Politics: May 2006 Archives

I wanted to link to Jesse Walker's column Right-Wing P.C. a while back but didn't get around to it until now [hat tip: Jonathan Adler]. This is a phenomenon that John McWhorter (among others) calls victimology. I've blogged about this several times before, most notably racial victimology, Christian victimology, heterosexual victimology, and even conservative victimology. It's pretty clear to me that this is a basic human default position when someone's real or perceived rights are violated, and virtually any group that identifies itself in a way that can admit to solidarity of some sort could demonstrate it.

Conservatives have at least in their official views regularly decried this sort of thing from the left, but I think it's been present on the right all along. Consider the standard argument against affirmative action on the ground that it discriminates against whites. How many white people who put forth this argument with outrage have really been harmed by affirmative action or are even aware of anyone who has seriously been harmed by it? (That's not to say that there aren't constitutional discrimination issues that you can raise independent of the issue of harm, but see here for my worries about such arguments.) Conservatives have mastered the art of victimhood for the sake of enjoyment without much direction toward progress and sometimes from a false sense of real victimhood to begin with. Are people who think gay sex is immoral really victims because their kids' schools treat the children of gay parents as having a family? So conservative victimology isn't new, but what Walker's column adds is a P.C. element, and I think several of his examples are dead on. I encourage you to read them for yourself.

One thing I think Walker doesn't get quite clear is the nature of the distinction between what might be called victimhood and victimology. Victimology isn't mere complaining about victimhood, because that can be legitimate if the concern is real and if there's some point to complaining, i.e. it's aimed at progress. On the other hand, victimology requires two elements: (1) playing up false victimhood or exaggerating real victimhood beyond its level of seriousness and (2) doing it for the sake of feeling better than others because you can call them names for oppressing you rather than to seek real progress. But this is a human psychological phenomenon, and that makes it more complex. Often there's a legitimate cry of victimhood tainted with victimology. In a fallen world, people are messed up, and we usually don't have fully pure motives for most things. Why shouldn't we expect the same here?

It's now going to be called the Human Rights Abusers' Council [hat tip: Say Anything]. It was one thing to do stupid things like this during a period when the U.N. wasn't trying to patch up its public image after several corruption scandals. Now that they're supposed to be trying to overcome that sort of thing, what do they do? They put together a new Human Rights Council and put Cuba, China, and Saudi Arabia on it.

So who would put some of the worst human rights violators on a council about human rights, and what would possess them to do such a thing? I wonder if this is a hint:

Cuba, for its part, hailed its election to the Human Rights Council as a "resounding victory" for the communist regime and a "defeat" for the United States.

Would someone really be so petty as to put human rights violators on the Human Rights Council just to stick it to the U.S.? I sure hope not, but I really can't think of any halfway decent motivation. Short of attributing to them pure evil (e.g. thinking they approve of what these countries do on human rights issues), I think the most charitable thing to do is to explain it by an extremely indecent motivation that isn't quite as bad: heartlessly tolerating evil rather than going all out and approving of it as good. It's still pretty bad, but in lieu of a more charitable explanation I have to consider this.

Several hawkish bloggers have embraced the chickenhawk image. Why, you may ask? Because red-tailed hawks, AKA chickenhawks, are pretty vicious predators that eat chickens, rats, and mice. I had to defend my chickens from one when I was in high school. It wasn't a pretty sight. It would have been tough to deal with if it hadn't injured a wing on the barbs at the top of the fence on its way in. It succeeded in killing two hens and turning a third into a skinhead for the rest of her life before we got out there and let the dogs into the fence to chase it out. It didn't get to eat any, at least, but it did get away from the dogs once it was free of the fence that it couldn't fly over with its wing injury.

The first thing that occurred to me when I first heard the term 'chickenhawk' as a pejorative political term (whose first use, by the way, seems to have been long before the war on terrorism in 1986) is that only a sheltered city slicker who doesn't know what a chickenhawk is really like could come up with such an ignorant mismatch. They must have thought it was funny to speak of those who are hawkish on the war on terrorism as if they're really chickens, since chickens often represent cowardice. But choosing one of chickens' most vicious predators doesn't have quite the same effect as calling someone a chicken. It's hard to find a good analogy, but it involves two mistakes. One mistake is analogus to calling someone a sloth-killing jaguar because they're lazy. The other is analogous to using the butterfly as an image of ugliness on the ground that flies are ugly, and the word 'fly' is part of the word 'butterfly'. It sounds pretty stupid in those cases, but somehow when both errors are combined people will find it more plausible, since the two mistakes mask each other.

It never occurred to me to start a movement embracing the chickenhawk as a symbol of hawkishness, but I guess it's fitting given how much more sense it makes to use a vicious predator as a positive symbol of effectiveness in battle.

Illegal aliens do jobs Americans don't want to do, so some people want to perpetuate that relationship. Some have even used this as an argument that we shouldn't bother to enforce our own laws. Others have simply said that we should change the laws. Sam asks how that isn't just legitimating a subservient class. See also Dory's similar argument.

Now I do think a guest worker program (which would be changing the laws rather than simply not enforcing them) can accomodate this concern by ensuring that these now-legal workers would have ensured working conditions the same way everyone else does. But what it would also need to involve, out of fairness to immigrants who followed the law, is that we wouldn't be providing better conditions for those who broke the law to enter this country than we do to those who did it legally, including the drawn-out process of citizenship. But I do think a guest worker program can meet this concern. The question is really which of the proposals do that. I haven't had the time to look at any of the proposals, so I really have no idea. But those who don't advocate changing the laws but simply don't want to enforce them really do seem to me to be failing the people they're trying to help, because it will just perpetuate the terrible working conditions everyone on the left is complaining about.

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