On Objective Christianity, Part 4: Where do I Fit in?

This is the fourth part in a series describing limits on objectivity. These essays describes important ways that culture limits the ways one can think critically, and different conclusions the culture will allow them to reach. The purpose of these posts is not to totally destroy belief in objectivity, but to develop a more accurate understanding of our own limitations. Hopefully this is the first step towards compensating for them, at least a little.

I was listening to This American Life the other day, and host Ira Glass was interviewing a journalist who has spent a lot of time hanging out on Wall Street, trying to get to know Wall Street types. He hangs out in bars after work, and things like that, making friends and doing interviews. Ira asks the journalist how these people feel about the way they are portrayed in the media. He says “They are genuinely hurt. Genuinely! They feel as if they’re totally misportrayed and that they are victims of government looking for a scapegoat. They didn’t do anything wrong, in fact, the American people should thank them. (this is not a precise quote).” These people, who collectively (though not always individually) contributed substantially to the economic near-depression of the last few years feel like victims. They do not appreciate the position they are in, and the tremendous rewards they have received, almost without penalty. They did not see their own advantages, their own strength.

Then, the journalist says “it reminds me strongly of the Ba’athists in Iraq I interviewed after Saddam fell.” If you aren’t clear on the Ba’athists, they were the favored social group (you might call it a clan or tribe, if you weren’t concerned with accuracy) under Saddam. They were disproportionately appointed to government jobs, etc. Generally, they were extremely well treated while the rest of the country either was ignored or suffered. After Saddam was toppled, this was corrected. Initially it was overcorrected for, and Ba’athists were almost completely removed from power, until the occupying forces realized that these were more or less the only people in the country with experience in running a government, so many Ba’athists were selectively rehired. The journalist, however, recalls that they felt offended at the way they had been treated. They did not see their own strength.

The thing I would like to highlight is not the precise fact that the individuals in both of these groups felt like victims, but at what necessarily lies behind that. To feel like a victim, you cannot appreciate the fact that you have benefitted tremendously from the gifts you have been given. The women and men on Wall Street do not appreciate the luck and benefit they have drawn from numerous factors, and the Ba’athists do no appreciate the fact that they were disproportionately favored for decades. Good Lord, what ingrates!

We’re all like this. This isn’t something unique to these two groups: it affects everyone. Most people, especially when we’re discussing social groups, do not appreciate the advantages they have. You can occasionally find people who will give these advantages lip service, but that’s as far as it goes.

I’d like very much to point out some common advantages that are true of most of the potential readers of this blog, but I’ll let that rest, and only point out the trend. This is true of almost everyone, which means: it is true of you. We never see our own strength.

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    • Kristen Girard
    • January 12th, 2011

    Hi, Stephen. I have a couple thoughts.

    Is there room for people who have distinct advantages to be victimized as well?
    I know you to be careful to validate individual experience. Just because someone else hurts more, doesn’t mean that you don’t hurt, too, right?

    My other thought is just that I’m reminded of the purpose of many spiritual practices that commemorate events and promote remembrance. I think it’s wise to celebrate and frequently remember and thank God for where we are and what he’s provided for. Ritualistic spiritual practices fall out of fashion when they feel rote and empty, but their significance becomes much more apparent in the longterm.

    • Stephen Hale
    • January 12th, 2011

    Kristen Girard :

    Hi, Stephen. I have a couple thoughts.

    Is there room for people who have distinct advantages to be victimized as well?
    I know you to be careful to validate individual experience. Just because someone else hurts more, doesn’t mean that you don’t hurt, too, right?

    Oh, definitely. You could argue that this happened in these two cases. That just wasn’t my point. You could have just as easily shown how we demonize others in a Manichean way by these same two stories. The case is probably more true with the Ba’athists, but that’s a different question.

    My other thought is just that I’m reminded of the purpose of many spiritual practices that commemorate events and promote remembrance. I think it’s wise to celebrate and frequently remember and thank God for where we are and what he’s provided for. Ritualistic spiritual practices fall out of fashion when they feel rote and empty, but their significance becomes much more apparent in the longterm.

    I like that. I think you’re right. I’m not sure it can correct for this, but it’s at least a start. For example, I don’t see how this would help Wall Street traders to see the advantages government policies have bestowed on them.

    -Stephen

  1. Yeah, this idea of being the victim has reached new levels. Think about the idea of Political Correctness in that I guess the idea behind it is to create space or give a voice to those considered in the minority or who have felt historically like victims.
    Now, the new way to handle PC is to brush it off and say enough with the PC BS, lets deal with things like they really are; the new voice of the victim is for those that the PC judges have tried to silence. So, for example, the stereotypical angry, white male on talk radio takes the position of being the victim of the so-called PC police. When did Right Wing populism become the position for the victimized?
    One lesson I learned from Nietzsche/Deleuze was always watch yourself from taking a reactionary position. Hidden behind the language of the victim is resentment.

    Mike J.

  1. February 2nd, 2012

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