Tag Archives: system justification theory

Colorblind (But Not Really)

19 Apr

Aunt Vivian: Gee, when Janice described him she didn’t mention that he was…tall. Not that I have a problem with people who are…tall.
Uncle Lester: My cousin used to date a girl who was…tall.
Uncle Phil: Heck, the boy go to a predominantly…tall school.
Will: Now, am I alone on this or didn’t y’all notice he was white?

~ Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Episode #2.6, Guess Who’s Coming to Marry)

In a short article in the February/March 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind, Siri Carpenter discusses two studies done by psychologists at Tufts and Harvard indicating that people who avoid mentioning race may actually appear more prejudiced. In the experiment, one white participant was paired up with one black participant, and they were each given the same set of photographs of random people. The black participant would choose a photograph, and the white participant had to figure out as quickly as possible which photograph his/her partner had chosen by asking him/her questions about each one in succession. The study was designed so that the matching process would go much faster if the white participant asked about the race of the person in the photograph. Significantly, the study found that the “intrepid few” who asked about race were deemed less prejudiced by black observers than the vast majority of white participants who didn’t mention race at all.

If that finding is accurate and generally applicable, then we as a society have totally f***ed up in making it a taboo to mention someone’s race. We have conflated defining someone by their race with simply acknowledging their race.

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Everyone is the Hero of Their Own Story

19 Feb

Everyone is the hero of their own story, even if they don't actually wear a cape and tights.

It is a generally accepted proposition that reasonable people can disagree. At the same time, when we disagree with someone, we usually think that they are wrong. How on earth does that work? That is, how can we reconcile our belief that someone may be just as reasonable as we are, but wrong whenever he or she disagrees with us? Does it require us to have some implicit notion of infallibility? Or the conviction that the other person is usually reasonable, but in this case is just being crazy?

In my earlier post on system justification theory, I mentioned how people have a psychological need to think well of themselves and the people they associate with, what psychologists call ego justification and group justification, respectively. I also talked about how this can lead to cognitive dissonance when our beliefs diverge from our experience. But when it comes to beliefs about beliefs, we seem to lack any kind of reality check, so to speak, as long as we can find a sufficient number of people who agree with us. In other words, if I believe abortion is wrong, there is no thing in the real world that I can point to, as an empirical matter, to either confirm or deny my belief. Ethics just doesn’t work that way.

More on why I’m always right, after the jump. Continue reading

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