Friday, January 19, 2018

Victims, Me Too, Bernie Sanders and the Losing Coalition

The "Me Too" movement and all the ripples outward from that on Twitter and elsewhere have caught my attention as an example of why Democrats will not be successful in winning office or even shaping discussion for the foreseeable future. They simply are too fractured an amalgam of ideas and half formed thoughts and raw emotions.

Part of the problem is their embrace of "victimhood."

The best analysis I've seen of this is an old piece now, written in 1989 by a man named Joseph Epstein, who was fired from his post as editor of "The American Scholar" for being too politically incorrect. If I could get him on the phone or get his email address I'd surely try to contact him and ask what he thinks of "Me Too" and other similar "movements" or modes of thought.

His piece, in the NYT deserves some attention:

Ann Richards, the Texas State Treasurer, completed her strong keynote speech, the commentator on the television network I was watching remarked (as near as I can recall), ''Ann Richards is a divorced mother of four who has undergone rehabilitation for an alcohol problem.'' Earlier in the campaign, Kitty Dukakis had announced that she had undergone treatment for an addiction she had to diet pills. During his speech at the convention, Jesse Jackson, in speaking of his own origins, declared that he was an illegitimate child, and then he wove a speech around the metaphor of the Democratic Party being a quilt both made by and supplying warmth to all those elements in American life - minority groups, homosexuals, American Indians (or Native Americans, as they're now known), welfare families, and many others - who, in Mr. Jackson's reading, were America's victims. Eight and even four years earlier, the Democratic Party had advertised itself as the party of concern. Last summer, though, the Democratic Party seemed to have cut out the middleman and gone from ''caring persons'' straight to victims. The logic of the convention seemed to call for Michael Dukakis, on the night of his nomination, to arrive in an iron lung and announce that he was a lesbian mother.

Oh, how politically incorrect!  I stood up and cheered! Finally!

God, how tired I am of all the sad eyed wailing from self dramatizing people for whom victimhood is the most accessible status to advance themselves.
I'm a journalist. Why do men hit on me?

Epstein continues:
Victims have never been in short supply in the world, but the rush to identify oneself as a victim is rather a new feature of modern life. Why this should be so isn't very complicated: to position oneself as a victim is to position oneself for sympathy, special treatment, even victory.
But then, Epstein notes, the strategy of claiming victim status is not confined to individuals, but can accrue to causes:
It's not only individuals who benefit. In international politics, one sees the deliberate strategy of positioning for victimhood played out in the Middle East. Although Israel is a country of fewer than four million Jewish people surrounded by Arab nations numbering some 200 million people, very few of whom mean the Israelis well, the Arabs have somehow been able to make themselves - or at least the Palestinians as their representatives - seem the great victims in the Middle East. Every time a woman or a small child is injured in the organized riots known as the intifada - one might ask why small children are allowed anywhere near such danger - the victimhood of the Palestinians is reinforced and their cause, as victims, made all the stronger.
Real victim

Gandhi was the great teacher of the art of victimhood, of setting one's victimization on full public display. Part of the genius of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was to recognize the value of Gandhi's lessons for the American civil rights movement, and most especially the lesson of nonviolent resistance, which not only highlights victimhood but gives it, in a good cause, a genuinely moral aura. Their moral and physical courage lent civil rights workers in the South an appeal that was irresistible to all but the most hard-hearted of segregationists. Americans, all of whose families began in this country as immigrants, have a built-in tradition of having known victimhood, at least historically, and hence a strong tendency toward sympathy for victims.
Yet it was the civil rights movement, by my reckoning, that changed the tenor, the quality, the very nature of victimhood in the United States. I happened to be living in the South in the early 1960's, working as a director of the antipoverty program in Little Rock, Ark., while the civil rights movement was under way in full earnest. What I saw was a number of bad laws called into question and ultimately removed by acts of courage and wise restraint on the part of the victims of those laws. One really had to have nailed shut the shutters to one's heart not to have been moved by the spectacle of men and women risking everything to gain only what in fairness was coming to them. It was immensely impressive, on every level. Why? Because the early civil rights movement's appeal was unmistakably not to the guilt but to the conscience of the nation.

Wannabe victims

He goes on to see the positive value of using the status as victim in some instances:
An appeal to conscience is an appeal to one's ethical nature, to one's sense of fair play; it is fundamentally an appeal to act upon the best that is in one. An appeal to guilt is almost entirely negative; rather than awaken the best in one, it reminds one what a dog one is. Conscience seeks its outlet in action, or right conduct; guilt seeks assuagement, or to find a way to be let off the hook.
The civil rights movement, like a spiritual oil spill, left a vast residue of guilt in its wake. Suddenly, if you were white you couldn't possibly be in the right. Such civil rights figures as Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown - and not they alone -were endlessly reminding everyone that their forebears were brought to this country against their will in chains by our forebears. (That my forebears themselves fled a 25-year conscription in the czar's army and your forebears fled the peril of another potato famine was judged beside the point.) This abundant stirring up of guilt may have produced little in the way of direct social change, but it did without doubt strike its target - so profoundly that social scientists began to write about a ''culture of guilt.'' The guilt that was loosed, moreover, was of a kind that had no outlet.

And then he nails the whole Black reparation for slavery thing, which has always struck me as not just patently absurd, but destructive of ends. Do these reparation urgers not understand Lincoln's "every drop of blood drawn by the lash paid by one drawn by the sword" remark?  Legions of young white men died in reparation for slavery. And they were not even the slave owners.
real reparations; paid by the sword

What are you supposed to do, after all, if someone blames you for slavery, a hideous institution, to be sure, but one defunct for more than a century? Say you are sorry it ever happened? Should you clear your throat and announce that there are historical reasons for some of these things
 It soon began to seem as if there wasn't anyone in American life who couldn't find grounds for claiming to be a victim.

Then he gets down to the nub of the psychology of the victim mongers:
Small wonder, too, for victimhood has not only its privileges but its pleasures. To begin with, it allows one to save one's greatest sympathy for that most sympathetic of characters -oneself. Of the various kinds and degrees of pity, easily the most vigilant is self-pity. To stake out one's own territory as a victim, or member of a victim group, also allows one to cut the moral ground out from under others who make an appeal on the basis of their victimhood - to go off singing, as it were, ''You've got your troubles, I've got mine.''
THE PLEASURES OF VICTIM-hood include imbuing one's life with a sense of drama. The drama of daily life is greatly heightened if one feels that society is organized against one.
. Excluded, set apart, alienated, the victim begins to sound like no one so much as the modern artist.
Artists have for some while now liked to think of themselves as victims. Whole books - usually overwrought, rather boring books - have been written about the alienation of the artist in modern society.
 It reminded me of H. L. Mencken's remark that whenever he heard writers complain about the loneliness of their work he recommended that they spend a few days on the assembly line, where they would have plenty of opportunities for camaraderie with their mates.
A victim, especially a professional victim, must at all times be angry, suspicious, above all progress-denying. He or she is ever on the lookout for that touch of racism, sexism, or homophobia that might show up in a stray opinion, an odd locution, an uninformed misnomer. With victims everywhere, life becomes a minefield in a cow pasture - no matter where you step, you are in trouble.

And here, I have in fact, seen this very thing on Twitter: the ambulance chaser victims' advocates:
As if all this isn't nervous-making enough, there has come into being a large number of people, many of them in universities, who, if not victims themselves, wish to speak for victims or rouse other people to a sense of their injury as victims. They are the intellectual equivalent of ambulance chasers.
All hammer cheerfully away at revealing what a perfect hell life has been, and continues to be, for almost everyone in the world. And yet they all seem so happy in their work:
One might conceivably be a victim if one works in a coal mine or a steel mill or in the fields as a sharecropper, but no one who works as a teacher in a university, or for that matter is a student there, is a victim. To have a teaching job in a university is to work roughly seven months a year in a generally Edenic setting at intellectual tasks largely of one's own choosing. Relativity of relativities, a victim among university teachers is someone who isn't permitted to teach the Shakespeare course, or who feels he has stupid students, or whose office is drafty, or who doesn't get tenure (which is lifetime security in the job) and therefore must find another job within (usually) the next 16 months. These are not exactly the kinds of problem faced by, say, boat people fleeing Cambodia.

Oh, and here he gets going on the college crowd, the Victim Lit thing:
Yet an increasing number of university teachers nowadays teach one or another branch of victimology -what might not unfairly be called Victim Lit. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and other only scarcely less august institutions compete among themselves lest they be caught without a goodly supply of angry teachers of victimological subjects.
Irony of ironies, nuttiness of nuttinesses, the scene thus presented is that of the fortunate teaching the privileged that the world is by and large divided between the oppressed and the oppressors, victims and executioners, and that the former are inevitably morally superior.
No dogs chewing on them

And then there are the demographics of victimhood:
Such a situation could never have come about without certain fundamental confusions having been firmly established, and these begin with language itself. Victims have traditionally been minority groups, but in fact women, who in the United States are a slight majority, have been deemed victims, whereas the Jews and the Chinese in America, though clearly minorities (and vastly less numerous than blacks or Hispanic people), are not usually counted as victims and thus rarely get included in affirmative action or other quota favoritism programs. A victim, then, is someone who insistently declares himself a victim.

Can the victims play a role in their own victimization?
People who count and call themselves victims never blame themselves for their condition. They therefore have to find enemies. Forces high and low block their progress: society is organized against them; history is not on their side; the malevolent, who are always in ample supply, conspire to keep them down. Asked by an interviewer in Time magazine about violence in schools that are all-black -that is, violence by blacks against blacks - the novelist Toni Morrison replies, ''None of those things can take place, you know, without the complicity of the people who run the schools and the city.''

For victimhood to be taken seriously, there has to be a core of substance to the victim's complaints. Blacks were discriminated against, de facto and de jure, in this country for a very long while. Women were paid lower wages for doing the same work as men and they were indubitably excluded from jobs they were perfectly capable of performing. Mexican-Americans often worked under deplorable conditions. A case for victimhood cannot simply be invented, though some people try. I recall some time ago watching a television program that stressed the problems of the unwed teen-age father. Greatly gripping though they doubtless were, I remember muttering to myself: the unwed father, another victim group - who'd've thunk it?

When the victim becomes the bully. Sound familiar?
Even when there is a core of substance to the victims' complaints, they tend to push it. A subtle shift takes place, and suddenly the victim is no longer making appeals but demands. The terms lady and homosexual are out; it's only woman and gay that are acceptable. Public pronouncements from victims take on a slightly menacing quality, in which, somehow, the line between victim and bully seems to blur. At some point, one gets the sense that the victims actively enjoy their victimhood - enjoy the moral vantage point it gives them to tell off the rest of the country, to overstate their case, to absolve themselves from all responsibility for their condition, to ask the impossible and then demonstrate outrage when it isn't delivered.

Moral superiority of the victim:
Although it was never their intention to do so, they make the contemporary joys of victimhood -the assumption of moral superiority, the spread of guilt and bad feeling, the shifting of responsibility for one's own destiny onto others or the ''system'' or society at large - seem rather dreary, if not pathetic. They also remind the rest of us that the most efficient way to become truly a victim is to think and act like a victim.
It's all here, but you'll never get elected if you agree with this.
Trouble is, on some level, the core Trump acolytes know this and this is a core reason they resent so many Democrats. Trumpers talk about how they like the testosterone and the straight talk coming from Trump. I think this is what they are really talking about. They can't abide the whining. They want someone to stand up and be fierce.

What Democrat--apart from perhaps Bernie Sanders--does that?

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