Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On blaming the victim (a long one)

I adore Jenny, aka the Bloggess, who has an incredibly warped view of the world, but that's why I love her. Recently she got an advice column which is just about the best news ever. "Even Less Qualified than Dr. Phil," she says, and in her first column she showed how different from Dr. Phil she is.

A few examples of Dr. Phil's advice vs. my advice:

Dr. Phil: The world in which you live depends on the world you choose to see and the values you choose to express!

Me: The world in which you live depends on where you were born and if you have access to clean drinking water. Otherwise you are in for a lot of diarrhea.
Dr. Phil: Anything the mind can conceive & believe, it can acheive.

Me: Where's my fire-breathing unicorn?
Dr. Phil: Everything in ur world begins w/ a thought.

Me: Huh. Who’s the asshole who thought up tornadoes and lava?
Dr. Phil: Ultimately the only thing that really holds u back is ur belief that u cant move fwd.

Me: Look behind you. Are your arms tied to the chair? You've probably just been robbed.

That's about the most sensible advice I've heard and the best response to the "You can make your life better" school of thought I've heard yet.


There's been some talk on the blogosphere about a book called Crazy Love, Leslie Morgan Steiner's memoir of being in an abusive relationship; namely why she stayed, and that "the current love affair with understanding stops feminists from calling victims on taking responsibility for their own well-being."

A blogger named Hilzoy has an absolutely stunning response to this question here. It's long, but it's worth the read. In particular, she has the best exposition on the difference between "taking responsibility" and "blaming the victim" that I have ever seen.

As an analogy, consider a math test. Any wrong answer on a math test is, well, wrong. Any wrong answer that the person taking the test could have gotten right (in some sense in which a ten year old couldn't prove Fermat's last theorem) reveals something non-optimal about that person's math skills. But not every wrong answer should make you blame that person. Getting a question wrong that was genuinely at the limit of that person's capabilities might not. Failing to get every single answer right on a test with a million questions might not. Even mistakes that that person would never normally make look different if she was drugged or badly sleep-deprived while taking it.

This is only the beginning of the argument. To get the full understanding, you really do need to read the whole thing.


Last week a friend of mine sent me the link to a new brochure produced by the Episcopal Church called "Finding Hope in Hard Times: Seven Spiritual Practices: A Faithful Steward's Guide" and asked me what I thought. My first reaction is not publishable on this blog.

They lost me with Spiritual Practice #1: Count your Blessings. The rest of it is equally pull-yourself-up-by-your-spiritual-bootstrap-py.

So someone comes to me and says, "I've lost my job and my dog just died," and I'm supposed to give them this brochure that tells them to count their blessings??? I don't think so. I was reminded of the book of James: "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?"

In certain contexts, telling someone to count their blessings is just a subtle way of blaming the victim. I expected better of the Episcopal Church.

Read more: Askthebloggess on PNN - http://askthebloggess.pnn.com/13150-the-front-page#ixzz0CfRo3hP2

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