towards a comparable White defendant resulted from the desire to “give a good kid a second chance” as opposed to any type of disparity based on racial animus. In this sense, the power of us can be just as dangerous as the dislike of them. . . .

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I’d maintain that one of the unsung obstacles faced by many minority and female professionals is that they’re simply less likely to benefit from such “usness,” in terms of hiring as well as promotion decisions. The White male entering the workplace simply has a greater chance of effortless bonding with his White male colleagues and superiors, whether over past affiliations or shared cultural interests. It’s an often overlooked benefit of majority group membership that can be hard to quantify.

Because usness is powerful. It leads us to bond quickly with some people, but not others. It prompts us to be far less stingy with the benefit of the doubt for similar individuals. And it can even get you off the hook when you violate cardinal rules of elevator etiquette, and I must tell you, that’s no small feat.

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To read his entire post (with links and a postscript) including a section examining the low number of African American coaches in Division I football, click here.  For some related Situationist posts, see”March Madness,” Race Attributions and Georgetown University Basketball,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” “The Origins of Sports Team Fandom,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” and “Situationist Theories of Hate – Part II.”

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Naive Cynicism – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 8, 2008

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

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

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


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 »

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