The right wing and the just world fallacy

The just-world fallacy is the belief that contrary to what our parents told us, life is fair. Take care of your health and you’ll be healthy. Manage your money well and work hard and you’ll get rich, or at least non-poor. Dress modestly, don’t go out alone, and you’ll never be raped.

It’s a fallacy because, of course, it isn’t true. Bad things do happen to good people. We drive carefully and get hit by someone who didn’t (almost happened to TYG and me this week). You follow the rules for finding a good Christian man and you wind up with an abuser. You take care of your health but something still strikes you down. You get out there and meet people only you never meet anyone interested.

The just-world fallacy is common. It’s not something unique to conservatives. It’s reassuring — that there’s a reason for what happened to us/them, that we’re not all vulnerable to blind chance and tragedy, that the world makes sense. That it can never happen to us — sure, she got raped but we’d never do anything that foolish. He got robbed but we pack heat. He got cancer but we take care of ourselves. Conspiracy theories explain why the world isn’t just; just-world fallacy explains that it is. Both comforting in different ways.

With a lot of conservatives, though, it’s not simply a fallacy, it’s a policy. It’s the reason they justify denying people healthcare or benefits, or rewarding themselves by slashing their own taxes. If you’re rich it’s because you’re smart, talented, superior; if you’re poor it’s because you squander your money. Women aren’t in charge of things because men created the world. If you have diabetes, it’s your fault, that’s why you don’t deserve to have the government pay for treatment.

So no help for the poor, they don’t deserve it. Low taxes for the rich because otherwise you’re penalizing success and hard work.

And if your success doesn’t come from hard work? You got a head start because your parents were rich or you took over the family business? I suspect that’s one reason Trump likes to think he and his children are genetically superior — if you tell yourself your genes would have guaranteed success even if you’d grown up in a shack in Africa (and I have heard that statement made by other children of privilege) then having everything handed to you on a plate doesn’t matter. You’d still have succeeded so it’s still wrong to tax you.

Do they seriously believe it? Quite possibly. It’s always appealing to believe you’ve accomplished things through genius, not hard work. It’s easy to underestimate the role luck plays (something I explored in my short story Others Must Fail). At the same time I suspect there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance in play. Trump himself has admitted that having superior genes (for the record, I don’t believe that for a minute) is a matter of luck, but at the same time he sees himself as a super-achiever who earned everything (or he claimed to). Lots of wealthy people credit their talent with success but blame failure on luck, so they totally shouldn’t be penalized for it. Lots of welfare recipients believe “I earned it” through their years of taxes, just like they firmly believe nobody with a darker skin did.

And some, I’m sure, are outright liars who know better — it’s just a convenient excuse, like Paul Ryan claiming blue states are free-riding on the hard work of the red states (nope).

Whether delusion or rationalization, the just-world fallacy gets toxic when mixed in with politics.

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Filed under economics, Politics

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