Occupy Wall Street: What took so long?

One question raised by the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement, Tom Jacobs writes at Miller-McCune, is why it took three years from the time reckless financial traders caused the 2008 financial crisis for large numbers of people to collectively express outrage. A recent psychological study may provide at least part of the answer.

The study by a team of researchers led by New York University psychologist John Jost looked at how the impulse to defend the status quo dampens individuals’ inclination to protest.

“It is extremely difficult for most of us to believe that our political or economic system is inherently corrupt,” said Jost, “and it is a belief that we are tempted to resist, even when there is evidence suggesting deep and fundamental problems.

“Because of our immense psychological capacity to justify and rationalize the status quo, human societies are very slow to fix system-level injustices and to enact substantive changes.”

That reluctance to rock the boat is heightened by uncertainty, Jost said, so the economic uncertainty of the past few years probably delayed rather than hastened the protest against what is seen as an unfair system.

What changed? Among other things, he said, media coverage of popular uprisings in the Arab world and elsewhere may have encouraged the demonstrations in the U.S.