Sorry, Gina Lopez, But the Night is Dark & Full of Terrors

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My consistent experience in life is that as long as one commits to integrity and service, there are Divine Forces that help.”

So says Gina Lopez, the newly-appointed DENR secretary, in her Rogue article “Gina Lopez on Her Ashram Years and Turning Her Back on a Privileged Life“.

To note: this is not a question of Gina Lopez’s achievements as an environmentalist. To give credit where it is due, Gina has been playing a pivotal role in Pasig River’s rehabilitation. This criticism is not to dismiss her capacity to lead DENR.

That being said, her statement is emblematic of a misguided belief that the universe rewards and punishes accordingly–the so-called Just-World Fallacy

Shares the skeptic website You Are Not So Smart:

You’ve heard ‘what goes around comes around’ before, or maybe you’ve seen a person get what was coming to them and thought, ‘that’s karma for you.’ These are shades of the Just World Fallacy.

It sucks to think the world isn’t fair. It feels better to believe in karma and justice, in fairness and reward. A world with the righteous on one side of the scale, and evil on the other – that seems to make sense. You want to believe those who work hard and sacrifice get ahead, and those who are lazy and cheat do not.

This, of course, is not always true. Success is often greatly influenced by when you were born, where you grew up, the socioeconomic status of your family and random chance. All the hard work in the world can’t change those initial factors, which is not to say you should just give up if you were born poor.

The Just-World Fallacy can also lead to a false sense of security. You want to feel in control, so you assume as long as you avoid bad behavior, you won’t be harmed. You feel safer when you believe those who engage in bad behavior end up on the street, or pregnant, or addicted, or raped. It is infuriating when lazy cheats and con artists get ahead in the world while firemen and policemen put in long hours for little pay. Deep down, you want to believe hard work and virtue will lead to success, and laziness, evil and manipulation will lead to ruin, so you go ahead and edit the world to match those expectations.

Yet, in reality, evil often prospers and never pays the price.”

The belief that there is a mysterious universal system of rewards and punishment also shifts the onus of blame and responsibility on the victim, instead of the perpetrator.

Oliver Burkeman, in a 2015 The Guardian article, highlights:

“What’s truly unsettling about the just-world bias is that while it can have truly unpleasant effects, these follow from what seems like the entirely understandable urge to believe that things happen for a reason. After all, if we didn’t all believe that to some degree, life would be an intolerably chaotic and terrifying nightmare in, which effort and payback were utterly unrelated, and there was no point planning for the future, saving money for retirement or doing anything else in hope of eventual reward. We’d go mad. Surely wanting the world to make a bit more sense than that is eminently forgivable? ​

Yet, ironically, this desire to believe that things happen for a reason leads to the kinds of positions that help entrench injustice instead of reducing it.

[P]eople with a strong belief in a just world, [journalist Nicholas Hune-Brown] reports, are more likely to oppose affirmative action schemes intended to help women or minorities. You needn’t be explicitly racist or sexist to hold such views, nor committed to a highly individualistic political position (such as libertarianism)…You need only cling to a conviction that the world is basically fair. That might be a pretty naive position, of course – but it’s hard to argue that it’s a hateful one. Similar associations have been found between belief in a just world and a preference for authoritarian political leaders. [emphasis mine] 

To shield ourselves psychologically from the terrifying thought that the world is full of innocent people suffering, we endorse politicians and policies more likely to make that suffering worse.

(Think about that last statement the next time you think criminals and criminality exist in a vacuum, wherein external factors such as genetics and poverty do not come into play.)

Commit to integrity and service, by all means yes. But no, Gina Lopez: sadly, the night is dark and full of terrors, and we’re the only ones who can and must keep the flame alight. 

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