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Forum Post: Why do people defend unjust, inept, and corrupt systems?

Posted 10 years ago on Dec. 13, 2011, 4:41 p.m. EST by Frizzle (520)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement


Why do we stick up for a system or institution we live in—a government, company, or marriage—even when anyone else can see it is failing miserably? Why do we resist change even when the system is corrupt or unjust? A new article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, illuminates the conditions under which we're motivated to defend the status quo—a process called "system justification."

System justification isn't the same as acquiescence, explains Aaron C. Kay, a psychologist at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, who co-authored the paper with University of Waterloo graduate student Justin Friesen. "It's pro-active. When someone comes to justify the status quo, they also come to see it as what should be."

Reviewing laboratory and cross-national studies, the paper illuminates four situations that foster system justification: system threat, system dependence, system inescapability, and low personal control.

When we're threatened we defend ourselves—and our systems. Before 9/11, for instance, President George W. Bush was sinking in the polls. But as soon as the planes hit the World Trade Center, the president's approval ratings soared. So did support for Congress and the police. During Hurricane Katrina, America witnessed FEMA's spectacular failure to rescue the hurricane's victims. Yet many people blamed those victims for their fate rather than admitting the agency flunked and supporting ideas for fixing it. In times of crisis, say the authors, we want to believe the system works.

We also defend systems we rely on. In one experiment, students made to feel dependent on their university defended a school funding policy—but disapproved of the same policy if it came from the government, which they didn't perceive as affecting them closely. However, if they felt dependent on the government, they liked the policy originating from it, but not from the school.

When we feel we can't escape a system, we adapt. That includes feeling okay about things we might otherwise consider undesirable. The authors note one study in which participants were told that men's salaries in their country are 20% higher than women's. Rather than implicate an unfair system, those who felt they couldn't emigrate chalked up the wage gap to innate differences between the sexes. "You'd think that when people are stuck with a system, they'd want to change it more," says Kay. But in fact, the more stuck they are, the more likely are they to explain away its shortcomings. Finally, a related phenomenon: The less control people feel over their own lives, the more they endorse systems and leaders that offer a sense of order.

The research on system justification can enlighten those who are frustrated when people don't rise up in what would seem their own best interests. Says Kay: "If you want to understand how to get social change to happen, you need to understand the conditions that make people resist change and what makes them open to acknowledging that change might be a necessity."




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[-] 2 points by forOWS (161) 10 years ago

Because for a few groups of people in this country the corrupt system works for them. Rove is a good example of one of those persons. He defends a corrupt system because it works for him and many of his friends and family. Cushy jobs for everyone he knows. Many of the trolls that get on here to post their crap are also part of that system. A system that works for only a few, but not for the many. And the corrupt want to keep it that way. They have their defenders in the form of subhumans like the dog-faced Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, Ryan and the rest of the bribe-taking GOP.

[-] 2 points by AndyJ0hn (129) 10 years ago

people who benefit from the existing system defend it

[-] 2 points by FrogWithWings (1367) 10 years ago

Because most people are simple minded and painfully average twits with no business having the right to vote, hold public office or have any say in the running of reasonable people's government.


Any other questions?

[-] 2 points by Gillian (1842) 10 years ago

Most people are not objective voters. They vote out of guilt, vote by what they are told to do without even considering the issues or the character of the candidate. Religion has a lot to do with that too.
I remember when the women I worked with said they were going to vote for Hillary simply because she was a woman and a feminist ( so they believed). I told them that I thought that was like a black person voting for Obama just because he was black and another person voting for McCain just because their parents always voted republican. ( I heard all those reasons and more). Uninformed sheeple thinking is all too common. That's why the great leaders in our history are so few in comparison to the population.

[-] 2 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

The most interesting part to read in your link is at: "On faulty conclusions:"

  • However, if Herrnstein and Murray are wrong, and IQ represents not an immutable thing in the head, grading human beings on a single scale of general capacity with large numbers of custodial incompetents at the bottom, then the model that generates their gloomy vision collapses, and the wonderful variousness of human abilities, properly nurtured, reemerges. We must fight the doctrine of The Bell Curve both because it is wrong and because it will, if activated, cut off all possibility of proper nurturance for everyone's intelligence. Of course, we cannot all be rocket scientists or brain surgeons, but those who can't might be rock musicians or professional athletes (and gain far more social prestige and salary thereby), while others will indeed serve by standing and waiting. (p. 13)
[-] 1 points by FrogWithWings (1367) 10 years ago

But, determining reasonableness has not occurred, when it comes to voting or holding public office, in many many years.

You'd be surprised how many elected officials are outright illiterate.

[-] 1 points by Gillian (1842) 10 years ago

No, I wouldn't be surprised at how illiterate and ignorant our legislators are. Need we wonder why these public figures who cater to prostitutes, commit infidelity, drive drunk and hire illegals to serve them believe that they are not going to get caught? Not much frontal cortex activity happen'in there! They vote on legislation pertaining to medical care and they have no medical degree. They vote about all sorts of things they have no clue about and the honest ones will tell you that most of the time, noone of them has even reviewed the material they are voting on. It's pretty pathetic and scary. In the past 10 years or so, their rhetoric sounds like Texan frat boys in a bar room brawl.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 10 years ago

medicine could turn society into liches drinking the blond of the young to stay young

doctors and drug dealers are forced to sell the product and services at high price and wage

[-] 1 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

I'm not completely in disagreement with you. I just think that it's not a matter of bad genetics, but more a matter of not the right stimuli while growing up to create critical thinking human beings.

Which leaves open the possibility of improvement ;)

[-] 1 points by FrogWithWings (1367) 10 years ago

Bottom line, do you think determination should be made as to a persons reasonableness or qualifications to have a say in the people's government?

I surely don't believe that consuming oxygen should be the bar, raise it much higher.

[-] 1 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

In a direct democracy you mean?

[-] 1 points by FrogWithWings (1367) 10 years ago

In any type of democracy..........

[-] 2 points by Windsofchange (1044) 10 years ago

I hate to say this about my fellow Americans but they are too self-absorbed, lazy and complacent to get out there and stand up against the out of control corruption and greed in D.C. and on Wall Street. It is easier to turn a blind eye to things.

Also, some people, foolishly believe that if they "suck up" to these corrupt entities that they will get a sacrificial crumb here and there.

[-] 3 points by TrevorMnemonic (5827) 10 years ago

Complacency kills. Look at the wars. 10 years and a majority of people don't even talk about the wars. MTV is on. It's sad really.

[-] 3 points by Windsofchange (1044) 10 years ago

You nailed it--complacency does kill. I know it is disgusting that most Americans have shown either no or very little interest on what has been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Words can't describe how I feel about that.

[-] 1 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

I always wonder what they think. It doesn't make sense to me.

[-] 1 points by fansmiles (24) from New York, NY 10 years ago

People are mostly driven by self interest. There are also several levels of consciousness: gutt consciousness (self preservation), reason (the world of rules and circular universal thinking), principles (world view thinking) and love compassion (cosmic consciousness). 30 years ago, if I recall, the salaries of women was closer to 60% of men's and so 80% is what it is but remember that equality is not equality of status in most people's minds. It is equality of opportunity and that is NOT realized. Most people believe they are free. Most people believe that their responsibility is as an individual and that changing society would be nice but it is not their main issue. Survival is. "Changing the world" is a privilege of the well fed and the middle class (an invented word designating the petit bourgeoisie). It is important to find out why people will move for something and not for something else. Thinking that it is a simple thing is a mistake and an illusion.

[-] 1 points by ZenDogTroll (13032) from South Burlington, VT 10 years ago

The title of this post has led me to consider why I defend the government, the Constitution, and some of the elements these encompass.

I have relatives who played minor roles in the first American Revolution. They and their peers risked life and limb to create the union of states, and the Constitution that binds us together. It has served us for over 200 years.

It has served us so well we have created the most powerful nation on earth, even as that power now wanes. If it is true, that power is a corruptive influence on the moral fiber, then perhaps the power that this nation is possessed of it itself the single biggest argument against the government and our Constitution.

But if we examine the nature of the power we possess, and its sources, we find that it is not the Constitution itself, nor is it the government itself, that has enabled the United States to assume this position among governments.

It is due to our size, our natural resources, and the ability of innovation under the hand of free enterprise, in addition to our government, that has enabled our unparalleled ascendence among people of the earth.

I believe there are those in the United States today who would destroy both our form of government and our Constitution precisely because of provisions that ensure, as a matter of law, that we are all equal. This principle of equality, codified as it is, stands in the way of supremacy of the few.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 10 years ago

international control of the oceans to promote US trade after WW2

[-] 1 points by MVSN (768) from Stockton, CA 10 years ago

Most Americans don't care. They care more about Jersey Shore.

[-] 0 points by aries (463) from Nutley, NJ 10 years ago

what "system" are you proposing as a replacement?

[-] 1 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

Personally i think a resource based economy makes the most sense. But I'll be happy with other solutions that aren't based on greed and competition. So basically any system that is sustainable and is based on human needs and well-being.

[-] 0 points by aries (463) from Nutley, NJ 10 years ago

parroting what they told you "resource based economy" very good. what do you think we have now? resources are scarce. that is the whole point.

[-] 2 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

What we have now is wasting resources for the sake of profit while at the same time creating artificial scarcity in some area's also to increase profit. From the point of view of a money based economy, using resources in the most sustainable way possible is not profitable so it won't happen.

So, what do you mean with 'that is the whole point'. Because the current system doesn't seem to care about resources at all. Just look at oil. We are burning like it's infinite while sustainable alternatives are widely available.

Another example is transportation. We still use mostly cars and planes to get us from a to b. While existing highly efficient maglev technology could save us large amount of energy.

[-] 0 points by aries (463) from Nutley, NJ 10 years ago

what you consider wasting I consider consuming - along with the rest of the civilized world. If you want to use maglev - go ahead & create it. Why are you waiting for someone else to do it?

[-] 1 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

so you say consuming is wasting?

[-] -2 points by aries (463) from Nutley, NJ 10 years ago

no - you are saying that. Consuming is what you do in the course of living. If you consider your life a waste that's your problem. Actually - it is a waste if you are an occupier. go out & do something productive .

[-] 2 points by AndyJ0hn (129) 10 years ago

this sort of judgemental attitude and small mindedness is why were in this mess. How about making intelligent arguments rather than that throw away lines.

[-] 2 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

You brought up the whole word consuming. I simply say that our current system is incredibly wasteful. It's based on infinite growth and that's simply not sustainable.

[-] 1 points by aries (463) from Nutley, NJ 10 years ago

how many kids do you have?

[-] 1 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

around 2 billion. give or take a few.

[-] 0 points by aries (463) from Nutley, NJ 10 years ago

see - cant answer a simple - serious question. typical. ok - I'll make it easier for you - how many children have you given birth too?

[-] 1 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

I did answer. But how about you just make your point. It shouldn't depend on details of my personal life.

[-] -1 points by aries (463) from Nutley, NJ 10 years ago

my point is - if you think the population growth is a problem - have fewer childern &/or adopt as I have. walk the walk.

[-] 1 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

You know. This is showing so how we think differently.

I think in terms how humanity could change to a sustainable way of living. While you focus on what individuals should do.

Obviously i do make decisions that are in line with what i believe the world should be like. But that's not enough. As individuals we are nothing. Only united we can really make a difference.

[-] -2 points by aries (463) from Nutley, NJ 10 years ago

and that's how the godless communists think. people are just cogs in the machine. Well they are not. People are individuals. each of us are different and each of us have value.

[-] 0 points by utahdebater (-72) 10 years ago

Personally I stand up for Capitalism because despite the obvious flaws it's still the best Economic system available to us.

[-] 2 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

Based on which studies?

[-] 0 points by nkp (33) 10 years ago

reality maybe?

[-] 2 points by Frizzle (520) 10 years ago

Sorry, but i don't really trust your reality much if it's not backed up with checkable data.

[-] -3 points by Kevabe (81) 10 years ago

Becuase their idiots who have become enamored with Noam Chomsky, Che Guevara, Stalin, and Kim Jong IL. They love corrupt systems so much that they downplay the most efficient and free system known to history. They call themselves Occupy Wall Street and they are made up of freeloading rif-raff who have no damn clue. OWS please go away. There are already a few countries who practice your great ideas, go move to one of them.

[-] 3 points by AndyJ0hn (129) 10 years ago

the current system is corrupt! bankers have fleaced billions which are now being bailed out by the tax payer.

[-] -3 points by Kevabe (81) 10 years ago

Which has nothing to do with the system inherntly. It's an extremely poor choice made by left leaning politicians who believe in the solutions found in Keynesian Economics. The very type of approach to the economy that OWS continues to bash goes against this concept of bailing out big business. Laissez Faire-style-economics calls no government interference on markets. Obama has been clinging to Keynesian Ecnomics which call for increase in government spending to emulate demand. If we would have approached this issue without government spending we would have been faster on the road to recovery. Businesses would have failed but the failed business assets would have been bought out by more efficient-run companies.

[-] 1 points by AndyJ0hn (129) 10 years ago

I agree to a point, for it to be a system it is regulated, so who decides (and benefits) from how the system is regulated. For sure we have never had "free market economies"