Sociopolitical Essay on the Subject of Schematized Views of the World

“The knowledge of our own minds can be put to no better use than in understanding our social and political lives. That is why political psychology matters.”
-George Lakoff, Berkeley, CA April 2008

I cant think of a better statement to start this essay with. It is about the human psychology, that this essay is about. The subject of sociopolitical psychology is a very wide one, and i have only separated it into individual and mass psychology for the benefit of the essay’s organizing. I will not attempt to talk about the whole range, because it would be a very massive effort, that takes up a life time’s experience. Instead I will attempt to summarize the individual’s personality traits which I consider most influential towards a political system of a country. It is vital to understand why researching these subjects is important. Mankind has always been trying to achieve a better life than the current one. For that reason, Art came to be. And what better way to deploy the means of art, thought and language, than to strife for a better life?  But if an artist wants to interact with the public, pass meanings and messages, and generally be part of that strife, then it is crucial to understand the human psyche first, they’d have to be a psychologist, a sociopolitical psychologist at that. I want to clarify that I don’t mean that an artist would have to estrange himself to the public. I mean to make certain what I believe, that everyone is an artist. Thus, everyone  who wants to be part of the strife for a better life, have no other choice  but to delve into sociology, politics and psychology, by studying it or any other way. With understanding comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes change for the better.
People’s compromise between their biases, personality traits, the information they receive, and the socio-structural characteristics of the situation, reflect their beliefs which can cause them to develop schematized views of the world. One important factor is what modern morality holds sacred: the individual, freed from the oppressive bonds of community, authority, and religious sanctity. An other very interesting theory is the Fear of Equality: there where some very interesting findings from extended interviews with fifteen men,  ( John T Jost, Jim Sidanius,2004,217-229). I shall try to summarize them here:
1.    The more a society emphasizes on “freedom for all” the more people need to justify their status in that society.
2.    People on a low status, in an open society, prefer to think of themselves as “correctly placed” in a “just society” rather than picturing themselves as victims, or exploited.
3.     Those of marginal status tend to believe that “if the lower classes cared enough, they could be better off”. This also has a psychological justification element.
4.    People tend not to care so much for equality of opportunity, but rather more for some opportunity, however unequal this distribution may be. Of course there can always be exceptions, when the social order is so torn that the leaders are considered to be appropriately interpreted as exploiters of the poor. Then “it is as important to explain why revolutions and radical social movements do not happen, as is to explain why they do.” (John T Jost, Jim Sidanius,2004,228)
5.    Emphasis on consumption causes social dissatisfaction to channel consumption rivalry within a class rather than between classes. Some Examples: consumer unrest causes working wives, dual-job holding, not antagonism towards the “owning classes”.
6.    “The People”, “the working classes” are not the ones interested in general ideals such as freedom and equality for all men. It is rather on the “professional classes” that we find such interests. It is not by virtue but by a different organization of interests and training.

( John T. Jost,Aaron C. Kay ,Hulda Thorisdottir, 2009,P.365)

An other psychological factor that helps to sustain the political system of a country is the individual’s ideological knowledge. For example: the Belief in a Just World might actually lead people to generate beliefs that mollify any injustice when encountering it. But there can be also cases when the injustice is too great, and then people with stronger BJW will act even stronger against it. In most cases though, it was found that when people see something they do not like, they will try to either look away or  try to find a way to justify it. This extends to a system. The theory of System Justification Motive derives from the fact that people do not like to admit that their system is unjust; they will try to “protect” it with  beliefs such as stereotypes, in-group and/or out-group, prejudice.
( John T. Jost,Aaron C. Kay ,Hulda Thorisdottir, 2009,P.365)
An other yet personality trait that helps justifying an unjustifiable system, is Authoritarianism. The authoritarian person is the kind of person that would accept anything, as long as its coming from a higher authority. For that reason they are best defined by the ways it takes for them to change their opinion. This theory has a branch, the dominance-submissive authoritarian role. One taste of the Submissive personality:

Right wing authoritarians believe strongly in submission to established authorities and the social norms these authorities endorse. They also believe in aggression against whomever these authorities target. This personality structure, observable by early adulthood and better explained by social learning than by psychoanalytic theory, is thought to develop during adolescence from earlier training in obedience, conventionalism, and aggression, as modified by the individual’s subsequent experiences. (John T Jost, Jim Sidanius, 2004, 85-86)

From this point expanding the theory to the Dominator Personality becomes interesting, as it becomes clearer that the theory can serve as a possible explanation for some of history’s worst points. There have been quite a few studies about the dominator role,  such as  The Mc Farland and Adelson (1996) Study, The September 1996 Manitoba Student Study all the way up to The January 1997 Student Study. To sum up,  Social dominator personalities did not appear very authoritarian-aggressive, and they usually seemed pretty indifferent towards religion. “They would use double standards quite freely when necessary to achieve their own ends-and do so fairly knowingly and nonchalantly, just as they often know that they are relatively prejudiced, but do not care.” (John T Jost, Jim Sidanius, 2004, 102). Further, they did not appear too much inclined to overthrow constitutional liberties as Right Wing Authoritarians, but they did prove just as likely to be prejudiced and racist.
Of course, there is no point in discussing personality traits without closely linking them to the person’s psychological needs, especially epistemic ones. Those, along with the individual’s ideological orientation, may depend on the person’s understand/knowledge of the categories of ideological discourse.

A “closed” epistemic orientation leads to the usual affinity for right-wing ideological content among individuals …high in political expertise. Given their understanding of how elites define and make use of ideological constructs, these individuals are able to choose the ideological orientation consistent with their epistemic orientation. On the other hand, individuals who are low in political expertise are less aware of the elite discussion in which ideology takes shape, making it more difficult for them to adopt a stance consistent with their epistemic needs.(John T. Jost,Aaron C. Kay ,Hulda Thorisdottir, 2009,287)

In support to this statement, it was proved that more than a third of the population could not even define basic political terms such as liberal and conservative. However the left-right distinction  is not inconsequential. Elite politician’s belief systems are far more dependent on social and psychological force, than the beliefs of the masses. For that reason politicians do use conventional ideological terms to organise their political attitudes. Of course there are always the people who do hold some coherent political belief that correspond to the right-left distinction. There are however some “motivational variables: Cognitive complexity, need for structure, intolerance of ambiguity, and uncertainty avoidance”.(John T. Jost,Aaron C. Kay ,Hulda Thorisdottir,2009, 178). 

It is possible to illuminate regional voting patterns, with researching personality variables. A strong example is the belief in social decline, which comes from the person’s inability to recognize changes in one’s own perspective, to changes in the outside world. The way a free teenager sees the world is much different then the way of a worried parent. This ideology can be a source of biased political perceptions, when it is used by, usually, conservative movements that treat this perception as real. At this point we are talking about ideological elaboration/ political exploitation, and it would be a good time to discuss rebellion movements, where it not for the fact that research so far has shown that there have been theories as to why and when men rebel, but those questions do not seem fundamental enough. One should better ask themselves: When do groups on the lower social strata actually stop trying to justify the sociopolitical structure, and want to make it better? How do they actually come to realise the illegitimacy of the pattern of an authority, when they were just complying silently, before?

In conclusion, the governance of a country, or shall we say, a political system is not just dependent on those on high authority. It is directly connected to the people’s personality traits, beliefs, biases and the information they receive in that region, which can even differ greatly from culture to culture. The characteristics of the situation play an important role too, generally to shape the character of the people in that region.  Of course I do not mean to say that this information is all there is to know. The most sure thing is that there needs to be done much more research, because there are still many areas that need refining, and the human psyche is impossible to be pinpointed down to accuracy.


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“Schematized Views of the World” & “Ways of Seeing” presentation