The Intersection of History, Identity Politics and Victimhood

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

The cherry-picking of history has led to speech codes, a new intolerance, and fragile college graduates.

  

The great work of history below is not only relevant to today’s war in Ukraine but also to the identity politics and victimhood that pervade the United States today.

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Bloodlands:  Europe between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder, Basic Books, 2010, 547 pages.

The author is a scholar and humanist.  Through meticulous research, he takes a different approach to tell the sobering history of the murder of fourteen million non-combatants in the “bloodlands” of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States, by the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, in the lead-up to the Second World War and during the war.

If it strikes you as overwrought to claim that the book is relevant to today’s America, stay tuned to see why it is relevant.

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Let’s begin with victimhood.  Snyder makes the following points about victimhood in his book’s concluding chapter:

The human capacity for subjective victimhood is apparently limitless, and people who believe that they are victims can be motivated to perform acts of great violence.

Unfortunately, claiming victim status does not itself bring sound ethical choices.   Stalin and Hitler both claimed throughout their political careers to be victims.  They persuaded millions of other people that they, too, were victims:  of an international capitalist or Jewish conspiracy.

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It is not at all obvious that reducing history to morality plays makes anyone moral.

It is not a new take on history that both the National Socialists and Soviets demonized certain domestic and foreign groups as enemies and inferiors.  For the Nazis, the enemies were a race (Jews), an ideology (communists), and certain nationalities (e.g., Poles).  For the Soviets, the enemies were capitalists, certain classes (e.g., kulaks), and certain nationalities (e.g., Poles and Ukrainians).

What both movements had in common was a desire to strip people of their individualism and replace it with a state-sanctioned group identity.  Sound familiar? 

Unlike a lot of history of Nazi and Soviet mass killings, Bloodlands is honest about the fact that victims of atrocities had sometimes been willing participants in earlier atrocities.  As an example, when the mass killings of Stalin’s Great Terror began, about a third of high-ranking NKVD officers (secret police) were Jewish.

The Taboo against Comparisons

Mentioning such examples violates what the author says is the taboo against comparisons.  If, let’s say, Group X had suffered horrifically, it is judged as insensitive or even callous to cite the fact that the same group had inflicted suffering on others.  Under this taboo, Russians cannot be criticized for barbarism in Poland, because Russia was attacked by Germany and became an ally of the Western powers.  And the Poles are above reproach for the atrocities they committed, because they were slaughtered by the Germans and the Russians.

The taboo against comparisons is in full force in today’s America.  History is whitewashed of negatives for groups that have been, or are seen as, victims of oppression, racism, and other “isms.”  At the same time, negatives are amplified and even invented for groups that are seen as oppressors.     

Take Native Americans.  Because of America’s past atrocities against them, there is a taboo against mentioning the brutalities inflicted by many Native-American tribes against other tribes.  Mentioning the brutalities is seen not only as blaming the victim but also as a way of downplaying what the white man had done to them and the awful conditions that remain on Indian reservations.  

Or take Hispanics.  They are characterized as disadvantaged minorities, although they are one of the largest ethnic groups in the US, about three times larger than Italian Americans as a group and often of similar skin shade as Italians.  Moreover, many Hispanics come from an upper class that has its roots in the two-class system of rich and poor inherited from Spain.  Sure, as history books in my library attest, and as I know from having lived in the barrio, Mexicans, Tejanos, and Mexican Americans have faced discrimination or worse from Anglos.

But it’s also true that Spaniards and Portuguese, a k a Hispanics, engaged in the slave trade long before 1619.  They started at home by following in the footsteps of Muslim Moors and Jewish merchants who had traded Christian slaves.  Then Hispanics extended slavery to the New World, first by enslaving Amerindians and then engaging in the African slave trade.  In all, slaves brought to the Caribbean and South America by Spain and Portugal far outnumbered slaves brought to North America by Great Britain.

In another example of cherry-picked history, the Chinese Exclusion Act gets deserved attention, but little attention is given to the provisions of the Immigration Act of 1924 that restricted emigrants from eastern and southern Europe, who are seen today as white by the people who assign skin colors, but who were not seen as white in 1924 by Anglo-Saxon Protestants.  (My poor and poorly educated grandparents made it to America before the gates were closed.)

The taboo against comparisons is strongest when it comes to African Americans, due to the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow and the socioeconomic legacies of both.  While understandable, the taboo keeps important facts from being told about problems in black communities, especially problems exacerbated by misguided policies and programs, such as those that have increased the incidence of single-parent households to a stratospheric 70%.

Violating the taboo against comparisons is seen in some quarters as hate speech or a form of violence that should be met with canceling or even physical violence.  As such, colleges have adopted speech codes and safe zones to protect fragile students from unpleasant history.

As the author of Bloodlands writes, “All history is entangled.  We cannot enter its thicket without some pokes and scratches.”

Members of selected identity groups are now protected from being poked and scratched about their own history.  Their unflattering history is glossed over while the unflattering history of out-of-favor groups is not.  As a result, students are left with the misimpression that human nature is not universal across all peoples—that good and evil cannot be found throughout history in every part of the world, on every continent, in every race, and just about every ethnocultural group.  Of course, the truth is the opposite:  Virtually all groups have taken turns being both the victims and perpetrators of oppression, enslavement, and atrocities.

To that point, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn warned in The Gulag Archipelago about seeing the world as us against them:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.

This common humanity is not recognized in the theory of intersectionality and its cousins of critical race theory and wokeness.  These ideas emanate primarily from the left, but as I’ve written in other commentaries, the right has its share of specious and divisive ideas.

Intersectionality

Intersectionality starts with the valid point that groups outside of the establishment or dominant culture have more hurdles to overcome and less political and economic power than groups that are part of the establishment or dominant culture.  Of course, this can be said about insiders versus outsiders in any political/economic system or nation.  A case in point is China, where the Han comprise over seventy percent of the population, hold the majority of positions of power, and expect other groups to conform to their culture, not vice versa.

The list of such so-called disadvantaged groups includes but is not limited to women, non-whites, gays, lesbians, transsexuals, transgenders, the poor, and the disabled. Some of these stand at the intersection of multiple disadvantages.  A black woman, for example, has the disadvantage of being black and the disadvantage of being a woman.

These groups are labeled collectively as “oppressed,” an emotionally-loaded word that implies that someone is oppressing them.  Under the theory of intersectionality, they are being oppressed by whites, men, heterosexuals, cisgenders, the able-bodied, and the wealthy.

Stereotyping an entire group as oppressors is inflammatory, insulting, and judgmental.  On the other hand, if it’s true that all people within a group are oppressors, they should be castigated and dealt with accordingly, given that oppression is such a despicable act.  They should be pressured to confess to their misdeeds and privilege, they should be silenced when they try to express a counter opinion, they should be forced to take a back seat to the oppressed in promotions and other considerations, and they should be pressured to adopt the language, standards, and culture of the oppressed.

In other words, the oppressors should be treated the same way that they have treated the oppressed.

Farfetched?  Well, that is exactly what is happening in schools, in corporate seminars, and in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.  Such efforts are positioned as justice and equity but smack of vindictiveness.

According to a recent article in City Journal, at the link below, this has resulted in psychological damage being inflicted on young people.  Feeling shame over being white, young girls have reacted by adopting a lesbian or transgender identity in order to be seen as oppressed.  They are too young to know that what they’ve learned about whites is far from the whole story.

Tropes about Whites

The United States has a compulsion about categorizing people by race, although race is a social construct and all of us have evolutionary roots in Africa.  Much harm has been done by doing so, but we keep doing so.  Both the left and right are guilty of this.

Intersectionality and related theories are full of tropes about race.  The ones about white people are particularly wrongheaded and misleading, as the following six counterpoints explain.

First, “white” is never defined in terms of science, anthropology, physical features, or anything else.  That’s because attempts at defining “white” would be as difficult and questionable as the Nazis trying to define “Aryan” or trying to describe the physical characteristics of Jews.  If you doubt that, try to write a definition and description of white people that is all-encompassing and beyond dispute.

Alternatively, you can simplistically say that you know a white person when you see one, but that’s a terrible basis for public policy, social justice, or diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Second, on a related note, there are hundreds of unique ethnocultural groups in the world and in the US, and a large percentage of them are classified as white.  As such, whites are not a homogenous group in terms of ethnicity, culture, power, socioeconomic class, history, or skin shade.  They may look the same to so-called people of color, but that’s an impression that doesn’t match reality, just as it doesn’t match reality to say that all blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders are the same.  To think this way is anti-diversity—and dangerous.

Third, to dovetail with the preceding point, whites range from wealthy Boston Brahmins, whose ancestors dealt in King Cotton, to the offspring of sharecroppers who picked cotton; from the descendants of Southern plantation owners to descendants of Italian immigrants who were deemed to be nearly as inferior as African Americans and were even lynched in the South; from software engineers at Google to unemployed coal miners in Appalachia; from residents of hip urban enclaves to residents of rural towns devastated by deindustrialization and drug overdoses—residents who are among the 40 million whites who live in poverty; and from classical liberals and humanists to left- and right-wing extremists.

Fourth, the sins of the fathers shouldn’t be visited on their children—that is, descendants of oppressors shouldn’t be hated for what their forebears did.  Unless such blaming stops, there will never be peace in the world or unity in America.

Fifth, it’s undeniable that certain Europeans brought slavery, disease, colonialism, and imperialism to the Americas and other parts of the world.  This history needs to be told, not just from the perspective of the victors, as it used to be told, but also from the perspective of the vanquished, as it is now told.  At the same time, it’s important to recognize that the history of European bloodshed is not due to a genetic propensity for violence but to a unique set of factors that came together in Europe:  a temperate climate, fertile land conducive to farming and settlements, navigable rivers, forests that produced wood for seafaring ships, and natural harbors for those ships—all of which facilitated trade, the exchange of ideas, and invasion; and all of which led to developments in technology, warfare, finance, and an administrative state.

Sixth, it doesn’t take much imagination to visualize how the world might look if selected non-Europeans had been bequeathed the foregoing advantages.  Genghis Kahn might have gone on from conquering much of China and Asia Minor to crossing the Atlantic to conquer another continent and name it Mongolia instead of America, the Comanche might have conquered the same continent and butchered and enslaved other tribes, Shiites might have had the wherewithal to obliterate Sunnis in the Middle East and Arabia, natives of the Congo might have enslaved Belgians instead of vice versa, all of Europe might have been conquered by Arabs and enslaved, and such African tribes as the Hutus, Tutsis, Boko Haram, Bantu, Zulus, and Xhosas might have finally exhausted themselves from killing each other, as the Europeans have, and formed an African union of liberal democracies with a common market and currency.

Conclusion

It seems that the more Americans with college degrees, the more that Americans see themselves as victims, the more they uphold the taboo of comparisons, and the more fragile they are.  At the same time, the demonization of other people hasn’t declined but has shifted from former groups to new groups, thus continuing the cycle of recrimination and social discord.

It’s particularly worrisome that such thinking pervades college campuses, given that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders.  As Bloodlands points out, the most eager enforcers of Soviet laws prohibiting the private ownership of food production were young graduates of Soviet schools and youth camps, where students were taught to demonize Ukrainian kulaks as evil capitalists.  The result was the starvation of millions of peasants in the name of the greater good.  The book describes the horrors of mass starvation, including the ghastly scenes of parents eating their dead children, and children eating their dead parents.

This isn’t to suggest that Americans will soon be eating their children or sending disfavored groups to the Gulag or death camps.  But it is to suggest that little good can come out of today’s identity politics, victimhood, and demonization.

TAKE ACTION

Are you fed up? Are you worried that America in rapidly sliding into a neo-Marxist state by the radical left in control of Washington with historically narrow majorities in the U.S. House and Senate and an Executive controlled by unnamed far leftists in place of a clinically incompetent President Biden? They are desperate to keep power and complete their radical progressive agenda that will change America and our liberty forever.

Americans just witnessed the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 without one Republican vote in the U.S. Senate and House (just as Obamacare was passed in 2010). The IRS  will be hiring 87,000 new agents, many armed, to terrorize American taxpayers.

Americans witnessed the FBI raid at the Trump Mar-A-Lago home and property of President Trump, truly a first in all of American history. We know what that is about. 

It is undeniable that the Democrat Party and the administrative state (the executive branches of the DOJ, FBI, IRS, et al) are clear and present dangers to our Republic and our liberty as they increasingly veer further away from the rule of law and the Constitution. What is the solution? At this critical juncture, there is only one action we can all take.

The only viable and timely solution at this critical point is to vote – yes, vote correctly and smartly to retake the U.S. House and Senate on November 8th and to prepare the way to retake the White House in two years. Vote and help everyone you know to vote. Please click the TAKE ACTION link below – we must vote correctly and in great numbers to be sure our votes are counted to diminish the potential for the left to rig and steal the midterms and the 2024 elections as they are clearly intending to do after their success in 2020.

 

 

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