Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Radical!!! - Part 4: System Justification Theory

This is looking to become a 5-part series. Links will be added as the posts become available. Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 5

   Last Thursday, I learned from a blog about System Justification Theory (SJT for short). In part 1 of this series, before I had even heard of SJT, I suggested that many people are content with the status quo.
EDIT: By the way, I recommend checking out the entire series on this (currently 6 parts - don't know if there will be more); unfortunately, the author is not linking to the new posts from the original, so it'll take some work finding them.
Let's face it, most people will show content with the status quo. The status quo brings with it predictability. When things stay the same, you know tomorrow (that's a metaphor for the future, not the literal tomorrow) will be pretty much the same as today. You know how to prepare for tomorrow, because you've already done so numerous times already. Change, however, can be challenging. When you don't know what tomorrow will bring, how do you prepare for tomorrow?
SJT agrees with this premise. According to Wikipedia:
System justification theory (SJT) is a scientific theory within social psychology that proposes people have a motivation to defend and bolster the status quo, that is, to see it as good, legitimate, and desirable.

   Essentially the theory states that people have three interests for which they desire to hold favorable views: self, group, and system. More importantly, and more relevant to this topic, the theory addresses how people behave when their favorable views are threatened. (A threat is basically anything that suggests that the person's favorable view is incorrect.) According to the theory, people reach for stereotypes to help keep their views favorable. Additionally, people in the privileged group are likely to believe negative stereotypes of the underprivileged groups while the underprivileged groups are likely to believe positive stereotypes of the privileged group.

   In regards to OWS and more specifically to the differences between rich and poor, the rich will tend to believe stereotypes like "The poor are poor because they are lazy" while the poor will tend to believe stereotypes like "Rich people earned their money because they are smart and/or hard workers." Note that the poor won't necessarily buy into the stereotype that they are lazy. This is because they still desire to have a favorable view of themselves. So they instead buy into a positive stereotype about rich people. Or, interestingly, they will throw their group under the bus. (My guess is that out of the three views, the "group" view is actually the least important.) This can be seen on the "We are the 53%" tumblr, where people, many of whom are probably part of the 47% (in reference to those who did not pay federal income taxes in recent years) at some point of their lives, are posting messages suggesting that the Occupiers should STFU (shut the fuck up). They seem to be doing two things: 1. Playing on the stereotype of poor people being lazy by stating that they are hard workers and 2. Implying that they do not consider themselves poor (some say they make "good money"). Or, maybe they consider themselves part of the responsible poor, so they are actually dividing the group, throwing who they consider to be the rotten apples of the bunch under the bus, so they can keep their overall favorable view of the group? (As this theory is relatively new to me, I still have kinks in my understanding to work out.)

   This idea of throwing the group under the bus is important to understanding part 3 of this series. There, I backed up criticism of a woman with a "Not..." sign. This woman is in some bizarre state where she is distancing herself from the groups advocating for change, yet is out advocating for change. A possible explanation can be found in some of the discussion about this woman on various blogs. There is the suggestion that as soon as this woman and likewise the middle class get what they want, they'll abandon the movement and leave the hippies, freaks, the poor, etc. to fight for themselves. Unfortunately, with how this woman has distanced herself from those groups, that is probably a correct assumption.

   In regards to part 1 (and even part 2) of the series, the theory explains the misuse of the word "radical." Those who use the word in a demeaning way are going to be those who don't want change and this is their way to exclude those advocating for change from the group.

   In light of this, I got one thing slightly wrong in part 1. There I suggested that in addition to avoiding change, people might use the word in a demeaning way to make themselves feel superior. I treated these ways to use the word as though they could be independent of each other. In other words, one person may use the word in a demeaning way to justify the system and to avoid getting involved in advocating for change, but not necessarily to make themselves feel superior. Or, they could use the word to feel superior, without really caring if things change or not. But, based on my understanding of SJT, they are actually independent. People will most likely use the word in a demeaning way to both discourage change and make themselves feel superior (or rather to split the group).

   As discouraging as it is to be outcast from the group, if you are pushing for change, stay strong. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the motivations behind the name-calling. Realize that you are actually the courageous and/or altruistic one, while they are either the timid ones too afraid to rock the boat (when coming from the underprivileged group) or they are selfish (when coming from the privileged group).

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