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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/23/19

The Just-World Fallacy: Why People Bash Assange and Defend Power

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I write a lot about how important it is for political dissidents to research and understand cognitive biases, the large number of well-documented logical glitches in the way human brains process information. I do this because the science of modern propaganda has been in research and development for more than a century, so if public domain psychology is aware of these glitches we can be absolutely certain that the propagandists are as well, and that they are exploiting those glitches currently.

If you don't cultivate a healthy respect for just how advanced modern propaganda has become, you won't be able to understand what the propagandists are doing when observing the behaviors of the political/media class, and you'll almost certainly wind up being fooled by the propaganda machine in various ways yourself.

The fact that people think of themselves as rational creatures, but in reality have many large cognitive vulnerabilities that can and will be exploited to cause them to interpret data in an irrational way, is not some amusing-yet-inconsequential bit of trivia. It's an absolutely crucial piece of the puzzle in understanding why the world is as messed up as it is, and in figuring out how to fix it. The immense political consequences of this reality extend into every facet of civilization.

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For example, have you ever wondered why ordinary people you know in real life often harbor highly negative opinions about Julian Assange, seemingly to no benefit for themselves, even while he's being viciously persecuted for his truthful publications by some of the most corrupt political forces on the planet? You've probably correctly concluded that it's because they're propagandized, but have you ever wondered why that propaganda works? Even on some of the more intelligent people you know?

The reason is partly because of a glitch in human cognition known as the just-world hypothesis or just-world fallacy, which causes us to assume that if bad things are happening to someone, it's because that person deserves it. Blaming the victim is more psychologically comfortable than seeing that we live in an unjust world where we could very easily become victim ourselves someday, and we select for that comfort over rational analysis.

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In the early 1960s a social psychologist named Melvin Lerner discovered that test subjects had a curious tendency to assign blame for an unfortunate event to the victim -- even when said event couldn't logically have been their fault -- and to assign positive attributes to people who received good fortune -- even if their fortune was due solely to random chance. Lerner theorized that people have an unconscious need to organize their perceptions under the fallacious premise that the world is basically just, where good things tend to happen to good people and bad things tend to happen to bad people. Nothing in a rational analysis of our world tells us that this assumption is in any way true, but tests by Lerner and subsequent social psychologists have backed up his theory that most of us tend to interpret events through the lens of this irrational assumption anyway.

Like other cognitive biases, this one fundamentally boils down to our annoying psychological tendency to select for cognitive ease over cognitive discomfort. It feels more psychologically comfortable to interpret new information in a way that confirms our preexisting opinions, so we get confirmation bias. It feels psychologically comfortable to assume something is true after hearing it repeated many times, so we get the illusory-truth effect. It feels more psychologically comfortable to believe we live in a fair world where people get what they deserve than to believe we're in a chaotic world where many of the most materially prosperous people are also the most depraved and sociopathic, and that we could be next in line to be victimized by them, so we get the just-world fallacy.

Neera Tanden✔ @neeratanden

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Caitlin Johnstone is a brave journalist, political junkie, relentless feminist, champion of the 99 percent. And a powerful counter-propaganda tactician. Rogue journalist, poet, illustrator, utopia prepper, and proudly 100 percent reader-funded through Patreon (more...)
 

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8 people are discussing this page, with 13 comments


Daniel Geery

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Question everything. Deeply, intensly, rigorously, and non-stop. Trust your instincts when necessary, read widely, connect what dots you can, know your sources as well as you can--and don't be too surprised when you get fooled yet again!

Still eagerly awaiting an app that tracks internet articles to their first appearance, with more info on the primary source.

It appears to me that the vast majority of "political questions" come down to "T" or "F." Or else, "Does 2 + 2 = 4?"

Submitted on Tuesday, Jul 23, 2019 at 4:42:18 PM

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molly cruz

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Boy! Caitlin don't f*ck around!

Here's a connection I instantly drew, which has to do with what I perceived to be a misunderstanding of Karma, and phrases like "what goes around etc." that there is some justice involved, when in fact it's simply a matter of Consequences, the results of an act, without any judgment implied.

A novice at a local Buddhist collective was talking to a crowd about Karma, and when somebody in the audience asked about the holocaust, she cracked, "Well they must have done something to deserve it." at which remark a firestorm broke out in my mind. How smooth, how dismissive, and how off point! Well, she wasn't a Lama or anything, but suddenly simple Consequences became an issue, as I tried to sort out significant events from trivial occurrences. We know any act by its results.

Chelsea Manning is the one who has some 'splainin' to do, in the "My country, right or wrong" department, if anyone does. And somebody does. He/she was in the position of trusted handler of secret information, and defied his/her own country by outing it. Besides the cold hearted rubbing out of some innocent people, I'm not sure what else was published that basically humiliated the war mongers, and they do not like being humiliated; but as publisher it appears Assange was simply carrying out his mission. Truth has nothing to do with it. Why has Australia not come to his defense?


Since childhood, when the phrase "under God" was injected into our Pledge, the word Patriotism has made me a little ill.

I think of us as remarkable Earthlings, hired by Ma to stop large rocks from wiping out Her garden of marvels, so long in existence, so loved, and the basic struggle being between us and any God, if the Universe be His doing, as it's fraught with peril for this tiny planet. "Life without End, Amen" should be our only creed, and finding another "Mansion in my father's House" our only mission, because that Ol' Sun ain't going to last forever.

To accomplish these essential feats, we had to contend and defeat one another, however little sense it meant, and create weapons of Mass Destruction to do so. That was Her Ruse. Now that we've got them, we need to call off the dogs and get with our default agenda. This is proving difficult. Like the race horse who goes on after the finish line to cool down, we have to swear off violence at a pace that seems wicked slow.

The warriors are still breeding, the wind is still hot.

We're still training our children to love 'action' figures. In the end, it's all Ma's fault. And we are reaping the Karma, or more accurately, the Consequences, of Love.




Submitted on Tuesday, Jul 23, 2019 at 5:07:06 PM

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That's one of the flaws I see in Buddhism, though I love that religion. The concept of karma was meant for inner reflection on how to increase happiness in the here and now, but it is a cinch for the unscrupulous to abuse. One lady I know, daughter of a rich family, will point out that everything that goes wrong for you is a sign of impurity. Her obesity and hepatitis C? Those don't count. She gathered a group of very weak people around her looking for strong leadership and reassurance that by following her they'd be safe. She treated them as slaves.

Her family home used to be 12 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant until it got swept away. No one I know really had any sympathy. She still hasn't changed.

Submitted on Saturday, Jul 27, 2019 at 12:02:24 PM

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Old Codger

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I find it difficult to express any sympathies for Assange. He created his own hell on earth when he sought assylum before any actual criminal charges were proffered. By seeking assylum that early in the game, he effectively gave the US the finger and dared the government to do anything. He may have very well had some wiggle room up to that point. The longer that he stayed hold up in the Embassy made the US even more determined to make him "suffer". Calling Assange a publisher is a bit of a misnomer I fear. He made no effort to vet his information or his sources. He obtained information that was obtained by other people's illegal actions and made that information available with out regards to its accuracy or considering the ramifications of his actions other than his beliefs that the US had acted improperly. Assange could do a hell of a lot more good for himself and the journalism profession if he would let his case go to trial so that case law could be developed and precedents could be established. Without the case law and precedents being established he is doing everything in vain. He, and all of his supporters need to come up with a good plan for accomplishing something worth while. He has thrown down the gauntlet and is now basically in a game that he can't possibly win anything.

Submitted on Tuesday, Jul 23, 2019 at 6:33:04 PM

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You must lead a pretty sheltered and isolated life.

There's just too much ignorance in that over-stuffed paragraph to even bother parsing it.

Submitted on Tuesday, Jul 23, 2019 at 10:04:11 PM

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DA, I concur your response.

Submitted on Wednesday, Jul 24, 2019 at 12:35:00 AM

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I certainly didn't expect to find any agreement in this forum. We all seem to perceive things differently which can be a good thing under normal circumstances. I am surprised that there aren't more cries supporting Manning and efforts to help him gain his freedom.



Hate to say it, (not really though) that there is little hope for Assange at this point. To try to blame Trump for any misfortunes that may befall Assange from this point forward, will be a wasted effort. Most Americans are not supporting Assange, and are unlikely to, just as they didn't rush to the defense of Manning.

Submitted on Wednesday, Jul 24, 2019 at 2:31:08 PM

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In other words, you spout incorrect details and utter nonsense, in order to say people won't agree with you. I get it.

Submitted on Wednesday, Jul 24, 2019 at 4:16:31 PM

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Encore, cela va sans dire, DA.

Submitted on Wednesday, Jul 24, 2019 at 5:48:02 PM

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Good one.

Submitted on Wednesday, Jul 24, 2019 at 7:21:33 PM

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Assange's "crime" was telling the truth 100%. There is no way the US can ever have that! (sarcasm)

Submitted on Wednesday, Jul 24, 2019 at 6:16:36 PM

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I swear, the majority of Americans don't appear to even know what truth is, and are sadly lacking any knowledge of their own laws. It's a wealth-seeking psychopath's dream.

Submitted on Wednesday, Jul 24, 2019 at 9:07:34 PM

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Since that whole conflict was based on vicious lies, and at the time the liars were still in control, it was hard to imagine Assange would get a fair shake. I suspect he being in the position he was may have had information about that which dictated his moves. Even in our own 'camp', at the time, an american operative under cover was outed by Cheney and Co. when she thwarted the "yellow cake-Niger' story, a tale invented to beef up the 'WMD's ' story festering in the press. One would have to have more faith than I do in our department of Justice, that at the time there was enough real information, lacking today's lightning fast communication and devious web, to exonerate anyone who challenged the received wisdom that propelled us into that lingering awful situation.

Assange represented the Angel of Truth, and struck terror into the place where hearts should be of all those scumbags whose fortunes and careers were pasted on that event one could hardly even call a war. Vanity is at the heart of this and all wars, garbed in pointless phrases like "Patriotism" , spangling itself in medals of merit, all hopefully washed away in the tide of time and temperance, when we admit that we're simians on a wonky sphere with problems of its own, in a pinball machine we call the Universe that seems hellbent on our destruction. All this nonsense of heroes and villains and justice and insanity is a primer for a battle against the only enemy we ever really had; a witless, furious ball of fire with our name on it, which turns out to be for lack of a better word, God.

Submitted on Saturday, Jul 27, 2019 at 3:30:07 PM

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