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This morning the world felt like a chaotic place. I was reading about the looting in Ferguson and how a peaceful demonstration turned into what sounded like chaos. The reality is that the world is not a chaotic place. It is actually quite orderly. This is, by the way, a basic belief of Behaviorism. One of the reasons the world feels chaotic is because it does not seem to behave the way we expect it to, or feel it should.

From what I understand, one of the precipitating events of the looting was a video released by police showing the shooting victim in the act of stealing from a store. Whether police planned it this way or not, they likely activated what is called the Just World Hypothesis, which is briefly summarized in the statement "people get what they deserve". The Just World Hypothesis can also act as a cognitive bias, and biases are ways the brain filters and sorts information to increase cognitive efficiency. The Just World Hypothesis is not a new concept. It is also found in an ancient text in the Book of Job.

The Just World Hypothesis contributes to the chaos in a couple ways. First, it overly simplifies complex situations. Does a person deserve to be killed because they steal? Only extremists actually believe this, so suggesting (even inadvertantly) that the man in Ferguson is dead because he was a thief contributes to the sense of chaos. The Just World Hypothsis also seems right (or at least describes a world I want to live in), so we over apply it. Do people always get what they deserve? Of course not. The Book of Job, by the way, is all about this, and in fact, one of the pieces of advice Job gets from a friend is to admit his guilt to God.

Chaos happens when we misapply the Just World Hypothesis. It is true that it is an effective bias for explaining much of what happens around us, but it is certainly not infallible or complete. The reality is that there are things like injustice, fear, selfishness, ignorance, and plenty of other factors that can overwhelm justice, fairness, and deserving. Why did Michael Brown die? It is not because he deserved it.

As a parent, you would do well to expose your child to other explanations for seemingly chaotic things they see happening in the world. They can sense the chaos, but they struggle to turn it back into order. Feeding them one simple line (e.g., people get what they deserve) might sound like a good rule of thumb, but it actually makes things harder for them because it is insufficient to explain what is happening in the world around them.

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