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Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Politics of Pity

When Norman Vincent Peale wrote The Power of Positive Thinking in the 1950s, you'd think that no one, up to that point, had even had a positive thought in their life.

It was revolutionary, the way that suddenly you could actually have some control over your thoughts, and over what would happen in your life! Peale's book gave birth to a whole host of successors - one might say to the entire self-help section of your local bookstore.

But, positive thinking goes against something in human nature. There is something in us that clings to unhappiness, that wants, almost desperately, to make things out to be worse than they really are. To paint ourselves as helpless pawns in a rigged game of cosmic chess, or as flotsam in a torrent leading only to an eternal sewer.

Why? Simple. We want pity. We want to be relieved of responsibility through raising others to feel sorry for us. If we can do this - we've turned adversity into a perverse accomplishment.

It's the gift that keeps on giving, because 'accomplishing pity' traps us within its web. If we rise above the circumstances that put us there, pity will be withdrawn.

Not wanting to lose what we fought to gain, we absolve ourselves of the responsibility for our own actions. and we live there, professional victims in a room lit by flickering bathos.


Victimhood becomes politicized, and a cause in itself. If you feel you can claim victimization, you're news. If there are a lot of people who share your experiences, you're Big News.

If you had problems but overcame them, you're No News.

It can be a generational curse. Much like beggars in the Far East, professional victims maim their chilkdren; instead of cutting off a limb, or disfiguring a face, they imbue their kids with the certain knowledge that they're special for what they've been denied by evil design.

And, finally, victimhood becomes part of the national fabric. We're a decent country - the United States has gone to war several times to liberate others, and we've never kept an inch of conquered land. That's nearly unique; only Canada has done the same.

This decency makes us, all of us, cringe in guilt at those poor people. We want to help them, somehow.

We don't get a choice. We're forced to help, by a bludgeon of guilt, to open our pocketbooks, and to assume an uncritical view of professional victims.

But what would happen if we said, GET OVER IT ALREADY!

I wonder.

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