The comments thread of my previous post here on Creative Destruction has been completely derailed. I wanted to talk about Realpolitik in the Blogosphere (and why liberalism always loses), and for some reason, everyone’s talking about a flame war that CD wasn’t even involved in. I don’t mind of course. Quite the opposite: I’m really grateful for the opportunity to discuss this, and I’d rather it were on CD, where I have the greater audience.
But if it’s to be discussed here, I’d rather it happen in the comments, through the positive actions of the CD constituency, than foist in on them by way of posts. So I will continue only to raise issues arising which have wider significance, and leave the “sordid details” to the comments or on my own blog.
I maintain that I am completely innocent of culpability for what happened. Amp argues that I’m not. In particular he claims that two of my posts as they were written were inherently objectionable and also that they “galvanised” the attack against me.
I agree that the first post was rendered inherently objectionable by a typo, and I apologise to Q grrl and the other feminists for that. I disagree that the second post was, but whether it was or wasn’t is a “sordid detail” which I’ll take up with him in the comments. It’s this “galvanised” argument I want to focus on. This is not merely victim-blaming. It is the quintessence of victim-blaming. There are two forms of the argument – a forward, and a backward version.
The forward version takes the following form:
- The Victim(s) does X
- which galvanises
- the Attacker(s) to do Y,
- where Y is inherently offensive against the Victim,
- Y does not legitimately meet the Attacker’s needs resulting from X,
- and the Victim is blamed.
Counterexample: Suppose you were to physically attack me, and in the process of defending myself I hit you. It would not be victim-blaming to blame you for your own injury, because hitting you was a legitimate way for me to meet my need for self-defence arising from your attack.
If instead I beat you to a pulp, then the argument is victim-blaming. In particular it is an example of the “offensive victim” variant, which I’ll discuss below:
Example: “The Palestinians got what was coming them, firing rockets into Israel like that.”
In this variant of the argument, X is (or is characterised to be) an offensive act, while the disproportionate nature of the response is justified, downplayed, or ignored.
Example: “I heard that he hit her again. Can’t say I’m surprised, I knew he was bad news the moment I saw him”.
Example: “Why doesn’t she just leave him?”
The victim is blamed for failing to protect himself. There is a considerable overlap with the Stupid Victim. The Unguarded Victim is often given “advice”. For example, on how not to get raped.
And vice versa. It is very difficult to offer genuine anti-rape self-help advice to women, particularly feminist women, precisely because it is perceived as victim-blaming. What distinguishes real advice from victim-blaming is that real advice recommends appropriate avoidance and response to likely danger scenarios, while victim-blaming “advice” tries to “prevent” the rape that just happened, and recommends stereotypical virtuous behaviour as a purported defence against stereotypical attacks.
Example: “She was asking for it, dressed like that”.
In this version the only objection to X is that it galvanised the attack. This is victim-blaming in its purest form.
The backward version of the argument takes the following form:
- The Attacker(s) does Y
- which galvanises
- the Victims(s) to do X
- where Y is inherently offensive against the Victim
- X is inherently offensive against the Attacker
- but X does legitimately meet the Victim’s needs resulting from Y,
- and the Victim is blamed.
In this version, the offensiveness of Y and/or the appropriateness of X are downplayed or ignored.
Example: “I just caught the two of them fighting.”
Where the victim was merely defending themself.
Example: “Daran derailed the thread”.
This has a similar reversed dynamic, but instead of holding victim and attacker equivalent, the unprovoked attack is downplayed or ignored and the legitimate response is portrayed as the primary offence.
Little bit to Blame Victim
This variant exists in both backward and forward forms
Forward example: “Well, you must have don’t something to provoke him!”
Backward example: “I know he started it, but you were fighting too.”
In this variant, the blamer grudgingly admits that the greater part of the blame lies with the attacker, but still insists that the victim bear some of the blame. This is unfair to a wholly Innocent Victim because even a little bit to blame is closer to equivalence than to innocence.
Edited to typos, markup, and to clarify the backward scenario.
Edited to add internal links.
Edited (19 December) to further clarify the backward scenario, and to add the “little bit to blame” variant.