Belief in a Just World
I was home sick when the news of the Japan earthquake came in. I could only hear the television from the other apartment talking about something huge, because the local reporters started referring to CNN, when normally the news would be comfortably confined to local political bickering and showbiz chutzpah. It was on Twitter when I later learned about the magnitude of the earthquake’s damage, and the extent of the tsunami reports, which have also reached certain provinces of my country. In Facebook, a close friend in Tokyo sent us a picture of a burning building and said that while there still small tremors now and then, she was at least physically safe.
And as in every calamity, there was the usual phenomenon in social networking sites—the exchange of information, call for prayers, the expressions of worry, and then there were the more worrying status updates and messages—fairly decent people starting to justify the earthquake as an act of God, or much more worryingly, as something the people over there deserved, although in very very subtle tones.
PZ Myers, better known in the science blogging world as Pharyngula has compiled several Facebook messages of people saying that the Japan earthquake was due revenge for Pearl Harbor.
Psychologist Melvin Lerner first discussed the just world phenomenon in 1980 in “The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion”. The just world phenomenon explains the need to see the world as orderly, predictable and just, that people get what they deserve. It is the belief that good things happen to good people, and bad things to bad people. It is why we can afford to think that the poor are lazy, because really if they were not lazy, they wouldn’t be poor, or why we think rape victims are somehow deserving because they dress up rather provocatively. It’s why we feel pity for children with terminal cancers—those poor things, and yet scoff at gay men who get HIV, if you hadn’t been so slutty… if you hadn’t been gay…
Read the rest on 3 Quarks Daily. For another post on the just-world fallacy, see this blog post on You Are Not So Smart.