Where’s your anger? Psychological balm for inequality

A recent article in Psychological Science describes experiments aimed at understanding the psychology of accepting, or not, social inequalities. (If the abstract seems a bit abstract, try this slightly more reader-friendly summary from Science.)

The gist: people who accept justifications for inequality experience less emotional stress when confronted by evidence of the inequality. The more a person believes that there are good reasons for inequality, the less emotional stress they’ll have. (Stress in the form of moral outrage, existential guilt, and support for changing things to help out the disadvantaged.) So acceptance looks to be a self-protection mechanism. Also, showing people stories, propaganda, what-have-you, that feeds ideas of justification (for example, “rags-to-riches” stories) increases their acceptance of the justifications, and so decreases their emotional reaction to evidence of inequality.

As the authors abstract, “system-justifying ideology appears to undercut the [urge to bring about] redistribution of social and economic resources by alleviating moral outrage.”

I guess this helps explain why people are likely to accept that “this is the best of all possible worlds.” Giving a rat’s ass that the world ain’t so great is hard to do. It’s stressful. That’s why those of us who think otherwise have got to help each other keep our spirits up. More potlucks!