27 February 2015

The not-so-new victim politics

A friend sent this link to me — an interesting (if thoroughly depressing) read. It is an article entitled “Rock, Paper, Scissors of PC Victimology: Muslim > gay, black > female, and everybody > the Jews”. Please do go have a read.

The thought that keeps going through my mind about this is that human beings are intensely social creatures obsessed with hierarchy. As soon as one tool for creating and enforcing such a hierarchy passes away — feudalism, say — we come up with another one to replace it. For all the rhetoric of our modern society claiming to be egalitarian and democratic, we are anything but, and things like this are nothing more than schoolyard bullying in an ongoing struggle for greater social status, whatever the cost.

Thus I don’t see it as a “new” victim politics, but rather something very old indeed, as old as humanity itself. In the 20th century, there were plenty of such examples of people framing others as heterodox and heaping abuse on them, like within Communism (the Cultural Revolution was a major example, as were Stalin’s purges). Contrary to the article’s claim that this is a thing of the left, the right was and is quite capable of the same thing. Witness the outrage you see on Fox News for anything “un-American” or McCarthyism. Going further back, Muslims and Christians were quite happy to denounce each other — Sunni vs. Shia, Catholic vs. Orthodox vs. Protestant, orthodox Christian vs. “heretics” of various stripes — over trivialities. Quite often these denouncements ended in outright mass murder. And as the manifold examples of the 20th century make clear, religion had little to do with it. It is just one label amongst many that can be seized upon to beat up on someone else. Take away religion, people will find something else — anything to make your identity better than someone else’s in the eyes of others.

Take away religion, politics, sexuality, ethnicity, gender, and sports, and people will seize on the color of a dress to beat each other up with.

Maybe we’re not resorting to physical violence as much as we once did (duels, brawls, catfights, wars, genocides), but we’re becoming that much more adept at psychological violence to replace it. Progress of a sort, I suppose, but deep down little if anything has changed.

The final irony is that by framing this phenomenon as something “new” and mocking it as “victim politics”, the author is himself engaging in this very sort of hierarchical power politics without realizing it.

TL;DR — people suck.