Inventing victimhood

In the post immediately below, I argue that it’s an error to label John Howard as a “neocon” comparable to George W Bush. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t some interesting and instructive parallels to be drawn, especially in terms of the rhetoric and mindset of conservative pundits in both countries. They frequently seem to be reading from a common hymn book. One of the favourite hymns is the one that bemoans the imagined oppressive leftie domination of the media and academia. This comment from Michael Warby (on Mark Bahnisch’s recent post about the rhetorical failings of the left) is fairly typical; you can read similar things from Tim Blair, Professor Bunyip and other RWDB pundits almost any day of the week:

I get a laugh out of the left complaining about the alleged propaganda advantages of the right. Let’s see; the left-of-centre dominates academe, curriculum development and implementation, literary grants, ARC grants, Fairfax metros, the ABC, the SBS, advocacy NGOs, unions, hunts in packs …

It’s an article of RWDB faith. But precisely the same phenomenon is evident in US conservative pundit rhetoric, with the New York Times and commercial TV networks (except Fox) being endlessly excoriated as bastions of socialist evil. Thomas Frank explains it this way:

The basic idea of victimhood on the right it’s even worse than Rush Limbaugh. His brother wrote a book and the title is one of these one-word titles that conservatives love: “Persecution.” The idea is that Christians are persecuted right here in the U.S. of A. – you know, right here, right now, Christians are being persecuted by the liberal elite, of course.

The idea is that there is this elite that controls society, and that there’s almost nothing you can do about it. You are powerless and helpless before these people, and they fiddle with your culture. They change what’s on TV, and they change the language however they want. They’re not accountable and there’s almost nothing you can do about it except get mad. This is the conservative fantasy of victimhood – that they are society’s greatest victims.

This is particularly interesting, given that a guy like Limbaugh and a guy like O’Reilly love to talk about the culture of victimization. Conservative pop culture has the biggest victim fantasy of them all. You raise another very important issue, which is one of the things that I want people to take away from the book, and that is the gigantic contradiction in conservatism that the free market capitalism that they profess to love delivers this culture that they find so offensive and so abhorrent.

The only way they can get out of this contradiction is to imagine a liberal conspiracy that controls things, so they can get free-market capitalism off the hook. All you have to do is talk about this. If the Democrats just talked about this, I think that contradiction could be made unavoidable. And that contradiction is fatal for conservatism, in my opinion.

Further thoughts – Frank has a point. But there may be additional elements to the RWDB victimhood rhetoric and mindset. We shouldn’t ignore the Straussian influence, for example: leftie cultural elites being calculatedly conceptualised as a common internal enemy/threat to unite the lumpen masses in opposition to an imagined ‘Other’.

And perhaps the psychological insights of transactional analysis theorist Eric Berne might even be relevant:

Eric Berne, the originator of Transactional Analysis and social game theory, defines a game as “sets of ulterior transactions, repetitive in nature, with a well-defined pay off” [Berne, Eric, MD. – What Do You Say after You Say Hello? (New York: Grove Press Inc., 1972)]. Satisfaction of position hunger is the existential advantage of the game. This, as we said, is the need to feel “one-up” or “one-down” in relationship to another person in order to vindicate a not-OK existential position. The arrogant position, I’m OK – you’re not OK, is the basis of the common domestic squabble game called Uproar where insinuations of worthlessness are tossed back and forth like a hot potato with escalating vehemence in order to avoid intimacy.

Games vary in intensity or degree from the relatively harmless first degree to the hard third degree game which leads to personal injury and involves tissue destruction. In any given episode of a game, the players must initially adopt one of the three complimentary attitudinal stances referred to as: Victim, Rescuer, or Persecutor. The participants then engage in ulterior transactions leading to a switch in stances for each player. This usually comes as somewhat of a surprise, at least for one of them, after which comes a moment of confusion called the crossup. The cardinal symptom by which a person can recognize that a social game is in progress is that momentary feeling of being off balance, at odds with what she thought was happening, of elation over a sudden sly victory, or frustration of having been conned. With the switch and cross-up comes the psychological payoff in which each player collects positive or negative strokes. Since a negative stroke is regarded as better than no stroke, the game may then proceed to the next round with the players each in a new victim/rescuer/persecutor role. Dr. Stephen Karpman developed the diagram below, called the Drama Triangle, to illustrate the three game role positions and their interchangebility [Karpman, S. – TA Bulletin, 7, (April 1968) P. 39-43.].

It rather reminds me of the feeling I sometimes get from participating in the Troppo comment box dialogue, actually.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

if the US media is dominated by Bush haters then how iin the world did 70% of yanks end up believing the piffle that Hussein organised 11/9?

without that great lie there would have been no invasion nor second term presidency for Bush.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Ah Thomas Frank, ever apt.

Homer, the book by Lakoff I talked about in the post Ken linked to addresses precisely your question.

As I said there, the rhetorical posture of standing with the people against the “elites” is a powerful one. And Ken’s right to say that claiming victimhood is an essential element of it.

Poor downtrodden right wingers…

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

The idea that “70% of Yanks believe that Saddam organised 9/11” is a left-wing myth. In fact, 70% of Yanks believe that there was a connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda, which is a completely different belief, and one that is justified by known facts.

This is just one more example of how left-wing elites distort the facts to suit themselves.

Of course, the Thomas Frank quote above is rubbish. Far from believing that they are helpless victims of a left-wing conspiracy, right-wingers are empowering themselves to change the situation. People like Frank don’t want this to happen, so they try to pretend that there is nothing that needs changing. We are not fooled.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2021 years ago

One symptom of the cult of right wing victimhood is the ubiquitous use of the word evil in reference to themselves. Poor things, just trying to make helpful suggestions, but thanks to leftie domination of the media, everyone thinks they’re evil.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Ok, EP, we won’t expect to hear you complaining about lefties’ dominating anything anymore – we’ll assume you’re out there empowering yourself instead.

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

There are many areas dominated by the Left — notably education and the media — but the point of the exercise is to overthrow the dominant elites in those sections of society.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

To replace them with dominant right-wing elites, presumably. Unless you’re going to go with Athenian democracy and select people by lot.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

sorry the precise wording is ‘was responsible’.

How did this myth gain ground in the USA?

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

Actually, a reasonably balanced diversity of opinion in media and education would be sufficient. It would certainly be better than the near-monolithic dominance of the Left in those fields.

Homer, the myth that Americans are ill-informed by right-wing media has its origins with a left-wing think tank which published a biased study with the intention of discrediting Fox News. Naturally this propaganda was spread about by left-wing media and bloggers, which is probably where you picked it up.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

NB See the additional thoughts I’ve just added to the primary post.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Don’t be silly Evil. All the left needs do is become more left, and the whole media would be automatically dominated by the right. The alleged left-wing media, academe etc myth is self-generated and self-proved by the emergence of an historically extreme right. We are dealing with a relative spectrum metaphor. If you want to be substantive, you need to take into account real philosophical terms.

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

Chris, there isn’t any “emergence of an historically extreme right” here. That’s just a perception caused by your own far-left perspective.

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

By the way, Ken, nothing you have said or quoted in any way disproves Michael Warby’s observation that “the left-of-centre dominates academe, curriculum development and implementation, literary grants, ARC grants, Fairfax metros, the ABC, the SBS, advocacy NGOs, unions, hunts in packs …”.

You merely proceed on the assumption that he is wrong, and quote dodgy pseudo-psychological theories purporting to explain the thinking of right-wingers. But nowhere do you produce any evidence to contradict Warby’s facts.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Dream on Evil. All the zones you think are dominated by the ‘left-of-centre’ were all regarded as right-wing before the left shattered. There isn’t anything coherent called the ‘left’ anymore, only right-wingers, and the heterogenity of everyone else.

Paul Watson
Paul Watson
2021 years ago

Michael Warby’s observations on cultural hegemony are spot on – except that above all, it is an age bracket (b.1946-1962) that dominates academe, arts grants, journalism, etc.

This is hardly news, and the Right’s constuction of a straw man (how can a boomer smugly contented with his/her house equity windfall possibly be called “left”?) does its own cause no favours.

For me, Warby and his ilk are also part of the problem, in having denied the next generation access to proper/affordable jobs, housing, education etc.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Paul

I would never accuse you of playing Berne’s Uproar game. You just cleave instantly to the victim role and cling to it grimly irrespective of any inconveniently inconsistent facts.

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

You’re hallucinating, Chris. Time for your medication.

Denying that the Left exists is a tactic that some lefties like to use in order to deflect attacks. If a thing cannot be named, it cannot be criticised.

You deny that the Left exists, yet it is the very thing that you represent and defend. Hence your denial has no credibility.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

EP, there are a number of polling organisations that have polled on this in the US.
They poll on anything there.
This figure was below 50% pre-invasion to just over 50% just after invasion to 70% during the election campaign.

A vast majority of yanks thought Hussein was behind 11/9.

Why did they fall for this guff?

wen
wen
2021 years ago

Does Berne suggest ways to avoid all the role playing & the (sigh)inevitable “tissue destruction”, Ken?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Homer, read George Lakoff’s book on this:

http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/008730.html

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Wen

Transactional analysis is a quite evolved set of theory and practice nowadays. It involves many aspects, but perhaps most importantly helping people develop insight into existing pathological ways of interacting with others by analysing beviour in terms of “games” and “scripts”, by role-playing some of these games, especially healthy ones (I’m OK You’re OK instead of switching roles games of I’m OK You’re Not OK)), and by adopting a contract-based approach to changing behaviour. See http://www.itaa-net.org/ta/keyideas.htm .

I see alternating drama triangle games of victim/rescuer/persecutor around me all the time, and I think merely the fact of being conscious of the games helps me to recognise them and avoid participating in them (or nip it in the bud if you find yourself doing it).

Mind you, perhaps in part I’m playing it right now, alternating between meta-narrative-revealing rescuer and condescending persecutor, while EP happily mostly plays the victim but also simultaneously persecutes Chris Sheil as personification of the left.

Gummo Trotsky
2021 years ago

“… the myth that Americans are ill-informed by right-wing media has its origins with a left-wing think tank which published a biased study with the intention of discrediting Fox News. Naturally this propaganda was spread about by left-wing media and bloggers, which is probably where you picked it up.”

Would that be the survey “Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War” conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and Knowledge Networks Poll on October 2, 2003 EP? There’s an extensive discussion of it in _America Alone (The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order)_ by Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke (of whom more later):

“… The data demonstrated that in the lead up to the war and during the postwar period, a large section of the American public held a number of misperceptions that played a vital role in creating and sustaining support for the decision to got to war. For example: Significant numbers of the US electorate believed Iraq to have been directly involved in the attacks of 9/11; that Iraq and al-Qaeda were linked; that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after the war; that Iraq actually used weapons of mass destruction during the war; and that world opinion generally approved of America’s going to war …”

They go on to repeat the frequent assertion that the study found that Fox News was the principal source of these misperceptions. In the introduction to the book, Halper and Clarke assert that they are conservatives and Republicans of a “center-right” persuasion. Of course we only have their word for that.

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

Homer, you are mistaken. The vast majority of Yanks believe no such thing.

You are relying on a distortion of the truth, created by left-wing propagandists.

It is you who have fallen for their guff.

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

That’s the one, Gummo. A biased study that presented a highly distorted version of what Americans believed, and used it to attack non-left-wing media.

I read that that bogus study when it was released, and responded to it on my blog:

http://evilpundit.com/archives/004207.html

Like the dodgy Lancet “study” of Iraq war deaths, it was a cocked up piece of advocacy research designed to produce a specific result for propaganda purposes.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2021 years ago

Some guy called for you again Evil Pee, and with the same message: “why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

You used to be witty, Nabakov. What happened?

Robert Merkel
2021 years ago

To those whinging right-wingers who complain about left-wing academia, how about we do a swap. We’ll dump a representative bunch of you into the arts faculties of our universities, where you can resume your endless culture wars at the University House lunch tables. In return, how about we appoint some of the unemployed senior academics to the boards of our top 50 companies, especially PBL, News Corp, and Fairfax. Oh, and we’d like matching funds from those companies to go to NGO’s for all the money they spend on astroturfing and corporate hospitality to our politicians.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

We covered that story at this very blog evil. You might recall losing the argument.

http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/003165.html

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

EP, perhaps you didn’t understand what I was saying.
There are more polls done in the USA than there were WMDS!
It is not hard to conduct one.
There are a plethora of organisations that do them so the polls have been done and the results are in.
There is a little difference the last time I looked at them however it was all in the margin of error.

A vast majority of the US believe Hussein was responsible for 11/9.
I didn’t mention my favourite which was a majority of peoople who voted for Bush believed they found WMDs however I have not seen this polled by other organisations!

Gary
2021 years ago

“This figure was below 50% pre-invasion to just over 50% just after invasion to 70% during the election campaign.”–Homer Paxton

“I would have thought an excellent example of Joseph Goebbels-type propaganda was the fact that 70% of Yanks believe Saddam Hussein was responsible for 11/9!

Posted by: Homer Paxton at August 17, 2004 04:09 PM”

http://slattsnews.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/006839.html

It’s pity that Steve Edward’s old site is gone then you would see just how far back Homers 70% goes to pre-invasion .

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

I assume the meds haven’t kicked in, Chris, because you’re still drifting quite a ways from reality when you imagine I “lost” that argument. I guess one advantage of having lefties in universities is that it frees up space in our under-resourced residential institutions for the feeble-minded.

Homer, you’re just mindlessly repeating the same erroneous claim without providing any evidence. You won’t convince anyone that way.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2021 years ago

“You used to be witty, Nabakov. What happened?”

I was never witty. That was just another distortion of the truth, created by left-wing propagandists.

Interesting to look at that old link cs, and notice how none of the pro-war people were running “But it’s all about bringing democracy to Iraq” line back then.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Does anyone else find it as strange as I do that pointing out the rather ubiquitous existence of alternating victim/rescuer/persecutor role-playing games in interpersonal discourse mostly does nothing whatever to restrain people from simply continuing to play them as enthusiastically as ever?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Ken, I want to be a victim! I thought I was the personification of the left for EP! I’m conspicuously indignant!!! So, rescue me!!!

Glenn Condell
Glenn Condell
2021 years ago

Does anyone think Howard would have been keen to invade Iraq if Bush hadn’t been? Was it high on his agenda? Does anyone think that Howard in his heart of hearts thought it was a good idea at any stage?

Howard, left to his own devices, is caution personified in international affairs. Given his druthers (whatever they are) he’d be happy as larry staying at home to rip off workers, put women back in the home, take higher education back off the masses, bathe in sporting glory etc.. and foreigners could remain foreign and mind their own business.

My feeling is he puts on the shiteating grin for Bush (in the same way he does for Packer or anyone with more power than him) and goes along with any idiot scheme because of the primacy of the alliance. Call it cowardice or expedience according to your stripes (or both, as I do), but it isn’t idealism or concern for the Iraqi people. It’s submission.

For such an esentially risk-averse politician, Bush’s hubris would be anathema. Perhaps Howard sits up at night at Kirribilli nursing a Para Port and cursing Bush’s callow inability to parse anything his controllers told him, his total lack of analytic powers or independence of mind, his rather childish appeals to romantic notions of democracy and freedom – exquisitely tailored fo his information poor and ill-educated audience, his princely self-delusion and dishonesty, his basic unfitness for leadership.

I imagine Howard (like Blair perhaps) secretly hating Bush for utterly destroying the quality of his legacy, even as we marvel at it’s width. But if he’s honest, he will save a dollop of bile for his own weakness, his fatal flaw, his personal tendency to expedience, the almost pathological aversion to taking the high road.

Iraq won’t be the only decision made with that trademark combo of lily liver and rat cunning that the PM will live to regret (Tampa comes to mind too) but it is the most important.

He should see about getting the grin fixed permanently – he’s going to need it.

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

Interesting to look at that old link and see how much actual linking to sources was going on in support of arguments. That’s all gone now.

I really think the comments section of this blog would be vastly improved by turning linkage back on. There are better ways to stop spammers.

Tim Lambert
2021 years ago

Oh, it’s like the Lancet study — solid research endorsed by every expert in the field consulted? It’s that good, according to EP it would seem.

yobbo
2021 years ago

“Let’s see; the left-of-centre dominates academe, curriculum development and implementation, literary grants, ARC grants, Fairfax metros, the ABC, the SBS, advocacy NGOs, unions”

Which is 100% true. Do you have some super-secret information which refutes his claim?

In the US, right-wing students are routinely victimised by left-wing faculty for the crime of holding different beliefs to their teachers. I think they have a legitimate gripe.

The point of this article seems to be they should just stop whining about getting failed and leave the universities to the lefties like it should be. Or did I miss something?

I realise that this is an attempt to be “centrist”, but Ken, if you’re going to attack the right, at least have something to attack them over.

Warbo
Warbo
2021 years ago

Yobbo, in what sense do you think the left of centre dominates the Fairfax metros, for example?

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Yobbo (and others) do need to be corrected. From my experience, the likely truth is that the humanities has a preponderance of liberal-minded academics. This should not be surprising, given that the liberal academic tradition leads in so many fields world-over, Keith Windschuttle notwithstanding. It is at teacher level that the political characterisation is wildly wrong, notwithstanding exceptions. Below postgraduate level, most teachers are primarily preoccupied with inducting students into the mainstreams of their subjects, and helping and encouraging them to make their own arguments, whatever those arguments may be. Originality is the most highly placed value, not conformity. If anything has changed politically over the past decade it is that teachers have become more sensitive to right-wing arguments and authors etc. This is sort of like an abc reaction, where we are bending over backwards. I encourage all my right-wingers, rcoommend texts for them, pose problems, help them wth their expression, encourage them to make their own arguments and stick to them. If we’re going to have right-wing intellectuals, especially if they come from one of my classes, let’s at least have some decent ones. Now, wouldn’t that be refreshing. Must be off. Have a class right now.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Chris is right. That’s why I teach Hayek and Friedman when I teach political economy.

Polly
Polly
2021 years ago

“Homer, you’re just mindlessly repeating the same erroneous claim without providing any evidence. You won’t convince anyone that way.”

EP, this comment coming from YOU is priceless. I had been thinking similar thoughts about your posts. Where is your proof of YOUR claims.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2021 years ago

Gary, 2004 was an election year!

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2021 years ago

i suspect that it is a case of ignorance of rather than hostility to the classical liberal tradition among social science/humanities academics.

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

Well, Polly, that proof would be referenced by the link to my blog that I posted above, which you somehow missed in your careful reading of this comment thread.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2021 years ago

Robert Merkel makes a very good point and it has occurred to me before.

When RWDBs like myself start going over the top with our conspicuous indignation, it begs the question: “If they are not going to be in the creative industries, where are you going to put them” Doesn’t take long before I decide they are best left where they are.

Of course conspicuous indignation is a relative term. It is only now that we are becoming vocal in our objection to certain givens. We are whining like f*cked diffs but we are coming off a very low base. So, please lefties, a bit of slack. We were slow on the uptake. The penny only just dropped after Howard’s election victorey prior to the last (and the blogosphere) that there may be others who actually agree with us. We were raised by teachers unions to believe we were ideologically perverted and leperous and we best keep quiet.

If somebody was to knock on my door this very day and ask me if I thought Saddam was behind the bombings on 9/11 I’d probably say “Yes” myself. Not because I believe he was literally behind it, I know he wasn’t, but because I lump them altogether as “crazy Arab toublemakers who are in dire need of a tune up” We chose Afganistan and Iraq to start cleaning up the planet and it was as good a place as any and nobody with any decency (a subjective term, I concede this) gives two shits about what Koffi and Bob Brown might say about it.

Polly
Polly
2021 years ago

NO I didn’t miss it EP. I meticulously went to you blog and to all the other links. There were quite a number of claims made but NO PROOF re the figure you are disputing.

I have seen similar claims from other poll sources. So where are the polls, surveys etc that you claim show different figures?

Your original post is about whether they were misperceptions or not not it does NOT dispute the 70% figure (or any of the others). Wizbang discusses causation ie the conclusion they held those miconceptions because they watched Fox.

Where is the proof , the statistics, the documents.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2021 years ago

“If somebody was to knock on my door this very day and ask me if I thought Saddam was behind the bombings on 9/11 I’d probably say “Yes” myself. Not because I believe he was literally behind it, I know he wasn’t, but because I lump them altogether as “crazy Arab toublemakers who are in dire need of a tune up” We chose Afganistan and Iraq to start cleaning up the planet ”

So that’s why we went to the trouble of invading Iraq so that Islamists could get into power. Makes sense.

Evil Pundit
2021 years ago

You aren’t reading, Polly.

Homer claims that 70% of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11.

In fact, what a majority of Americans believe is that there were links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

These are two different things.

Gary
2021 years ago

Polly, Homers been using the 70% claim since before the Iraq war attributing it from a CBS to election exit poll’s. Unfortunately I cannot prove it because the site with his comment are no longer.

Heres a more up to date survey http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Pres_Election_04/html/new_10_21_04.html#1 complements of ChrisV from co-author Yoggo’s site.

And for a fun game ask Homer who invoked ANZUS Treaty and over what conflict.