John Jost is one of the preeminent social psychologists working today, and the ‘progenitor’ of System Justification Theory. It asks a simple question: why do humans accept Injustice?
S2 E16: System Justification
“The disadvantaged don’t make the world, they cope with it”
Since Etienne de la Boetie’s Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (1577), we have asked ourselves why the weak, the poor and the marginalised accept injustice.
Social scientists talk to economic and political oppression. John Jost’s work shows that the oppressed don’t just suffer the injustice, they commit to it. Across society, people “invest in their own unhappiness”.
Black children prefer white dolls; women feel entitled to lower salaries; victims blame themselves; around the world, people vote against their own economic interests…
Jost presents three underlying reasons - epistemic, existential and relational - for why people become psychologically invested in the status quo even if it harms their objective interests, and walks through some of the research that demonstrates it.
“People are motivated to defend, bolster and justify existing social, economic and political institutions and arrangements because doing so serves fundamental psychological needs”
Listen to John Jost explain:
- False Consciousness: “ideology as a cognitive illusion” (Marx)
- Out-Group Favouritism
- Why social activism is so taxing - and so many activists suffer burnout
- The role of the Stereotype: it simplifies and justifies
- The role of Evolution in system justification
- And how to break the cycle
“Part of the job of the Social Psychologist is to look at fixing the ills they identify”
Works cited include:
- Daniel Kahneman’s Prospect Theory
- Robert Sapolsky, on the physiology of low-status
- Howard Zinn
- Gyorgy Lukacs
- Berger and Luckman’s The Social Construction of Reality
- Karl Marx
- Antonio Gramsci
- Henri Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory
- Catharine MacKinnon: Towards a Feminist Critique of the State
- Chris Boehm on the benefits of inequality
Read the Full Transcript
John Jost is Professor of Psychology, Politics, & Data Science and Co-Director of the Center for Social and Political Behavior at New York University. His research addresses stereotyping, prejudice, social justice, intergroup relations, political ideology, and system justification theory. He has published over 200 journal articles and book chapters and five books, including A Theory of System Justification.
Subscribe to On Opinion: the Parlia Podcast
Why podcast? Our mission
The Parlia Podcast asks: what is an opinion? where do they come from? And what does that mean for politics and society?