Monday, January 2, 2017

The Problems With the Victim Mentality

A recent New York Times Magazine article tries to manipulate us into believing that a man who breaks into someone's home and assaults the residents is the actual victim.  Nice try.

A man, drunk out of his mind, breaks down the back door of a house - tearing the dead bolt out of the wall.   He staggers in, grabs a frying pan, and tells the homeowner it is time for him to be "punished" and clocks him on the head with a frying pan.

Quick:  Who's the victim here?

The New York Times would have you believe it was the guy who was breaking-and-entering, the fellow who clocked the guy with the frying pan.   After all, he has PTSD! 

The article is an exercise in intellectual dishonesty from the get-go.   From the way the article is laid out, to how it relates the story (in fragments, to keep you reading) it is designed to get you all weepy for the criminal and feel nothing but hatred for the victim - who unreasonably wants to press charges.   As a special bonus, they "Dox" the victim by showing a picture of his house!  Nice work, New York Times!  Protecting the identity of victims of crime - NOT!

The story is laid out in NYT Normal - a huge photo of the criminal involved, along with weepy black-and-whites of his Mom and whatnot.   The way the story is told is dishonest.   They tease you by telling the first part of the crime - leading up to the assault on the homeowner - then stop short and intersperse 89 pages of the story of the criminal.   The theory is, after reading about what a rough life he has, we are supposed to excuse his criminal actions.

When they finally get around to telling the story of the crime, the actions of the criminal are minimized and the injuries to the homeowner are not even mentioned.   He gets clocked on the head with a frying pan.  Did this cause a concussion? Fractured skull?  Brain injury? We will never know.  However the injuries to the criminal are related in great detail - injuries the homeowner inflicted trying to save his own life and that of his friends.   What a rotten guy, right?

Worse yet, they mock the homeowner for his paranoia and anxiety he suffers as a result of the break-in. His PTSD is dismissed out of hand, of course.   That of the criminal is what really matters.

Other sites online which discuss this story omit the mention of the criminal clocking the homeowner with the frying pan, characterizing the incident as "mistakenly walking into the wrong house" - also failing to mention kicking a dead-bolted door to pieces.  Oh, right, it's a petition - proof that far-right Republicans are not the only ones to engage in "post-truth" behavior.  All news is fake news, to some extent, in that they try to sell us on a way of thinking.  The far-right just isn't as good as it as the Grey Lady.

This sort of dishonest article is part of a trend of the media to get involved in small-town crimes and bring them to a national audience, while at the same time, making the criminals out to be the victims.   Perhaps this started with In Cold Blood - Truman Capote's story of the brutal murder of the Clutter family.   The story started out as a crime drama "whodunit?" but quickly morphed into something else.   Capote seemed to express a deep sympathy for the killers, and less for the victims.  There are rumors he was sexually attracted to one of the killers and may have in fact had an in-jail affair with him.   Hardly impartial journalism.

Crime stories do suffer from an intractable problem - the story quickly becomes all about the criminal and less about the victim.   In fact, good defense attorneys try to put the victim on trial, if they can get away with it.   And in a murder case, the victim is not around to object too much.  Criminals become famous - even celebrities.   The victims are forgotten - and often their character is trashed in the process.

The problem with this "victim" narrative is multi-fold.   While PTSD is nothing to laugh at, not everyone who comes back from war ends up committing crimes.   It is akin to other victim-mentality excuses based on race, disadvantaged youth, childhood abuse, or whatever.  We are told these excuse bad behavior on the part of the criminal - but they fail to explain how other people in the same situations end up not committing crimes.   They become post hoc justifications - and a good defense attorney today goes searching for victimhood on the part of his client as part of his defense strategy.

Oh, and yes, many criminals are aware how this works, and will use their victimhood as a means of excusing their behaviors.  This may be startling news to you, but not everyone who serves in the military comes from the best of backgrounds.   Some people who go into the military were assholes - living on the wrong side of the law - before they ever went in.  It could be PTSD that causes them to commit crimes when they got out.  Or maybe they were just prone to that sort of behavior beforehand.  There is no one simple answer.

Mark's Dad had to jump out of a flaming bomber, after seeing the pilot's head blown off.   He spent nearly four years in brutal conditions, seeing his friends shot in the head while the Germans marched him on a "death  march" from camp to camp, as the Russians advanced on Germany.  While he was no doubt affected by this ordeal, he felt no need to rob a liquor store or beat the crap out of anyone as a result.

Does PTSD give everyone a get out of jail free card?  Some would argue just that.  The criminal's lawyer in this case felt he should never serve a day in jail as the result of his actions.   Sounds like a good deal to me - you get to commit whatever crime you want to and just show your card to the nice Policeman who has to let you go.   Fortunately, that is not the law of the land, just yet.

Being a victim, positing yourself as a victim, or embracing victimhood is bad for the individual and for society.   It is a form of externalizing of the first order, for starters.   The "victim" can say that none of the poor choices he made in life were his fault, but rather the fault of external forces - the actions of others, seen or unseen.   He is given - quite literally - a "get out of jail free" card.

It never leads to reform or improvement, either.  Once the "victim" is convinced that nothing he did was his own fault or within his control, then he can rightly give up on trying to improve himself.   We establish a role to play and people live up to the expectations of that role.  You tell a young man that it is expected of him to be a failure because of PTSD, growing up in the ghetto, coming from an abusive home, or whatever, and odds are, they will live up to that expectation.

Victimhood hurts the "victim" the most, as it gives them carte blanch to stop trying in life.  You tell them they are damaged goods and not responsible for their actions - what do you expect will happen?   It is the same problem we have with our mental health system, which seems more interested in making people into chronic patients than into curing them.   You put a label on someone, you label them for life.   It is not healthy.

It is like drug addiction.  In addition to chemical dependency (which a lot of people think is overstated) is an emotional dependency.  The "role" of drug addict is strictly defined, and part of it is the pattern of quitting and then lapsing, again and again, which gains sympathy and attention - feeding back exactly the wrong impulses and rewards for bad behavior.

Worst of all, victimhood is bad for our society.   To begin with, when enough people start identifying themselves as victims, our society is damaged as an increasing number of people become non-functional or engage in criminal activity, drug abuse, or whatever.   Victimhood is a form of learned helplessness - the idea that you should just give up trying as nothing you do in your life is going to change it anyway.  When enough people decide they are victims, they become passive and easy to manipulate and society as a whole suffers.

(A conspiracy theorist might argue that is part of the plan - get us all to feel as victims in our own lives, having no control over our destinies, and then be all-too-willing to sign over our freedom to a socialist nanny state.  But we don't believe in conspiracy theories around here!).

The victim mentality also hurts the Democratic party.   Democrats have for too long engaged in this idea that everyone-is-a-victim and that (a) we should feel sorry for them and (b) we need to shower them with government money.  It is not a popular opinion outside of the liberal enclaves of the East and West Coasts.   And that is why Democrats keep losing elections.   Even the victims are starting to tire of this message.  Black people didn't vote for Donald Trump, but they failed to vote for Hillary, as they failed to see (as posited in another New York Times article) that "anything had changed" after years of paternalistic government thinking.

To be sure, the Republicans and Donald Trump will engage in victim-hood, often as much as the Democrats.   The Externalizer-in-Chief regularly goes on Twitter to whine and complain about how "unfair" life has been to a Billionaire.  And he regularly sells this idea to his followers, telling them that it is not their fault they lost their jobs, but the machinations of Mexico and "Gina" who made them victims.   Their lack of job skills and work ethic - and the propensity to strike at the drop of a hat - had nothing to do with it.  And it goes without saying that you might as well not bother learning any new job skills for jobs are that currently going unfilled, as you are a victim and it is best to wait until Uncle Donald brings your job back from Mexico.

They may be in for a long wait.

This story has a happy ending.   The criminal was convicted for home invasion and given a six-year sentence.   That seems about right for invading someone's home and hitting them with a frying pan.  If he behaved well in jail, he could be out in as little as three years.   And three years of sobriety might be helpful.

But he didn't even have to serve those three years - his conviction was changed to "attempted home invasion" and he was released after only five months in jail.   Five months in jail for clocking a guy on the head with a frying pan.  I'd say he got off light.  He's damn lucky he isn't dead.  Break into someone's home, they have a right to kill you in self-defense, which he almost was.

In a way, I now feel sorry for the guy, because his life from now on is going to be that much harder.  No longer in the spotlight, no longer a celebrity criminal/victim, he will find that the post-celebrity lifestyle quite a letdown.   Right now, I am sure he is on top of the world, being featured in the New York Times - and garnering a lot of sympathy.   What happens when this dies down?  Does he become one of those pathetic has-beens, sitting at the end of the bar, saying, "Did I ever tell you about the time they did a feature article about me in the New York Times?"   The searing spotlight of celebrity can burn you - ask any celebrity in re-hab.   I sincerely hope he can turn his life around, and not be the subject of a "what ever happened to....?" article a decade from now.

And I hope the guy who got clocked on the head with the frying pan can find some closure.  Because, it turns out, he is also a veteran and fellow Marine who probably has issues of his own.   And he certainly didn't deserve to have some asshole bust down his door in the early hours of the morning and clock him on the head with a frying pan.

So where's the injustice?   The New York Times would have you think the guy was still in jail or facing serious jail time, when he is in fact, out of jail and supposedly being treated for alcoholism and PTSD.  Sounds like things went pretty well - a brief sentence for a real crime.   Why the 800-page article in the New York Times this weekend?   Slow news day, I guess.

But let me tell you where the real injustice is - if it were you or I who committed this crime, we'd still be in jail, because we are not sympathetic "victim" criminals and thus are not fodder for a newspaper story or in-depth article or pro bono representation by the largest law firm in the State.

And that is yet another problem with the victim mentality - it provides selective justice only for those people who are camera-ready and come across well on television or have a compelling back-story.

The rest of us can go fuck ourselves.  Which I guess, ironically, makes us all victims!

UPDATE:  Two things still bug me about this story:

1.  Why was it published now, as opposed to months ago when these events were current?  Since the criminal in the case has been let go after four months in jail (a light sentence for home invasion and assault) it seems that no searing injustice has been done and in fact the system worked.

2.  If this guy was black, would the media have fallen all over him?  It helps to be a photogenic white guy, don't it?

Just a thought.