Monday, August 6, 2012


I continue looking at Roger Lancaster’s (RL) book.*

Having given us Janet Reno’s stunning bit of treacly but treacherous boilerplate from 1997, RL quickly continues expand upon its implications.

“The liberal hero of yore – the risk-taking individual who takes responsibility for his or her own fate and triumphs over adversity – gave way to the aggrieved victim who perpetually recounts unhappy experiences and calls for the punishment of others”. (p.205)

I point out that “responsibility” here is not used in the simple and in some ways shallow legal sense, but in the much more profound existential sense: every human being has – and cannot shuck off – the ultimate responsibility for adopting and sustaining her/her Stance toward his/her life experiences.

This is not to say that every person is in control of or can exercise complete control over the experiences that s/he will have in life. This is not to say that every person is somehow completely responsible for whatever experiences enter into his/her life (although one can so shape and conduct one’s life that some experiences are less likely or more likely to happen).

But every human being is indeed responsible for the Stance that s/he adopts toward whatever experiences arise.

In 1971 or thereabouts a university psychology professor came up with the phrase “blaming the victim” in a book – if I rightly recall – of the same title. If any of what I’m saying here seems a bit ‘off’, then chalk it up to the eager taking-up of his phrase and slopping it like paint over everything; he struck a hugely congruent chord (and a useful one) with the then-emerging social-constructionist and Victimist approaches to living a life: you can’t be blamed for your experiences because they are mostly caused by ‘structures’ or forces operating beyond you and therefore anybody who is experiencing life-problems is really a ‘victim’ (tah-dahhhhh!) and should not be dismissed or ‘judged’ or ‘stereotyped’ as having somehow failed to ‘get it together’.

All of this dove-tailed nicely with an emerging ‘liberal’ politics that was seeking to build new demographic groups to replace the old New Deal Democratic electoral coalition of Northern industrial blue-collar workers and Southern Jim Crow supporters and ‘Old Left’ liberals, a coalition dating back to the 1930s that had been shattered by the civil-rights developments of the late 1950s and especially the early 1960s.

Alas for everybody, the new electoral coalition would be constructed of groups not united by class or economic interests, but rather by a common experience of ‘victimization’: by whites against non-whites in the matter of Race, by males againt females in the matter of Gender, by native-born against immigrants in the matter of being outsiders, by grown-ups against youth in the matter of being too young to really sustain mature participation in politics and national affairs.**

Very useful as a purely political tactic, this shift in favor of being a ‘victim’ held within itself much deeper consequences for the country and its culture, and RL will characterize these consequences as being fundamentally a “redefinition of core values”. (p.205) More specifically, that the new model for adult-living was now “the aggrieved victim who perpetually recounts unhappy experiences and calls for the punishment of others”. (p.205)

I add here that in the interest of enlisting ‘bipartisan’ support from the Right by appealing to ‘law and order’, this entire tactic then had to distort itself in order to become heavily enmeshed with crime: the arch-crime was to ‘victimize’ anybody, and ‘victimizing’ had to be dealt with through law-enforcement and the immediate and forceful and expansive deployment of criminal law. By the mid-1970s the country was already on the way to expanded police-state type activity and more specifically it was on the way to the SO Mania Regime, which with the Domestic Violence Regime became the first really broad government effort to start effecting a police state, under the doubly-attractive and bipartisan rubric of engorging the government coercive police authority in myriad ways in order to (pick one or several: protect-against, punish, or prevent) victimization. And, of course, the particular types of victimization raised up for the public’s attention would conform to the agendas of the various ‘victimized’ Identity groups, especially the radical-feminist advocacy’s concern with ‘sex’ and ‘males’.

RL notes that by the late 1980s and very early 1990s there were already voices being raised warning of the deeper consequences of this whole trend. There were books about “the spread of an increasingly irrational therapeutic culture of victimization” and of a “culture of complaint” and “a nation of victims” and even Alan Dershowitz weighed in with a book entitled The Abuse Excuse. (p.205)

RL observes rightly that “the emergent culture of victimization was not without paradoxes , contradictions, and flash-points”: because “it embraces a privatized view of justice, so far as the accused is concerned, while dispensing empathy, forbearance, and state largess so far as the victims of crime are concerned”. (p.205) I would add that there is nothing wrong with concern for victimization – if it is genuine – but you have to apply a vital cost-analysis when you try to alter fundamental legal principles and principles of objectivity and even truthfulness in order to somehow ensure a wide government embrace of such empathy and forbearance and largess.

Also, since from the very beginning the New World provided a lethal and foreboding challenge to anybody trying to start up a life here, the country had – even long before 1776 – developed a “traditional disdain for complainers and malingerers”: male and female, you had to shoulder your pack, and work hard and long in order to build yourself and your family a civilized life in this New World. And this remained true right up into the 20th century.

Like sailors on a ship, persons had to carry their weight in order to keep the whole shebang afloat. Everybody had to “do their bit” – as Brits used to say during the Blitz. And that meant putting up with a lot of hard knocks and setbacks and overcoming all sorts of adversity in order to construct a basis for an individual, familial, and social and cultural life. Life in the New World was not a game for kids.

When, then, it became politically necessary to embrace ‘victimization’ in the early 1970s, there were going to be huge consequences and costs at very profound cultural levels if suddenly the new model of Citizenship and even adulthood was going to be the ‘Victim’.

The first sly effort to neutralize or wish-away these costs and consequences was to insist that to ‘put up with’ adversity was simply to collude in your own ‘victimization’ and to keep a stiff upper lip and just ‘get on with it’ and ‘do your bit’ was simply going to perpetuate your particular version of victimization.

The second and even more sly effort – evident in Janet Reno’s speech in 1997 quoted at the end of the immediately prior Post in this mini-series – was to actually claim that to loudly and vigorously embrace your victimization was a form of good, old-fashioned, red-blooded traditional American courage and heroism.

Which should have been a huge warning flag: Victimism as it was mutating here was going to require turning the entire American cultural value system upside down. (And – as the SO community knows so vividly – the legal system as well, and the first-principles of the Framing Vision and the Constitution too.)

Thus too the Victim, envisioned as “noble” and “entirely innocent” will also be able to sidestep the ancient human cultural distinction expressed in the West by the distinction between the “deserving poor” and the “malingering poor”: the latter were simply looking to mooch a free ride from everybody else, the latter were trying to be industrious and carry their weight but circumstances indeed beyond their control had temporarily blunted that effort. (p.206)

The ‘new American Victim’ – as outlined in Reno’s sly speech – would be ‘deserving’ simply because such horrific things had (allegedly) been done to her/him. Indeed, as I have said, the ‘new American Victim’ would heroically and courageously take up the torch of the hardy frontier settler and the hard-working immigrants of the Great Age of Immigration (1880-1920) and would thus ‘deserve’ all possible honor, respect, aid, and indulgence.


Or rather, neat as a conceptual construct moved around on a mental chessboard. In actual historical events, the whole Thing worked out quite differently, and not in the happy sense of that word.

Nicely, RL observes that these huge transformations – almost invisible here, especially in their costs and consequences – have not gone unnoticed abroad. He quotes a “middle-aged Mexican shopkeeper” who offered as her thought that “You [Americans] … used to be a nation of businessmen; you buried the dead and faced forward to the future. Now you are a nation of commemorators, memorial builders. You cannot let go of your hurts. You cannot stop inspecting your neighbors for signs of transgression. You are becoming a nation of victims”. (p.206)

I would add that “inspecting your neighbors for signs of transgression” is even more ominous that simply as an indicator of victimhood: it evokes clear dynamics of German society under the Nazis or East German Communist society, where neighbors were constantly observing their neighbors for signs of un-Correct or ‘counter-revolutionary’ behavior that would be reported to the Gestapo or the Stasi. Now that both the Nazi and East German regimes are gone, we have access to their files and can see that a vast amount of the secret-police workload consisted in processing and sifting-through mountains of ‘reports’ voluntarily sent to them by persons who had ‘detected’ signs of such transgressions on the part of this or that neighbor.

And – as the SO community can well imagine – it all went into a file; once somebody suspected and reported you, then you were ‘tagged’ and there was a file on you. Who can forget the huge problems in the former East Germany as its secret-police files were discovered and made public, and citizens got to see just who among their erstwhile friends and neighbors had reported them to the “organs of state security”? Having thought about that, look at the Registry regime, especially in its Adam Walsh Act incarnation, now being pushed upon States by the feds through the (specious) promise of more tax money to implement it. You see where this Thing has gone in this country.

And then – and it must have hurt a decent liberal like RL to realize it – he asks the question: “The Left Makes a Right Turn?” (p.206)

“The Left was scarcely an innocent bystander in the development of new modes of identity based on victimization and trauma”. (p.206) And with that I can only agree wholeheartedly. The Left, that started out in the 1950s being very anti-government-authority, had by the 1970s, and increasingly so since then, become very government-friendly indeed. In fact, it depended almost completely on the government for the monies and political enabling that erected the agendas of its various victim-Identity groups into national law and policy, police-state regimes and all.

“Talk about social oppression leads to victimization narratives”. (p.206) Yes indeed. And every victimization requires a Perp and every Perp deserves to be tagged and punitively dealt with and any concern for Constitutional niceties and legal principles is just collusion with victimization or obstruction of the victims’ need for ‘justice’ and ‘closure’.

Moving on to what he terms “The Blame Game” (p.208) RL notes that the country’s leftist social movements have historically “held the politics of complaint in dynamic productive tension with the politics of liberation”. (p.208) By complaining effectively you can help increase ‘liberation’ by getting this or that thing changed.

Which is all true. You can struggle against instances of “oppression” while “keeping the promise of freedom in clear view”. (p.208) But I note that clearly something else is operative in all this, since in the past forty years the country has wound up imprisoning a larger percentage of its Citizens than any other country, including Stalin’s back in the day.

Even more acutely, RL notes that this “productive tension” turns out to be “not always a stable mix”. (p.208) [italics mine] And here he starts penetrating to the dark beating heart of Victimism as it has mutated here in this country. Because after the initial ‘high’ of liberation, as leftist initiatives begin to demonstrate their weaknesses and leftist influence begins to decline from its constructive beginnings (as, for example, in this country since the heyday of the 1960s and early 1970s), then the “emphasis” shifts to “grievance, injury, and resentment”. (p.208)

Yes, but the ‘valorization’ of all that grievance, injury and resentment was built-into the Victimist gambit from Day One. And I would say that even though the leftist zeitgeist is now in decline, that simply means that the Advocacies and their political enablers are going to have to “double-down” (like Bush in Iraq for all those years) and intensify their efforts.

First, because in a difficult but vital presidential election-cycle the Party has to appeal to all its fractalized, single-issue, Victim-Identity ‘bases’ and keep them happy by continuing to give them what they demand.

Second, because once you have created a matrix of tax-fed cottage industries around your initiative, then they are all now expecting continued funding and are threatening to withdraw their political support for you if you don’t provide it.

Third, because once you have created a profound and huge ‘crisis’ to justify starting the whole Thing to begin with, then how can you suddenly back away and say it wasn’t such a big crisis after all or that suddenly it’s all fixed now?  

And this is especially so if you as a politician are threatened with numberless gaggles of ‘victims’ now showing up outside your office, putting themselves in front of the cameras like baby harp-seals and claiming that you, a heartless and faithless politician, are now clobbering and ‘re-victimizing’ them by withdrawing all the tax money you had been feeding them for decades?

With Victimism as it has mutated in this country the Beltway – to borrow Thomas Jefferson’s deathless phrase – now “has a wolf by the ears”. (Meaning: you are now holding the lethal beast so closely that if you let it go it will bite your head off, and yet if you hold on you are locked in a death-embrace with it until … something gives.)

The Beltway pols and all the State pols have left themselves now with few options: either keep feeding this Thing tax money and further corroding the Constitutional Rule of Law or else run the almost certain risk of being pilloried in the treacherously-hungry mainstream media as being ‘anti-Victim’ and/or ‘pro-Perp’.

 The Victim retains his/her public status not on the basis of any heroic or courageous struggle, but simply on the basis of having (allegedly) been victimized. (p.208)

Thus, RL observes, “the retrograde … politics of victims’ rights” have so rapidly “bent diverse strands of liberal, progressive, and leftist activism into a profoundly conservative shape in the modern state”. (p.208)

I would only disagree about one thing here: the bending has not been into a “profoundly conservative” mis-shape, but rather into a profoundly regressive shape. No genuine American conservatism (or, for that matter, genuine American liberalism) can or could ever work such a profound corrosion and corruption of the Rule of Law and the first principles of the Framing Vision and the Constitution. What has happened as a cost, consequence, and highly predictable result of the Victimist mutation in this country has created a profound back-tracking and regression to the type of law and culture that hearks back to primitive times of yore, long pre-dating the bright and truly progress-producing characteristics imparted to this nation in the Framing Vision and such further extensions of that Vision by Lincoln and Martin Luther King.

So much, then, remains to be done.


*Lancaster, Roger. Sex Panic and the Punitive State. Berkeley: U/Cal Press (2011). ISBN: 978-0-520-26206-5 (pb). 246pp plus Appendices, Notes, and Index.

**Thus the general-purpose composite ‘victimizer’ became the patriarchal white older American male.

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