Social psychologists, Laura Niemi and Liane Young wrote a piece in the NYTimes Review section on a study they conducted on what determines the degree to which people tend to blame the victims of crimes:

Just group always winIn a recent series of studies, we found that the critical factor lies in a particular set of moral values. Our findings, published on Thursday in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, show that the more strongly you privilege loyalty, obedience and purity — as opposed to values such as care and fairness — the more likely you are to blame the victim.

These two sets of values have beevictimn the object of much scholarly attention. Psychologists have found that when it comes to morality, some people privilege promoting the care of others and preventing unfair behaviors. These are “individualizing values,” as they can apply to any individual. Other people privilege loyalty, obedience and purity. These are “binding values,” as they promote the cohesion of your particular group or clan.

Republicanvs.DemocratBinding and individualizing values are not mutually exclusive, and people have varying degrees of both. But psychologists have discovered that the extent to which you favor one relative to the other predicts various things about you. For example, the more strongly you identify with individualizing values, the more likely you are to be politically progressive; the more strongly you identify with binding values, the more likely you are to be politically conservative.

They go on to describe that, although the tendency to blame the victim can be somewhat ameliorated by focusing on the behavior of the perpetrator of a crime instead of the suffering of the victim, these attitudes resist change.

The division between the moral emphasis on group loyalty as opposed to standards of justice that transcend group 100,000 yr old pierced shellsidentities indeed goes to the heart of the differences between progressives and conservatives. The Blog attempts to place these differences into a wider philosophical perspective by pointing out that, from an evolutionary point of view, competitive group identities are a very recent phenomenon, dating, at the very earliest, to about 100,000 years ago when the first evidence of culture appear in the form of trading shells in Africa. Before our own species arose 200,000 years ago, the Blog maintains that our ancestral hominin species had been evolving finely-wrought sensibilities for justice for six million years, which had released our sole adaptive trait: the ability to coordinate divided labor.Adam Smith and Human Evolution

Adam Smith and human evolutionAdam Smith deduced that the division of labor is the fundamental element in human productivity in The Wealth of Nations, and in his Theory Moral Sentiments pointed out the indispensability of justice to this unique human productivity.

The irony is that our own Homo sapiens species’ sentiments aimed at binding groups together, although spawning competition between groups, with enough time, always becomes a progressive force because of the relentless assimilation of smaller groups into larger groups, like a biological force of gravity. This progression has been clearly manifested since the agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago for the same reason that our hominin tribe has risen to be the dominant form of life on earth during all of the past six million years:

The Spirit of Justice

in any competition between groups, the most just group always eventually wins simply because the necessary condition that releases our magical capacity to coordinate  divided labor is justice.

The reason why Hitler and the Confederacy were defeated was that they were out-produced by more just societies. So, although there will be recurrent fits and starts, just groups will continue to out-produce and assimilate unjust groups—until Isiah’s prophesy of one people living in peace is finally realized.



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  1. Fascinating riff on, and interpretation of, the Times piece. It seems to me that if justice is a core human value, then both political extremes hold it but see getting there very differently. Would you agree with that?

    I was talking to a conservative man over the weekend, retired military, who was very upset because apparently the word “God” can’t be used on military bases anymore. Not sure if that’s accurate, but I pointed out the up side: that his granddaughter is flourishing in a field that would have been closed to her in his generation. And that the military in some ways has been a progressive force for integration and gender equity in America. “Yeah,” he said. “But they’ve gone too far.” I could see his pain from witnessing his beloved Air Force “deny” a supreme deity. This seems to support your thesis, and the Times’ writers, because to him the group was suffering in order to further a few individuals’ desires to not hear about religion. As a progressive, but someone who’s spiritual, I thought on balance it sounded like justice—separating church and state, a core American value, in order to lessen tyranny by the majority.

    1. Great comment and great example Richard. These authors identify conservatives as being concerned about “loyalty, obedience, and purity” and that the function of these values is to “bind” their groups. Conservatives identify with their groups as if they are living entities that themselves deserve justice. I think it is appropriate that this is a conservative instinct because I believe that, in the hominin species prior to our own, individuality did not exist: everyone lived within the collective consciousness of not only their own group, but all groups, because it was really a relational consciousness. The idea of justice—that is, the concept of right and wrong—was their primary concern, because, as I say above, it was/is essential for their/our principal adaptation of coordinating their divided labor. But, in our own Homo sapiens species, a second “ego” consciousness has arisen, so we are a hybrid creature in possession of both an individual and a group consciousness. This individual part of ourselves continues to “precipitate” out of the group part, and liberals identify and apply their justice to it. I think the example of not requiring God in the military is fantastic: it is as though they are letting go of the very source of the group’s animation. Conservatives don’t trust that mere justice way down at the individual level has any power to bind groups together. Although they are ultimately wrong about that, pace is very important in this whole process of liberalization. It has to be done slowly, and the conservatives are right to hold onto justice with regard to our groups themselves.

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