Friday, December 23, 2011

Vicarious Victimhood

Robert Zaretsky, a professor of history, has forsworn his former role as a "Holocaust expert" and in this piece he explains why.  He writes that, as a Jew, it appealed to his sense of  "self-dramatization":
It appealed to me for all sorts of awful reasons. First of all, it satisfied my desire as an acculturated and agnostic Jew for identification with the religion of my ancestors. In his intellectual memoir, The Imaginary Jew, Alain Finkielkraut, born after World War II and ignorant of anti-Semitism, described how he happily shouldered the Holocaust as a cheap yet effective form of self-identity in France, one that carried all of the metaphysical weight with none of the historical experience. Finkielkraut wrote that, thanks to the all too real tragedy of the war, he eagerly assumes the heroic leading role in his own make-believe tragedy. “The interminable list of all of these deaths,” he noted, “was my passport to nobility.”
Vicarious victimhood as a "passport to nobility."

I'm afraid this describes far too accurately much of Western culture for the past 50 years or so.  Oh to be a person of color, any color, to be a woman, to be disabled, to be a Jew, to be successfully associated with any identifiable minority.

And before you think me a bigot, please note that able-bodied white males are not free from this temptation.  My father used to joke about how every big-time country singer would wax about being reared in a log cabin, now a trailer.  Or consider for a moment how many of our politicians strive to strike an up-from-something, up-from-anything pose even if they actually come from, and obviously so, privilege.

What does it get you?  Well, in the first instance, it's an effective shield against serious criticism of any kind.  But it's also a weapon, a trump card one can play in order to win whatever is at stake in any game one is playing.  Or worse, it's a bludgeon one can wield to harm another unjustly.

Those aspects of vicarious victimhood are bad enough, but it's as a "passport to nobility" that it is most twisted.  Why?  Because it does not, because it cannot deliver.

If an under-nourished soul of nobility is present, it always ends where it ended for Professor Zaretsy:  "Dissolution", as he titles his piece.  But if such a soul is not present, it feeds instead many if not all of the pathologies that currently afflict our culture.  

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