Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Victim blaming is bullshit.

What do these four memes have in common? 1. They're pseudo spirituality/philosophy. 2. They're surprisingly popular. 3. They blame victims and imply that the victim is in collusion with that which is victimizing them. To say this makes me angry is like saying that Vesuvius only popped a little smoke when it buried Pompeii. To say that this makes me disgusted is like saying that the Atlantic is a bit damp. Now, some may look at these memes and say, "I don't see the blaming? It's something uplifting and stuff."

You can take things and make them look acceptable and pleasant. These memes are beautifully composed with an elegant type font, most of the time. Some come with stunning pictures (no.4) and some come with charming ones (no.1). Appearance does not add legitimacy. They are as false as the memes putting Adolph Hitler's quotes with Taylor Swift's pictures.*  We're going to break these memes down one by one. Brace for a wall of text coming soon.

Meme No. 1: Image - a 'stained glass' heart done in shades of red and pinks on a grey background with a ruby colored border. Text - You do not attract what you want. You attract what you are.

Problem number one with this meme is it places the onus of responsibility for all events happening on the reader. In the case of happy or pleasant events, the reader believes themselves to be good and a happy person. In the case of hostile and distressing, if not traumatic events, the reader believes themselves to be a person who is hostile and distressing (if not abusive). Additionally, the meme encourages what psychologists call magical thinking** and leads the person to believe they are responsible for the events that happen to them. It sets them up for the scenario of insanely high self expectations because they believe that they must change who they are to prevent the hostile and distressing experiences from happening.

Problem number two with this meme is that it is generally taken to be affirmative of the 'good' interpretations. There is no consideration for the alternate views, which are equally valid because they're built upon the same premise.  It encourages outsiders to tell the person in the situation that they are solely responsible for what has happened, thereby reinforcing the dangerous message of this meme and encouraging the outsiders to take a position of false security. Consider the following scenario: person A is in an impoverished state. Person B perpetuates meme no.1. Person B then moves on to other circumstances falsely believing that this 'gem of wisdom' they have provided person A with a solution to their problem and believes themselves to be absolved of the responsibility they have to person A as per the social contract that implicitly tells them that they must provide assistance when in their means to those who have need of it.

In the case of poverty, this is a rather disgusting scenario.  This is related ideologically to the 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' meme, by the way. In both cases, the meme places the onus of resolving the problem solely upon the victim by way of the passerby denying the demand of the social contract that says they should assist the victim. This can be especially dangerous in cases of abuse and violence. It can add to a victims sense of despair and guilt, which work to keep them psychologically trapped in the abuse cycle.

Meme No. 2: Image - Male figure, back lit by the sky, looking upon an ocean scene. Image is in black and white, with greater emphasis upon the white elements of the picture due to composition. Text - Never blame anyone in your life. Good people give you happiness. Bad people give you experience. Worst people give you a lesson. And the best people give you memories.

This is one that made me so angry I started to feel a little bit sick when my eyes lit on it. My first argument is with this idea that blame is somehow wrong and to be shunned. Blame is another word for demanding someone take accountability for their actions. It is how we seek redress of our grievances. Yes, it can be used in a fashion to imprint the idea that a certain individual is responsible for circumstances that they did not create. It is a bit of situational irony that this meme does just that with how it is constructed. It oversimplifies people into four arbitrary categories. And those categories don't make sense.

You can gain experience from interacting with a good person. A bad person can at times give you happiness. Those kinds of experiences come from all walks of life and all kinds of people. Memories are formed every time you experience something. The strength of emotion and the force of the experience is what determines which memories are lasting. And lessons... Oh, lessons are everywhere. But not everything is a lesson.

Sometimes terrible things happen because people choose to do them. I guess if you stretch the concept a little bit, the lesson you get from that is to stay away from those sort of people. But that turns into the victim avoiding people who are not necessarily the ones that do terrible things. And the assumption that the people who do terrible things are something obvious like Snidely Whiplash. A better version of the people who do awful things would be Delores Umbridge. She looks and seems to be a pleasant person. Until she decides not to be. And this idea that the worst people are teaching someone a lesson makes it sound like the victim *needed* to go through the experience. No one needs to be victimized. If you argue that victimizing someone is a tolerable way to teach them something, you are well on the road to being a monster yourself.

Meme No. 3: Image - Grey background, upon close inspection looks to be Aida fabric. Text - A negative thinker sees a difficulty in every opportunity. A positive thinker sees an opportunity in ever difficulty.

Ok, my argument with this is grounded in two things. First, your attitude has literally no reflection upon the circumstances you are in. You can be pessimistic and still be standing in a rain storm. You can be an optimist in the SAME rain storm. That rain may pose a difficulty to both persons regardless of their opinions or feelings about it. If you're going to say that your feelings can cause rain to fall, you need to look long and hard at the statement and consider if you're going to commit to it. Because that opens up a whole different can of worms. Some magic(k) practitioners I know and a few govt. agencies are going to want to have a conversation with you.

The assumption that opportunity is a good thing has always irritated me. The word opportunity is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:

1:  a favorable juncture of circumstances opportunity
for rest and refreshment>
2:  a good chance for advancement or progress

No where does it say it is a good thing. That favorable juncture of circumstances can apply to everything from growing flowers, violent crime, and the timing of hurricane landfall to cause the greatest amount of damage.

So, in brief, my argument with meme no.3 is that it is placing the onus of being responsible for the situation upon the mental and emotional state of the observer. It implies that positive situations arise because of positive mental and emotional states. And that negative situations arise because of the negative equivalent. It also paints a false picture of what opportunity means. It doesn't mean that the situation with suddenly transform from the proverbial rain that the optimist and the pessimist are standing it to a bright sunny day if the pessimist becomes and optimist or a howling blizzard if the optimist becomes a pessimist.

Meme No. 4: Image - A lush fantasy scene featuring mountains in the foreground and a celestial body (possibly a satellite but equally possible to be another planet) in shades of red and white, with touches of deep purple. Text - Accept what arises in this moment and surrender to it. Enjoy it and see that it is you. Everything that arises is your awareness - It is you - but you can sculpt what goes on. You can sculpt the human experience when you accept what is. Become aware of what is now and step back.

This meme is a mishmash of concepts. Some useful, some not so useful, and some that are dangerous. Let's start with the useful concept presented here. Becoming aware of what circumstances you are in and pausing to reflect before engaging in action is a wise thing to do. I don't have argument with this concept that the meme is presenting. I think they worded it too vaguely but I think that is because of all the other concepts they try to hang off of it.

Accepting a situation and surrendering to it is not a good standard operating procedure. There are times where you simply can not accept a situation, because accepting implies that it is tolerable and there are things in this world that are intolerable, things that would be lethal if you simply accepted and surrendered to it. It's a fast way to die of hypothermia, for example. Encouraging us to enjoy the moments we experience is foolish optimism. There are going to be experiences you are not going to enjoy. They're going to be ugly, painful, and quite possibly traumatic. You need to acknowledge this fact, not try to hide it behind some blissed out argument that we should 'enjoy the moment.'

You are not the situation. You are not the moment. You are an observer. You are a participant. You may be a victim. To say that you are the situation and/or the moment robs you of your autonomy. And more repulsively, presents that you are the one victimizing yourself. The assailant is completely absolved of responsibility from this worldview because according to the worldview, the assailant is part of you. The only circumstance where you can have the assailant be part of you is if you are engaging in self harming behavior. That is literally the only circumstance that can happen.

The supposedly empowering statement that we can 'sculpt' human experience is pablum. There is no real density to this statement. Yes, we can make choices and we can, to some extent, choose how we feel or what our reactions to a situation are. But we have no control over the total experience. There will always be factors beyond our ability to quantify that are going to impact each moment. And 99.9% of the time, all of the external factors are ones that we have limited control over, at best. But that limited control can fail because of yet other external factors. We can set the thermostat to 72o and the heater can break or the temperatures outside be of such a high difference from indoors that the thermostat setting does not reflect the ambient temperature of a room. If we can not have complete control over indoor heating, why would anyone think in their wildest dreams that they have complete control over anything.***

The worst thing about these four memes is that people trot them out on a daily basis and use similar ones to present this picture that we are in control of the world and our minds, that 'bad' and 'worst' people are recognizable immediately, and that victims are victims because they choose to be. No one chooses to be victimized. Let's drop this feel good bullshit, because it only makes other people feel good about turning a blind eye to the inhumanities of the world.

* This site is absolutely brilliant satire. There is also one out there putting Taylor Swift quotes on pictures of Hitler. That is equally hilarious. If your sense of humor is as bent as mine.

** Yes, I am a witch. Yes, I perform magic(k) but this is entirely different. The magic(k) that I perform is not based in assumptions that I am the primary cause of all events happening to me.

*** Yes, I recognize the irony of my stating this given my difficulties with the urge to control EVERYTHING about myself.

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