Saturday, February 28, 2015

Blaming the Victim

"What did we do to make them hate us so much?' America and Western civilization in general are under attack by Islamic terrorists. Apologists assert that we brought this wrath upon ourselves by our historical sins (like the Crusades) and therefore we must not only apologize but also make excuses for terrorism and take blame for their dysfunctional governments (created by colonialism) and their poverty. So what if our people get berated, bombed, and beheaded. We had it coming.

Yet such self-hatred fails to recognize that the Crusades were conducted to take back the Western countries and Christian holy sites that Muslims had conquered. Colonialism was a problem, but America had no colonies in Middle East or African colonialism. Dysfunctional governments seem to be the rule in Muslim countries, but we don't make the rules there. Muslims do.

Moreover, how do sins of the past equate to sins of the present? The Christian church has gone through many epochs of reform. Radical Islam does not seek to reform itself. It harkens back to Islam's original and literal scripture in the seventh century.


"So what that we don't have immigration papers? Our country is poor, yours is rich, and we have a right to violate your laws because you stole our country and made it poor." Norte Americanos are blamed for banana republics and the historical government dysfunction in Latin American. Today, open-border activists argue that the U.S. deserves the chaos of illegal immigration because of our misbegotten riches, historically stolen from Latin American countries who now have a right to seize our entitlements and jobs from our own poor.

Only Mexicans can claim we took part of their country, but it wasn't originally their country. It had belonged to Spain before Mexico rebelled against Spanish rule. Texas in 1836 was a province of Mexico, and Texans seceded because of mistreatment and restricted political rights by the Mexican government. Mexico refused to grant Texans their freedom and independence, apparently unwilling to honor the wish of Texans to do the same thing that Mexico had done to Spain little more than a decade earlier. California, Arizona, and New Mexico territory were purchased in 1848 from Mexico with cash and forgiveness of debt owed to Americans.

It is not clear what natural resources we stole from Central and South America. On the contrary, we created NAFTA trade agreements that help their economies. We transferred to Venezuela and Mexico the oil technologies that help to prop up their economies. And the countries that are complaining about our not taking their emigrants have much stricter immigration restrictions than we do. Talk about hypocrisy!

"Your ancestors were racists and held slaves. Therefore, we are entitled to affirmative action, reverse discrimination, and even reparations." The ancestors of most whiteys in America weren't even here when slavery existed. They were in Europe and Asia and came after the civil war. And among those who were here, 359,528 Union soldiers died to free the slaves. Where is the condemnation of the blacks in Africa who captured fellow blacks and ran the slave trade? American blacks are free to return to Africa — interesting that they don't want to. Around the world, blacks want to come to America, not leave it.


These and other examples of blaming the victim that could be cited are political or religious. i these areas, rational and unemotional discussion is usually futile. So let us consider other examples.

Defense lawyers in general often use "blame the victim" tactics when they know their defendant is guilty. Soft-hearted juries are swayed by clever excuses and specious argument. I bet they teach this stuff in law school.

Among the many examples of blaming the victim are rape victims whose assailants charge were dressed provocatively and thus were "asking for it."  The excuse is that what a woman wears, says, where she goes, or what she does can make her responsible for the crime committed against her. No amount of saying no or physical resistance seems to nullify the excuses. Lawyers try to gain sympathy for rapists by pointing out how unfair it is to tempt men. Indeed, this idea is probably the basis for the Muslim requirements that their women cover their whole body and even their face when in public.

A related example is domestic violence, typically inflicted by males on their spouses or girlfriends. The victim is blamed for enabling the violence by refusing to end the relationship. While resistance to leave can sometimes develop because the woman is emotionally weak and dependent, often they have little choice for economic reasons or often justifiable fear for themselves or children if they dare to leave. A common explanation for why women do not leave their battering relationship is Seligman's theory of "learned helplessness." The teaching of helplessness comes from their abuser. In some locales, the victim faces a high tolerance of wife beating by police and legal systems.

Chronic victims may be inviting perpetuation of their abuse when they believe they are victims of outside forces beyond their control. When helplessness has been learned, it is hard to generate the will and initiative to use internal psychological resources to overcome the abuse.  Chronic victims commonly have low sense of self-worth, low sense of efficacy, feelings of shame and guilt, and may even believe that they deserve to be punished. The task of recovery from victimization is to take responsibility, moving from helplessness to accountability and from hopelessness to optimism. Seligman makes the point that optimism can be learned too.

Then there is the death fatwa on Salman Rushdie, whom former President Jimmy Carter says invited the attempts on his life by writing a "blasphemous" book. Freedom of speech, according to Carter, seems to apply only for speech that does not offend. He does not elaborate on where one draws the line where murder is warranted for verbal offense. Maybe it just applies to religious challenges.

Bullying is often blamed on the person being bullied for all manner of reasons, such as being gay, ugly, fat, too smart, in the wrong minority group, some negative or annoying personality trait, being weak or too sensitive, and so on. How does the bully justify his own negative traits? Well, of course, that question never arises because bullies pretend to feel superior and are condescending.

Whistleblowers and investigative reporters are often blamed and disparaged when they disclose embarrassing or criminal actions of others. Their colleagues often shun them. Perhaps shunners feel inferior and shamed by their own lack of courage to do the right thing. If those of us on the sidelines don't speak up for the true victims, maybe nobody will. Those who victimize others need to be held responsible, not excused.

Why do people blame the victim? One reason is that people want to believe that life is fair (it is not), and therefore unfairness is hard to accept as a cause of victimization. The victim must deserve her state. Another reason is that making excuses for others provides a rationale for excusing ourselves. If we can lift the burden of personal responsibility on others, we can justify doing it for ourselves. Thus, we don't have to face our own weaknesses. Excuse-making is profound cowardice.

Dr. Klemm's latest books are:

Mental Biology, The New Science of How the Brain and Mind Relate and
Improve Your Memory For a Healthy Brain. Memory Is the Canary in Your Brain's Coal Mine


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