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David Thompson
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January 29, 2008

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Horace Dunn

Viewing people not as independent entities, but as mere victims of their socio-economic circumstances seems to be something of a – ahem – habit. Clearly if one is an alcoholic is would be tempting to see one’s plight as someone else’s fault. (After all, if one had to shoulder the additional burden of blame it would be enough to drive one to …erm, well anyway).

A few weeks ago, there was a choice item on BBC Radio 4 (the broadcasting arm of the social services). There was an interview with a woman who had ten children and another on the way. She was single and struggling on a low income. It is clearly only decent and human to feel sympathy for this woman, not to mention some admiration for the fact that she can cope in such a situation. But the only question that the twerp at the BBC could manage to think up was “Have you not received any family planning advice?” This is virtuosic condescension.

Another choice example from a BBC programme was when a woman wrote to complain about restaurants that offered children’s menu. Her own child was overweight and it didn’t help that the children’s menus offered burgers, chips and other unhealthy foodstuffs. In a studio discussion, this woman and the presenter/interviewer ganged up on a man who ran a chain of restaurants. He was accused of putting profits ahead of the health of the children who ate in his establishments. At no point did it occur to anyone to ask the woman whether she felt that the health of her child was her own responsibility and whether she might solve the problem by feeding the child herself, at home, on organic vegetables.

David

Horace,

The restaurant / temptation argument is apparently a default reflex in some quarters, usually on Radio 4 or in the pages of the Guardian. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard people imply that the only reason they’re fat, neurotic or incontinent is that someone else is making a profit. And Ms Gold is, I think, performing essentially the same manoeuvre as Bunting and James, in that personal psychodrama is announced, rather grandly, as how “we” feel.

“BBC Radio 4 (the broadcasting arm of the social services).”

Heh. I think that’s made my morning.

Mary Jackson

Theodore Dalrymple has a good expression for this kind of thing. He says that the left think criminals, alcoholics, druggies and so on are "passive vectors of social forces".

I know I drink too much occasionally and I could lose a few pounds, but that is nobody's fault but my own. And I wouldn't write a newspaper column about it because who the hell cares?

As well as being tediously self-absorbed, women like Tanya Gold insult women in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia, where they often have no choice about what they do. In Islam, of course, the lack of choice effectively removes responsibility, but that's a whole 'nother argument.

David

Mary,

I’m still baffled by the idea of regarding “whispering editorials”, MTV and Heat magazine as yardsticks of virtue and success. The kind of person who’s entranced by such things and then reduced to neurotic envy is, perhaps, deserving of pity. But you really wouldn’t want a society to revolve around their personal shortcomings.

TDK

"You can never be beautiful or thin enough for the fashion magazines of 2008. You can never be sexy enough for MTV, or pornography. You can never be famous enough for Heat."

... but definitely anodyne enough for the Guardian.

wayne fontes

Russia under the communists had an astonishingly high rate of alcoholism. Hard to blame that on capitalism. They did seem have a handle on women not trying to starve themselves down to a zero size to fit into the latest fashions if stock footage provides a reliable guide. Of course given the prevalence of mustaches in the same footage I doubt the female proletariat were much concerned with grooming pubic hair either.

David

Insofar as there is one, the thought process seems to be:

“I have a drink problem (and a weight problem and a smoking problem). I am a woman. We women are terribly oppressed by affordable booze and pubic waxing. Therefore my drinking (eating, smoking) problem is due to the patriarchal hegemony of affordable booze and pubic waxing.”

I’m paraphrasing, of course.

At no point does Ms Gold pause to ask why it is she chooses to care about - and be so influenced by - Heat magazine, MTV, thin fashion models, pubic waxing, etc.

TDK

"They did seem have a handle on women not trying to starve themselves down to a zero size to fit into the latest fashions if stock footage provides a reliable guide."

Well I worked in Moscow very soon after the fall. The hotels were well supplied with attractive woman strangely keen to join me for a drink! I made my excuses and left. Really! Think Russian oligarch's wife and you are on the right page.

-------------------

“I have a drink problem (and a weight problem and a smoking problem). I am a woman. We women are terribly oppressed by affordable booze and pubic waxing. Therefore my drinking (eating, smoking) problem is due to the patriarchal hegemony of affordable booze and pubic waxing.”

I have to disagree David. I think it is more along the lines of

“I have a drink problem (and a weight problem and a smoking problem). I am a woman and inherently morally weak. People like me are incapable of exercising self control and thus must be coraled by rules and lack of opportunity set and enforced by disinterested philosopher kings. Anyone who disagrees will suffer pubic waxing.”

David

TDK,

“People like me are incapable of exercising self control and thus must be corralled by rules and lack of opportunity…”

We were recently discussing Margaret Thatcher’s “no such thing as society” quote, which is often taken out of context and misunderstood...

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2008/01/the-greater-goo.html#comment-97570238

...Ms Gold seems a fairly good example of the mindset Thatcher was talking about, whereby “society” is forever to blame, while adults fail to discipline their children or simply act like children themselves.

AntiCitizenOne

Pets are neotenised (permanent children) versions of wild animals.

Perhaps welfare addicts are in a permanent child state. Hence their lack of responsibility and shirking of self-control?

Have we a generation of state pets?

David

AC1,

“Have we a generation of state pets?”

Well, it seems to me that the displacement of responsibility (for smoking, drinking, weight gain or whatever) to some ill-defined abstraction called “society” is fairly… adolescent. And attitudes that are rewarded tend to persist.

AntiCitizenOne

I mean,
Do socialists see the people they mean to control and rule over as pets?

morbo

I'm going to formulate 'morbo's law of societal blame', which states that whenever an individual blames society for a predicament in which they find themselves, then that individual is to blame.

Society is a perfect scapegoat since it is completely nebulous and is completely incapable of taking any responsibility. Only individuals can take responsibility. Society is nothing more than a collection of individuals, and it's a clear fallacy to view society as being some force that is external to the character and choices of individuals.

AntiCitizenOne

Morbo Society is a collection of individuals engaging in mutually beneficial exchanges of their time.

That's why socialism is so devastating to real society.

georges

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee..." John Donne, Meditation 17
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

Frank Pulley

Tanya is shocked by bestiality though, as she points out in the New Statesman (taking 1500 or so salacious words to express her shock):

http://www.newstatesman.com/200405170021

The Rick

When people make arguments like Tanya's (booze is too cheap = society of drunks), I wish that they would follow that up with a solution.
Most of these anti-capitalist/anti-free agency are just statements of "it's wrong" with no illustration of what, exactly, would be better.
I'm sure "Utopia as Envisioned by the Editorial Staff of the Guardian" would be quite an amusing read.

georges

I'm intrigued. When we're discussing alcohol I broadly agree with posters here, that it's mostly about adult individuals learning personal self-control. But when I think about the arrival of super-casinos in the UK I start to wonder. I suspect that they won't just redistribute money from the bookmakers and the lottery, but will take more money away - in total - from breadwinners. This will harm not just breadwinners but also their dependents. And I believe politicians, when they decide whether to grant casino licenses, have to consider human nature as it is, not as it perhaps ought to be.

I do believe that society exists, and that good social norms and social pressures can have a strong effect in promoting good behaviour and deterring bad. This used to be thought a conservative view.

David

Georges,

I’m not sure I’d be comfortable claiming to know how human nature “ought to be.”

I’m morbidly intrigued by the psychology of people who see the world in terms of “society’s constant assault on female self-esteem.” Despite protestations of radicalism (which seem terribly important to those doing the protesting), there’s also an air of irresponsibility, passivity and self-inflicted woe. If Ms Gold feels terribly oppressed by fashion models and Heat magazine, perhaps she should find something else to fixate on.

This isn’t to suggest that there are no legitimate grievances to consider, but Ms Gold doesn’t mention any that I can see. And if the notion of “constant assaults on self esteem” gains popular currency, and to some extent it has, the effects appear disabling rather than liberating. Perhaps Ms Gold demonstrates what happens when you subtract the pretentious radicalism that often goes with it. You’re basically left with someone who’s whiny, confused and morally incontinent.

David

Frank,

I do believe that’s the first time bestiality has been mentioned here. An oversight on my part, obviously.

Oh, wait. I have used the term “tentacle porn”. Does that count? It’s so hard to keep up with these things.

Frank Pulley

David

Sorry David, as you know I do have a tendency to lower the tone of the debate, but as the Gold standard was being discussed I thought that nugget should be added to the coinage. Does anyone know if she hails from the Gold family of pornographers that owns Birmingham City FC in partnership with that other pornographer-in-chief David Sullivan - and the Ann Summers tittilation factory? Both enterprises only just superior to writing for the New Statesman and all tantamount to whoremongering. I suppose not, she wouldn't need the money if 'twere so, would she?

pst314

"Have we a generation of state pets?"

Funny you should mention that. I think the answer is yes:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=509713

Sigh.

David

Speaking of the psychology of victimhood, Deogolwulf has unearthed a fine example of this new mythology:

“[Audism is] the hearing way of dominating, restructuring, and exercising authority over the deaf community.”

http://curmudgeonjoy.blogspot.com/2008/01/v-for-victim.html

Beware “the enforcement of phonocentrism.” Aaiii!

The Thin Man

Georges

I am intrigued to understand why you are so down on casinos. If you want to know what an economy based on gambling tourism actually looks like, I would suggest some empirical research in Las Vegas. A truly amazing place - and the 4 friends of mine who recently went all managed to spend a fortnight there without becoming destitute or spending their children's college funds or mortgaging their grannies' house.

Where you seem to concentrate on the tiny number of people without the self control not to jump off the cliff, I see large numbers of people earning wages as croupiers or hotel owners making profits by providing for recreational activities.

Where does this almost Pilgeresque puritanism come from?

georges

My post was tentative. I change my opinion about this all the time.

Las Vegas seems a truly fascinating place, almost arty in a Jeff Koons kind of way, what with the new Rem Koolhas Guggenheim museum. Now that the vile Celine Dion no longer has a residency there I may actually visit.

A couple of years back I was discussing casinos with a Pueblo Indian lady in Taos, New Mexico. I told her how, for me, it seemed sad to see the native Americans funding themselves largely through remittances from casinos. But she saw them as positive.

The_Rick

As an American who grew up 10 miles from an Indian reservation, I concur that the casinos are a positive for the Native Americans.
Before the casinos, reservation living was worse than 3rd world, no exaggeration.

Jamie

Trying to blame someone, or something, else for ones failings is nothing new. Especially among addicts. They blame their families or society for the need to escape reality. Then blame the drugs for their need to rob people.
With regards to Ms Gold's professed radicalism, Isn't calling yourself a radical an admission that what you're advocating is unreasonable? Back in my misspent youth as a leftist I thought socialism was a quite sensible way of making the world a better place. The reality was that free market capitalism delivered where socialism failed so as a sensible person I moved on.

amb

'The primacy of speech and phonetic writing in language is not a 'natural' human attribute, but the result of a metaphysical and historical prejudice.'

Wha-?

David

There’s also the claim that “phonocentrism” is “violent” and being “enforced”, and that people with functional hearing are “dominating” and “exercising authority” over deaf people, like it’s something done widely and with default malice for want of a more amusing pastime. And there’s the inevitable assumption that whatever the majority of people do or have – in this case adequate hearing – is *therefore* some kind of heinous imposition on those who don’t.

It’s one thing to say that deafness is unfortunate and often puts one at a disadvantage - one might feel *deafness itself* to be oppressive. But it’s an absurd leap to then assert that the deaf person – or all deaf people – are being “oppressed” - “violently” - by some nefarious outside agency. (In my experience, people are pretty indifferent to deafness, except when they encounter it first hand with varying degrees of competence.)

Yet the above is a common template for victimhood theatre and postmodern bafflegab. And when someone says, “In the deconstruction of the hegemony of voice as presence, voice as being, there is the dawn of a post phonocentric awareness,” a repeated punching in the throat seems a praiseworthy course of action.

AntiCitizenOne

David,

I think it just highlights the utter destruction of stoicism as a virtue.

Maybe you have some ideas why this occured?

David

AC1,

An adequate response would take some time, and probably a fee. But the victimhood meme has greatest currency among lefties, not least because it “reveals” an apparently inexhaustible menu of “injustices” to be corrected, generally with some collectivist and authoritarian measure. The argument linked above is facile and unsupported – it’s basically just a series of loaded assertions, as postmodernist tracts so often are – so I suspect one has to consider other, non-rational motives.

In part, I think it’s a result of the “rebellious” role-play common among activists and leftwing theorists. If many of the big, legitimate injustices have been addressed, insofar as they practically can be, then in order to maintain the oppositional pantomime one may have to search out ever more esoteric forms of “oppression” to rail against. Dr Caprice Hollins, mentioned here recently, is an example of what I mean. In order to justify her role (and status and funding), she’s reduced to chasing phantoms that only she can detect.

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2008/01/feel-my-rebelli.html

As I said,

“Adversarial role-play of this kind has very little to do with how the world actually is. It does, however, have a great deal to do with how those concerned wish to seem. In order to maintain a self-image of heroic radicalism - and in order to justify funding, influence and status - great leaps of imagination, or paranoia, may be required. Hence the goal posts of persecution tend to move and new and rarer forms of oppression have to be discovered, many of which are curiously invisible to the untrained eye. The rebel academic tends towards extremism, intolerance and absurdity, not because the mainstream of society is becoming more racist, prejudiced, patriarchal or oppressive – but precisely because it isn’t.”

Wonder Woman

Sounds like Ms. Gold has addictive personality syndrome -- always something to hurt herself with and always someone else to blame for it.

Henry

I do think some people are way more prone to addictive behaviour than you or I - certainly once they are addicted the obsession seems as bad as for any narcotic or for tobacco.

But yes - alcoholics do seem extremely tiresome in the sheer transparency of their denial. I listened to the alcoholic mother (of a 9 yr old boy) on the bus saying how just 2 good pints (she neglected to say of what) in the morning and she was just about ok - bit more or less and y'know, it wouldn't feel quite right.

In other words she had it all under control! Nothing to worry about. It was a big lesson - though I didn't need it - in the power of what we want to think, over the reality bashing us on the head asking for our attention.

Comparable to Guardian readers' desire to see the world as a conspiracy to "make young women feel worthless", or keep the poor in their poverty. Argue with someone who imbibes this stuff day after day and you start to reach for analogies with religious fanaticism.

But the alcoholism is still an illness, not purely choice.

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