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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Victim Culture

BBC Radio 4 - Moral Maze, Victim Culture

Claire Fox: Although Rachel Dolezal is an extreme example, I think we're all familiar with the phenomena at the moment of people queuing up to declare their victim credentials.

It kind of gives you a certain credibility and authority to speak out and I think that that's incredibly damaging.

And I think there's an irony around Professor... Tim Hunt, it's this assumption that young women might be so fragile that they'd give up a career in science because an older scientist made a rather off sexist remark.

Sunder Katwala: No, I don't feel like a victim but I do worry about in this sort of type of identity politics where there's the idea that we can only talk about an identity that we hold. Actually if you're interested in racial inequality or class inequality or gender you actually need everybody's talk about those issues. So I think that this idea that if you don't have the sort of background then you can't speak about the issues actually does close down something that we should keep open.

Melanie Phillips: Well, there are genuine victims, there is genuine prejudice, but victim culture is something different. Victim culture is a means of playing the victim card to gain privileged treatment and shut down disobliging views. It is illiberal and totalitarian.

Mick Hume: Giving offence tends to be treated as if it were the worst offence of all...

We've stopped treating victims with compassion and started treating them with reverence and handing them some moral authority. And that moral authority is taken to decide who is allowed to say what, because if you say to somebody, "That's- I find that offensive", that's become an unanswerable argument for censorship...

The campaign for the right to speak out and have a voice, for free speech, was at the forefront of the campaign for equality and liberation for all.

We now have it reversed so that we're being told free speech is actually a dangerous thing and should be restricted to protect those people.

When Frederick Douglas who was an ex-slave in the 1860s in America had a meeting smashed up by slavery supporters, he didn't write a pamphlet called "A plea for less free speech in Boston", he wrote a pamphlet called "A plea for free speech in Boston" because he said the way to smash slavery was through free speech. And that was always understood as being what liberation was about, and now it's the opposite. Free speech is seen as the problem.

Claire Fox: Why would you imagine that somebody like Rachel Dolezal would want to be part of an oppressed group?...

There doesn't seem to be many examples of white people wanting to black up, as the phrase is, to be slaves, or to be denied equal rights in Apartheid South Africa or whatever. Why do you think there's an elevation of victimhood to make it something where people almost want to say, "Look, I've suffered this oppression, that oppression. Take notice of me"...

Is it a self-definition?... Somebody on their academic credentials page lists the eight hate crimes she was a victim of. Many of which have now been challenged. But that's almost like Thatchell (?) qualifications to be the person. Isn't that worrying? To show your scars...

Mark Cutter: We need to make sure that we don't see people as a victim automatically because of their characteristic. We have to ensure people really are the victims that we are talking about. Have people been the subject of discrimination? And I think we do have to also ask: have things been taken too far in another direction?...

Melanie Phillips: Do we begin the discussion because it's maybe that someone's feelings may be exaggerated or false, or they might be claiming victim status to shut down argument? I'm thinking for example of Muslims who object to the reproduction in public prints of cartoons of Mohammed which they consider to be offensive...

Matthew Parris: We have perhaps become, perhaps oversensitive and perhaps too ready to allow the victim to define what counts as offense.

I'd just like to make a practical rather than a philosophical point. I don't think it's good for a potentially victimised group to get sort of infantalised or stuck in a sense of being victims. It can stop their own development.

And I also have noticed that when groups do claim victimhood who we perhaps think don't need that sorts of protection any longer, it does begin to generate a huge amount of buried resentment amongst other people. And you won't hear it expressed on the BBC. And you probably won't read it on The Times, but it's there. And one has to beware, I think, of this buried resentment...

Jill Kirby: If we turn from Peter Tatchell to someone like Katie Hopkins, or what I call the Katie Hopkins school of journalism, which is to fairly relentlessly abuse those who others might see as victims or minorities and generally be unpleasant. I mean, do you think that there's much to be said for that kind of journalism? If for example she chose, let's say, to pick on gay people and describe them in unpleasant terms. Do you think there's room for that in public discourse?

Matthew Parris: There's room for that, we can take it. We wouldn't care what Katie Hopkins said about us.

But I think, you know, if you're a migrant in danger of drowning in the Mediterranean perhaps, perhaps you're not someone that someone should pick on. I hated what she said. On the other hand, what she said did reflect an underlying feeling that does exist in this country. That these people are not our problem.

Jill Kirby: But do you think, do you think it's a good idea to encourage, bring out into the open, ideas like that which, which you feel are genuinely unkind to genuine victims?

Matthew Parris: Sometimes, yes.

Jill Kirby: And you say Matthew that you don't feel you need protection anymore but isn't it important to bear in mind those in the minority which you, in a sense still occupy. That they might be struggling far more than you with their sexuality for example, and that actually gratuitous offence in the columns of newspapers makes life a bit harder for them in a way that you would sympathise with?

Matthew Parris: Yes, and name calling in playground makes life harder for them to. But I would rather encourage them to be positive and by example suggest to them that life is good, than encourage them to dwell on any feeling of hurt that they may have.

Jill Kirby: But you're not worried about the possibility that we kind of lower and coarsen public discourse by giving the Katie Hopkins school their head?

Matthew Parris: It's a matter for balance...

Michael Buerk: Are transsexuals particularly vulnerable or particularly sensitive?...

Melanie Phillips: You started life as a female. Would you take great offence if I were to refer to you as biologically female?...

Lang Montgomery (?) transsexual activist and ambassador for "Diversity Role Models":My personal view is that if you said I was biologically female I'd say, well,I was born female,but hormonally wise I'm male, legally I'm male.

Melanie Phillips: But there have been occasions as you well know where people such as Julie Bindel have been vilified by the trans community for saying stuff like 'Biology isn't destiny', 'someone who started life as a man remains a man', and she has been vilified, hounded, boycotted.

Now, why should transsexual people or anyone be protected against the giving of offence? What harm can it do to be offended? To offend somebody?

Lang Montgomery: Well I feel it's how things are put across. And also when we talk about biology actually, there have been many studies done that show that transgender people's brains are slightly different. So I find it, you know I'm not a scientist myself-

Melanie Phillips: But the question is why offence is considered to be so harmful. I am offended by a lot of people and a lot of things. But I don't consider myself harmed by it. I don't consider myself a victim of it. So why are there some groups for whom offence is so bad that these things are unsayable?

Lang Montgomery: Well I think it's more a case of when - there, again with articles in particular of journalism, that's a main area. Cos I do stuff with trans, and sort of trans representation and depiction. But within that, I feel it's actually down to how damaging certain things can be. You know, and in certain situations with some of the articles Julie Bindel has written - they've been very poisonous. They have been very vicious in attacking and singling out people that's come across as bullying. And she's been given a platform to do that. And when people have retaliated then suddenly there have been situations where there's a case of, well, you know...

Michael Buerk: A kind of effortless way for people to achieve a kind of moral superiority which I think was an argument put forward by Bertrand Russell once in a rather famous essay

Claire Fox: Indeed. I think it's remarkable isn't it that because McKeen (?) didn't show enough sympathy so if he had shown enough sympathy and spoke in a soft voice and shed a tear then apparently that would have passed muster. And that's in a way what we now have to do is we have to say we care about the victims...

What can't we say? Well let's ask Tim Hunt shall we? Or even let's ask that fantastic scientist who you know in the middle of landing the comet, you know the European. The next thing is you know treated like an absolute criminal because he's wearing a naff sexist shirt and is forced to cry on the television. Now I think that that is a climate, that is just some of the science examples. This is an example of I'm not even sure what the victim was. Are women such, you know so incapable of seeing somebody wearing the wrong shirt, hearing an you know off remark that that they will cry?...

Melanie Phillips: If the putative victim is entitled to define victimhood then were the Muslims right to insist that you couldn't publish the cartoons of Mohammed? But I also thought something he said was very interesting was that people have the right to be free from abuse. Now no one has the right to be free from abuse. I mean I'm a Jew and if I had the right to be free from abuse I would demand the, you know the censorship of half of the canon of English Literature. I mean it's a ridiculous argument. Why has anyone got the right to freedom from abuse? We have the right not to be harmed but how can abuse, how can giving offence harm?...

So called victims have become victimizers. Calling people phobes of one kind or another is a way of demonizing them and it is a form of bullying. The bullied have become the bullies...

Claire Fox: When he was campaigning for gay rights it was illegal. So it wasn't about campaigning to have lots of laws to protect. And I think that's the infantilizing. This is all about I want to be protected. I want my group to be protected. Well by whom? By the state, by rules, by laws. It is very different to say homosexuality's illegal and you campaign for that illegality to be lifted than to say oh well I as my particular victim group, I've heard this, I want somebody to go and arrest that person because they said something that upset me...

It is infantilizing if you feel that you hear, you know you read a Julie Burchill article and you say: everybody queue up. We've got to demand that article is taken off the newspaper website. If we read that article it's going to destroy us, we're going to be damaged. I mean that's childlike because part of the adult society is that you can cope with, listen to and hear some very objectionable things and argue back. And that's part of being a grown up. We actually tell our children this as part of helping them grow up: that sticks and stones can break their bones but words won't ever hurt then. But we appear to be overthrowing that as adults.
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