Thursday, January 24, 2002

The Root Causes of the Victim Culture

Victims of crime have far too much clout in today's society. I heard on the news the other day that NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg is studying development options for the WTC "despite objections from the victims' families that the site should remain undeveloped as a memorial;."

First of all, if we leave the area undeveloped, leave a hole in the NY skyline, it will be a memorial to the hijackers, not the victims or the rescue workers. The bulding wasn't destroyed because of the bravery of the fire fighters or the decent lives of the victims; it was destroyed because terrorists hijacked two airplanes and steered them into the building. Allowing the area to remain undeveloped would allow their handiwork to be preserved, their mission to remain forever accomplished. Years from now, any such memorial will remind us much more of the hijackers than the victims.

Secondly, how does being a victim of violence entitle one to dictate the development options for downtown Manhattan? Our policies have fed this belief that victim status one brings with it absolute accomodation of every demand one could have. Want the man who murdered your relative killed? Fine. You want to watch it live? Fine. Can't make the trip? We'll hook up closed-circuit TV so you can watch it from your hometown. Your daughter was killed by a released sex offender? Well, we'll pass a new law requiring that everyone be notified whenver a convicted sex offender moves into the nieghborhood, regardless of how long ago it happened. Might this be a bit unfair if the offender has rehabilitated himself? Maybe, but we can't say no to a victim's family.

About the worst sin a politician can commit is being "insensitive" to victim's families. It was "insensitive" of George W. Bush not to sign the hate crimes bill after James Bryd's family had lobbied for it. It's insensitive of pro-lifers to oppose embryonic stem cell research to help victims of terrible diseases, even though more ethical avenues of research exist and have not been exhausted. It's "insensitive" for anyone to oppose the death penalty, when they or their families have not been victimized by violence (just ask Michael Dukakis).

Is it any wonder that Americans are constantly clamoring to be identified as victims? Anna Quindlen (link requires credit card registration) tried to play this game with abortion clinic workers in a column about a month after 9/11. See, they're victims of terrorism, so we must all stand with them. No, we must do no such thing. I abhor abortion clinic violence several times more than I abhor abortion itself, but I am not going to call these people victims when they have placed themselves at the front lines of the culture war. Should it be this way? Absolutely not, and I will support any means to capture and imprison those who think violence and scare tactics are the best way to make their point. But I will not support efforts to outlaw peaceful demonstrations, and I will not sit back while pundits like Quindlen try to paint the pro-choice crowd as heroes in the face of terror, and pro-lifers as complicit with terror, when almost all pro-lifers hate this violence even more than pro-choicers.

Got a little sidetracked there, but the point is that once we say that victims have privileged status, the result will be that people will try to cast themselves as victims, so they too can enjoy these privileges. I'm not saying that it it desirable to be a victim of violence, disease, or prejudice so that one can enjoy victim status. I am saying that by overindulging our natural (and good) instinct to express compassion to victims, we are creating a culture where people stop striving to achieve things, and make their case through rigorous argument, and instead cast themselves as victims and their opponents as insensitive. This is not a good thing.
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