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Friday, January 12, 2018

the reactionary rhetoric of victimization and the ideology of strength

I watched the interview with Catherine Millet on French Tv about the “Tribune” in Le Monde against the #metoo moment.

It was an interesting exercise in the rhetoric of reaction.

That rhetoric serves the ideology of reinforcing the power of the establishment, and dis-establishing attacks upon it.

Millet use of the terms “victim” and “strength” – as in strong women – in an almost exemplary way. I could almost draw a Greimas square (but I won’t) to analyze her responses.
Millet’s chief rhetorical instrument is to speak of women imprisoning themselves in “victimization.” It does have an unpleasant feel, this victimization. How much better to be strong!
But an odd thing happens as the conversation proceeds. Using the example of a man putting his hand on a woman’s thigh in public transport, Millet reveals that she is a “strong” woman cause it doesn’t effect her, and that the men who do this are pitiable. They are, hmm, victims, and as such they shouldn’t be denounced.

Such are the odd somersaults that victimization has to go through.

In the age of plutocracy, the ideology conceals (as is the tendency of ideologies) a contradiction.
On the one hand, public opinion has long been bombarded by the notion that strength is not merely a description of a contingent use of force in a given situation, but is a virtue all by itself. Once we marry the fetishization of strength to the real image of our society, where there is a chasm between a small group of economic winners and the much larger group of economic losers, the worship of strength legitimizes this order – it even ordains a certain shame in the losers. They are weak!

On the other hand, the establishment gets in on the victimization racket itself. Millet’s “pity” for the “guys” is parallel to such rhetorical tactics as making any attempt to limit the power and the wealth of the wealthy a form of victimizing the successful. Long ago, a conservative mook named Grover Norquist even pushed this rhetoric to urge a parallel between the estate tax and the Holocaust.

Millet’s rhetoric does catch a bit here. After all, to speak of people as powerful as Hilary Clinton as “not being allowed” x or y – a popular ploy among certain of Clinton’s supporters – is at once ridiculous and disempowering. I think that this did real damage to Clinton’s campaign, as advisors became convinced that Clinton could not reveal who she is because it would offend people. But what people? Sexists? What would be the point of not offending them?

It is this kind of victimizing down that led her, for instance, to speak of “deplorables” instead of “racists”. That was a gift to Trumpites. They can all race around in t shirts with deplorable written on them – whereas I have a feeling the t shirt industry wouldn’t have had that influx of money for t shirts saying “racists for Trump.” Here, the negative effects of the victim delusion are apparent.

That said, victims are not some nasty thing that needs to be expelled from the body politic. I have a strong feeling that if the guy in Millet’s case put his hand not on her knee, but in her purse, and drew out her credit card, she’d have no hesitation about going to the cops. Nor would she be deterred by the reminder that she was acting like a “victim” – because, hmm, she was a victim.

I have strong doubts that Le Monde would publish a tribunal decrying the outcry against those who stole from the wealthy, say. It is only a small part of their collected assets! We should not have a witchhunt against frauds or thieves! I can almost guarantee that if the conversation wasn’t about the ever ambiguous notion of strangers or bosses putting their hands on women’s bodies, or sending them dick pics – but was about robbing male bosses, picking their pockets, breaking into their homes – there wouldn’t be a tv show about it.

Cause there are victims and there are victims, guys! 

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