Assuming justice and creating justice

Written By: - Date published: 10:00 am, March 23rd, 2014 - 35 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, Left, Politics - Tags: , ,

I’ve been thinking about politics, assumptions, and justice.

I sat in on a recording of The Egonomist on Friday – thanks for having me there, guys! – and we discussed some of the issues and reactions to Sarah Wilson‘s articles on WINZ, specifically the backlash from people who insist that Sarah must be a liar, a bludger, or a lying bludger, because if you can blog, or go out with friends, you must be able to work.

Then I read this post by Chris Miller on the assumptions we tend to make about businessmen being good political leaders. Chris makes excellent points about why that’s clearly a silly assumption, but the post also brought together a lot of scattered thoughts I was having about our political narratives.

The technical term for it is a “just-world hypothesis“. It’s the idea that our universe is basically just. Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. If good things have happened to you, it must be because you’re a good person, and so on and so forth.

You can probably connect the dots yourself. People have attacked Sarah because the idea that she’s a good, hardworking person who’s been randomly struck by illness and then wilfully mistreated by our welfare system contradicts their assumption that the universe is just. And wealthy businesspeople must be good leaders, because they’ve managed to accrue a lot of material goods and influence, and that wouldn’t happen if they didn’t deserve it.

The idea extends to many area of our lives – the myth that ‘nice girls’ don’t get assaulted, or innocent people never get wrongfully executed – and every time, the just-world fallacy supports the status quo. It supports the mistreatment of beneficiaries, the influence of the wealthy, the patriarchy, and institutional racism. It supports the worldview of the right-wing and socially conservative.

We on the left know the world isn’t a just place. The people on the bottom aren’t worthless, and the people at the top aren’t inherently admirable. We don’t assume there’s justice: we want to create justice.

So let’s challenge this kind of thinking. Let’s say that workers deserve a living wage, and beneficiaries deserve to be treated with dignity, and kids who don’t do well at school deserve support, and families deserve a fair go to buy a home, or rent one that’s actually habitable.

These assumptions only survive because they’re repeated by our political leaders, in our media, at the pub, across the family dinner table. They’re accepted as common sense. But if we all stand up and say ‘no, that’s not right’ then slowly but surely we can turn that thinking around.

There’s definitely more practical things we need to do as well! But to create a lasting change in New Zealand society, we need to overturn the assumptions that support the status quo too.

35 comments on “Assuming justice and creating justice”

  1. aerobubble 1

    Increase health outcomes, increase wealth across society, increased in fresh clean air, water, land, cities, food, etc, social cohesion. Does not have any place in a deregulated (i.e. don’t measure, don’t standardize, don’t enforce or contain) world of profit addicted junkies. Politicians didn’t intentionally choose the course they have set themselves on, they are not that smart, they tapered and conformed to the demands of their times. Cheap high density oil gushers selected those politicians who could make the growth from the energy avalanche somehow their doing. The media rewarded those that said if they do less in government, took less interest in government, and took government out of the picture that somehow they were experts, geniuses, the gurus of their age. If they were successful in denuding government of its purpose (see above, for of by the people, for their benefit, etc) then they were played by the media as even greater politicians than ever, hero’s. In actual fact by flipping the measure on its head, that detail requires controversy, requires universities, communities, social groups, all to have opinions was flipped around and upside down, that now we must all believe in the one true god the free market, that our universities must deliver to the needs of the one true market, that unless every economic aspect of our lives (and then some) must be turned into a value point for monetization we will fail. The more we succeed the further we get away from the purpose of government, of democracy, of wealth for all. Its how dumb tories have become destructive geniuses by contorting the way we measure ourselves. The lockstep was there to see, with the arrival of Thatcher, many tried to tell us but we wanted the wealth and growth. Shame we weren’t allow to see how Thatcher had nothing to do with the wealth and growth that was about to be unleashed.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      Wall of Text crits you for over 9000, you die. 😈

      You make some good points but, damn, that’s hard to read. Please, try some basic formatting like paragraphs.

  2. Corokia 2

    +1 Stephanie. The world view you have described explains how so many, otherwise decent (I hope) people continue to support a government that mistreats those in society that get dealt a shit hand in the game of life. Right wingers that I have argued with online present their own escape from disadvantaged backgrounds as ‘proof’ that anyone can do it, therefore those still poor must be lazy. They ignore the role that luck, good health and state support played in their own success and condemn those less fortunate as bludgers.

    • aerobubble 2.1

      I just heard that dogs can smell cancer. So maybe lions and all predators have evolved a natural means to detected cancers and other malaise in their prey animals. Now as a member of social animal that could not survive on its own against predators, it was the practice to expel social animals that wouldn’t pull their weight, like those who won’t protect each other because anyone of us can succumb to illness. Now yeah, sure I get it, the weak, those who grew up in poverty, and make it, like to believe it was just them, that the society was not aiding and assisting them, that somehow they are better more adapted human beings for surviving their social jungle, and get off on the self vanity. In fact precisely because they have fallen for their own story they are unadapted, as they shrink from assisting others, lack generosity of spirit that raise them, and fail to pay forward their debt, they should be rejected and thrown out of boardrooms and parliament, off the telly, but instead are given even more bonuses and respect. Its got so bad that we are now letting them lead us over the cliff, on energy, on resources, on climate pollution, ocean pollution, its one global farce, one global spectacle where we keep hearing how they are so great and we should be so lucky to have them leading us, these children of Thatcher.

  3. McFlock 3

    Agreed – and the other problem is that when people say things we don’t want to hear, it’s easier to discount them by assuming that they are worse than us (that’s why I often try to avoid mentioning hippies – I recognise it as one of the topics on which I am a touch less restrained :)).

    So Sarah gets damned by the “Just World” hypothesis, and damned again by being the one who points out that we’re not providing enough or proper help to the unemployed and other people in need (the immediate assumption being “higher taxes”, and not many people like hearing that).

    I also suspect that a big barrier to “there, but for the grace of god, go I” concept for a lot of struggling NZers is that they’re already struggling, so even considering being worse off is unthinkable.

    • just saying 3.1

      It’s a pernicious cycle.
      1. More and more people are falling off the edge of the world (aka becoming marginalised and stigmatised) as numbers of unemployed, underemployed and very tenuously employed soar.
      2. At the same time the social wage in the form social security, health, education and social services is stripped back to a short term fix at best, and god help everyone else
      3. Therfore, more people are unable to extract themselves from the quicksand of not enough resources, help and support and fall into long-term poverty and despair.
      4. Which is terrifying for those who are still hanging-on and the analgesic on offer is hating on the victims. Which saps their energy for fighting the real causes and the possibility of winning back some security and self-respect. Of course the burgeoning police/surveillance state also stifles resistance

      The cycle gathers pace and power. I wonder how many times variations on this theme has played out across history

    • aerobubble 3.2

      The biggest barrier to unemployment is the ability to work, even for a few hours because of the regulation that stops those on a subsidized income gain any other income, and on businesses to pay for temporary staff. A negative income tax would save millions as WINZ shuts up shop, and all the manpower and other companies that parasite off society creating gates and gatekeepers who charge for ‘suitable’ correctly servile staff.

  4. Tracey 4

    couldnt agree more. i expect to keep hearing it from the greens and not from labour.

    phil twyford is trying with his bill but…

    • srylands 4.1

      Green policies will make the plight of the “poor” MUCH worse. They are about impoverishing the country. Those at the top are more resilient. They can arrange their affairs to weather the storm of a stupid government. If it gets really bad they can leave. The poor can’t do that. The inflation, the higher prices from impeding free trade, the deadweight cost of regulation and taxation will all affect the poor.

      Eventually the Greens will be part of a Government but I suspect it will be 2023. That is what it will take to wither their soft support.

      Except of course for drunks.

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1

        Green policies will make the plight of the “poor” MUCH worse.

        No, they’ll make them better off. If we dumped capitalism entirely we could make ourselves far better off than even what the Greens policies will do.

        Those at the top are more resilient.

        Those at the top are the cause of the problems that we have.

        If it gets really bad they can leave.

        They keep promising that but they never do. Why do you think that is? I think it’s because they’re getting far too much subsidies from the rest of us and if they went elsewhere their total incompetence would be shown fairly rapidly and they know it.

        The inflation, the higher prices from impeding free trade, the deadweight cost of regulation and taxation will all affect the poor.

        Free-trade is just a race to the bottom that results in more poverty, Regulation decreases costs and taxes are a highly efficient form of payment for services rendered. Profit is the only dead-weight loss in the economy.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1.2

        If the right wing are so resilient, how come they lost World War II?

      • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1.3

        Seriiusly just for a moment.

        S Rylands, thank you for illustrating Stephanie’s point about the “just world hypothesis”.

        Your blind hatred of the Greens clouds your thinking, but not as much as your ideology.

        • srylands 4.1.3.1

          I don’t have an ideology. I simply rely on the evidence of what works. What promotes prosperity and equity. And that certainly is not the policies of the Green Party. They will impoverish the country and especially hurt the poor and vulnerable. It is for that reason they should be opposed by all thinking people.

          • McFlock 4.1.3.1.1

            For someone without an ideology, that was a long string of statements of faith and rote catechism. With nothing in the area of “evidence”.

          • JanM 4.1.3.1.2

            Ok, srylands, in your own words, what exactly do these people you call ‘at the top’, actually do to promote prosperity, because as we are told it at the moment our viability as a country rests on cows and earthquakes. So apart from finding ways of hopping on those current gravy trains to their own advantage, what do they actually do?
            And yes, wouldn’t it be cool if they did leave the country. In many cases they fit rather nicely into Dorothy Parker’s observation that “you can tell what the Good Lord thinks of money by the people he gives it to”

          • Tracey 4.1.3.1.3

            If the current system works why is the gap between rich and poor growing, 50% of the workforce earning less than 22 bucks and hour, which indicates equity and prosperity is limited?

            Ohhhhh, to you THAT IS something working.

            I chuckle when people pretending to be evidence based have such an irrational fear of the greens.

          • vto 4.1.3.1.4

            srylands says this: ” I simply rely on the evidence of what works”

            Pike River exposed the fact that pricing everything, such as health & safety, and reducing regulation, such as health & safety, absolutely do not work. The 29 dead men at Pike River are the absolute evidence of everything that is wrong with the application of your religion srylands. Pike River proves the terrible weaknesses of neo-liberalism. Why do you refuse to recognise it?

            The GFC exposed the failings of unfettered free markets with gobsmacking clarity. Wake up syrlands.

            The electricity sector in NZ exposes the failure of free markets. Syrlands, why are power prices rising when there is static supply and reducing demand? Why? Do you ever bother to actually think?

            You preach a dogma and a religion. You need unthinking belief. You exhibit unthinking belief. You fly in the face of the evidence.

          • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1.3.1.5

            The evidence of what works, eh. Norwegian penal policy, for example. Or government regulation of market failure.

            Or anything that reduces the GINI.

            Nah, those are the wrong sort of examples, eh.

      • Stephanie Rodgers 4.1.4

        I think the way you’ve put quotation marks around the word poor tells us a lot about your own assumptions, which explains your very negative take on Green Party policy.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    Quoting Ha-Joon Chang, 23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism:

    Therefore, in the same way in which individuals create routines in their daily lives or chess games, companies operate with ‘productive routines’, which simplify their options and search paths. They build certain decision-making structures, formal rules and conventions that automatically restrict the range of possible avenues that they explore, even when the avenues thus excluded outright may have been more profitable.

    I believe that the same thing has happened to our government and that this formality and convention prevents the government from moving us towards a more just society as it prevents the so-called radical policies needed to do so.

    • Tracey 5.1

      yup. thats how srylands likes it. he can pretend he is thinking when in fact he just feeds hinself what he wants to hear to continue his delusion of superiority…

      does chang suggest ways to counter it? clearly not through voting?

      • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1

        does chang suggest ways to counter it?

        Not specifically. In the book he’s addressing what we’re told about capitalism and what actually happens. That quote is from Thing 16: We’re not smart enough to leave things to the market where he addresses the two basic facts: 1.) We’re not omniscient nor have infinite computing power and 2.) We’re not actually rational despite the underlying assumption of free-market economics. Because of these two facts we have a tendency to act on habit and that that can also be applied to businesses and, IMO, governments.

  6. One Anonymous Bloke 6

    Great post Stephanie. Especially the identification of the “just world hypothesis” behind so much right wing drivel. We need more tools to help illustrate reality’s liberal bias, and this looks like a good one.

  7. red blooded 7

    Thanks for a post that gets us to step back and think about underlying philosophies of life, Stephanie. This is a positive statement of the viewpoint that often gets those of us on the Left being labelled as “whingers”; seeing and seeking to redress social injustice is of course a positive thing to do, but people who are comfortable with the status quo don’t like challenge. It’s nicer to think that your success is a product of your personal skills and hard work than to acknowledge advantages that arise from social class, gender or other forms of social advantage.

    This is why the idea that Hekia Parata wants to fiddle about with school funding annoys me so much. Schools that serve the wealthy are already advantaged in so many ways (including their abilities to charge huge “donations” and fundraise in other ways); low decile schools quite simply need more in order to even try to fill the needs of their students and give them a boost. Sure, the system could be stronger (& schools could certainly do with more money) but that’s not the direction this government would be taking things… I shudder to think about what could be brewing, ready to be unleashed if Key Inc manage to smirk their way into a 3rd term.

  8. RedLogix 8

    Very thought provoking Stephanie. An excellent contribution ideal for Sunday contemplation.

    I’d suggest this could be read in parallel with Chris Trotter’s latest about the distinction between information and propaganda.

    Because digging a little deeper the next question is “what is justice”?

    This is not a simple thing because propaganda tells you what to think, it will strive to tell you what is right and wrong and thus preempt judgement. The other names we give this are prejudice and bigotry.

    By contrast information seeks to empower thought and reflection. The essence of justice is seeing with your own eyes, to know of your own knowledge and not that of others. Because while the principles of justice are a constant, every case, every situation is unique and thus any implementation of justice rests on understanding.

  9. Philj 9

    Xox
    Good post Stephanie. You highlight a glaring flaw in many RWNJ ‘s’ Claytons’ thinking, when you think you are when you are not (thinking). I’ve even heard people blame the ‘ greens’ for the dire state of the nation!
    The boiled frog comes to mind.

  10. tricledrown 10

    sspylands why did the National Party put green policies like home insulation marine reserves into place.
    Then building warm dry cheap housing for poor people yeah that’ll make em poor.
    Making New Zealand less reliant on imported fuel .
    5 eyed liar you are crosby textering.

  11. Philj 11

    Xox
    Previous Nats government took the regulations for home insulation out! Thanks National.

  12. karol 12

    Excellent post, Stephanie. Yes. We can attack politicians, parties and policies on the details and outcomes. But very often the difference between left and right wing views come down to underlying values – and these tend to be based in assumptions that, of themselves cannot be proven or disproven – they are matters of value. What can be shown objectively is whether we are consistent in applying those values, and wheterh the policies and measures we support are in keeping with those values.

    We all have such underlying values. Hence I favour being explicit about identifying such underlying values. I think anyone claiming to have no such underlying values but that they decide on political matters on a totally, value-free objective basis are either lying or kidding themselves. An extreme objectivist position, is in itself a value based in various assumptions – one which often tend to support the ruling classes and/or status quo.

    For me social and economic justice, and an inclusive society that works for all in a fairly equal way, are important basic values. And they lead to this as stated by Stephanie in the post.

    So let’s challenge this kind of thinking. Let’s say that workers deserve a living wage, and beneficiaries deserve to be treated with dignity, and kids who don’t do well at school deserve support, and families deserve a fair go to buy a home, or rent one that’s actually habitable.

    I support all that I would add, not just a living wage, but good jobs and decent working conditions. Plus sustainable and liveable communities, etc – the social conditions and arrangements that are important elements of people’s lives.

  13. Ad 13

    Just loved this post. Thankyou. Rare to find humane writing that is presumptious enough to name whole societal values.

    In the recent NZHerald interview with Sir Bob Harvey, he was asked what he thought of the Len Brown affair. He replied:
    “As a human being, all it showed was how small, mean racist and petty we all are as a country. New Zealand, because of its isolation, is brutal and cruel and unforgiving and unforgetting, if that’s a word.”

    Sad to find so few leaders prepared to name values out loud like that.

    Steph, I am sure there’s a broader idea in your post to keep developing into longer pieces.

    • RedLogix 13.1

      I didn’t see that original Bob Harvey interview – but my sentiments exactly. Thanks for quoting it.

      If there is one thing missing from NZ these days it’s a generosity of spirit. I’d guess that 30 years of neo-lib madness does that to a people.

    • Stephanie Rodgers 13.2

      I have a feeling it’s a theme that’s going to be very relevant this year!

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