Jan 27, 2013

Unjust World

The following is not my original but from commentary that has altered my perspective:
Unjust World: Commentary from skim172 Cracked.com user.

Here's the thing: it's called "just world bias." It's the general expectation that life and the world is just and fair - things are balanced and everything will work out. "Karma", or rather the popular modern misapplication of the Buddhist idea of karma, reflects this notion, 'The good that I do will return to me." Some people actively believe and promote it, some pick it up subconsciously over their lifetime. It's a fairly pervasive idea in modern culture.

It's a positive idea - it encourages people to be kind and good and nice. Unfortunately, believing in a just world can lead to a negative logic. "Good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people" can easily become, "Bad things only happen to bad people." It leads to a general range of notions that link misfortune with fault.

Basically, if something bad happens to someone, it's because they did something wrong.

A lot of things can fall under this kind of thinking. Victim-blaming, for example - when the victim of the crime becomes the target of criticism. I get mugged - "Well, you shouldn't have been walking in that neighborhood." A city gets destroyed by an earthquake - "They really should've planned for that kind of emergency." Some bystander gets shot in a drive-by - "I hear they're all gangsters and druggies anyway."

And it's very common when it comes to money. House foreclosure? You should've planned better. Low salary? Maybe you should've gone to college. Got fired? Should've worked harder. Lost your money in the market? Shouldn't gamble with your money like that. Didn't make money in the market? You should learn to take more risks. Can't feed your family? Shouldn't have so many kids.

It's easy to see why this is an attractive worldview. It means, first off, that bad stuff won't happen to you so long as you do the right things. All consequences are foreseeable and preventable. You won't get robbed if you do this, this, and this. And you can ensure you'll never undergo financial hardship if this, this, and this happens. It's quite a weight off your mind.

It also validates a lack of sympathy or sadness or care. Not that people want to be cruel - people just don't want to feel bad, which is completely normal. Looking at a homeless man freezing in the cold - that makes you feel bad. If you can tell yourself, "He's like that because he did something to deserve it" (drugs, alcohol, lazy, psycho, unintelligent, criminal, bad with money, lesser-evolved, naturally selected to die) or "it's not really that bad" (because he's cared for by the government; because he's not actually homeless, he's just pretending for money; because people like that can't live any other way; because without possessions, he's freed from the burdens of society and is in fact the happiest man in the world), then you won't need to feel bad for the guy.

And this worldview also removes uncertainty from life. You can be certain about what causes tragedy. Because all consequences are controllable.

Basically, it comes from an idea that the world, universe, cosmos, whatever is essentially fair, equal, and just. Sometimes, it's religious (Do unto others), sometimes, it's philosophical (all aspects of nature are in balance), sometimes, it's ideological (Communism), and sometimes, it's nationalism (Other countries are unfair, but in America, everyone can succeed).

And it's not just economic conservatives who hold this worldview, either. Welfare-minded liberals often hold the same view, just slightly altered. Conservatives might say, "Poor people had opportunity and wasted it." Liberals say, "Poor people had opportunity, but it was taken away from them, by evil corrupt villains. If we eliminate the villains, we can restore the world to its rightful condition." Or "They never had the opportunity - if we gave all people the same opportunity, all would succeed." Liberals believe that with welfare, we can make a fair and just world. Conservatives believe we already live in a fair and just world and welfare will only throw it out-of-balance.

Personally, I don't believe the world is just. And I don't think it can be. I believe the economy is a zero-sum game - when someone gains, another will lose. I don't believe in the neoclassical economy of infinite growth. All growth results in expense, whether that expense is displaced in space, value, or time. That is the world I believe in.

So, I support welfare, but not on political grounds - I just don't want people to starve or suffer. Since I neither believe the world is fair or that it can be fair, I have no concerns about creating or maintaining a fair, just world. So my only concern is compassion.

That's why I think "just world bias" is a major problem - it short-circuits compassion with validation. It makes reasons why it's okay that someone else is in pain. Someone else is suffering - let's get them not to suffer. That's really it for me.

Of course, there are larger considerations, always - maybe my action here will cause more suffering elsewhere and of course, those always need to be calculated. But the first priority in those calculations should be stopping human suffering - a hopeless, impossible goal in an unfair world, but I'd rather have less than more of it.

It's not wrong to be rich, wealthy, successful, whatever. It is wrong not to care. It is wrong to create reasons not to care. And it is wrong to pursue wealth at the expense of not caring.

Read more: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-things-rich-people-need-to-stop-saying/#ixzz2JDF3ALnE