The just world assumption


in Politics, Psychology

The popular aphorism ‘charity begins at home’ brings both sets of beliefs to the fore in a lucid way. Taken together, these beliefs work to diminish empathy on the part of the population by stressing the existence of deep and non-contingent differences between wealthy citizens and those living in other parts of the world. They also provide support for the ‘just world assumption’ in international life. According to research from experimental psychology, people have a natural propensity to believe that the world is a just place: one in which virtue is rewarded and in which innocent people do not suffer. When events in the world confound this expectation, and action cannot be taken to address this state of affairs, a common response is to blame the victim for his or her misfortune. In the case of extreme poverty, this propensity sometimes leads people to assert that those living in this condition are lazy, immoral or corrupt. Both moral nationalism and the idea of charity reinforce this impression by giving support to the notion that the material order corresponds to a wider moral hierarchy – one in which those who are worthy succeed, and in which those who are not depend upon the charity or goodwill of others.

Gabriel, Iason. On Affluence and Poverty: Morality, Motivation and Practice in a Global Age. (DPhil thesis) 2013 p. 162


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