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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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Message Caitlin Johnstone
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Julian Assange arrested
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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.

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.

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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