In our August 30 post, we introduced psychologist Albert Bandura‘s mechanisms of moral disengagement. Today we begin to explore the six strategies Bandura has identified.
Bandura indicates that often people “cognitively reconstruct” an inhumane behavior to make it into something different from–that is, more moral than–what it actually is. One way to do that is to cloak the behavior “in moral wrappings.”
Bandura uses the term “moral justification” to describe this process.
In this regard, Bandura cites Voltaire, who said “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
In our view, Bandura has identified an important process manipulated by people in power. This process has been effective in getting ordinary people to kill and torture, while still viewing themselves as moral and even as followers of the Golden Rule.
On the other hand, we dislike the ambiguous use of ”moral” in front of “justifications.” It suggests that the justifications are “moral” rather than “pseudo-moral.” For this kind of moral disengagement, we suggest that a better term would be “spuriously moral justifications” or “pseudo-moral justifications.”
Over the next few weeks, we will continue to explore mechanisms of both moral disengagement and moral engagement. Alternating posts between the two types of mechanisms, we hope to illustrate the spectrum of moral behaviors as they apply to engaging peace.
The next post will address the reciprocal of pseudo-moral justifications–specifically, principled moral arguments.
Dr. Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology
Note: This post was adapted from my previously published article in Peace Psychology (a publication of the American Psychological Association), Spring, 2009.