Just-World Hypothesis and Psycho-Ethical Equilibrium
Melvin Lerner's concept of just-world hypothesis postulates that, for his sanity, man must believe world to be just - and that, in order to explain any given situation, invents ethical or worldly reason why different people are in the situation that they are in or why things are as they are. Thus, if the world is to be left alone as is, then it must be just; and if the world is not just, then it must be changed in order to be made just. The second attitude is the driving call for every political movement. The first attitude, besides of course in the actions of those who accept any given status quo or the values that made it, we see likewise in Eastern religions that believe karma to be the source of all things however good or bad. The Christian attitude that the world is evil (and redemption comes through Christ) is a way to explain injustice as way of the world - in fact, as something that people have merited - and in so doing to excuse all injustice in the world as a result of sin - which explanation of course allows the person to regain a just-world hypothesis: Namely that injustice of the world has a cause and, though it is the way of the world, it is possible for the Christian to find a way to ultimately defeat it (essentially by defeating the world itself).
I build upon the concept of just-world hypothesis to show the world to be the product of interactivity of many different people's sets of just-world hypotheses, resulting in what I call a psycho-ethical equilibrium: a byproduct of different people's concept of self and concept of others according to their just-world hypotheses; that places people at the intersection point of the just-world hypotheses held by all members involved - that, when altered, leads to changes in either people's senses of self, senses of others or concept of what makes a just world - and that of course is changed by alterations in all these things. The state of any person in this continuum - as well as their self-appraisal, their sense of just world and their effect on others - is an integrative function of factors internal and external.
A former friend put forth in her graduate essay that meaning of communication is a function of both the speaker and the listener: That the beliefs and actions of both contribute in creating the meaning as it is perceived. I believe the same dynamic to shape both the just-world hypothesis and, pursuant it, the concept of self, the concept of others, and ultimately the place one inhabits. While one set of dogma (seen especially in the business world) wants to see all factors as being internal - and another set of secular dogma (seen in sociology departments) wants to see all factors as being external - I see both dogmas to be fallacious; the first one discounting external factors and blinding people to them (making them easy prey to manipulation and depending on them to have a culture of deliberate ignorance and suppression of insight) - and the second discounting internal factors and thus blinding people to individuality. Having seen both dogmas for what they are, I refuse to buy into either dogma and recognize the reality, and that is: That a world is an integrative function among many influences, all of which have one or another origin and all of which result directly or indirectly in changes in condition of others.
The psycho-ethical equilibrium is constantly in flux, as different people strive to change their condition; others strive to make the world reflect their sense of justice; and - the mechanism I choose to focus on especially - the people's sense of world (and sense of self) adjust constantly to reflect the reality of their situation and that of others.
Another source of fluctuation is the influence of people with different justice views from without the system. Thus, a civilization confronted with another civilization (if it does not get annihilated, or if it does not kill off the other completely) is confronted with other just-world hypotheses, other ideas, other influences, inventions, etc, all of which reshape both the actual reality and the reality as it is perceived by the civilization and its citizens. Indeed the world at any given time - the state of the world at any given time - is akin to that of an ocean, with changes in reality of people's condition occasioning changes in people's judicial-ethical view of people involved - and changes in ethical view of parties occasioning them to make changes in their (and each other's) condition. The entire world can be seen as an ever-shifting sea, sometimes calmy sometimes stormy, whose members wobble up an down, occasioning shifts in their own condition and in condition of others, and the interplay of whose actions shapes the equilibrium at any given time: The changes in which equilibrium result in changes in justice views, self views, and views of others in people involved.
The observation that brought this concept into focus for me - and one that gave me a fair amount of consternation and led me to place under serious doubt the quality of human design rather than simply of "human nature" or "human condition" - consisted of observing many situations in which people engaged in bullying, violence or other forms of amoral destruction of the next person and then invented reasons why the person deserved to be mistreated; which reasons the other people around readily gobbled up - and which the people under attack were under tremendous pressure to either fight off or to succumb under. The process that I observed in these situation consisted of sense of self from within (and sense of person from without) followed the change in the reality of the sitution (indeed in the reality of the treatment), eventually shifting the entire psycho-ethical equilibrium to a state reflecting the new reality. Thus, an action that had no moral quality changed people's sense of the moral worth of the next person or of themselves. And another dynamic that I observed, consisted of people repeatedly changing their view of one or another person who was going up or down in one or antoher respect, with their sense of them changing depending upon their position.
Thus, a bully (or set of bullies - this can include anything from a group of schoolboys to a brutal husband to an entire civilization) attacks a person or set of persons; whom, after they have been attacked or wiped off the world, the moral faculty invents a reason to devine as deserving of what took place. In order to maintain the just-world hypothesis, the person either must make the situation accord with his sense of justice and ethics - or else make the sense of what constitutes just world accord with the reality of the situation. The latter can be manifest in changes in view of self (when self is affected); in changes in view of the other person who is affected; or, if the changes of the person remain unaffected, changes in view of the reality of the world (changes in the just-world hypothesis).
The truly obnoxious quality consists of the pressure I've seen to see people who come under injust attack as morally inferior. This is, quite simply, outrageous; and yet the human design allows such things to take place! How? Well I've just shown how: Either you believe that the person is good and the world is injust - a situation that puts you in the uncomfortable position of having to take action and risk all kinds of nastiness - or you take the easy way and find out one or another reason why the person deserves what they're getting! The latter of which is of course the path taken especially by the moral cowards we've seen taking the path of the last two decades: A path that combines the worst of the two to arrive at a mindset peculiarly Eastern in its passivity and resulting moral cowardice - and peculiarly Western in its soulless (and likewise morally cowardly, some would say sociopathic) blame-the-victim attitude.
I refer to the Eastern mindset as being one of moral cowardice, precisely because it blames the victim for every atrocity and therefore justifies every wickedness done to the next person under the face of the sun, allowing the leader to get away with any injustice and leading to systemic atrocity that manifests in evil social orders such as caste system, Confucianism and Mongol hordes. The Christian solution ("the world is evil; humanity must be overcome and replaced with the Holy Spirit") may be seen as curing the patient by killing him. The effect of both religions is to give people the sense that the world is just in presence of injustice. The genius achieved by both approaches consists of giving people a sense of justice in presence of injustice, and thus of achieving fuflilment of just-world hypotheses necessary for stable functioning - and then giving the people the way to maintain the just-world hypothesis by behaving in ways that each religion believes to be rightful and to lead to a world it wants to see.
Which meant that, essentially, the religion bought into the just-world hypothesis mechanism and took it to the place it wanted to take it. Whether the world created as a result was in fact just or even better, is of course another story. And for this reason many justice-oriented movements reject the religious beliefs, both Eastern and Western, precisely because the result affectuated by them is anything but just.
In cases of both the change in the situation and the sense of just world, the situation moves from one psycho-ethical equilibrium to another; which equilibrium, in order to remain stable, achieves accord between state of ethics and situation. Through directed action in pursuit of one's concept of what makes a just world, the person changes reality of the world changed to reflect his person's just-world hypothesis and attempts to shift the psycho-ethical equilibrium deliberately to a level that accords with his sense of justice (after which all the affected parties have the option either to change back the reality of the situation to original equilibrium, to change the view of the participants in order to accommodate the new equilibrium, or to change their idea of what consitutes a just world). Through action that changes reality in a manner shorn of justice consideration, is put a pressure to take the psycho-ethical equilibrium to a level that justifies the action - and that, in and of itself, would result once again in either the participants' view of the person involved, or in their view of the world.
This, of course, can be used to believe human nature amoral or weak or of sellout quality. Whether or not that be the case, the situation can be explained from the just-world hypothesis standpoint. Either you make the world adjust to your sense of justice, or you make your sense of justice adjust to reality of the world; and the world, once again, in whatever psycho-ethical equilibrium exists at the time, is an integrative function of the interactions among the just-world hypothesis of all participants, with every lasting equilibrium a result of adjustments (right or wrong) of either people's views of the world, selves and each other or their reality - and any dischordance leading to pressure upon both reality of the condition and the beliefs of its participants. In both cases, the situation moves from one psycho-ethical equilibrium to another - which equilibrium, in order to remain stable, achieves accord between reality of situation and view by participants of themselves and others involved; the lack of which accord in any direction results in instability.
It is for this reason that it is so difficult for a person or a group of people at the receiving end of abuse to rise out of such conditions. Not only the external reality of the situation, but internal reality must alter: namely the warped sense of self that results from maintenance of just-world-hypothesis in presence of mistreatment - or alternatively the warped just-world hypothesis that is the result. In addition to the preceding, there is also the third factor. To make this new position permanent, one must furthermore make sure that it accords with the sum total of other people's just-world hypotheses: Which means changing the other people's view of self in a manner that's lasting and permanent and accords with their sense of justice (or changing pemanently their concept of what is just world). Which explains, for example, the troubles that faced America's women and blacks after they got their rights. The brutal domestic situations of many women, the far more insidious destruction of women's self-esteem in the media and in schools that undermine the self-confidence of most women especially the most talented, the rabid hatred we hear from around the world and from many (frequently unexpected) places within America, and the many self-inflicted errors of feminism's self-proclaimed leaders, are all manifestation of the equilibrium seeking to remain in place, through all the mechanisms previously stated, even after the legal situation changed.
It is of merit to note that the perceived ethics and the perceived justice have typically no relation to actual justice or actual ethics. People have seen many orders as just and rightful, from slavery to Islam to Communism to Confucianism to 50s America to 60s America to Imperial China to Russia under the Tsars. So it is naive to expect that people would recognize justice and injustice for what it is and honor it properly. But one thing that can be relied upon, is the moral outrage coming from population whenever they see someone whom they have bullied - and then convinced themselves worthy of being bullied - leaving the bonds that have constrained them and strive for a better life.
And when a person who has a legitimate grievance refuses to press for its redress, it gives the other side the opening to continue attacking for made-up reasons. The the just-world model of universe required for sanity - and which the mind to maintain the cozy lie that is sanity always twists the worldview and world-morals to accommodate - always finds fallacious reasons to justify unjust states of affairs, and twists its conceptions of people, its conceptions of values and its conceptions of world into perpetuation of the same. When unchecked, it forms a psycho-ethical equilibrium that not only perpetuates but in fact justifies and morally ensconces the states of affairs arrived through worst of actions and worst of intentions. And the only way to see things as they are requires extricating oneself from the lie of sanity and the cozy but fallacious just-world-hypotheses-shaped moral shroud over a state of affairs arrived at through entirely uncozy means, and accepting the mental discomfort of knowing world to not be just and being determined to fight for justice regardless of psychic cost.
It is for this reason likewise that we see people slip back into old habits and bad situations once they've been in them. The sense of self is adjusted to psycho-ethical equilibrium corresponding with these habits, and often hard work (from introspection onwards, especially if introspection is done in terms of a bad value systems or malignant ideology) is performed in vain. For true, permanent alteration in psycho-ethical equilibrium, three things must happen. Change in reality of the situation; change in sense of self; and change in other people's sense of the person. Which is why, for any social movement to ultimately succeed, all three elements must be necessary. It does no good to get rights if your sense of self (and the world's sense of you) is adjusted to level corresponding with condition of slavery. The entire psycho-ethical equilibrium needed to maintain justice hypotheses must be taken to higher level. And it must be maintained there through deliberate action, until the equilibrium is regained - only now, rather than corresponding with state of inferiority, it must exist at a level corresponding with state of respect-worthiness as reflected in reality; in sense of self; and in the other's sense of the self.
It should be noted that the latter can be done in many different ways, from earning respect by proving the selves respect-worthy according to the other's values to changing the reality of the condition in a way that likewise accords with the other's values and cannot be justified by them in taking away. This we are seeing done finally by many black people who have pursued honest business, professional, military, priestry, scientific or social service paths: Paths that not only raise the reality of their condition, but likewise legitimately alter the world's sense of their value.
A more minor issue consists of the flux between the individual's sense of self and the world's sense of him. A person whose sense of self is higher than other people's view of him attracts attack intended to drag him down to the level of the other's idea; a person whose sense of self is lower than another's sense of him attracts love to help him rise to their level. The flux however is not only from outside in; it's also from inside out. A person's sense of self, beside being either attacked or supported if it disagrees with the other people's view of him, also exercises effect on other people's view of him - and ultimately on themselves. The people involved will have to keep pushing their view upon the person - to accept a different sense of the other person - to create a different just-world hypothesis - or have to change their beliefs.
A more salient issue is that we see people earn in estimation, or lose in estimation, all the time. The case of a society either unjustly punishing or unjustly rewarding somebody causes moral outrage: In other words, the person's just-world hypothesis revolting against perceived injustice. This is of course true with actual injustices (such as for example the burning of Joan of Arc) and injustices perceived in relation to the person's just-world hypothesis (such as, for example, in the mind of the Muslim fundamentalist, Western women working outside the home). And of course we see people manipulating people's just-world hypotheses all the time, for one or another set of agendas. We know this as politics. Another aspect of politics concerns the individual's place on the psycho-ethical equlibrium. Essentially, to move up and stay up, a person has to affect positively his estimation in the minds of others to a greater extent than he affects it negatively.
Given the back-and-forth nature of flux between reality and sense of reality and sense of justice, there are many ways to accomplish this. One can either earn respect and good treatment (and let the reality follow); one can change the place in reality (and let the people's sense of reality and justice hypothesis follow); or one can attempt both at once. The tactic involved depends on the quality of the forces with which one is dealing. The first tactic can work in the climate of actual conscientiousness (true conscientiousness) of the population; the second tactic is the only one that can deal with people who deal in force (as I've spoken in other situations, the people who speak the language of strength respect you only if you are strong). In the second case - in dealing with mindset of might-makes-right - force is in fact the way of changing the other person's justice hypothesis. With the mechanism of force mastered, it then becomes possible to put it in service of actual justice - which has of course been the expressed goal of Western civilization for centuries on end.
Actions by people to change their condition change either other people's sense of them, or their sense of the world. When someone who used to be well-regarded turns to "the dark side," that frequently occasions a shock: "Were we wrong about this person? Did something happen that I don't know about? Is something wrong with the world?" A similar shock can be heard when we see someone who's been conventionally mistreated gets something that the people buying into the just-world hypothesis warped by that mistreatment into believing him evil do not believe him or her to deserve.
Which leads me to speak of perhaps the most significant issue here of all, and that is: The quality of the just-world hypotheses. Not all just-world hypotheses are created equal. I see that to be a function of three variables. The first is actual truthfulness, compassion, sagacity, fairness, depth and integrity of the hypothesis in relation to the reality of the world and the fact of human beingness. The second is the method of its development - whether it started with principle or was developed through legitimate methods, or else followed from accident of force and fraud. And the third and perhaps ultimately most important is the ability of the hypothesis to allow for a better state of existence: That is, the HEIGHT to whether the entire equilibrium as it affects oneself and those who stand to be affected by oneself can rise; the level of life allowed for the entirety of the equilibrium; the movement (upward or downward) along the scale that is afforded to people affected and ultimately to the entire system.
With their position - the others' sense of them - their sense of themselves and the other - and worldview of all involved a constantly interactive synthesis, the people can be thought to relate like Leibniz's monads, connecting to one another and to the whole and through these interactions shaping the reality of each other, themselves and the world. The reality of their lives, and the reality of the meaning - the reality-concept - are a shared function of all parties involved: Of their sense of self; of their sense of each other; of their condition; and of the meaning and sense of justice that they assign the world. The reality of the world becomes a shifting sea, resting on monads of each individual's condition and that are always struggling to achieve a psycho-ethical equilibrium continuously reshaping each other through the recombinant flux of their just-world hypotheses and their sense of themselves and each other, with each individual unit of consciousness (individual or social) a monad - and each relation between them a part of the interconnectivity. And through effect on their lives, on themselves, on each other, and on the world, is created both the meaning (in terms of world hypotheses) and the reality of the world in which we live.