Sunday, February 24, 2019

Two Talks on Social Justice and Some Dilemmas for Deliberation

At the midwinter meeting of the SOCIETY FOR THEORETICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL PSYCHOLOGY, MIDWINTER MEETING in NASHVILLE on MARCH 1-3, I'll be discussing two works-in-progress, "Sanctioned Transgression or What Turns Conservatives and Fundamentalists Reactionary?" and  "Social Progress and the Just Choice" and a presentation on Descriptive Psychology and The Person Concept.

Below are my notes for discussion:
The first talk: 

Sanctioned Transgression or What Turns Conservatives and Fundamentalists Reactionary?


Dirt is essentially disorder. There is no such thing as absolute dirt: it exists in the eye of the beholder. If we shun dirt, it is not because of craven fear, still less dread or holy terror. Nor do our ideas about disease account for the range of our behaviour in cleaning or avoiding dirt. Dirt offends against order. [...] For I believe that ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, 1966

A hallmark of community is the affirmation of ethical, moral, and aesthetic standards on acceptable behavior. As we go about our various roles, we engage in multiple communities where our perspectives are informed by codes that identify what counts for good standing and for the transgressions that confer degraded status. 

People spend their days in multiple roles done the way they do them. The contingent relationship of personal characteristics, roles, and community creates a status dynamic of actions played with degrees of interdependence, complementarity, inhi­bition, and antagonism. What’s acceptable and tolerated in one context can be taboo in another.

“Sanctioned transgression” legitimizes or calls into question what was previously deemed “dirty” and undermines the power to publicly degrade and enforce exclusion. There is no longer an unquestioned legitimacy in enforced condemnation that previously unified a community through stifling contact with "impure" conduct.  The dogs are let out and the freak flags fly. Transgressors celebrate publicly and parade in pride. And someone gets their face rubbed in it. 

What turns conservatives and fundamentalists reactionary? One answer is an uncanny and confused confrontation with the sanctioned transgression of race relations, enfranchised gays, uppity women, and gender benders allowed and encouraged to come out of the shadows.  Sex, gender, race, and family relations have always been subject to religious and state attempts to limit what people are permitted to feel and do. Sanctioned transgression concerns enhanced social or legal protection for behaviors and relationships a dominant group previously kept forbidden. When legal protection is sought and offered for these transgressions, taboos become less hidden, even celebrated. This doesn't sit well with the deeply defensive. It is especially problematic when it evokes a person's avoided, suppressed, and repressed urges now openly exhibited in others. Freud called this a source of the uncanny that evokes the return of the repressed. It should come as no surprise that anxious dread surfaces in people unprepared to manage these feelings; nor is it a surprise these feelings are treated as a provocation to assault the source of threat. To sort some of these matters out, Descriptive Psychology’s theory-neutral Judgment Diagram can identify domains of experience a person 1) can easily evaluate and reconsider; 2) that are motivationally significant, but deeply problematic to acknowledge; and 3) that are motivationally significant but unavailable to ordinary cognizance. These domains of circumstance and experience involve different weighing of a person’s hedonic, prudent, aesthetic, and ethical perspectives. 

Some Empirical Considerations: 

Big 5 “Openness to Experience” negatively correlated with socially conservative views:

Adelheid A.M. Nicol, Kalee De France, (2016) “The Big Five's relation with the facets of Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation”, Personality and Individual Differences, 98, 320-323
Recent research suggests that Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) constructs are actually multifaceted. We studied the underlying personality structure of both RWA and SDO by examining their facet correlates with the Big Five personality dimensions. In a sample of 406 participants, Openness and Conscientiousness appear to be the most important personality correlates for all RWA facets, thus supporting findings conducted with the RWA total measure. Unexpectedly, for the two SDO facets and SDO total scale, Openness was the most important correlate, followed by the anticipated significant relation with Agreeableness. The SDO and RWA facets were differentially correlated with the Big Five, suggesting that they may not have the same latent structure. These results suggest that some accuracy may be lost when using only the total RWA and SDO scales and that research should explore the similarity and differences in which the facets correlate and predict other variables.

Conservatives are easily disgusted:

Yoel Inbar, David A. Pizarro & Paul Bloom (2009) Conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals”, Cognition and Emotion, 23:4, 714-725
The uniquely human emotion of disgust is intimately connected to morality in many, perhaps all, cultures (Rozin, Lowery, Imada, & Haidt, 1999b). We report two studies suggesting that a predisposition to feel disgust (“disgust sensitivity”) is associated with more conservative political attitudes, especially for issues related to the moral dimension of purity.In the first study, we document a positive correlation between disgust sensitivity and self-reported conservatism in a broad sample of US adults. In Study 2 we show that while disgust sensitivity is associated with more conservative attitudes on a range of political issues, this relationship is strongest for purity-related issues—specifically, abortion and gay marriage.

 Indoctrination makes matters worse:

In contrast to liberal/critical education, indoctrination renders people especially vulnerable to reactive stances against sanctioned transgression since the indoctrinated are handicapped in an openness to experience and an empathic toleration to behaviors they believe transgressive. Religious indoctrination of dependent children is a prime suspect.

• A person is indoctrinated when self-compelled to act on an ideology. 
• Indoctrination provides its Members with a World, Language, Statuses, and Institutional Social Practices. Its Choice Principles explicitly or implicitly prohibit examining or accepting serviceable alternatives. Awareness is restricted. Accordingly, indoctrination narrows the acceptable domain of cognizant and deliberate action. 
• Indoctrination establishes a domain of taboo in which alternatives are presented as impure, dirty, shameful, wicked, vile, etc. Contact with taboo results in contamination. Contamination is grounds for an explicit or implicit Degradation Ceremony. 
• Indoctrination can be seductive to the young and attractive to those seeking spiritual fulfillment. When indoctrination initially forms a worldview, it provides a required guide to how things are and what to do about them. The young seek guidance. For the spiritual seeking “ultimates, totalities, and boundary conditions” (Shideler, 1992), there is promise of answers.
• But over time, people usually encounter critiques of their views and practices. Serviceable views and practices are usually held fast since they continue to work and are valued without conflict. But if unserviceable views and practices are questioned or confronted, it can create a crisis of faith that evokes coercive enforcement. When coercion is applied, it is met with resistance or resigned compliance. 
From: Wynn Schwartz, Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept. Chapter 7, Culture and Community. Cambridge, MA:  Academic Press-Elsevier, 2019.

And the times they are a-changin':
Changes in American sexual behavior

Jean M. Twenge, Ryne A. Sherman, Brooke E. Wells (2016) “Changes in American Adults’ Reported Same-Sex Sexual Experiences and Attitudes, 1973–2014” Archives of Sexual Behavior45:7 (1713-1730)
We examined change over time in the reported prevalence of men having sex with men and women having sex with women and acceptance of those behaviors in the nationally representative General Social Survey of U.S. adults (n’s = 28,161–33,728, ages 18–96 years), 1972–2014. The number of U.S. adults who had at least one same-sex partner since age 18 doubled between the early 1990s and early 2010s (from 3.6 to 8.7 % for women and from 4.5 to 8.2 % for men). Bisexual behavior (having sex with both male and female partners) increased from 3.1 to 7.7 %, accounting for much of the rise, with little consistent change in those having sex exclusively with same-sex partners. The increase in same-sex partners was larger for women than for men, consistent with erotic plasticity theory. Attitudes toward same-sex sexual behavior also became substantially more accepting, d = .75, between the early 1970s and early 2010s. By 2014, 49 % of American adults believed that same-sex sexual activity was “not wrong at all,” up from 11 % in 1973 and 13 % in 1990. Controlling for acceptance reduced, but did not eliminate, the increase in same-sex behavior over time. Mixed effects (hierarchical linear modeling) analyses separating age, time period, and cohort showed that the trends were primarily due to time period. Increases in same-sex sexual behavior were largest in the South and Midwest and among Whites, were mostly absent among Blacks, and were smaller among the religious. Overall, same-sex sexual behavior has become both more common (or at least more commonly reported) and more accepted

A Theory-Neutral Psychodynamic Appraisal/Judgment Diagram

(From: Wynn Schwartz.  Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept. Chapter 4. The Judgment Diagram, Some Categories of Cognizance, and the Unconscious. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press-Elsevier, 2019.)

Cognizant-Empathic-Compassionate appraisals and reappraisals of injustice can be compromised by feeling offended, triggered,  defensive, or otherwise bothered.

Contact with circumstances in Domains 2 and 3 trigger defensive, under examined, under-negotiated and/or unconscious reactions.

1. Ethical-justice appraisals require or are facilitated by Domain 1, the domain of ordinary "mindful" Deliberate Action (including empathic-compassionate consideration or reconsideration). People can reappraise/change their mind (or not, after weighing their judgment).
2. Judgments are less considered in Domain 2 since thinking these issues through is avoided, under-examined, and rarely negotiated and shared. (Harder to change/reappraise) (A prime target area for psychotherapy; educational normalization: "it's really nothing to be ashamed of"; and legislated protection.)
3. Reconsideration is unavailable in Domain 3 (the classic repressed unconscious) where consideration is unthinkable/intolerable.

And the second:

Social Progress and the Just Choice


A person is paradigmatically a deliberate actor. People act in affirmation or reaffirmation of their core values, can consider their choices and change their minds. This includes their position on the rights and plights of others. 

1) The hypothesis of progress: A maxim: A person will not choose less behavior potential over more. This creates a tension toward emancipation.

Inevitable emancipation is founded on two basic ideas. The first is that people act persistently to maintain or improve their position and the second is that the possibility of an ethical perspective is inherent in Deliberate Action. A person can choose to be fair or not and can learn about the plights and desires of another person and decide how to respond given their appraisal of both party's status.

My hypothesis: 
Within a pluralistic democratic society, a structure that resembles a noisy upward trending wave describes the social progression of the disenfranchised.  The Y axis represents the society's toleration or acceptance of an increased or redistributed set of rights and the X axis represents historical time.  An upward, flat or downward midline is possible, but the overall trend is an upward slope given that gains in behavior potential persist. The relation between progression and reaction is irregular. At no point on the wave is there any assurance of the direction the curve will take next. This is the uneven ascending curve of emancipation. People hold on to their gains as best they can despite expected adversity. This is the behavioral logic that supports Martin Luther King's premise that, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." 

2) What interferes with “Justice as Fairness” (and makes it difficult to get behind Rawl’s veil)?

Three themes to consider:
1. What’s good for the goose may not be good for the gander. One person’s status maintenance may involve another person’s status suppression. (Conflicts in identity politics based on idiosyncratic group desire; anxiety evoking encounters; actions conceptualized in compelling moral/ethical terms: for example, abortion as murder and/or the destruction of an innocent soul vs. the removal of unwanted or harm producing fetal tissue.)
2. What’s good for the goose that’s also good for the gander. (Universal enhancements, across the board fairness.)
3. Issues that when “adequately” considered, the gander should not be disturbed by gains for the goose. (The problem of identifying legitimate stakeholders and how much skin they actually have in the game. The problem of triggers and grievance entitlements to social/self-concepts. Domain Two and Three "trigger issues" with gay marriage are a paradigmatic example. Issues that should not really matter to me, but they do.) 

Contact with circumstances in Domains 2 and 3 trigger defensive, under-examined, under-negotiated and/or unconscious reactions. Negotiation-as-moral dialog requires good faith attempts to reveal to all stakeholders the values and weights in play. This requires disclosure of all relevant issues. Domain 3 is unavailable for introspection and Domain 2 undermines honest clarification.

Some further reminders:
A community responds to its member’s recovered, expanded and/or re-distributed eligibility through implementation, refusal and/or coercive reaction.

Eligibility gained will persist unless there is sufficient coercion or degradation to restrict or undo the gains. Gains may be lost due to an inability to practice the gains.

 (“The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” Oliver Wendell Holmes.  “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” Young and Lewis).

Eligibility gains can be restricted in actual social practice without being forgotten or devalued.

When opportunity can be taken it will be unless there is a stronger reason not to.

Lost opportunity remembered or rediscovered may be sought and may be retaken.

When possible status gains are sought there will be a corresponding dynamic in eligibility.  Where the social redistribution of eligibility is at issue there will be grounds for conflict. A rising tide raises some boats but sinks others.

Other Problems:
Socrates. Stop. Now we must tell what there is in this that is faulty and lacks art, must we not?
Phaedrus. Yes.
Socrates. It is clear to everyone that we are in accord about some matters of this kind and at variance about others, is it not?
Phaedrus. I think I understand your meaning, but express it still more clearly.
Socrates When one says “iron” or “silver,” we all understand the same thing, do we not?
Phaedrus. Surely.
Socrates. What if he says “justice” or “goodness”? Do we not part company, and disagree with each other and with ourselves?
Phaedrus. Certainly.
            Plato, Phaedrus, 263a

The multiple meaning of social justice:
1) equal access to basic liberties and the fair distribution of goods and opportunities (Rawls, 1971, 2001).
2) recognition of difference and elimination of oppression across institutions, including the family (Young, 1990)
3) achievement of a threshold level of fundamental human capabilities, the development of which is necessary for the exercise of agency (Nussbaum, 2011)
(From: Erin Thrift and Jeff Sugarman, (2019) “What Is Social Justice? Implications for Psychology” Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology.Vol. 39, No. 1, 1–17)

And what about a Kantian concept of persons –– all persons –– being of unconditional worth, possessing a socially constructed position above “cost” and an inherent “dignity”. If that is our position how do that idea justice? 

These themes are further addressed in Empathy, Inclusion, and Moral Dialog or What Gets in the Way of Negotiating Social Justice? Part 1. and in What Gets in the Way of Negotiating Social Justice? Part 2. Unequal Voices and Hidden Agendas, and in the initial posting, Freedom (An Outline).