Poor George Zimmerman was just following that little thug around to make sure he got home safe until he was viciously attacked. Those girls in Maryville shouldn’t have been out past curfew and underage drinking if they didn’t want to get raped. Worst of all think about what those girls are doing to that poor young man’s reputation!
As horrible as some of the news stories lately are, it’s only a scroll down the page to find something worse at foot in the comments section. Here is where you find the inevitable victim-blamers, people who continually rise up to defend the perpetrators of these heinous acts rather than their victims.
In trying to understand this irrational behavior, one only needs to place it within the context of modern American society at large. Americans, as a whole, have begun to revel in the victim narrative. Chris Hedges writes in his great book Empire of Illusions about the long, convoluted story arcs in professional wrestling. The bad guys, referred to as “Heels” in the business constantly antagonize the “Faces”, or good guys.
Throughout these narratives the Faces will often be mercilessly attacked by the Heels and their minions. Not only physically attacked, but psychologically as well. Story lines have involved destroying property, oftentimes supposedly sentimental, irreplaceable items. Spouses or significant others will be seduced. Even extended family members are brought into the mix to up the emotional ante. All of this culminates in a pay-per-view event where good finally triumphs over evil, without any consequence or long term implications. Once the story line has reached it’s logical conclusion the Faces often become Heels and vice-versa.
The formula has become so successful because we have collectively begun to eschew personal responsibility in favor of perpetual self-victimization; “I didn’t get that project done at work because my horrible boss didn’t give me enough time. They ride me way too hard about everything and are out to get me!” “No honey, I didn’t do that thing you asked me because I do everything around here and I need a break!” “I only attacked/stole from/spread rumors about that person because of the awful things they said about me!”
All of these narratives have the same conclusion. It’s not our fault. We’re simply victims of circumstance, victims of the universe! And we say it so often and hear it so often we have begun to believe it.
"It’s not my fault" has become a rallying cry. We look to blame others for our shortcomings, even when they’re the product of self-sabotaged failings. And instead of accepting responsibility we declare that we’re victims and then, somewhat outrageously demand sympathy!
The consequences of perpetual self victimization have begun to erode our collective empathy for one another. For one, we always bring the focus back onto our own troubles, having the oftentimes unintended effect of marginalizing the feelings of the other person. I find myself doing this when having arguments with my wife. “I made you feel bad? That makes me feel awful.”
The arguably more widespread effect comes in an overarching suspicion of others. Whether we consciously admit to ourselves or not the extent of our self-victimization, we know we engage in this type of behavior. Consequently, our immediate reaction to hearing about the misfortunes of others is to wonder, oftentimes out loud, how much they’re exaggerating or whether there is any credibility to their story at all.
In perhaps the most severe of all the consequences, is that by all of us continually being victims we can’t blame anyone without inadvertently blaming a victim. Over time this behavior muddies the waters and we’re actually unable to differentiate between actual victims and instigators. This doubt only serves to reinforce our inability to feel empathy for one another.
This behavior if left unchecked will begin to erode the very foundations of civilization. After all, what are we but simple tribes if we’re unable to feel for one another? When the ends justify any means?
We can curb this practice by lauding the virtue of honor. By admiring those who readily admit their mistakes and show us that they’ve learned from them we simultaneously condemn those who evade responsibility. It also brings focus back on the “how” things are achieved, rather than the material gains.
Which makes a good point: the laser beam focus solely on the material rewards is ultimately the logical consequence of a consumer culture. Advertisers and corporations don’t care how the customer accumulates the means to purchase their products, only that they do. It’s up to us, as people, as individuals to recognize and celebrate one another for doing the right thing. Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination.