The Cognitive Backyard

Social Justice and Motivated Violence

In a very stimulating recent article, David Dubois of the INSEAD has studied the patterns and reasons of bad behavior in different levels of social classes. Initially, he refers to the anecdotal evidence that suggests that people higher in social class are more likely to behave unethically; he goes on further to acknowledge that people in the lower social class can also have unethical behaviors. However, what differentiate the two are the reasons for which people in different social classes behave unethically. David Dubois’ work “found that higher-class individuals are more likely to cheat when the unethical behavior benefits the self but lower-class individuals are more likely to cheat when the unethical behavior benefits another person”.

It is to be noted that this social class association is deduced by the amount of power a person perceives to own; and this power is more likely derived from income than education as suggested by David Dubois’ research.

In the end, he promulgates that one useful step to combat unethical behaviors in organizations might be to recognize the motivation of such wrongdoing – and directly address the motivation.

Social Justice and Social Class Stratification
Social class (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

David Dubois’ work is remarkable in the sense that it has attempted to study these patterns in an academic conduit, however, it is an age-old, universally accepted, ideal that with power comes responsibility and, by extension, a high possibility of corruption, and that the weak and the poor commits something wrong to help someone else. It is a familiar theme, and has often been highlighted in philosophical and legal circles and even in fictional works and film stories across the globe.

What intrigues me is if some researchers would build on this research and broaden its scope, focusing on what motivates criminal behaviors. Of course, we understand that, what may be unethical may not be illegal, and vice versa, however, the concluding hypothesis of David Dubois’ work might serve as a premise to study crime and its motivations. Those in government could then benefit from such researches and address the motivations rather than juggling from one law to another in order to control crime and keep failing.

This progressive research may also come handy, in post 9/11 world, to adopt a successful counter terrorism strategy at the national level for a country like Pakistan which has suffered the most. For any such successful counter terrorism strategy, it may also be important that the policy makers take into the historical, geographical, and religious flavors of these motivations into consideration, and deal with them in an appropriate delicate manner free from foreign coercion, or greed of a benefit that would otherwise contradict national interest in the longer run.

The ancient axiom, that one man’s hero is another man’s villain, with its profound knowledge and wisdom, has a lot to offer in terms of conflict resolution. The policy of relentlessly killing members of a community or group which perceives itself oppressed or aggrieved is a policy of recklessly creating heroes for the other side of the fence. Whether that perception of oppression is real or fictional is entirely another debate, however, the grievances that are felt on the other side are needed to be meticulously studied and rationally responded.

In legal world, the statement “let the punishment fit the crime” is considered tautology. Retribution is not vengeance. The policies adopted since 2001 have been consistently based on vengeance, radical measures answered with radical measures, extremism responded with extremism, and in the end blood has begotten more blood.

The mainstream narrative has been that because these “barbarians” lack education, employment, freedom, and democracy, so they have chosen the path of violence. This, if true, is a remarkable pattern of human behavior. It does not logically add up, no reasonable person would be willing to accept that so many people would want to kill and be killed for lack of education, employment, and democracy – freedom is, probably, the only notion that can motivate people to violence on large-scale, however, the perspectives on freedom remain controversial as well and often are influenced by the bias of which side are you on. Unfortunately, the curse of Bush’s vision has divided the world in to perpetually conflicting sides.

It is imperative that serious research efforts are focused on finding out more on the motivations of any criminal activity, and efforts are made to address these motivations. The same will be true for settling all internal disputes and threats that Pakistan currently face, may it be the insurgency in the tribal areas, the Baloch separatist movement, or governance issues related to eradication of civic crime and corruption. One simply cannot establish social justice and harmony by responding to violence with unrestrained and indefinite violence. The feeling of betrayal, degradation, and oppression in certain elements of society exists because of lack of social justice, and it is this lack of social justice that fuels blood thirsty violence and will continue to do so unless there is a remark paradigm shift in policy-making, as Frederick Douglass, the famous American reformer and abolitionist had said:

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them; neither persons nor property will be safe.


Bilal Khan

I am a Lahore, Pakistan, based researcher in the fields of Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration.
%d bloggers like this: