Thursday, August 15, 2019

The View Police

“An important part of their world view is victimization and being aggrieved.” I've become struck by not only how often I hear this, but the sheer number of groups about which this criticism has been made. It seems that people spend more time calling some or another group out for claiming victimization and grievance than people actually directly claim victimization and grievance.

“The victimization narrative” is the new... I'm not sure, exactly. There is a pithy single word one could drop in there, I'm sure, but it escapes me at the moment. In any event, I'm struck by how often people point at one another and note that this or that group sees themselves as victims, rather than empathizing with the “real” victims. And, of course, opinion on who “the real victims” actually are changes with the viewpoint of the critic. Calling out people for claiming victimization does not seem to be an activity of its own; rather, it appears to generally be out of sympathy for another group, one that the critic believes to be more deserving.

On the one hand, I get it. The label of “victim” comes with a certain amount of power, and so it's only natural that a) people would want to claim that for themselves and b) people would be on the lookout for unjustified claims. But sometimes, it seems that the aggressive policing of claims of victimhood comes at the direct expense of the very empathy the claimants are faulted for not displaying. Part of this is, I think, because of a general idea that there are no genuinely neutral parties when victimization is alleged. The difference between an active aggressor and a passive bystander is one of degree, not of kind. Both are guilty of creating victimization. So a group of people that inaccurately (to the degree that one's view of self can be inaccurate, anyway) views themselves as victimized contributes, however unintentionally, to the victimization of the genuinely oppressed. But, unintentional or otherwise, victimizing others tends to result in being considered unworthy of any sort of empathy or sympathy. Another aspect to this may be the fact that empathy often comes across as a non-renewable resource; and if there's only so much to go around, it can be understandable that people can be stingy with it at times.

“The victimization narrative,” whether a given critic feels that a specific group is entitled to it or not, is a symptom of a problem that the group is facing; a problem that they can't find a way to fix, and one that they're unwilling, unable or unready to accept responsibility for. And that problem is real for them, regardless of what someone else might say about it. People become wrapped up in their own problems, to the exclusion of having empathy for others, because their problems are subjectively severe enough that they don't see themselves as having luxury of empathy for others. This is part of the reason why groups who find themselves in dire straits rarely response with a newfound understanding of the experiences of others; they simply don't have the emotional bandwidth. If being seen as a victim results in a grant of power by the greater society, the typical purpose to which such power would be put is to solve whatever problems the community faces. Criticism of a group, either because the problem is “only in their heads” or a result of their own shortcomings, does nothing to either fix the problem or create the tools that would allow for a fix. And in many cases, the statement “An important part of their world view is victimization and being aggrieved,” simply reinforces “their” sense of victimization and grievance, as it's seen as a call to deny the claim to the power to remediate the perceived problem.

A society whose constituent groups are at odds with one other over scarce resources will always have conflicts. Some of the slings and arrows used to prosecute those conflicts will be verbal, but they're still real to their targets. The impulse to judge claims, rather than expand the pool of resources, will not result in resolution.

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