Fighting Local Government Corruption - Part 6 of ?

Why do some people feel that they can trample other people's rights and that's fine? This article will be fast and heavy. We are going to see the eight ways that people detach morality from their actions, why it's hard to tell when politicians are lying, a disturbing statistic related to the dark triad, two experiments that show the tendency of some people to abuse power and other people to follow bad orders, how stories reveal some of these processes, and the possibility for redemption.

There are eight techniques that people use to make the bad things that they do seem okay. The psychologist Albert Bandura wrote the book "Moral Disengagement". He also has a five page paper by the same name. By knowing about these you can be more alert and aware of the various manipulation techniques that are used. This will be a short overview. They have semi-confusing names, so I'll break down what they really mean.

Moral Justification
This is simply doing bad things as a means to a "good" end. "I'll sacrifice those people over there so that I can get to this thing I want." Those other people are just collateral damage. It's all for the greater good anyway. This basic view is that humans aren't really ends in themselves, they are just tools or obstacles. (It's disturbing, I know, but it will get worse. Still, it's important to know these things.)

Euphemistic Labeling
This is how politicians talk. It's why it's often confusing and boring to listen to them. If, for instance, they were to tell the truth they wouldn't say, "I lied." Nope, they will say something like, "I presented the information through a medium in which I believed we would be able to protect the lives of innocent children." What does that have to do with it? We'll all wonder what they're talking about, because they aren't really talking about anything. It's often worse than that too. Sometimes they do something like this, "Things that were untrue were communicated." It means the same thing as "I lied.", it just sounds like they didn't do anything wrong, and that's why they use it.

Exonerative Comparison; or, Advantageous Comparison
"Maybe I've done bad things, but look at that guy over there, he does even worse things. So, maybe I'm not really that bad."

Displacement of Responsibility
"Someone else told me to do this bad thing, so it's not really my fault."

Diffusion of Responsibility
"I wasn't alone in doing this, a bunch of other people were part of it too, so you can't really blame me."

Minimizing, Ignoring, or Misconstruing the Consequences; or Disregarding or Misrepresenting Injurious Consequences
There are a lot of examples that fall into this category, but here's one simple example: "It's not really hurting them that bad."

This is where you think of other humans as not human. It's often used in atrocities of various sorts, like when the Nazis called Jews pests. "These people are lower than us, they don't have rights because they don't deserve rights." (I think this is the most disturbing.)

Attribution of Blame
This one seems odd at first, but it's common. They just blame the victim for what they're doing to them. "You brought this on yourself."

Obviously some of these techniques are also why it's hard to tell when politicians are lying, but there is specific research into this too. Here is a tiny look into that. This is a piece of the abstract from the paper "Manipulating Public Opinion with Moral Justification" by Kathleen McGraw.

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...why it is so difficult to detect deceptive moral justifications. The difficulty arises because (1) people are not very good at detecting deception in general; (2) the mediated nature of political communication eliminates the nonverbal cues that are the most predictive of deception; (3) social judgment biases lead people to focus on the individual and inhibit suspicion; (4) the norms of political culture constrain politicians from accusing each other of lying, so that the public is not prompted by other sources to regard moral claims with suspicion.

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Luckily, not everyone is so constrained. For instance, let me reveal some information for you.

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This is from the Muskegon Circuit Court's website showing the township suing Hidden Creek Farm.

Here's the township supervisor lying about it.

Here's a recording of the township lying about it. (It's a phone call just over 6 minutes long. You'll have to download it to listen to it.)
(This is the same, different format. )

Here's a trustee saying he wasn't informed.

Here are the minutes before the lawsuit and injunction showing that it wasn't discussed in an open meeting.

Here are the minutes after the lawsuit and injunction. The lawsuit still isn't discussed, and the injunction is voted on after it was already done.

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Next, there truly are dark individuals. Most reasonable people know this, but they never expect to interact with them. They think they only exist on the news or in drama shows.

The dark triad is a set of three dangerous traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Narcissism means the person lacks empathy and has an overly grandiose view of themselves. Machiavellianism means the person manipulates and exploits people, doesn't worry about morality, and uses deception to get their way. Psychopathy means the person can be remorselessly antisocial.

There are people out there with these traits. Here's the scary statistic: one percent of people are psychopaths. That means that out of the next 100 people you see... yeah. Add sociopaths into the mix and you at least double that number. Think about that when you're at a large gathering of people, look around, think about it, it's scary.

The environment makes a strong difference as well. The controversial Stanford Prison Experiment was funded by the Navy to see how and why abuse comes about in prisons. Students were randomly assigned to be guards or prisoners. With small suggestions to do what was necessary to keep the "prisoners" in line, the "guards" quickly turned to classic methods of prisoner abuse. Power and authority given to the wrong people in the wrong situation results in bad things.

Not always is it even the people with the most authority that do the actual deeds, sometimes they are just ordered to. Stanley Milgram did experiments to see if it might be true that the people that committed atrocities in the Holocaust felt like they were truly "just following orders." As it turns out, most people are willing to give massive electric shocks to people if they are told to do so by an authority figure. They are uncomfortable doing it, but they still do it. People question it, they feel like it's wrong, but when reassured and told to continue, they do. In the struggle between obedience and conscience, the conscience usually loses.

Some narratives do a good job of exploring these processes. For instance, in the television show "Poldark" Elizabeth makes small compromises. Slowly, over years of moral compromises, she puts herself in a position where she has to do bad things to try to justify the previous compromises she has made. Her bad decisions and bad deeds grow over the years until they become destructively large. It was bad at the beginning, but because it was small she got away with it, she thought.

Another way it can happen is like Danny from "Game of Thrones". At first she is doing bad things to bad people, and it's justified. But, over time she keeps doing those bad things, even when she is crushing innocent people.

This all brings us to the possibility for redemption. I believe that there is always some possibility for redemption in life, even Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol". But, if there is a jewel thief that is seeking for redemption, he still shouldn't be left alone in a jewelry store at night with a key. It's the same with positions of authority. When moral and legal violations have been made I believe there should be attempts to restore justice by the individuals that committed those wrongs. That process is best completed as a personal journey, after those people are removed from their positions of authority, by themselves or by the citizens.

Many of the things mentioned in this article are unsavory to look at, to listen to, to think about, but if we forgo our responsibility of being aware, then who will stop them?


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