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Victimization and Guilt

Thursday, Apr 1, 2010
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Jamyang, of course the strategy of victimhood is by now getting to be so transparently thin… and so common. Just yesterday the Wall Street Journal had a piece pointing out that in the U.S., the conservative right (they of self-reliance, independence and opposition to the nanny-state) is presently happy to adopt it:

The political rhetoric of recent weeks has been much deplored for its excesses, but it is as the babbling of toddlers when compared to the masterpieces of the golden age of invective.

In 1876, for example, Colonel Robert Ingersoll urged the Republican convention to choose James G. Blaine as its presidential candidate because, in the course of his many skirmishes with the Democrats, Mr. Blaine had “torn from the throat of treason the tongue of slander” and had flung “his shining lance full and fair against the brazen forehead of the defamers of his country.”

Contrast that with the cravenness of so many of today’s conservatives, whose first rhetorical instinct is to seize the mantle of victimhood. This is how modern political genius expresses itself, with even the biggest bullies contorting themselves to claim injury and persecution. No longer do they boast of having speared their defamers; instead they instinctively depict themselves as the skewer-ee, their innocent foreheads wrongly and unfairly pierced.

There was a time, as I’m sure you remember, when criticism of China was often parried by “people’s friendship association” types in the West venting outrage at the fact that Western perpetrators of imperialism would even dare to visit their hidden imperialist agenda on their former victims in the guise of “concern for human rights”… (This didn’t mean actual imperialists… just any critic who could be identified as a Westerner; the righteously outraged were automatically excepted, of course, by dint of their virtuous sensitivity to victimization.)

There’s a nice book on the broader question that I’d recommend: Pascal Bruckner, La tyrannie de la pénitence: essai sur le masochisme occidental. An English edition is supposed to be out (after several years!), but I have yet to see it.

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