Unlike Sop and those of you “in the know” commenting, I know little about any of the individuals who are among “the cast of characters” in the Jefferson Parish story. Behavioral science, on the other hand, is a subject I know something about – more than enough to tell me that among “the cast of characters” are some who were “caught up” in “the situation”.
I began writing this commentary as a comment in response to one Whitmergate posted that began: “Well Sop, I would like to believe that a person who has a grasp of reality would do exactly what one’s gut feels is right…” Unfortunately, for some in Jefferson Parish, “what one’s gut feels is right” was shaped by “the situation”
In my off-blog life, I’ve been researching and writing about behavior – most recently about the reasons for “misbehavior” and how it develops. In order to reach the point I needed to make, I’ve had to go all the way back to the period immediately following birth and work my way forward.
Along the way, I passed the period when children begin functioning as a member of some group – meaning preschool or school. In their first group experience, many children will exhibit what is deemed “inappropriate behavior” by the standards of the group. Often, however, these children are simply behaving in a way they’ve learned and believe appropriate because it is “acceptable behavior” in their home, community, or culture. Nonetheless, in order to be a successful member of the group, these children must change their behavior to that deemed appropriate for the group.
Hold those thoughts and I’ll spare you a discussion of the in-between years and fast forward to adulthood: “Why Good Intentions are Often Not Enough: The Potential for Ethical Blindness in Legal Decision-Making” – a challenge to “the pervasiveness of assumptions about the power of conscious processes in ethical decision making…
… Within the common framework of deliberative action, we tend to see unethical behaviour as the result of conscious and controlled mental processes.
Drawing on a range of psychological research…[this paper] focuses on two important findings: first, that automatic mental processes are far more dominant in our thinking than most of us are aware; and second, that because we do not generally have introspective access to these processes, we infer from their results what the important factors in our decision making must be. These findings challenge the notion that individuals can be fully aware of what influences them to act ethically or unethically.
As humans grow and learn, they develop “automatic mental processes”. Simply stated, we no longer need to consciously think about how to do certain things. For example, we once had to learn how to use a knife and fork. Once learned, those skills become “automatic mental responses and we eat a meal without any thought of the skills involved.
Researchers have long noted that it would be impossible for humans to function effectively if conscious, controlled, and aware mental processes had to deal with every aspect of life. Instead, it appears that the sophistication of our minds has developed along side human evolution so that over time more aspects of our daily tasks have been assigned to the realm of unconscious acts.
“…one of the most important cognitive processes in the context of ethical awareness is rationalization. Not only is rationalization part of how we consciously reason about our ethical decision making, it also has the capacity, when used over time, to become an automatic mental process.
This tendency can be increased by situational factors that encourage rationalization, and by professional and organizational justifications that mask unethical conduct. As such, rationalization is important to consider in the context of legal decision making. If reasons such as ‘It is just my job’, ‘I was told to do it’ or ‘Everyone else is doing it’ become deeply embedded…and this thinking is reinforced by workplace or professional norms, ethical blindness can result…because rationalization processes remove the ethics from view.”
In “the situation” of Jefferson Parish, what appears to be an entire parish government came to be a group functioning with standards of “acceptable behavior” that were – and are – “unacceptable” outside that group.
Welcome to Jefferson Parish, home of the ethically blind!