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

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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 »

Submission to Tax Inquiry

What is the future of Tax?

The world is changing. The Post Truth Era is main stream here in New Zealand and around the civilized world.  Forty years ago there was a rising understanding that human cultures were destroying the ‘environment’ (‘ecosystem’ is a new and better word).  It became understood that human culture must recognize that it was part of the ecosystem, not separate and superior to it.  The changes required to reconnect with the planet also came to be seen as fundamental and terrifying.  Those four decades have been dedicated to trying to ignore that.  In fact, those who’s ideology was that human’s proper role was domination realized this was their last chance.   Those persons or constructs (e.g. corporation) most capable of accumulating vast wealth would be encouraged and inequality would be increased.  Neoliberalism became the preferred system to accomplish that and its tax workings need to be examined in that light.  Piketty more recently did the analysis of what was actually happening.

We must be careful about comparisons with other countries. There is disconnect widely across the globe about human culture’s place in the planetary ecosystem.  Tax systems must be seen in a new light.  Money systems must be seen is a new light.  It seems incredible to me that such a fundamental thing as money creation is left to large private profit making organizations (banks).   Money should be kept as a medium of exchange and not be something that can be owned, traded, and rented (interest).

Tax then needs to focus on controlling impulses to accumulate and dominate and on encouraging health of the ecosphere.


What is the Purpose of Tax?

As wealth has been used to further the ideology of dominance (planetary ecosystem, class in human relationships, etc) and increased inequality, wealth must be a strong focus of tax. (Capital gain could be a part of that, focusing on difference from a norm which is based on balancing negative impacts and enhancing impacts on the planet.)

Tax cannot be separated from other aspects of human relationships, government, etc. Once those fundamental changes are accomplished then the tax environment will look different.


Can housing affordability be increased through tax?

Housing has become a primary means to increase inequality in New Zealand.   Progress will come from a change in attitude toward productive soils and land use as that reflects the most primary exploitative attitude.  (see previous comments)  More modest housing models could result. Fewer people would be desirable. The whole philosophy of exploitation in human relationships must be rejected and resulting changes in attitude toward money would take power from the profiteer approach of banks.

Wealth in the form of land ownership and assets needs to be taxed, especially idle housing properties. Capital gains tax would work in this context.


My most important ?

The phrase “protecting the environment” doesn’t really capture it. Living realistically and healthily within the ecosphere does it better.  See my earlier comments to see how this needs to be seen.  Many other impacts would flow on to the other priorities you mention here.

The approach to retirement is another crucial factor. Kiwi Saver has primarily been an attempt to discredit National Super while creating winners and losers through the ‘market’, thus increasing inequality.

Wealth in the form of shares is a way to use productive activities to produce wealth which is not productive and should be heavily taxed.

response to Howard Davis’ review of movie ‘Brazil’ (1985, Terry Gilliam)


I first saw this movie (Brazil, Terry Gilliam) soon after its release, making a good impression on me, but haven’t seen it since, so I was especially glad to have this opportunity from the Film Society. I only remembered one thing over the years about the movie and that was the gross (large scale) nature of the surveillance/bureaucratic infrastructure.  It must have been clear even in 1985 that miniaturisation (computerization) of those systems was on its way, but Gilliam’s approach seemed to be a means of warning society what was in store for it.

I would like to ask you about the use of shoppers, diners, and others going about their business in the face of terrorist bombs, intrusive and bizarre police raids, etc, apparently without noticing and definitely not acknowledging them. Is that any different from the attitude people have today?  By 1985 it was perfectly clear that an exploitative mentality toward the planet, colonization, sexism, racism, and the list of explicits can go on if you want, had passed its use by date, had become a destructive force, and was anachronistic.

Mainstream politics was in denial of this by the end of the 70s, desperately describing ‘killing the goose that laid the golden egg’. This led to the desperate growth of these destructive tendencies we’ve experienced, and now in the 21st century of climate change, when aggressive/defensive denial strategies are no longer possible, denial has reached the mainstream as the Post Truth Era.  Our daily consumerist lives are best understood by looking at the society depicted in the movie.


Our superior Jane has ‘still got it’ as the Mother Superior in ‘Nunsense’.

Hi Friends,

Yes, Jane has ‘still got it’ as the Mother Superior in a new locally produced Wing It production of the musical comedy, Nunsense.  Opening to great reviews Tuesday, the show goes until 10 February at the Gryphon Theatre on Ghuznee St.  (see link below to iTicket for times, dates, and tickets) Read the rest of this entry »

Response to Elizabeth Kolbert, psychologist, in her New Yorker article Feb, 2017.

“The Enigma of Reason,” “The Knowledge Illusion,” and “Denying to the Grave” were all written (Elizabeth Kolbert), before the November election. And yet they anticipate Kellyanne Conway and the rise of “alternative facts.” These days, it can feel as if the entire country has been given over to a vast psychological experiment being run either by no one or by Steve Bannon (emphais ed.). Rational agents would be able to think their way to a solution. But, on this matter, the literature is not reassuring. ♦

“This is how a community of knowledge (emphasis ed.) can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe.


My response to Ms Kolbert:

Do you not see that this thought takes your discussion dangerously close to sociology and culture and sliding away from psychology? (“vast psychological experiment”)               It sounds like you do but how is the ‘academic psychology community’ taking this?

Submission to Let’s Get Wellington Moving

These paragraphs were used in creating my submission (on their form) to the Let’s Get Wellington Moving project.

Scenario A is the place to start and finish. Getting people onto public transport is the top priority.  Providing better public transport must happen.  Light Rail would be the centre of those improvements.   This should be referred to as “Scenario A+”. Read the rest of this entry »