Or maybe stop cherry-picking when to use it. There probably isn’t a single person alive who has not at one point stated that a particular situation or outcome was unfair. But often many of us fall into the trap of thinking that everyone more or less gets what they deserve and deserves whatever they get.


This attitude has much to do with our current economic mess, particularly with it being almost impossible to enact real reforms that would bring out a more just, equitable society. People may not often say so, but their actions and words by proxy suggest that many feel that the rich are deserving of their riches, they got rich because of their hard work and talent. As for those who aren’t so well off, that’s simply a reflection of defective character. They must be lazy or lack the drive and initiative successful people have.

Luck has no place in this worldview. Sometimes you’ll hear people say “people create their own luck” or “luck is when preparation meets opportunity”. While there are plenty of instances where people miss opportunities for success and at the same time there are many who are opportunistic, to declare a universal, or near-universal truth that your results are what you had coming to you is just sick. A current reflection of this, which is hardly said verbatim but which is reflected in attitudes is “I’ve got mine. Screw you!! (If you don’t have yours it’s your own damned fault)”

This type of thinking is what is known as the just world fallacy. I will acknowledge here that you won’t hear many folks claim that a baby born with a birth defect that condemns him to a short, miserable life is deserving of that fate. Or that all of those who died in a plane crash had it coming to them. However there are many instances where bad things happen to people and you hear a few claiming that the victims must have done something to contribute to it. Sometimes after asserting that they’ll assert, in one form or another “ergo, they deserved it”.

Rape victims “wore clothes that were way too suggestive” or “shouldn’t have parked their car where they did” or “shouldn’t have gone out alone”. Mugging victims “shouldn’t have brought themselves into that bad part of town”. While people could plausibly do things to reduce their chances of becoming the next crime statistic, our society is built around the idea that you have the right to travel about in public without being violated. It follows from that assumption that walking down a dark alley does not make you deserving of being mugged or raped. Leaving the house with your doors unlocked is not smart and highly risky, and I would shake my head nowadays at anyone who does leave their home or car unlocked, but nobody has the right to help themselves to your TV and stereo equipment and to ransack your house while they’re at it.

People often employ the “just world fallacy” when it comes to peoples’ economic status. If one is laid off from a job, it must be because they were underperforming and were on a list of those to be surplussed. So-and-so who was laid off and hasn’t found work can only be unemployed because there’s something wrong with that person. She isn’t doing everything she can to find a job. He makes himself unattractive to prospective employers.


My own employer (who I will not reveal here) recently laid off about a dozen low-level supervisors strictly based on salary. Performance mattered not. Who is to say that they “deserved” that? Those who made the most were told their services weren’t needed any longer. Verifiable, documented statistics show that on average in the United States there are five job seekers for any given job opening. Now tell me that anyone can find employment if they just look hard enough.  A strict definition of karma is a form of the “just world” hypothesis.

This fallacious way of thinking has a great deal to do with a complete lack of empathy among some in our midst. They shore up their lack of empathy by, in some cases, saying that people who run into misfortune aren’t victims at all.

This fallacy even rears its ugly head in religion quite often. The most obvious example, other than maybe karma, is in the “prosperity Gospel” teaching prevalent in some strains of Christianity. If you do x or y, God will make you healthy, wealthy and happy. If you aren’t healthy, wealthy and happy then that’s a clear sign of you not being right with God. There’s still an element of the “just world fallacy” even among those who don’t subscribe to the “prosperity Gospel”. One of the central and oft-repeated tenets of Christianity is that any of the harshness we experience in life is due to man’s “fallen nature” – that Adam and Eve disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree caused those two not just to “fall from grace” caused the whole world and all of humanity forever to be cursed and to be identified as “sinful”. Add to that, many Christians will tell you that man’s behavior proves that claim.

There are many other logical problems with that Christian teaching, many of them based on question-begging assumptions which can be the subject of another blog entry, but for now, the focus here is how it becomes the creed of abusers, often internalized by those they abuse.  “I didn’t want to hit you, honey, but you made me”.