Sacralizing Victims and Demonizing Opponents

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt on the left's tendency to sacralize victim groups, and the use of demonization and motive-questioning as a rhetorical strategy. Once you get the concept, you see it all over the place. In fact, much public debate consists of people trying to fit their experience into the paradigm of victimization, so they can then claim the benefits of sacralization for themselves. Thus many leftists decline to point to the glaring faults in Greek society for fear of being drummed out of the anti-neoliberal tribe, and German policymakers claim to be really on the side of poor, long-suffering German taxpayers (not influential German banks), whose generosity nobody seems willing to recognize.

Or take the debate about Thilo Sarrazin's book Germany Abolishes Itself. Most of the book consists of nothing more than a sobering, detailed presentation of the facts: almost every measure — educational achievement, income, crime, etc. — shows immigrant minorities in Germany to be faring, on average, drastically worse than ethnic Germans (g). The disparities are eye-poppingly huge. But even mentioning these disparities (much less accompanying them with ignorant insults as Sarrazin did) is delicate, because Germans of Turkish origin really are a disadvantaged minority subject to discrimination, and thus are subject to being sacralized by the left. So many on the left confidently denounced the book without having read it, in fact often praising themselves for refusing to read it on principle. Similarly, when a tabloid points out the clear overrepresentation of minorities among sentenced criminals (especially in violent crime by young people), the reaction is to denounce the 'populism' of the 'rabble-rousing' paper, without even addressing whether the reported statistics are, in fact, accurate or whether the alleged crime actually took place. And Sarrazin, for that matter, styles himself as a victim of majority political correctness as well, for being vilified for bringing up these things in the first place.*

The instinct to sacralize victims groups is understandable, perhaps laudable under certain circumstances. But it also leads people to ghettoize themselves into filter bubbles. I can't remember how many times Germans have reacted with shock when I told them, for instance, that I read Sarrazin's book or enjoy reading Bild once in a while or visit the more intelligent right-wing websites (not just the ranting opinion-spouting ones). They seem to confuse exposing yourself to information as endorsing all the viewpoints it's wrapped in. The mere act of reading a verboten website seems to many of them an act of inexplicable, even suspicious betrayal. It's a sort of tribal groupthink that I find just a tad, well, unsatisfying.

* Here are the 'thirteen points' of political correctness which Sarrazin described to in front of a Danish press group:

Here is the list of political correctness in Germany. I think the list describes the truth but it takes some irony or humour to understand it fully. The problem lies not in any single item on this list but in their combination and rigid application to political thinking:

  1. Inequality is bad, equality is good.
  2. Secondary virtues like industriousness, precision and punctuality are of no particular value. Competition is morally questionable (except in sports) because it promotes inequality.
  3. The rich should feel guilty. Exception: Rich people who have earned their money as athletes or pop stars.
  4. Different conditions of life have nothing to do with people’s choices but with the circumstances they are in.
  5. All cultures are of equal rank and value. Especially the values und ways of life of the Christian occident and Western industrialised nations should not enjoy any preference. Those who think differently are provincial and xenophobic.
  6. Islam is a religion of peace. Those who see any problems with immigration from Islamic countries are guilty of Islamophobia. This is nearly as bad as antisemitism.
  7. Western industrialised nations carry the main responsibility for poverty and backwardness in other parts of the world.
  8. Men and women have no natural differences, except for the physical signs of their sex.
  9. Human abilities depend mainly on training and educations; inherited differences play hardly any role.
  10. There are no differences between peoples and races, except for their physical appearance.
  11. The nation state is an outdated model. National identities and peculiarities have no particular value. The national element as such is rather bad; it is at any rate not worth preserving. The future belongs to the world society.
  12. All people in the world do not only have equal rights. They are in fact equal. They should at least all be eligible for the benefits of the German welfare state.
  13. Children are an entirely private affair. Immigration takes care of the labour market and of any other demographic problems.

2 thoughts on “Sacralizing Victims and Demonizing Opponents

  1. Minus times minus equals plus. But in real life the negation of something never brings you back to the real thing.

    The negation of unjustice, racism, fascism or whatever can’t be seen on its own, it is just a relative position depending on the context. If you remove the context, the position becomes inappropriate. Call that “sacralization”.

    So what Haidt says can be described as:
    negation(unjustice) ≠ justice
    negation(unjustice) = ( )
    ( ) = sacralisation

    But, of course, you can say the same thing about Haidt’s position:
    negation(sacralisation) ≠ truth
    negation(sacralisation) = ( )
    ( ) = sacralisation of unjustice

    And, of course, you can say the same about my own comment:
    negation(sacralisation of unjustice) ≠ truth
    negation(sacralisation of unjustice) = ( )
    ( ) = demonisation of critic of sacralisation

    To put it in plain, simple words: you can create a lot of hot air by outdoing an anti-position with an anti-anti-position.
    The Cheshire Cat is amused and disappears until nothing is left but its grin.
    Reality is unaffected.


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