Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 7:03 pm

Just-World Theory; or, Bad Things Don’t Happen to Good People! Really!


Ed at Gin & Tacos:

Post-1980 America is a land in which it is impossible to engage in a discussion about a System with college-aged people without inevitably and almost immediately devolving into mini-soliloquies on Good and Bad choices. Why have so many kids? Why did he start drinking? And they signed a contract without reading the whole thing! Everyone knows not to do that.

This is what I mean when I describe college students, when I’m forced to generalize, as extremely conservative. They aren’t necessarily hardcore political conservatives in the context of Washington politics, but they have thoroughly internalized the message that their parents and the media have been hammering them with since birth: everything that happens to you is your fault. There are no innocent victims of anything. This is a coping mechanism / cognitive bias called the Just World Phenomenon, wherein people victim-blame as a means of coping with the random cruelty of the world. Rather than accept that horrible things happen to good people – and, thus, that a horrible fate could befall them at any moment – people choose to retreat into the comforts of believing that everyone Had It Coming.

These are young adults who believe sincerely that since they have made Good Choices, nothing bad can happen to them for reasons beyond their control. The idea of being unemployed is literally incomprehensible to many of them – I’m in college and I even get decent grades, of course someone is going to hire me. This is where, as critics both liberal and conservative have often moaned, the constant self-esteem building of kids born in the 1990s shows its ugly side. Each student tends to believe that he or she is special and smart and the world, being a meritocracy, cannot fail to recognize this. Some of this simply is the normal naivety of youth that only life experience can erase. I honestly believe, strictly as a matter of opinion, that the hyper-individualism that dominates post-Carter politics is influential as well.

Yeah, how could bad things happen to people who make good choices when:

  • … right now 1.2 million students that attend public schools in America are homeless.  That number has risen by 72 percent since the start of the last recession. …
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately one out of every six Americans is now living in poverty.  The number of Americans living in poverty is now at a level not seen since the 1960s. …
  • The “working poor” is one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population.  At this point, approximately one out of every four part-time workers in America is living below the poverty line.
  • The stock market may be doing great (for the moment), but incomes for average Americans continue to decline.  In fact, median household income in the United States has fallen for five years in a row. …
  • The quality of the jobs in America has been steadily dropping for years.  At this point, one out of every four American workers has a job that pays $10 an hour or less. …

Yeah, what could possibly go wrong and cause you any harm, kid?

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