Sunday 11 December 2016

Victim blaming

When I was small - about 8 years old, I think, I was threatened by a bigger boy at school. He indicated that he would throw a football into my stomach if I did not allow him in front of me in the queue for the drinking fountain. I said: 'You wouldn't dare!' And so, of course, he did.

Clearly, the bullying was wrong; clearly I was the victim in this situation. But would any advice to me on how to react differently have been victim-blaming?

For many years, the link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer was unclear; for many years, the tobacco industry sought to deny it and discredit research. But the researchers continued, and demonstrated the link, resulting in the medical advice with which we are all now familiar: avoid smoking tobacco if you want to reduce the risk of lung cancer. But was such research not victim-blaming, in respect of all of those who had contracted lung cancer so far?

I raise these questions because this weekend, in a discussion about Amoris Laetitia, I mentioned the research (Daly, M. and Wilson, M. (1985) Child abuse and other risks of not living with both parents, Ethology and Sociobiology, 6:196 - 210) that demonstrates (as I mentioned in a previous post)  'exposure to step-parenting is the strongest known predictor of child abuse, and exposure to divorce has measurable detrimental effects on children's outcomes.'

That led to a torrent of accusations of victim-blaming, particularly in respect of people who are abused by their spouse, and leave him or her and 're-marry.'

My point (here) is that the accusation of victim-blaming is often a tactic that results in the cutting short of any consideration of the complexities of real situations. In particular, it consigns some people to victimhood with no respite.  For, by denying any discussion of how they may, however innocently, have contributed to the situation in which they find themselves, we also close the possibility of them learning anything that might help them (or others) to avoid similar situations in the future.

In the case of victims of abuse, that is particularly tragic, as it seems that such people often leave one abusive relationship only to enmesh themselves in another. There are many and varied theories as to why that is the case, ranging from Eric Berne's idea that some people have a life-script in which their only payoff is to be found in being a victim (see his brilliant analysis, Games People Play - though I disagree with him) through to Darwinian evolutionists (such as Nettle) who see it as the particular way in which their inherited genetic personality plays out (again, his Personality is a fascinating read, but as he freely states, only explains, at best, half of personality).

But to deny the possibility of even discussing such things; to dismiss the statistical evidence as less important than one's own experience... that is the path to the post-truth world in which we find ourselves, where political expedience determines what we must think and how we may express our thoughts.

(Note to self, there is a post to be written about how the liberal consensus in the humanities and social sciences in academia (and its intolerance of any other views) contributed to both Brexit and Trump).

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