If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Monday 1 Octber 2012
Read gnomica 1-100 here!
My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.
Michel de Montaigne(28 Feb 1533 – 13 Sep 1592)
Although this great French essayist has now been dead for well over four centuries, his statement has a very contemporary ring to it, wedging itself, it seems to me, so snugly into the comforting embrace of a currently favored meme: the victimization narrative.
To judge from desultory investigation, there is a kind of appetite in certain quarters for the victim narrative — even some college applicants are encouraged to make clear all the hardships they have suffered, endured, transcended in the brief course of their callow lives … in short, a call for a well-written victim narrative.
And since the pedestrian thread of almost any kind of life experience can with some imagination be spun into the golden cloth of victimization, the genre grows ever more popular. Apparently those few of us who have no oppression to report are meant somehow to ‘feel sorry for’ the self-styled victims. And, implicitly, I’m guessing, we are to show consideration and special concern that disbursements from government or business or the rest of us be vouchsafed the one(s) unfairly wronged.
Now, before you ride off in high dudgeon, let me note that, yes, of course there are genuine victims, truly victimized, victimized through absolutely no fault of their own. And society should reach out to them. But as with monetary inflation when too many dollars are chasing too few goods, so with victimization inflation when too many victims are competing for not enough remunerative compassion: in the one case, either the dollar is cheapened or the supply of goods is increased through counterfeits (or both), and in the other, either the victim becomes a bore or the compassion fatigue simply sets in (or both). And that does hurt both the genuine saver and the genuine victim, and the operation perhaps begins to show signs of unraveling.
For how many once helmet-less motorcyclists tooling along drunk and now severely injured are we correctly to feel sorry? for how many once spectacularly salaried football players making millions ramming their heads into other heads and now cerebrally compromised are we correctly to feel sorry? for how many pack-a-day puffers back in the day and now invaded by black carcinomas are we correctly to feel sorry?
I am certainly not happy that such things happen to such people, but where should blame and accountability rest for such outcomes?
As for victim narratives in the case of, say, college victim-applicants or trials of thug defendant-victims, to me it seems worthwhile to extrapolate a valuable point or two from Montaigne’s comment. We moderns (like Montaigne’s compatriots, apparently) have a pernicious propensity to play up the real as well as the imagined harms and hurts with which an unfair and uncaring world has putatively burdened our frail shoulders.
These narrative biographies are generally rooted in the familiar, nutrient-rich soils of class, gender and race in which the flowering gardens of general bias, insufficient education, inadequate housing, generational poverty, persecuted religion and so forth and so on further embellish competing claims on the intersection of multiple victimizations – and their tacitly expected consequences in the form of compensatory, remunerative ‘justice’ in cash or kind.