Friday, October 10, 2014

The Just World Hypothesis.

I was first exposed to the naming of this fairly common notion when I was in graduate school. I was sort of unpleasantly surprised to become aware that I had some leanings toward explaining happenings in the world to myself based on this perspective. Mostly because of the southern baptist explanations I was relentlessly exposed to throughout my early years.

According to the wikipedia article, the JWH (just world hypthoses) is: "... the cognitive bias (or assumption) that a person's actions always bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, so that all noble actions are eventually rewarded and all evil actions are eventually punished. In other words, the just-world hypothesis is the tendency to attribute consequences to—or expect consequences as the result of—a universal force that restores moral balance."

Ouch. That's a pretty tough approach to life. By the way, I simply insert "being" in place of the term "person" to make this view applicable to all of more simply mean any living sentient being by the term person.

There are some sad things associated with this viewpoint (victim blaming, wealth is deserved, poverty is deserved, etc). I have a difficult time looking at our harm to other Earthlings (as well as human Earthlings) as having anything to do with some form of a "just world". On the other hand, not viewing the behavior of living beings as havings some inherent justice places us in the position of living in a seriously spooky place where horrid things happen to undeserving victims and random awfulness occurs, often for no discernible rhyme or reason. Scary.

One study found that: "...people who have a strong tendency to believe in a just world also tend to be more religious, more authoritarian, more conservative, more likely to admire political leaders and existing social institutions, and more likely to have negative attitudes toward underprivileged groups. To a lesser but still significant degree, the believers in a just world tend to "feel less of a need to engage in activities to change society or to alleviate plight of social victims.""

Check out your own notions about whether the world is just (defined as actions bringing morally fair and fitting consequences) or not. Is being mugged or raped or victimized in some other way just? Is having a short life filed with misery and ending in pain and terror just (which is what happens to most "farmed" animals)?
A 'just world'?
Is there some karmic umpire calling fair or foul and enforcing consequences for all? In other words do bad things happen to good people (beings) and good things to bad people (beings)?

Existentialism is a term used to encompass a number of philosophical viewpoints about living a life. I probably attribute more validity to some of the notions associated with the Existentialists than any other particular grouping of ideas. A couple of viewpoints from this school of thinking seem quite potent.

One is the idea that we define ourselves by our actions and the other is the idea that living inauthentically (not in accordance with our genuine selves) is destructive and corrosive. There is no belief, in the existential approach, in a 'just world'. Indeed, something nearly the opposite is thought to be true...that life has no inherent meaning and the only meaning there is to life at all is that which we bring to it. In other words, we don't experience suffering because we're 'bad' nor do we experience happiness because we're 'good'.

Anyone interested in an easily understood expositon of some of these ideas might want to read a snazzy little book written by Sheldon Kopp titled: "If You Meet Buddha On The Road, Kill Him". His application of existential ideas to living had (and continues to have) lots of influence on my ways of thinking about and apprehending the world. At the end of this book you will encounter his Eschatological Laundry List which has lots of brief yet profound little gems in it. I like most all of them, for example number 15: No one is any stronger or any weaker than anyone else or number 29: Love is not enough, but it sure helps.

That first point...that we define ourselves by our actions...helps explain (for me anyway) why veganism is deceptively profound. It's genuinely not a "diet"'s a defining of that which is me. I choose to define myself by refraining from harm to those who are not harming me. To tell you the truth, I can't perceive any other way of living in this world without behaving like or being, quite simply (and admittedly crudely), an asshole. I know that's sort of harsh sounding...but I don't know how to dance around it or to finesse it. Deliberately hurting or harming those beings who aren't harming you is about as bad as it gets (in terms of living) far as I can see. And...I lived behaving like (being) an asshole for many many years...but (thankfully) I don't anymore.

Well...probably there are many (including, sometimes, my wife) who would say wait a minute...I know that guy and he can be as big a jerk (or asshole) as you could wish for. That's probably one can say I'm being an asshole of the type who deliberately hurts those who aren't trying to hurt's that? That's not how I behave now, hence that's how I'm defining myself (in existential parlance) now.

Veganism is a defining of ones way of is a step (a really really big one actually) toward bringing some justice (fairness) to what is my experience or perspective...a "just world". And remember...number 36: You can run, but you can't hide.


Christine said...

If only the “Just world” idea was true people may behave differently towards one another and the other species with which we share this world if they thought they would get some kind of Karmic payback. It often appears to be that those of us who endeavour to live the best life we can with regards to helping others, or at least not harming others, seem to get a raw deal from life. Hence the expression only the good die young and conversely the devil takes care of his own (I am using the term devil figuratively), for it seems so when you see how evil people seem to thieve.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Christine. I tend to think there is some sort of balancing in our interior lives...but trying to articulate that is way beyond the scope of this response. I will say that it's not my experience that harmful humans have joyous and richly interesting internal lives. Our external behavior tends to reflect the majority of our interior landscape and those who create unhappiness around them pretty much invariably have a miserable inner country. Nobody that I've ever seen who goes around routinely visiting pain on others goes home and sits around whistling a happy tune.

I agree, if we open up to experiencing the pain of those around us, then we're in for lots of unpleasant experiences...but...that also paves the way (often, not always) or sets the scene for some very pleasurable experiences too...which is something of a balance.

It would be nice (maybe, I'm not sure though) that the second you got out of line you were gobsmacked by the universe...but it sure doesn't seem to work that way.