Not Just A River In Egypt

November 20th, 2007at 09:11pm Posted by Eli

The life force of the Republican party:

In this emerging view, social scientists see denial on a broader spectrum — from benign inattention to passive acknowledgment to full-blown, willful blindness — on the part of couples, social groups and organizations, as well as individuals. Seeing denial in this way, some scientists argue, helps clarify when it is wise to manage a difficult person or personal situation, and when it threatens to become a kind of infectious silent trance that can make hypocrites of otherwise forthright people.


In a series of recent studies, a team of researchers led by Peter H. Kim of the University of Southern California and Donald L. Ferrin of the University of Buffalo, now at Singapore Management University, had groups of business students rate the trustworthiness of a job applicant after learning that the person had committed an infraction at a previous job. Participants watched a film of a job interview in which the applicant was confronted with the problem and either denied or apologized for it.

If the infraction was described as a mistake and the applicant apologized, viewers gave him the benefit of the doubt and said they would trust him with job responsibilities. But if the infraction was described as fraud and the person apologized, viewers’ trust evaporated – and even having evidence that he had been cleared of misconduct did not entirely restore that trust.

“We concluded there is this skewed incentive system,” Dr. Kim said. “If you are guilty of an integrity-based violation and you apologize, that hurts you more than if you are dishonest and deny it.”


In an effort to calculate exactly how often people overlook or punish infractions within their peer groups, a team of anthropologists from New Mexico and Vancouver ran a simulation of a game to measure levels of cooperation. In this one-on-one game, players decide whether to contribute to a shared investment pool, and they can cut off their partner if they believe that player’s contributions are too meager. The researchers found that once players had an established relationship of trust based on many interactions – once, in effect, the two joined the same clique – they were willing to overlook four or five selfish violations in a row without cutting a friend off. They cut strangers off after a single violation.


Nowhere do people use denial skills to greater effect than with a spouse or partner. In a series of studies, Sandra Murray of the University of Buffalo and John Holmes of the University of Waterloo in Ontario have shown that people often idealize their partners, overestimating their strengths and playing down their flaws.

This typically involves a blend of denial and touch-up work – seeing jealousy as passion, for instance, or stubbornness as a strong sense of right and wrong. But the studies have found that partners who idealize each other in this way are more likely to stay together and to report being satisfied in the relationship than those who do not.

“The evidence suggests that if you see the other person in this idealized way, and treat them accordingly, they begin to see themselves that way, too,” Dr. Murray said. “It draws out these more positive behaviors.”

Faced with the high odor of real perfidy, people unwilling to risk a break skew their perception of reality much more purposefully. One common way to do this is to recast clear moral breaches as foul-ups, stumbles or lapses in competence – because those are more tolerable, said Dr. Kim, of U.S.C. In effect, Dr. Kim said, people “reframe the ethical violation as a competence violation.”

She wasn’t cheating on him – she strayed. He didn-t hide the losses in the subprime mortgage unit for years – he miscalculated.

So let’s see, we’ve got the deny-everything-and-never-apologize strategy, we’ve got the wildly skewed double standards where Democrats have to be purer than Mother Theresa and Republicans just have to be purer than Aleister Crowley, we’ve got the recasting of negatives (bloodthirsty and insane) into positives (resolute and strong), and we’ve got evil explained away as simple incompetence.

It’s by no means comprehensive, but it covers the Republican modus operandi pretty well, at least in terms of how they present their own behavior. Yes, I’m sure Democrats and progressives are guilty of some of this as well, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t actually elevated it to doctrine.

Entry Filed under: Politics,Republicans,Science

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