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Thu Aug 11, 2022, 06:22 AM

Social Vigilantes - Psychology Today

Like the vigilantes of the old west, these “social vigilantes” take it upon themselves to enforce their views of appropriate beliefs and behavior. Social vigilantes try to impose their views on the rest of us, pressuring and even intimidating everyone to adopt their beliefs about what people should think and how people should behave. Social vigilantes believe that they are obligated to enforce certain beliefs and standards even when they target thoughts and behaviors that are not in any way illegal and that do not directly hurt anybody.

Posted January 14, 2018
Mark Leary Ph.D.
Toward a Less Egoic World


... Social vigilantes, on the other hand, display a particularly pernicious variety of runaway egoicism in which they are convinced that their personal views should be imposed on everyone. Just as the vigilantes of the old west believed they were acting on behalf of society as they enforced their view of the law, today’s social vigilantes believe that they are acting on behalf of society to enforce correct ways of thinking and behaving.

Given the diversity of people’s beliefs and few agreed-upon criteria for judging them, what would lead someone to conclude that his or her personal view of reality should be imposed on everyone? What moves someone from merely disagreeing with other people’s beliefs and actions to insisting that everyone else conform to his or her own judgments about what is and is not acceptable?

Donald Saucier and Russell Webster at Kansas State University have begun to explore this question in their research on social vigilantism. Their research shows that social vigilantes go beyond believing that their views are correct, which we all do, to explicitly trying to propagate their beliefs. Typically, social vigilantes regard the mere expression of beliefs or attitudes that are contrary to their own as akin to a social “crime” that must be prevented if possible and punished should it occur. When other people do not share their beliefs, social vigilantes become upset and angry, and they take action to change other people's beliefs, which fuels conflicts with other people.

Not surprisingly, social vigilantes score high in dogmatism – the tendency to be closed-minded. But not all closed-minded people take it upon themselves to impose their views on others. Social vigilantes are not only dogmatic but are also highly motivated to control other people, and they narcissistically believe that their views are so incontrovertibly superior that they should make an ongoing effort to change others’ "ignorant" beliefs. Ironically, they are also the sort of people who display a great deal of resistance (what psychologists call reactance) when other people try to persuade or control them which, of course, is what social vigilantes try to do to the rest of us.


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