The just world fallacy

A Joint Post with Sue Jones inspired by Lynne Friedli & Robert Stearn  in their post “Whistle while you work…”


The Tories now deem anything that criticises them as “abusive”. Ordinary campaigners are labelled “extremists” and pointing out flaws, errors and consequences of Tory policy is called “scaremongering”. Language and psychology are a powerful tool, because the use of this kind of  “pre-programs”  sets the terms of any discussion or debate. It also informs you what you may think, or at least, what you need to circumnavigate in order to state your own account or case. This isn’t simply name-calling or propaganda: it’s a deplorable and tyrannical silencing technique.
The government have a Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), which is comprised of both behavioural psychologists and economists, which apply positivist (pseudo)psychological techniques to social policy. They produce “Positive psychology’”courses which the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) are using to ensure participants find satisfaction with their lot; the DWP are also using psychological referral with claims mandatorily being reconsidered by civil servant “decision makers”, as punishment for non-compliance with the new regimes of welfare conditionality, to which people claiming out of work benefits are subject.These “Positive Psychology’”courses, and the use of psychological referral as punishment are examples of the (mis)application of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy  (CBT).
CBT is all about making a person responsible for their own thoughts and how they perceive events and experiences, and can be used to empower people. But used in this context,  we are seeing the “responsibilisation” of poverty, with claimants being blamed for not having a job or for being ill or disabled. However, responding with anger, sadness and despair is normal to many events and circumstances, and to deny that in any way is actually grotesque, cruel and horrendously abusive; – it’s a method called gaslighting Gaslighting  is a method of psychological abuse that is usually associated with psychopathic perpetrators; techniques may range from a simple denial by abusers that abusive incidents have occurred, to events and accounts staged by the abusers with the intention of disorienting the victims.
The government is pre-empting any reflection on widening social inequality and injustice by using these types of behavioural modification techniques on the poor, holding them entirely responsible for the government’s economic failures and the consequences of those. Sanctions are applied to “remedy” various “defects” of individual behaviour, character and attitude, and poor people are being coerced into workfare and complicity using bogus psychology and bluntly applied behavioural modification techniques.
Poor people are punished for being poor, whilst wealthy people are rewarded for being wealthy. Not only on a material level, but on a level of socially and politically attributed esteem, worth and value. We know from research undertaken by sociologists, psychologists and economists over the past century that being poor is bad for mental health. The government is choosing to ignore this and adding to that problem substantially by stripping people of their basic dignity and autonomy.
The application of behavioural science is even more damaging than the hateful propaganda and media portrayals, although both despicable methods of control work together to inflict psychological damage on more than one level. “Positive psychology” and propaganda serve to invalidate individual experiences, distress and pain and to appropriate blame for circumstances that lie entirely outside of an individual’s control and responsibility.
Social psychologists such as Melvin Lerner followed on from Milgam’s work, exploring social conformity and obedience seeking to answer the questions of how regimes that cause cruelty and suffering maintain popular support, and how people come to accept social norms and laws that produce misery and suffering. The “just-world” fallacy is the cognitive bias (assumption) that a person’s actions always bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person; so all honourable actions are eventually rewarded and all evil actions are eventually punished. The fallacy is that this implies (often unintentionally) the existence of cosmic justice, stability, or order, and  serves to rationalise people’s misfortune on the grounds that they deserve it. It is an unfounded, persistent and comforting belief that the world is somehow fundamentally fair, without the need for our own moral agency and responsibility.
The fallacy appears in the English language in various figures of speech that imply guaranteed negative reprisal, such as: “You got what was coming to you,” “What goes around comes around,” and “You reap what you sow.” This tacit assumption is rarely scrutinised, and goes some way to explain why innocent victims are blamed for their misfortune. This Government divides people into deserving and undeserving categories – the “strivers” and “scroungers” rhetoric is an example of how the government are drawing on such fallacious tacit assumptions; this draws on an inbuilt bias of some observers to blame victims for their suffering – to justify social oppression and inequality they have engineered via policy.
The poorest are expected to be endlessly resilient and resourceful, benefit claimants are having their lifeline benefits stripped away, and are being forced into a struggle to meet their basic survival needs. This punitive approach can never work to “incentivise” or motivate in such circumstances, because we know that when people struggle to meet basic survival needs they are too pre-occupied by that to be motivated to meet other less pressing needs. Maslow identifies this in his “Hierarchy of Needs”, and many motivational studies bear this out. This makes the phrase trotted out by the Tories: “helping people into work” to justify sanctions and workfare not only utterly terrifying, but also inane.
Unemployment is NOT caused by “psychological barriers”, it is caused by feckless and reckless governments failing to invest in growth projects. It’s not about personal “employability”, it’s about economics, political policies and subsequent socio-structural problems.
Public policy is not a playground for the amateur and potentially dangerous application of brainwashing techniques via UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or “nudge unit”. This is NOT being nasty in a “nice way: it is being nasty in a nasty way, as it’s utterly callous. The rise of psychological coercion, ‘positive affect as coercive strategy’, and the recruitment of traditional and economic psychology/psychologists into monitoring, modifying and punishing people who claim social security benefits raises important ethical questions about psychological authority, and we are very concerned about the professional silence so far regarding this adoption of a psychocratic approach to social control by this government.

42 thoughts on “The just world fallacy

  1. The Reality is the coalition are attempting to rewind the social clock engineering social attitudes along the way, people who despite working have a low income don’t work hard or long enough or at least that’s the typical attitude displayed by the likes of certain Political figures, those who are through no fault of there own working part time are simply lazy, the Unemployed of course are the lowest of the low work shy scroungers, and god forbid an individual should be disabled or sick and Unemployed they are as they were in the early 1800s the malingering class who for whatever reason are the worst scroungers of all and are obviously the Undeserving poor because they are also obviously morally lacking, its all a big fat ugly political Myth created and foisted on an unsuspecting poorly and ill informed middle class who as yet haven’t realized that the propaganda and rhetoric machine has been pointed in there direction, sad when you consider that once the poorest are gon the sights are retrained on the next social group or the new poorest.


    • i agree with many of the above points and many unemployed are not lazy, however i do not want to give 25 hours of my life a week via tax to help, as it is MY life and im only on this planet for a limited time….paying tax is akin to slavery to the state. they steal my life, and use force to do it. i wouldnt expect others to do it for me to the extent that i do. neither do i agree with many practices of corporations either. but why rely on lying, corrupt beaurocrats to solve societies problems? why not have faith in the collective will and choice of people?


      • We do “have faith in the collective will and choice of people”…it’s called a democracy. You however have obviously decided that you only want to embrace the parts of that democracy that suit yourself, you therefore become part of the problem, not the solution.


  2. Great post, thank you for sharing this, it’s really important stuff, disgusting that this can happen in a supposedly “civilised society”, I honestly don’t know what to do or say anymore about all this stuff going on, it’s all so disheartening isn’t it. Hope that you’re doing ok, best wishes


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  5. Dear Jayne and Sue
    thanks for this and for tweets. It’s really good to see the debate moving forward.

    Just one point – because you quote directly from our blog ‘whistle as you work’ – I’d be grateful if you could put direct quotes in quotations and/or provide a link to our blog as the source. For example ‘The rise of psychological coercion, ‘positive affect as coercive strategy’, and the recruitment of traditional and economic psychology/psychologists into monitoring, modifying and punishing people who claim social security benefits raises important ethical questions about psychological authority’.

    Also, the ‘being nasty in a nice way’ is from a blog – we provide the link in our own piece – . Just wanted to make sure that any references to that are also acknowledged.

    I bang on a lot about accountability and take full responsibility for my own words. Perhaps putting links also creates more of a sense of a conversation between bloggers.
    best wishes and thanks again for this


  6. So, let’s recap.
    1. Policies to discriminate, demonise, and in some cases kill disabled and chronically ill – tick
    2. Policies to limit freedom to campaign before elections – tick
    3. Use of mass psychology to bend society to normalise acts of aggression or intimidation against minority groups and the vulnerable – tick
    4. Changing the language to mean something else for political control of the people – tick
    5. Bringing in laws that make “being thought to be about to cause a nuisance” criminalised – tick
    6. Bringing in laws that mean assemblies of two people can be subject to a banning order by private security guards and police – tick
    7. Making criticism of the government a criminal offence (see 5 above) – tick
    8. Giving untrained staff the right to declare someone an enemy of the state ATOS, DWP, workfare providers and sanctions – tick
    9 Making being unemployed or disabled a crime against the state, leading to destitution – tick
    10. Then they came for the rest of us …………..

    These are all policies of totalitarian states – Nazis, Stalin, Maoism, East Germany
    These are all policies that our government have deployed against us.
    What next –

    1.Paying children to shop their parents for activities in the home, like criticising he government? The Stasi made that one an art form.
    2. Not doing government prescribed activities at home (such as job search)
    3. Paying neighbours to report others activities that fall under any of the above
    3. Gulags, forced labour camp, imprisonment of political opponents
    5..Giving political favourites in industry slave labour – oh…..tick…..that should be on the above list

    Really good piece, really chilling. If we don’t get out & start complaining, demonstrating, or even civil disobedience, forming a real opposition, providing proof that these are not the will of the people, we will never get the boot off the back of our necks.


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  10. The word “GASLIGHTING” in your comment caught my eye.

    Gaslighting is part of a bigger menace called “GANG STALKING”.

    Now why is there not much more material written about Gang Stalking – which is a form of community behavioural control and conformity.

    Some other words and terms associated with Gang Stalking are: Targeted Individuals, Threat Assessment Lists, Community Notification Lists, Data Mining, Psychiatric Reprisals, Citizen Informants, Community Health and Safety, Workplace Mobbing, Street Theatre.

    Gang Stalking demands further study.

    This interesting report appeared in the Daily Mail:


  11. Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    In this highly informative post, Jayne Linney and Sue Jones describe the extremely questionable way the Conservatives use Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Positive Psychology to ensure psychological conformity and acceptance of their Neo-Liberal economic policies and treatment of the unemployment, poor and disabled by those groups themselves. The government ominously has a Behavioural Insights Team to formulate and supervise these techniques. This is a chilling, ominous development. Adam Curtis, in his excellent series ‘The Century of the Self’, showed how corporations and governments under the influence of Eduard Bernays, a relative of Freud, adopted Freud’s psychological techniques in order to gain support, and manipulate public opinion. To Science Fiction buffs, it recalls the dystopias of Brave New World and the Federation in BBC’s Blake’s 7. In Brave New World, humans were cloned in hatcheries, rather than born naturally. They were then conditioned to accept their predetermined place in society, according to the rigorous grading of their manufacturers. In Blake’s 7, the totalitarian federation had absolute control of their citizens through the use of brainwashing therapies, manipulated and falsified news, and tranquillizing drugs placed in the food, air and water. In many ways Blake’s 7 was influenced by Brave New World, though it also could be seen as a reaction to the danger posed by advanced techniques of mass psychological manipulation raised by some of the controversial New Religious Movements, and the Soviet abuse of psychiatry, publicised in the West by Solzhenitsyn. Well, the Soviet empire fell, to be replaced by Putin’s autocracy. This shows that the abuse of psychiatry has not stopped with the end of the Leninist-Stalinist state, but has been co-opted as Tory policy. They have thus become the mirror image of everything they claimed to hate about Communism, and a force for totalitarian oppression themselves.


  12. Great post Sue and Jayne
    Gas lighting is the silent abuse that gradually erodes a persons mental state as well. It can drive people to feel as if they are going insane. The abusers know what they are doing. It is insidious, calculating and cunning. Yes this is the work of Narcissists and Psychopaths. These people have no empathy, not like a normal person. Their brains are different to a normal brain. Other abuse styles of these abusers are the DOUBLE BIND, no win situations. Ring any bells!!! GRADUATED COMMITMENT, foot in the door technique, graduated bits of abuse that can be gradually accepted by society, then when the big nasty shocking bits of abuse comes, well its really not that bad. Is it????
    Guys have you read the work of DR Andrew Lobacskewski and his PATHOCRACY, very interesting, but worrying. He wrote a book on political ponerlogy. Evil in politics. Think you will find it insightful.
    I detest cognitive behavioural therapy. Never deny the self and the soul. This always ends up on the road to madness. Never deny our pain and suffering, its healthy to express, and feel this.


  13. While I and am sure many others appreciate the explanation, it can be summed up in one word- ‘brainwashing’. Just what the Viet Cong were demonised for, so too the North Koreans and many other socialist and communist regimes by the very people doing it to us.


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