The human mind is surely the most complex phenomenon that we are aware of in the universe. Consequently it displays many perplexing and often seemingly contradictory traits.
Many of us, erroneously, believe that we are autonomous when it comes to our behaviour so that our will has dominion such that we can just choose to behave in any way we see fit. But there is also a sizable component of the human population that would have us believe that others are responsible for their behaviour.
Both of these beliefs, of course, are wrong.
As for the first I have written extensively about how human behaviour is shaped by our biological history, our early socialisation and our particular Worldview. So, in most respects the mind is not free to choose its behavioural response to the myriad stimuli thrown at it by the “external” world.
The good Dr Phil taught us that, in essence, the mind is not “rational” it is “rationalising”. When we respond automatically to such stimuli it provides us with a reason why such a response is perfectly reasonable under the circumstances thus implying a conscious choice was made.
I am reminded of a story I once read about the founder of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud and the discoverer of hypnosis (or as it was originally called Mesmerism) Franz Mesmer. Freud had invited Mesmer to sit in on some of his psychotherapy sessions. During the session Mesmer would through hypnotic suggestion request that the patient, on finishing their session with Freud, pick up an umbrella which was in the umbrella stand adjacent to the exit door.
When they did so Freud would ask, “What are you doing?” Now whilst this was an involuntary act carried out under hypnotic suggestion the patient could always provide a rationale for their action.
One would say, “Oh I was just checking it out. I thought someone must have accidently left it here.”
Or,”It intrigued me because it looked identical to one my mother used to have.”
Thus our rationalising mind serves to convince us of our autonomy even when it is patently not true.
But it is the second erroneous belief I would like to focus on in this essay, viz that others can be somehow responsible for our behaviour.
As I have described in other essays, there is a range of human behaviours that some of us have learnt (often unconsciously) to manipulate others in order to get our way.
The good Dr Phil referred me to a nice little book, Declare Yourself by John Narciso and David Burkett.
They talked about “get-my–way–behaviours”. These behaviours used victim responses to gain the sympathy of, or create a sense of guilt in others in order to have such people respond in ways more favourable to the perceived victims.
They drew on the work of Robert McKinley, a psychiatrist in San Antonio.
They wrote, “Most get-my-way techniques can be lumped under three broad headings: helplessness, suffering, and anger. These are learned responses to interpersonal situations that aren’t going the way we want them to go.”
And of course taking offense is a classic form of suffering. Under this scheme I make noises about being affronted so that people might feel sorry for me or acquire a sense of guilt and thus help me change the situation more in my favour.
Now this belief is logically irrational. The “victim” would have us believe that their defensive behaviour is not autonomously chosen by them but is merely an automatic defense mechanism triggered by our hurtful actions. They therefore imply that their behaviour is “caused” by us. Yet they maintain that our behaviour is entirely of our own volition!
In summary then:
Your negative behaviour is deliberate and intentionally offensive. Mine is merely a natural and necessary ‘defense’ against yours and is therefore caused by you.
Victimhood is facilitated by political correctness. We choose to peg our sense of identity to issues of race, gender, sexuality and so on and the strictures of political correctness ensures the basis of our sense of identity can’t be challenged.
It makes us intellectually lazy because if we resort to victimhood and feign hurt when it suits us we needn’t resort to intellectual debate to defend our position.
A superficial examination of such activity would have us believe that victims use this manipulative technique to have us reconcile our positions with theirs. But often this is not the case. Victimhood requires that there be a difference (even if manufactured) with your opponent. It is this perceived difference on which the victim builds their power base.
Take, for example, the outrage of some indigenous activists about the date of Australia Day. The “woke” brigade , wring their hands and are quick to appease them, citing the pain indigenous people suffer because we choose to celebrate Australia Day on the anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet at Botany Bay. But they are naïve if they believe that changing the date of Australia day is likely to lead to reconciliation.
As I explained above, the more extreme activists don’t want to be reconciled. Racial division will always be required to provide a platform for their victimhood which is their prime source of power.
While it might be in their political interest not to be reconciled with other Australians, it is not in their personal psychic interest to continue to rail about such things and exaggerate such division. In order to prolong their perceived sense of power they must compromise their own sense of personal well-being, (As the good Dr Phil points out these victims are in effect punishing themselves in the hope their perceived suffering will cause others to yield to them!)
It is interesting that the work of the positive psychologists (Martin Seligman et al) suggests that the longest positive impacts that human beings experience from their personal responses comes from acts of gratitude. It is beyond the capacity of these aggrieved victims to ever make such a response. No wonder these purported victims seem such miserable people!
I am reminded of a quote somebody sent me:
Don’t let anyone else ruin your day. It’s your day. Ruin it yourself!
It often takes a huge stretch of the imagination to link those the victims seem to want to blame with the historic events that they seek reparations for. Regarding the indigenous activists, perhaps their main complaint stems from the European colonisation of Australia. How can any current Australian possibly be held responsible for that?
When this country was first settled by Europeans, many of the new immigrants were convicts transported from jails in the UK to take their chances in establishing a British colony in what has come to be known as Australia. Among such people were thieves and murderers. No one seems to be holding their ancestors responsible for those crimes. It is certainly incongruous then that the activists are seeking to hold succeeding generations responsible for the act of colonisation!
And then there is the propensity of the activists to call Australia Day, Invasion Day. This to me is particularly hypocritical. Anthropologists tell us that the pre-history of Australia was marked by successive migrations of peoples from the North and the West. These migrations were facilitated by previous ice ages when sea levels were lower and travel from Indonesia and southern Asia to Australia was much easier. Consequently, it is likely that those very same indigenous people who complain about European invasion of Australia are descendants of those who benefitted from their own invasions in pre-historical times. Some indigenous people would like to pretend that their ancestors have inhabited Australia from time immemorial. But that is a fallacy and all human habitation of our country resulted from so-called “invasions”.
Now I don’t want to give the impression that this manipulative behaviour is exhibited only by those wanting to protect wrongheaded notions about Australian indigenous affairs. It is widely propagated through political correctness which enables special interest groups to evade scrutiny thus curtailing free speech in some very critical areas.
Let us examine a recent incident involving the Premier of New South Wales, Dominic Perottet.
Perottet announced that at his twenty-first, fancy dress, birthday party he had donned a Nazi uniform which he now regretted. He gave a grovelling apology to the Jewish community begging their forgiveness. (Apparently he felt compelled to do this because a political adversary was threatening to inform the public of this “heinous” offence.)
Almost all of us would concede how appalled we are of the holocaust and what a terrible travesty that was against the Jewish people. By all means let us learn from history and do whatever it takes to avoid such a human catastrophe in the future. But let us be reasonable in our response.
There is not a shred of evidence that Perottet is a Nazi sympathiser. Indeed quite a few Jewish organisations sprang to his defence, outlining how he had been helpful to the Jewish cause. In our rush to “name and shame” common sense is often thrown out the window.
Another example of someone seeking to use the shield of victimhood recently in the news was the purported rape of Brittany Higgins.
Now, I abhor most acts of violence and certainly don’t condone rape. But Miss Higgins so successfully utilised her victimhood status that many in the media judged the accused in her case guilty without his having the opportunity to defend himself. Miss Higgins also seems to have assumed that her victim status should obviate her need to suffer cross examination by the court and the accused should be found guilty simply because she has accused him of the crime. The very essence of our justice system, the presumption of innocence, was trampled over by many in the media in the wake of her accusations. And of course. In order to enhance her sense of victimhood Higgins chose to go to the media to raise her case before she turned to the Law.
It is not hard to find dozens of such examples of people lazily falling back to a claim of victimhood to shore up their own fragile sense of self against perceived attack. In doing so they not only reflect their own sense of inadequacy but more importantly they impede free speech and, in the above case, proper processes of justice.
Buddhism teaches us that all suffering comes from attachment. The attachment that is threatened in these exchanges is our attachment to a sense of self that is challenged by the behaviour of someone else. Consequently those who are most likely to take offense are those with the most fragile sense of self. (Colloquially, we call them “thin-skinned”.)
We might wonder then are those who are not “thin-skinned” more insensitive? Are such people likely to be less concerned for the welfare of others? Well, as it turns out this is not the case. Those with a more robust sense of self don’t have to be so defensive of their sense of self. They therefore aren’t distracted by imagined slights and can therefore be more objective. As a result they are more likely to be compassionate and because they don’t waste their efforts in defending themselves they are more likely to be able to identify with the issues others face.