Dr. Richard Friedman’s Sabotaging Success, but to What End?, published 2010-03-22 in the New York Times, is about an instantly recognizable pattern — people who sabotage themselves so they can feel like martyred victims of an uncaring world.
The piece is insightful and even funny in a bleak sort of way, but as I read through it I felt an increasing sense that there was something missing from this story. I was nearly at the end before I realized what had been lurking unspoken in Dr. Friedman’s account. But the crucial clue had been there from the beginning, when he writes of one patient “In fact, her status as an injured party afforded her a psychological advantage: she felt morally superior to everyone she felt had mistreated her. This was a role she had no intention of giving up.” Where…now, where had I heard that song before?
And the answer is: politics! This is what’s missing from Friedman’s account. He, and his patients, and everyone else nowadays, live in a culture saturated with the lesson that playing the victim card is the fastest route to power over others. “Help, help, I’m being repressed!” goes up the cry, and legions of professional grievance-mongers materialize more swiftly than the djinn of the lamp. Indignation is publicly indignated. One dares not even laugh at such posturing lest one be pilloried for “insensitivity”. Laws are passed. And the victim gets to become the oppressor while still collecting all the bennies of martyrdom. Such a deal!
And where might Friedman’s patients have learned the tactics of this strategy? By his own account, he has “intelligent and articulate” patients. I’m guessing they all went to college, where the student hours that used to be filled with trivialities like the heritage of western civilization are now increasingly consumed by “sensitivity” training, and life outside the lecture halls is regulated by speech and behavior codes so punishing in the hands of designated-victim groups that they’d be worthy of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.
Full circle; after decades of hearing from the left that the personal is political, Friedman’s patients are the political become personal with a vengeance. No surprise that an article in the New York Times would miss that elephant, though; this is the newspaper about which it can be said that the famous parody headline “World To End Tomorrow; Women, Minorities Most Affected” was a good spoof mainly because it was nigh-indistinguishable from a lot of what they actually print. The aptness of Friedman’s article appearing in the house organ of the limousine left is extreme; the jokes write themselves, and the unintended ironies just don’t stop.
Perhaps you think I’m snarking because I feel left out? No; I could have played the victim card myself, you betcha. Cerebral palsy, oooh, that’s “disabled”, and for starters it qualifies you for a premium parking space pretty much anywhere; we’re told to ignore the regulatory taking of the lot owner’s property and the deadweight drag on the economy because those spaces might as well be unusable most of the time. What does a little thing like costs inflicted on third parties matter when the political class is doing it for the poooor opppresssed viiictiiiims?
For myself, I refuse. I prefer self-respect to privileged treatment. Friedman’s article, despite its blind spot, is valuable because it exhibits the results of making the victim card into an ace. You get more victims, duh…and not just in the form of increasingly splintered and contrived identity groups jockeying for sweeteners from the political class, either. Individuals will internalize this strategy, too. You’ll get the kind of privileged, “intelligent and articulate” losers Friedman sees every day — useless to themselves and a misery to everyone around them.
The unintended ironies do not end with Friedman’s article, but continues with responses to it. The gravamen of which was mainly that Friedman was a bad person for writing about self-sabotagers so disdainfully, and who can blame them for not expecting a meanie like him not to be helpful?
These responses illustrate something else that politicized victimology has done to us; it has eroded the distinction between victims and trash. Before the welfare state, people used to talk of the “deserving poor”, distinguishing those who could succeed on their own character if given a little crucial help from the bone-idle, slothful, and irredeemably irresponsible. We used to be able to make a parallel distinction between people who’d failed through bad luck or adverse circumstances and people who have chosen failure and magnify their slights because that’s a role they have no intention of giving up.
The former are victims who deserve our help, if they are not too proud to take it (and it’s usually better for their children if they are too proud). The latter are trash — chronic, self-programmed losers. They deserve the contempt they work so hard to earn, and we should give it to them. Not just because it’s the appropriate response to them as individuals, but because it’s a bad thing for society when we reward chronic losers as though they really are morally superior to the rest of us. That way lies nothing but civilizational suicide on the installment plan.
That is why I congratulate Dr. Friedman on his disdain for these people;. it’s entirely healthy and appropriate. And that is also why I vow to be as nasty as I can to the next person waving the “I’m a victim!” banner in my face. Black, gay, transgendered, learning-disabled, or whatever the designated victim group of the week is — being that thing is not necessarily a flaw, but playing the victim card for a position of moral and political superiority definitely is.
For a better future, demand that individuals get respect the old-fashioned way — by earning it.