‘Three Strikes’ emanates from a fear and loathing mentality

The Editor,  The Dominion Post,  Wellington

12 June, 2018

Dear Editor:

The ‘three strikes’ law is no-brainer, really. In the USA it has failed miserably to do anything more than enhance the prison building and management industry.  Read the rest of this entry »


David Slack’s “eve of disruption” a good look at the Post Truth Era

The Editor,  The Sunday Star-Times,  Auckland

03 June, 2018

Dear Editor:

David Slack (‘eve of disruption’, 20 May) leads us on a merry jog around our world of denial beginning with anecdotes of past ways of doing things in NZ that seemingly would never change – pubs disappearing and springing up; housing rentals by the day; railways workshop closing. But he also does well to get around to today’s global climate change denial.  Read the rest of this entry »

Mathias Sager reprint – Why people justify social systems that disadvantage them

This analysis doesn’t seem to take into account the Post Truth Era that has become main stream.  But it is probably mostly there, just needs to be expanded.  This is very important and especially difficult for analysts, activists, and academics, especially on the left.  Seeing that the psychology of the individual is not enough to explain the phenomenon of Post Truth should lead us to see that different and perhaps unexpected influences arise from our culture and cultural history.


Why People Justify Social Systems That Disadvantage Them


The paradox of the disadvantaged justifying authoritarian systems

It can seem paradoxical that people often justify the existing social system even when this comes at personal and collective costs [1]. System Justification Theory (SJT) provides a framework to understand what the motives and contexts behind this phenomenon are [2]. SJT posits that an underlying ideology is motivating the justification of social order in a way that contributes to the often-unconscious belief of inferiority most strongly among individuals of underprivileged groups [3]. It is not just passivity that gives way to the dominance of political elites [4]. Psychological and ideological processes related to resistance to change imply that albeit possible, change is often difficult [5]. Change is especially difficult if there is an ideological system in place that pronounces an authoritarian culture of inequality that, according to SJT, tends to reinforce itself as a ‘culture of justification’ [6]. The association of a nation with God further strengthens people’s confidence to justify the system [7].

Exposure to threat causes conservative shift

The political notion of discussion is persuasion [8] and SJT can be used to influence voters’ viewpoints. Studies found that people who were exposed to thoughts related to death became more supportive of conservative perspectives [9]. Exposure to threat, e.g. in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, indicated a possible shift towards increased approval rates for President George W. Bush [10]. Protests, from a socio-psychological perspective, are triggered by perceived injustice and related anger, social identification, and the faith in collective action. However, existential and relational needs for security can undermine these change antecedents [11]. Following this logic, employees, for example, show an enhanced tendency to deny flaws at their workplace especially in times of scarce labor markets [12].

System justification impedes critical consciousness

Although it is a myth that Western Societies are characterized by equality of opportunity, studies found that a majority’s belief in equality helps to justify a meritocratic ideology, i.e., that it is, given we all start with the same possibilities, fair that individual differences are rewarded. The motive to legitimize economic inequality is further blocking critical thinking capacities with severe consequences for the economic and psychological well-being of marginalized persons [13]. System threat defense mechanisms related to SJT, such as victim blaming, stereotyping, and inequality legitimization, can help reduce emotional anguish. However, the victims of a justified crisis often have to pay a high price for it [14]; a price that may be higher in the long-term than the price of protest to achieve positive change.

The role of psychologists in policymaking

It is essential to understand individuals’ view of the salience and scope of systems as they might be system justifiers of varying degrees related to different systems [1]. Also, one must be aware of how ideologies are advocated and reinforced, e.g., through political and societal structures. Psychologists should work in interdisciplinary teams together with policymakers to remove change-averse infrastructure and untrap citizens from the psychological barrier of system justification [15].

Should system justification be used by organizational leaders to evoke desirable behavior?

First, according to different missions of organizations (e.g., to generate profit, or to grow a movement, etc.), desirable behavior might differ too. Second, I think, even if the behavior of the employees is desirable, a responsible leader should be concerned about how this behavior is created. As system justification is a mostly unconscious and automatic psychological response to threat [1], it might not be the best basis to maintain desirable behavior sustainably. It may also be difficult to evaluate whether the lack of awareness is protective of the employees’ well-being or whether there are possible indirect taxes to consider. Rationalizing away inequalities to defense the status quo may seem to support fearful individuals [16]. However, being in control in one area may hinder progress in other areas. For example, studies found that women retaining power in their traditional household role prevented them from claiming more equality at the workplace [17]. Possibly not the best outcome for the women and the organization as workforce diversity may be useful for the innovation capacity of organizations in many cases [18]. As system justification works based on personal fear and lack of self-esteem, it is, for example, causing narcissistic personalities to justify hierarchy in the case they believe to benefit from it personally, i.e., having the chance to rise to the top [19]. I could often observe adverse outcomes related to selfish reasons and hidden agendas. Therefore, in summary, I would foster desirable behavior through increasing awareness and reward informed and transparent efforts towards desired outcomes.


[1] Ido, L. )., & Jost, J. ). (2011). Special issue: System justification theory motivated social cognition in the service of the status quo. Social Cognition, 29(3), 231-237. doi:10.1521/soco.2011.29.3.231

[2] Blasi, G., & Jost, J. T. (2006). System Justification Theory and Research: Implications for Law, Legal Advocacy, and Social Justice. California Law Review, 94(4), 1119-1168.

[3] Jost, John T., a., Mahzarin R. Banaji, a., & Brian A. Nosek, a. (2004). A Decade of System Justification Theory: Accumulated Evidence of Conscious and Unconscious Bolstering of the Status Quo. Political Psychology, (6), 881.

[4] Van der Toorn, J., & Jost, J. (2014). Twenty years of system justification theory: Introduction to the special issue on ?Ideology and system justification processes?. GROUP PROCESSES AND INTERGROUP RELATIONS, (4). 413.

[5] Stanley, M. L., Dougherty, A. M., Yang, B. W., Henne, P., & De Brigard, F. (2017). Reasons Probably Won’t Change Your Mind: The Role of Reasons in Revising Moral Decisions. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General, doi:10.1037/xge0000368

[6] Mashele, R. (2015). Traditional Leadership and Democratic Governance: Using Leadership Theories to Calibrate Administrative Compatibility. Acta Universitatis Danubius: Administratio, Vol 7, Iss 2, Pp 27-36 (2015), (2), 27.

[7] Shepherd, S., Eibach, R. P., & Kay, A. C. (2017). ‘One Nation Under God’: The System-Justifying Function of Symbolically Aligning God and Government. Political Psychology, 38(5), 703-720. doi:10.1111/pops.12353

[8] Körösényi, A. (2005). Political Representation in Leader Democracy. Government & Opposition, 40(3), 358. doi:10.1111/j.1477-7053.2005.00155.x

[9] Zhu, L. )., Kay, A. )., & Eibach, R. ). (2013). A test of the flexible ideology hypothesis: System justification motives interact with ideological cueing to predict political judgments. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(4), 755-758. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2013.03.007

[10] Sterling, J., Jost, J. T., & Shrout, P. E. (2016). Mortality Salience, System Justification, and Candidate Evaluations in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election. Plos ONE, 11(3), 1-21. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150556

[11] Jost, J. T., Becker, J., & Osborne, D. (2017). Missing in (Collective) Action: Ideology, System Justification, and the Motivational Antecedents of Two Types of Protest Behavior. Current Directions In Psychological Science, 26(2), 99-108. doi:10.1177/0963721417690633

[12] Proudfoot, D., Kay, A. C., & Mann, H. (2015). Motivated employee blindness: The impact of labor market instability on judgment of organizational inefficiencies. Organizational Behavior And Human Decision Processes, 130108-122. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2015.06.008

[13] Godfrey, E. B., & Wolf, S. (2015). Developing Critical Consciousness or Justifying the System? A Qualitative Analysis of Attributions for Poverty and Wealth Among Low-Income Racial/Ethnic Minority and Immigrant Women. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 22(1), 93-103.

[14] Napier, J. L., Mandisodza, A. N., Andersen, S. M., & Jost, J. T. (2006). System Justification in Responding to the Poor and Displaced in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Analyses Of Social Issues & Public Policy, 6(1), 57-73. doi:10.1111/j.1530-2415.2006.00102.x

[15] Gifford, R. (2011). The Dragons of Inaction: Psychological Barriers That Limit Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation. American Psychologist, 66(4), 290-302.

[16] Schlenker, B. R., Chambers, J. R., & Le, B. M. (2012). Conservatives are happier than liberals, but why? Political ideology, personality, and life satisfaction. Journal Of Research In Personality, 46(2), 127-146. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2011.12.009

[17] Williams, M. J., & Chen, S. (2014). When “mom’s the boss”: Control over domestic decision making reduces women’s interest in workplace power. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 17(4), 436-452.

[18] Mamman, A., Kamoche, K., & Bakuwa, R. (2012). Diversity, organizational commitment and organizational citizenship behavior: An organizing framework. Human Resource Management Review, 22(4), 285-302.

[19] Zitek, E. M., & Jordan, A. H. (2016). Narcissism predicts support for hierarchy (at least when narcissists think they can rise to the top). Social Psychological And Personality Science, 7(7), 707-716. doi:10.1177/1948550616649241

Read the rest of this entry »

Reminder that the Right in USA insists on unconditional support for Israel in order to be an ‘ally’.

The Editor,  The Dominion Post,  Wellington

3 June, 2018

Dear Editor:

Foreign Affairs has been quietly, but consistently reminded over the last decade that focusing on increasing trade with China and at the same time working closely with the US military in the Southwest Pacific, and especially with Five Eyes, which are more directly challenging China these days, was likely to create a few tight situations which they would have to try to maneuver through.

But was it expected that this latest criticism from the right wing Trump administration calling NZ the soft underbelly of Five Eyes and accusing NZ of having direct ties with ‘Communists” would reach the headlines?

What has brought this on, I expect, is not really a direct concern with the Chinese in NZ, but rather the recent UN votes where PM Ardern failed to unconditionally support Israel for mass killings of peaceful protesters in Gaza. There is nothing more fundamental to the US right’s ideology than total support for Israel and they will not accept anything else from anyone who wants to be an ‘ally’.

Richard Keller

Bio of my father, Paul Keller; at request of the Prospect, Ohio Alumni Banquet in 2018

Paul Keller Bio

Paul (born May 30, 1908), along with older sister Esther, and brothers Claire and Charles, grew up in a Methodist minister’s family (Wesley Martin Keller and Cara Mae Ramey) which in those days meant being moved around to a different parish every two or three years.   I think Paul was born in Fostoria, and I remember him mentioning Georgetown, Ohio as well but don’t know other stops before Prospect.  It can be hard on a youngster moving around so much, so years later the Methodist Church modified this process. Perhaps for the boys, their frequent moving was a factor in them wanting to stay in Prospect after high school.  Esther moved away, tried New York as a singer, but soon came back and eventually settled into the music program of the Cleveland City Schools. Read the rest of this entry »

Labour was ‘transformative’ in 1984, but won’t be in the Post Truth Era

The Editor,  The Listener,  Auckland

22 May, 2018

Dear Editor:

The Labour government’s insistence on following a National type ‘fiscal straitjacket’, as it has been rightly called, belies its claim that it will be a transformative government. Read the rest of this entry »

Iran nuclear deal – nuclear weapon states must not be calling Iran a ‘terrorist nation’

The Editor, The Sunday Star-Times, Auckland

14 May, 2018

Dear Editor:

The hypocrisy of the USA and Israel is staggering in their attitude toward the Iran nuclear deal. To singularly use language like ‘terrorist nation’ covers up fundamental nuclear weapon realities. Read the rest of this entry »