First, a shout-out to my homie Esther Pun. She and I were chatting the other day, and the topic of genocide came up (yep, just your usual inane banter). She inspired me to do some writing. Genocide is still too big a topic for me to tackle just yet, so I'll try to place another piece of the puzzle.
Today's topic falls under the heading of system justification. That's the tendency of people in a society to justify the status quo. It's a cognitive bias that manages to quell or circumvent emotions that might otherwise lead to beneficial change.
One statement that reflects this bias is the idea that bad things happen to bad people. Now, while it may be the case that "bad people" bring additional misery to themselves, the bias runs deeper than that. The fascinating discovery I want to share today is how pervasive and irrational the tendency can be.
As usual, I'll save myself some time and you some misery by pointing you to the original piece, this time on "the lucky effect."
For those of you too busy to read this fascinating article, the sum-up is this: when we associate even a few members of a particular group with unlucky outcomes, we tend to see the entire group as deserving of arbitrary misfortune. If I show you that a blue-shirted (!) individual has had is home broken into while a red-shirted one has won the lottery, along with one or two more polarizing examples, you're likely to prefer red-shirted people in general. And presumably what's going on inside your head is a justification that red-shirted people must be somehow deserving of the obviously-random fortunes that have befallen them.
It happens in adults, who should know better, and in children as young as 5, who are presumably too young to have been taught this directly. It's disquieting enough to realize that young children dislike victims of random misfortune, instead of being more compelled to help them. To see that they (and we) generalize this tendency to entire groups is even less inspiring.
What is inspiring, I think, is that we're beginning to investigate these issues scientifically. And as G.I. Joe taught (okay, told) us, knowing is half the battle :) The other half, I think, belongs to the field of contemplative science. Perhaps it's time to devote a post or two to that in the near future...