“If you were born again, why would you come back as George Bush?” – Mort Sahl, who’s still performing in Marin
Writing that blog post about Jivano at the end of October got me to thinking, and my readers know how dangerous that can be. Stop, stop, they cried, we’ve seen where this can go.
But cooler heads don’t seem to be prevailing anymore, so bear with me for a few thoughts.
Do we have more victims nowadays? Obviously, yes, since there are now 7.3 billion of us packed onto the planet, our population having doubled since the early seventies. Thus, there are simply more of us available to be sucked up into tornadoes, drowned in floods, burned in wildfires, swamped by hurricanes, crushed in earthquakes, and otherwise devastated by natural disasters.
Oh, but it gets worse when we consider what i’ll call unnatural disasters, those made possible by the agency of man. Our ancestors on the savanna didn’t have to worry about being buried in mines, dropped into rivers by collapsing bridges, drowned by breaking dams, blown up by chemical factories, poisoned by stored toxics getting into the water supply, etc. Not to mention being killed by nuclear meltdowns, train derailments, airplane crashes, and automobile accidents.
And yes, we’ve always killed each other for the usual reasons like hunger, wars, faithless spouses, and horse thievery.
But the above all produce what i might call legitimate victims, victims who are actually victimized. What i’d like to look at now is the proliferation of perceived victimhood among those who objectively have precious little to complain about, so much so that we’ve become, in my lifetime, a nation in which many citizens, rather than celebrating their good fortune, see themselves as victims.
As in politics. A recurrent theme in contemporary political discourse is that The Other Side is victimizing us, which has always been the case in politics. What seems new, especially in its virulence, is the argument being turned on its head and the victors declaring themselves the victims. As in our Robber Barons screaming that they’re victims when the downtrodden masses institute such socialist outrages as higher taxes on the wealthy and some medical care for the poor.
Or religion. Oh good grief. Surely there has never been a religion whose adherents didn’t see themselves as victims, and certainly many, like the Cathars, were justified in doing so. But at least back then the Roman Catholics weren’t proclaiming themselves victims while they were slaughtering the Cathars down to the last baby. Now, i find a bitter irony in seeing American Christians screaming that they’re being victimized when their victims get some court relief from being ground under the heel of the church all their lives. Yes, i’m a victim because i can no longer persecute the gays, deny women reproductive rights, etc. I mean, isn’t the right to the pursuit of happiness enshrined in our Nation’s law? And where can greater happiness be than in keeping gays and women in their place?
Or in our personal lives, and here we excel at victimhood. Oh lord, do i ever know some victims.
Like the guy who a number of years ago complained to me that while he and i had been paying into social security from the beginning of our employment history and would be lucky to live long enough to get it all back, our mothers had paid into the program only at the end of their working lives and had already got way more out than they’d paid in. He shut up when i pointed out that neither of our mothers needed the social security money, so it went straight into savings, where it was sitting there drawing interest until he and i could inherit it.
Or the one whose luxury vehicle’s progress is routinely impeded by traffic jams composed largely of the beaters of the less deserving. Or worse yet, by damn bicycles that should be forbidden on the streets.
Or the woman who owns rental property and is outraged that, owing to rent control, she is effectively subsidizing her tenants. Of course she conveniently forgets that she is being subsidized by her neighbors whose property taxes are a small fraction of hers owing to not being covered by Prop 13. Salt in her wound is that if she owned something new that wasn’t under rent control, she wouldn’t be protected by Prop 13. Poor thing just can’t win.
But my favorite victim is a talented watercolorist who has never worked a day in his life other than at his painting. Alas, his paintings sold well only for one brief period a number of years ago, so for all but a couple of years of his life, his father has been supporting him. The father’s reward? The son has made a cottage industry of painting the father as an abusive villain who has treated him shabbily all his life, and he’s so charismatic that i bought into this myself until i finally met the father and saw that he was a kind and generous man. And then i started listening more carefully to my friend’s tales of terrible hardship and realized, oh wait, my father behaved the same way. Hell, none of the fathers in that generation gave their sons everything they wanted, for fear they’d become spoiled brats. The difference is that the rest of us didn’t run around calling ourselves victims.
Oh, but it gets worse. Seems that after working very hard at it, the watercolorist got himself declared persona non grata in Germany, which is an amazing tale i’ll save for later, but for now will just add that this wasn’t a problem until the Schengen abolition of internal borders meant that no western European country but Switzerland and England would let him in. So the evil father spent a fortune on lawyers getting the charges lifted so the victim could continue to reside most of the year in the Netherlands.
Coda: My prayers that the rotten old fart would live to 120 and leave the bulk of his estate to a home for unwed cats were not answered. He died last spring and as his final horrible act of victimization, left the rest of his money to his victim.
Meanwhile, an eloquent roadsign. Ummm, the street has been paved with gold?