Archive for Δεκέμβριος 2015

The Real Victims of Victimhood   Leave a comment

Arthur C. Brooks

 

BACK in 1993, the misanthropic art critic Robert Hughes published a grumpy, entertaining book called “Culture of Complaint,” in which he predicted that America was doomed to become increasingly an “infantilized culture” of victimhood. It was a rant against what he saw as a grievance industry appearing all across the political spectrum.

I enjoyed the book, but as a lifelong optimist about America, was unpersuaded by Mr. Hughes’s argument. I dismissed it as just another apocalyptic prediction about our culture.

Unfortunately, the intervening two decades have made Mr. Hughes look prophetic and me look naïve.

“Victimhood culture” has now been identified as a widening phenomenon by mainstream sociologists. And it is impossible to miss the obvious examples all around us. We can laugh off some of them, for example, the argument that the design of a Starbucks cup is evidence of a secularist war on Christmas. Others, however, are more ominous.

 

On campuses, activists interpret ordinary interactions as “microaggressions” and set up “safe spaces” to protect students from certain forms of speech. And presidential candidates on both the left and the right routinely motivate supporters by declaring that they are under attack by immigrants or wealthy people.

So who cares if we are becoming a culture of victimhood? We all should. To begin with, victimhood makes it more and more difficult for us to resolve political and social conflicts. The culture feeds a mentality that crowds out a necessary give and take — the very concept of good-faith disagreement — turning every policy difference into a pitched battle between good (us) and evil (them).

Consider a 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which examined why opposing groups, including Democrats and Republicans, found compromise so difficult. The researchers concluded that there was a widespread political “motive attribution asymmetry,” in which both sides attributed their own group’s aggressive behavior to love, but the opposite side’s to hatred. Today, millions of Americans believe that their side is basically benevolent while the other side is evil and out to get them.

Second, victimhood culture makes for worse citizens — people who are less helpful, more entitled, and more selfish. In 2010, four social psychologists from Stanford University published an article titled “Victim Entitlement to Behave Selfishly” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers randomly assigned 104 human subjects to two groups.

Members of one group were prompted to write a short essay about a time when they felt bored; the other to write about “a time when your life seemed unfair. Perhaps you felt wronged or slighted by someone.” After writing the essay, the participants were interviewed and asked if they wanted to help the scholars in a simple, easy task.

The results were stark. Those who wrote the essays about being wronged were 26 percent less likely to help the researchers, and were rated by the researchers as feeling 13 percent more entitled.

 

In a separate experiment, the researchers found that members of the unfairness group were 11 percent more likely to express selfish attitudes. In a comical and telling aside, the researchers noted that the victims were more likely than the nonvictims to leave trash behind on the desks and to steal the experimenters’ pens.
Does this mean that we should reject all claims that people are victims? Of course not. Some people are indeed victims in America — of crime, discrimination or deprivation. They deserve our empathy and require justice.

The problem is that the line is fuzzy between fighting for victimized people and promoting a victimhood culture. Where does the former stop and the latter start? I offer two signposts for your consideration.

First, look at the role of free speech in the debate. Victims and their advocates always rely on free speech and open dialogue to articulate unpopular truths. They rely on free speech to assert their right to speak. Victimhood culture, by contrast, generally seeks to restrict expression in order to protect the sensibilities of its advocates. Victimhood claims the right to say who is and is not allowed to speak.
What about speech that endangers others? Fair-minded people can discriminate between expression that puts people at risk and that which merely rubs some the wrong way. Speaking up for the powerless is often “offensive” to conventional ears.

Second, look at a movement’s leadership. The fight for victims is led by aspirational leaders who challenge us to cultivate higher values. They insist that everyone is capable of — and has a right to — earned success. They articulate visions of human dignity. But the organizations and people who ascend in a victimhood culture are very different. Some set themselves up as saviors; others focus on a common enemy. In all cases, they treat people less as individuals and more as aggrieved masses.

Robert Hughes turned out to be pretty accurate in his vision, I’m afraid. It is still in our hands to prove him wrong, however, and cultivate a nation of strong individuals motivated by hope and opportunity, not one dominated by victimhood. But we have a long way to go. Until then, I suggest keeping a close eye on your pen.

 

 

Arthur C. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing opinion writer.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 27, 2015, on page SR19 of the New York edition with the headline: Real Victims In the Victimhood.

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Posted Δεκέμβριος 27, 2015 by msofcrete in Άρθρα

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How Margaret Thatcher Won the Cold War   Leave a comment

The British prime minister prodded President Ronald Reagan to recognize the potential of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev

By CHARLES MOORE
Dec. 23, 2015 11:12 a.m. ET

As we confront a hostile Russia today, the West is unsure what to do. For guidance, perhaps we should look back to the Soviet era, when we possessed a decidedly stronger sense of allied purpose.

In February 1984, Margaret Thatcher flew home from the Moscow funeral of the Soviet leader Yuri Andropov. Frustrated by his equally aged successor, Konstantin Chernenko, the British prime minister told her aides, “For heaven’s sake, try and find me a young Russian.”

She was searching for change. In London in April 1975, as leader of Britain’s opposition, Thatcher had her first one-on-one meeting with a former governor of California named Ronald Reagan. He, too, was out of office, seeking the 1976 Republican presidential nomination. The pair agreed that the West was giving away too much to the Soviets, while Moscow was winning the arms race. This was an unpopular view, so the Reagan-Thatcher friendship was forged in adversity. It would prove the stronger for it.

Thatcher gained power in 1979, Reagan in January, 1981. Together, against big protest movements, they installed a new class of nuclear weapons in Europe to counter the burgeoning Soviet arsenal. Having achieved this position of strength, Thatcher thought it should be bargained from. In September 1983, she said publicly in Washington, “We stand ready…if and when the circumstances are right—to talk to the Soviet leadership.” Reagan told her, privately, that he agreed.

In 1984, Thatcher found the man she was looking for: Mikhail Gorbachev, age 53. She wagered that he would be the next Soviet leader and had him and his wife, Raisa, to Chequers, her country residence, just before Christmas.

Their discussions were sensational—sensationally rude—but in a way that both found refreshing. According to her interpreter, Thatcher “deliberately and breathtakingly…set about serially cross-examining [Mr. Gorbachev] about the inferiority of the Soviet centralized command system.” He invited her to come see the Soviet people living “joyfully.” She denounced communism as “synonymous with getting one’s way by violence” and accused the Soviets—accurately—of secretly funding the British miners’ union in its bitter strike against pit closures.
The tension was so great that Raisa Gorbachev mouthed to her husband, “It’s over.” “I wondered if I should leave,” Mr. Gorbachev recalled. But Thatcher, sensing danger, announced that “the difficult part of the discussion was now over.” After lunch, they sat by the fire and talked about missiles.

Thatcher interpreted Reagan to her Soviet visitor. She described the president as peace-loving and ready “to have another go” at talking. But she also hinted at a difference with her friend in the White House: She supported the research component of his Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI, designed to create a missile shield against Soviet nuclear attack, but candidly said that Reagan’s desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons was “not a viable dream.” She was worried that unilateral U.S. action on SDI might split the Western alliance and terrify the Soviets into rash pre-emptive actions.

Thatcher risked letting Mr. Gorbachev drive a wedge between her and Reagan. The Soviet leader immediately tried to do just that, telling her that America was being “egotistic” toward its allies. They agreed to start a process of disarmament talks, leaving her to gamble that her high level of trust with Reagan would see her through. Indeed, she had already invited herself to visit Camp David the following weekend. (Aides had advised Reagan that Thatcher would be intruding on “family time,” but he had told them, “She is family.”)

After Mr. Gorbachev left Chequers, Thatcher announced that he was “a man I can do business with.” Writing privately to Reagan, she noted, “I actually rather liked him. I got the impression that…he was using me as a stalking horse for you.”

Not everyone in the White House was happy. The Washington Post reported that Reagan “fervently hopes” that “his straight-talking conservative ally from London will get off her gee-whiz kick about the Kremlin’s personable heir apparent.” But precisely because she was a true U.S. ally, Thatcher could make a difference within the administration: Europe’s greatest hawk was making dovish noises.

The administration, whose lines of information from the Kremlin were not strong, could not help being interested. Colin Powell was then military assistant to Caspar Weinberger, secretary of defense and arch-hawk. “Along comes Gorby,” Gen. Powell recalled. “He’s like none we’ve ever seen before—with his beautiful suits and his French ties and a stunning wife…And the first statement he got of acceptability was from Margaret…The feeling was, ‘Jesus, if dear old Margaret thinks there’s something here, we’d better take a look.’ ”

That is what Reagan did, after his discussions at Camp David with Thatcher. Already interested in talking to the Soviets and further encouraged by Secretary of State George Shultz, he did not swing from a “no” to a “yes” because of Thatcher. But she gave the right nudge at the right time.

Three months later, Chernenko died, and Mr. Gorbachev became general secretary. In November 1985, he and Reagan met in an ice-breaking summit in Geneva. “Maggie was right,” the president told his aides afterward. “We can do business with this man.” The unfreezing of the Cold War had begun.

That thaw’s consequences did not always please Thatcher. She was appalled when Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986 and all but agreed to abolish nuclear weapons. Giving them up, she told Reagan, would be “tantamount to surrender.”

Steering Reagan away from his line at Reykjavik, she helped persuade him to get less exotic arms-control negotiations back on track. The process that she and Mr. Gorbachev had first discussed at Chequers continued on to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and beyond. The woman whom the Soviets themselves had named the Iron Lady had known when to bend a bit.

The story says something about Anglo-American friendship in world affairs. As Thatcher wrote to Reagan during the Iran-Contra controversy in December 1986, “Anything which weakens you, weakens America; and anything that weakens America weakens the whole free world.”

It also says something in the menacing era of Vladimir Putin about the value of strong, shared beliefs among allies. In March 1987, Thatcher had a highly successful visit to Moscow, including many hours of fierce argument with Mr. Gorbachev. In the dining room, he pointed out a painting of a rural landscape in the evening, sunny after rain. “This is like our conversation,” said Mr. Gorbachev. “There have been storms, but the light is coming through.”

Thatcher studied the painting. “Yes,” she said. “The light is coming from the West.”

—Mr. Moore is the author of “Margaret Thatcher: At Her Zenith—In London, Washington and Moscow,” to be published by Knopf on Jan. 5.

Posted Δεκέμβριος 27, 2015 by msofcrete in Ιστορικά

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