The Merry-Go-Round of Victimhood
I have often written about how progressive politics makes identities into badges of victimhood and how people who identify themselves to be victims are vulnerable to the blandishments of progressive politicians that offer entitlements of various types to ameliorate the social injustice to which these victims are subjected. I knew intellectually that these people needed to repudiate their victimhood in order to better their condition but I did not understand the grip that victimhood could have on them.
But that was until I recently became a victim myself. I often use images in my blog posts that highlight a situation or a person described in that blog. I usually get that image from Wikimedia Commons where artists and photographers often share their work and allow other people to use their images. Sometimes the artist or photographer requires attribution and I regularly attributed images I used to the author. Other works are in the public domain and require no attribution. Recently I was contacted by attorneys claiming I infringed a copyright and asked for a costly settlement to resolve the issue. The image I used (I cannot show it to you because that might infringe the copyright as well) remains on Wikimedia Commons and is noted as free to share. I had used the image with the best of intentions and followed the protocols indicated but had been entrapped and now had to pay.
But the point of this commentary is not about my copyright problems. It is about how I felt at being victimized. Being unjustly victimized consumed me. My head felt tight. I felt physically ill. Writing my commentaries became difficult. I had to consciously focus on my driving so my mind would not wander off to the injustice of my situation. I had to put the incident behind me, but it was difficult.
Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky noted in his book Behave that poor people (people with low socioeconomic status) have worse health outcomes than the middle class or the wealthy. But he made an important qualification; it wasn’t being poor that was the problem (the poor have adequate access to healthcare), it was feeling poor that was the problem. Feeling poor, feeling victimized affects the brain. I know because I felt how it affected me. The feeling of victimization affects not only the health of poor people, it also leads them to make poor health decisions in their struggle to relieve their symptoms.
This is the insidious nature of identity politics. They are designed to make you feel that you have no options, that you feel bad about yourself, to feel victimized. If you don’t feel victimized, then you are not “woke.” It is the hope of these politicians that the members of the victimized identity will vote for them in order to provide for some sort of remedy for their victimized condition. But it is not in the interest of these politicians that the members of these identities actually stop feeling victimized. If the members of these identities (blacks, Hispanics, LGBTQ, women, whatever) did not feel victimized they might base their vote on politicians that offer platforms and policies that are oriented toward a public good and not just to relieving perceived victimization.
And it is true. Many of the policies proffered by identity politics actually reinforce the victimization to the eternal detriment of the victims. Stanford economics professor Thomas Sowell has shown repeatedly that blacks after the civil war, and even during the period of Jim Crow and segregation, made steady economic progress. They made progress despite actual victimization and separate but equal schools that were definitely separate but also definitely not equal. But this progress has stagnated ever since Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty that was part of his proposed Great Society dedicated to the elimination of poverty and racial injustice.
Although welfare programs have reduced the level of poverty it has done so at the cost of the breakdown of the black community that was rooted in family and religion. The black community not only has the highest rate of abortion, it also has the highest rate of single parent families which has created a feedback loop of perceived victimization. Blacks suffer poor health outcomes, not because of a lack of Medicare for All, but because the feeling of being a victim creates stress that translates into poor health and poor health decisions. And it is not just blacks, victimization can affect anyone. The life span of white men has declined in real terms because poor white men, perceiving their increasing victimization, have been dying increasingly from drug overdoses and suicide.
Although the masses of immigrants that arrived on America’s shores in the nineteenth and early twentieth century were very poor and, in fact, victimized by native born Americans, I do not think they suffered from a depressing feeling of victimization. They had taken charge of their lives by coming to America and left an intolerable situation for a difficult situation. They lived in poverty and sacrificed their lives for the betterment of their children.
The evening news recently ran the story of Hakki Akdeniz who arrived on the shores of America in 2001 with only about $200 in his pocket. He lived in poverty on the streets of New York City or in shelters until he was able to find a job in a pizzeria. He saved his money for years until he could open his own pizzeria. But even then times were tough, he often slept in his pizzeria to save money (I had also heard about this in regards to the Korean grocers in NYC when I lived there). Mr. Akdeniz now has multiple pizza locations and regularly donates pizzas to poor and homeless people in the shelter he once stayed at. Mr. Akdeniz did not feel victimized despite his poverty and has been able to overcome it and achieve his version of the American Dream. Mr. Akdeniz is not a good model of victimization for the progressive left.
If all the entitlements currently on the books or the additional ones being bandied about by Democratic presidential candidates could actually help people to overcome their problems and relieve their feelings of victimization, that would be wonderful. It would also be budget friendly, because once the victims have overcome their problems they will no longer need that assistance, thus relieving weary taxpayers.
But it doesn’t work that way. These benefits are permanent. People are rioting all over the world because cash-strapped governments cannot continue promised subsidies and benefits (for example; pension reform in France, gasoline prices in Iran, subway fares in Chile). They are not rioting for their freedom; they are rioting for their benefits – on which they are totally dependent. These benefits and subsidies have not liberated them and given them the ability to control their own fate. No! These subsidies and benefits have entrapped them and doomed them to a life of dependency.
And all the benefits, entitlements and special privileges based on identity being offered by Democratic presidential candidates will not help people achieve their American Dream. Many believe that these offerings are not even intended to help people achieve their American Dream, but to make them ever more dependent on government (a government presumably run by the progressive left). And if victimization and low socioeconomic status increases stress that results in poor health outcomes, these programs may be condemning Americans to generations of poor health in the future (which will obviously require new government programs to deal with the unintended consequences these government programs created).
Safety nets are a good thing. If you are walking a tightrope and take a misstep that launches you into the air, you will be very thankful if there is a safety net below to stop your fall. But you should climb out of the safety net and climb back up the tent pole to get back on the tightrope. You don’t want to stay in the safety net. You can’t live in a safety net. But that’s where the progressive left wants you to stay. Hakki Akdeniz needed a safety net. But he climbed out and got back on the tightrope.