Thursday, January 12, 2017

How Does Victimhood Work?

What we view as "cute" or "vulnerable" is programmed into our brains.

There is a lot of talk on the Right, especially, about victimhood and the victim mentality.  The narrative goes that some people like to posit themselves as "victims" of circumstance, or the government, or racism, or sexism, or some other -ism, and thus they deserve our sympathy and perhaps a little money, to boot.

Of course, the people on the Right are not above claiming themselves to be victims as well - of the Left, the "welfare queens" and over-burdensome regulations.   It's a fun game everyone can play!

But what about real victims - you know, people victimized by criminals, or by natural disasters or economic dislocation - whatever.   Yes, real victims exist, but as we shall see, how you are treated as a "victim" depends a lot on how victim-like you appear.  If you do not garner sympathy as a victim, no help will be forthcoming.   On the other hand, you can be a non-victim and garner sympathy, just based on your appearance as a victim.

And how this works is programmed into our brains.

"Cute" does not exist in nature - nothing in nature is naturally "cute" or "vulnerable" looking.   We only perceive things  to be cute or vulnerable as an evolved instinct - a hard-wired programming in our brain.   Generally, humans (and other animals) perceive children with heads too big for their bodies and wide-eyes as being "adorable", "cute", or "vulnerable" looking.   We feel the same way about baby chicks, kittens, puppies, and other animals - usually juvenile - that appear to be small, weak, and, well, just darn cute!

These creatures didn't evolve this appearance as a survival instinct, our brains evolved to perceive these creatures as cute or vulnerable as a survival instinct for our species.

There are, of course, other indicia - and often these are subtle and even subconscious.  You may "feel sorry" for someone because they are old, or appear befuddled or confused.   It is a natural instinct to want to help other people.   And again, this is an evolved instinct that is hard-wired into our brains (well, at least some of us have it)

Everyone wants to help - it is instinct!

So if you see a little old lady trying to cross a busy street, you take her arm and try to help her.   Or, as today at the DMV, I saw a man struggling trying to get his wheelchair out the door, I held it open.   It doesn't cost much to help, and you want someone to do the same for you in the same situation, right?

The problem with this instinct arises in two ways.   First, people who are real victims but do not appear sympathetic for one reason or another, do not elicit this sympathy from others and thus are not helped, even thought they need or deserve help.   And this perception can change over time.

In the 1970's - and indeed, even today - many women were reluctant to report a rape to the Police as they would be questioned harshly and it would be implied they were "asking for it".  In some instances back in the 1970's (and indeed in some countries today) reporting a rape meant only that you would be literally raped again - by the Police.   Attitudes have changed since then, at least a bit.

In other instances, as I can attest to, you can be a victim of a crime and not much gets done about it, if you don't come across as vulnerable or somehow in need of assistance.  If you are a self-reliant person, the natural instinct (and it is instinct - hard-wired) is to doubt your story or question if you are really a victim, if you report a crime.  I have had this happen to me personally.  I don't hold a grudge over it, but I did learn an interesting lesson from it.

So, if your house gets blown away by a hurricane, or you are mugged in the park, be sure to be appealing, otherwise you aren't getting any FEMA money or the police won't go after your mugger.  It sounds harsh, but it is basically true.  It is human nature, so get over it.

The second problem with this instinct, is that people quickly learn that if they have this "vulnerable" trait, they can exploit other people using victimhood to manipulate others into doing things for them.

For example, a friend of mine recounts how a friend called her up and asked to borrow her sewing machine.  Her friend had committed to catering a wedding, and wanted to sew table skirts for 20 tables.   So my friend drove over and lent her the sewing machine.  While she was there, her friend said, "Gee, how do you thread this thing?"

So my friend sets up the machine and shows her how to thread it and then sews a couple of pieces to show her how it is done.  "Gee, that is great!" her friend says, "You're so good at sewing, can you sew these 20 table skirts for me?"

And halfway through the job, my friend looks up and says, "What the heck happened here?   How did I get roped into this deal?"   And as it turns out, her friend does this a lot - and is sort of famous for it.   She asks one favor, which quickly morphs into another favor, and pretty soon you find yourself changing the oil on her car and asking, "how did I get here?"

She was like a cat we once had, who would push against you in bed.   You might roll over a bit and the cat would ratchet like a car jack into the space you vacated.   As the night wore on, you would be pushed further and further, until about 4:00 AM, you find yourself on the floor and a very contented cat stretched out across the mattress.   How does a 15-pound cat push a 200-pound man out of a bed?

A little bit at a time, as it turns out.  People who play the victim card can be very persuasive, as your brain is hard-wired to feel sympathy for them.  And it is damn hard to turn off this reaction in your brain - if not impossible.

Like I said, the people who do this are not necessarily evil (although some no doubt are), it is just that they learn early on in life that they have "it" - that sympathetic look or vibe that they give off - and that people just do things for them.  They start to expect it as part of the natural course of events.  And each time they get away with it, it reinforces the behavior.

But again, victimhood depends on how appealing a victim you can be.  Beggars know this.  They get a small child (in some parts of the world, they are rented out for this purpose) and then smear the child's face with dirt.  They then beg for money, claiming they need it for "medicine" for the child.  It is emotional blackmail of the worst sort.

In the US, the drug-addict-under-the-bridge reinvents himself as a "Homeless Veteran" or "Just evicted!  Three kids!" with the aid of a cardboard sign.  People, being good natured and not wanting to see veterans homeless or kids starving, give money.   If they had a sign that had the reality of their situation, no one would donate.  "Mentally ill, need $$ to self-medicate with beer!" doesn't generate as much sympathy as the other kind of sign.

Similarly, when people present their case to the public through the media, they are always sure to try to make themselves look as vulnerable as possible.   A man tries to wrestle away a gun from a cop, after holding up a liquor store.  He ends up getting shot.   The photo the family gives to the press isn't the thick-necked thug-shot the police took, but rather his Junior High church choir photo, showing a fresh-faced smiling youth with a head slightly too large for his body and big eyes - right out the Japanese Anime playbook.   And always, his mother says, "He was a good boy, he never hurt anyone!"

The reality is, though, he is a 260-lb, 26-year-old man, a three-time convicted violent felon, capable of overturning a car when he is wired on meth, which he was at the time.   You get the idea.  Perception is the key to victimhood.

I related before the story of a guy I worked with at Carrier who was hit while riding his bicycle.  He was nearly killed, but since he was in good physical shape (thanks to riding the bicycle every day) he was able to recover from serious injuries and look pretty much "normal" by the time of the civil trial.  The driver, on the other hand, had leg braces and looked like the real victim in the case.  They had to settle the case, not only because of ambiguous evidence, but because he was not a sympathetic victim and thus a jury would not award large damages.

Our system of justice and civil litigation is like that - it is radically uneven, and whether you win or lose has more to do with how sympathetic you appear to a jury than with the actual facts of the case - at least some of the time, if not most of the time.

But, in the long run, does victimhood work?  I would argue not.  While there may be short-term gains in playing this game, in the long-run, you end up coming out behind.  No one ever got rich by playing the victim card.  At best, they might throw a few dollars at you.  As a long-term strategy to get ahead, it is flawed.

The fellow with the personal injury lawsuit - does he every live "happily every after" or even get that much money out of the deal?  In most cases, no.  My experience has been these are very, very unhappy people to be around, always whining about how unfair life is and how "their case" is progressing, or if it is over, how rotten their lawyer was.  Google "unhappy with personal injury settlement" if you want to see what I mean.

The folks who feed off the government teat based on phony disability claims - are they "working the system" and being smart, or just signing up for a lifetime of penury and misery?   I've met some folks like this, who have permanent disability claims that seem kind of sketchy.  They basically exist, as the money they get from Social Security is just enough to get by, but never enough to get ahead.

And that is the argument made against welfare - that once you train a large number of people to be supplicants, they lose the initiative to really change their lives, but instead settle for little breadcrumbs tossed to them by a government agency.  No one ever got rich on government assistance, despite the claims of the far-Right.  At most, they just exist, living and watching television all day long, bored out of their minds, and still unhappy with life, as they are still always wanting but never having.

Oddly enough, this makes them actual victims at that point.  Irony.

But a large majority of "victims" today are not really victims at all, but just people who have been convinced they have been put upon.

While it is possible to play the victim card and posit yourself as a victim of circumstances - oppressed by unseen others, such as the big government, the tax man, Wall Street fat cats, the banks, the 1%'ers or Obama, depending on whatever political wind blows through your mind - the upshot is, it is a crappy way to go through life, and it never ends up solving any of your personal problems.  In fact, it just makes them worse.

You have two choices, and to either live with things the way they are or take charge of your life and make changes.  Either accept your life the way it is, or try to change something - and usually there is always something you can change in your life, even when you think you have no choices.   When you become trained to think you have no choices, you develop learned helplessness and give up trying, convinced that whatever choice you make, it makes no difference in your life.

Some of us are lucky, not in that we had lucky breaks or things handed to us on a platter.  We were lucky in that we were not sympathetic victims and we learned early on that relying on the sympathy of others was a sure-fire way to lose in life.

I'll give you an example of what I mean.  My friend's brother developed mental illness when he was an adolescent.  His parents fawned all over him - coddling him and sending him to Psychiatrists and Psychologists and whatnot because he was perceived as "damaged goods".   Maybe they dropped him on his head when he was a baby (that would explain a lot) and they felt guilty over it.  I dunno.   All I know is, he got away with bloody murder and oftentimes others had to clean up the mess.

What was funny, though, is that while I struggled with my own teenaged angst, my parents told me, "Well, you can take care of yourself" which may sound heartless, but was the greatest gift they could give me - leaving me the fuck alone and trusting that I would turn out OK one way or another.   I think perhaps they had low expectations.  My older brothers were going to be lawyers and engineers, they thought.  I was both, but somehow it didn't count.  That's OK, as I reaped the rewards and saw how being a victim and sad sack worked out for the others.   Again, merely existing is no way to go through life.

If you are vulnerable-looking and a sympathetic victim, it is a curse not a blessing.  While you may be able to get away with things and take advantage of others, it never will amount to much in life, other than scratching a living in the margins.

Because, you see, there is one other instinct that is also hard-wired into our brains, and that is to become fed-up with people who play the victim card too often.  And professional victims know this as they learn it the hard way.  If you play this game long enough, people will snap - very suddenly - and drop you like a hot potato.  Smart victims know when they are reaching this limit, and back off or back away.

Don't be a victim.  And don't be a victim by being a victim of a victim.  Because no one will feel sorry for you when you are victimized by victims, as self-reliant folks do not generate the victim vibe.