Social Dominance Orientation and Self-defense


April 13, 2017 by John Crapper


Self-defense classes are taught every day to teach us the tools we can use to help us protect ourselves physically.  But we also have an arsenal of psychological self-defense tools we use to protect our mental state.  They serve us well but with certain issues like climate change can also get in the way of acceptance of an issue and taking action.

When the Black Plague broke out in Europe, the Lord Mayor of London ignored those who observed that homes and neighborhoods stricken by the plague were overrun with rats. In fact, the holdouts kept insisting nothing was wrong until entire populations began to die. Why did it have to go that far?

We are wired to resort to various psychological self-defense mechanisms .  One is rationalization or self-deception.  We convince ourselves that everything isn’t as bad as it seems.

For example, a while back a friend of mine was diagnosed with diabetes and told he had to make changes to his diet and lifestyle.  He didn’t want to accept the gravity of his new diagnosis and instead convinced himself he would be fine because it really wasn’t that serious.  It wasn’t until he became seriously ill that he began to change his lifestyle.

Another is cognitive dissonance.

 The theory of cognitive dissonance describes the unease which comes when reality conflicts with our beliefs, and how we often go to extreme lengths try to ignore or distort evidence, so that we can maintain our beliefs.

Still other self-defense mechanisms serve to deflect and distract us from bad news such as

… manic defenses (trying to cheer oneself up and “think positively”), scapegoating the bearer of bad news, self-distraction, paranoia (“It’s all a hoax”), splitting (keeping the bad news off to one side), parent projections (mother Earth can’t be sick, father God won’t permit it).

In all defense, the primary goal is to hold the mind together against an onslaught of overwhelming, destabilizing emotions until the defender has a safe place and opportunity to work through overwhelm and move from helplessness into action.

Furthermore, the mind, has reinforcing feedback loops that self-perpetuate.  It can create a reaction when hearing bad news that goes something like this –“It can’t be that bad.”  These feedback loops have significant implications when trying to wake up someone to impending danger.

From Science Daily October, 2016

The results show that climate change denial correlates with political orientation, authoritarian attitudes and endorsement of the status quo. It also correlates with a tough-minded personality (low empathy and high dominance), closed-mindedness (low openness to experience), predisposition to avoid experiencing negative emotions, and with the male sex. Importantly, one variable, named social dominance orientation (SDO), helped explain all these correlations, either entirely or partially.

Social dominance orientation is a measure of the acceptance and advocating of hierarchical and dominant relations between social groups. This acceptance of hierarchies also extends to accepting human dominance over nature. The correlation between SDO and climate change denial can perhaps be explained by considering the many injustices of climate change. Our current wealthy lifestyles are the primary cause of climate change, but the most serious consequences are affecting mainly poor countries and people, as well as animals and future generations of humans.

The question then is how the issue of climate change can best be presented to people with a high SDO to convince them of the need for action.

“The arguments used in the climate debate often revolve around giving up conveniences in life to help the environment or the poor or weak. But that is maybe not a convincing argument to someone who sees the world from a hierarchical viewpoint. It would perhaps be better to talk in other terms and describe how everyone will benefit from the measures instead of being affected by the consequences and that the measures don’t have to be a threat to the current societal structure,” says Kirsti Jylhä. (emphssis mine)

The more I delve into the reasons behind climate denial and delay the more convinced I am that a positive “let’s work together to create a more prosperous, livable  and fulfilling future for us all” message rather than a “gloom and doom” one is the key.

So I ask you to drop that “gloom and doom” feeling and join us.




Participate in our April 22-29 Week of Action and help chart a path away from Trump’s agenda and towards a clean energy economy!

On April 29, let’s march for jobs, justice, and the climate.

Sign up for the historic Peoples Climate March in Washington, D.C. or for a ‘sister march’ near you.

To change everything, we need to stand together to protect our climate, our health, and our communities.

Follow the hashtag  #ClimateMarch — and share your own content .

Sample Tweet:

I’m marching on 4/29. To build the world we want we must stand up for jobs, justice, and the climate. #ClimateMarch peoplesclimate.org

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Our climate is changing. I'm humorously serious about addressing it. I'm convinced my ego is the main culprit. My religion, Holy Shitters, demands I humble myself and celebrate the fact my shit stinks.
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