“As above, so below,” say the mystics, meaning that what we perceive in ourselves has a parallel in the higher realms.
Scaling down a bit from the cosmos, we can see this hoary truth operating in our national psyche and our politics. Victimhood now seems to be a national pastime all along the political spectrum, parallel to the steady message from our leadership that the U.S., with its 800 military bases scattered around the globe, must defend itself against myriad dangers and threats. There is a bit of pathology in the eagerness to squeeze everything that happens in our lives and our world into the terrible you/innocent me paradigm.
Those aggressive Iranians
But it’s hardly surprising that we default to the martyr/aggressor frame in our daily lives when our leaders paint the world in exactly these terms, no matter what the circumstances. Just days ago, official spokespeople accused “Iranian attack boats” of “harassing” U.S. Coast Guard vessels in the Persian Gulf. Pause and breathe: the shoreline of Iran 7400 miles from Florida is now part of our “coast”?? That needs to be “guarded”?
That is, meanie Iranians keep abusing us by making life difficult for our Navy ships and whatnot tootling around a few miles from their borders. You’d think the Americans were snooping around and plotting to assassinate their national leaders or something nefarious! But what do you expect from fanatical Muslims in funny outfits who refuse to come to the negotiating table to rewrite the nuclear agreement that the U.S. unilaterally revoked?
The Iran boogeyman is a remarkable exercise in official victimhood. In this worldview, well-meaning America simply wants everyone to get along peacefully and democratically, as defined by us. Iran “destabilizes” the Middle East, according to the Heritage Foundation and other Beltway clones, by daring to have ballistic missiles and not agreeing to disarm itself and its allies. We are so hard done by.
Those aggressive news media: Derek Chauvin as “lynching” victim
This one is almost too offensive to contemplate, but not for the Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson brigades who whine that Chauvin was declared guilty in the news media long before his trial began. Perhaps that had to do with the availability of a video recording of the murder that anyone who can stomach it is welcome to view—but I digress. By deploying that hyper-laden term, T.S.M. Carlson shifts the metaphorical noose from its historical victims to the necks of the perpetrators. Poor us! he cries. We are so hard done by.
Carlson’s demented rewrite is shocking but not surprising. Any set of profoundly unjust social relations needs a justifying narrative. Any racist or ethno-nationalist system must develop stereotypes, prejudices, and a ready quiver of anecdotal horrors about the inferior and/or dangerous ways of the victimized. Has any genocide in human history ever been launched without a call to “defend” the aggressor ethnicity against an alleged threat from the soon-to-be-massacred Other?
Seeing oneself as the victim of historical events is a comfortable, though not comforting, default position that alleviates the need for any painful self-examination of how one might be not simply the subject of abuse but also a volunteer for it, even a co-instigator. Carlson’s remaining fans will recoil at the suggestion that their blind faith in the police, heroically portrayed in our most popular detective and crime shows, reinforces the carte blanche Derek Chauvin used to kill in front of a dozen bystanders. Their insistence on usurping the victim role is monstrous but hardly unique.
“As above, so below.” Our national leaders live in a like bubble of victimhood that is now so entrenched they probably believe their own propaganda. Its core premise is that the U.S. is the guarantor of proper behavior and the model of everything worthy and necessary. But uncooperative/evil adversaries obstruct our determined efforts to bring about world peace. Evidence to the contrary is rarely addressed because it so infrequently rises into consciousness.
White nationalists famously chanted that “Jews will not replace us” at Charlottesville, ergo their replacement by workers in Honduras and Bangladesh is the fault of the Elders of Zion, not our capitalist overlords. Similarly, suffering workers in the heartland seem convinced that they would thrive if it were not for those shameless minority groups hustling the government for free stuff. In this way, one’s own behavior requires no examination or revision, such as the support one regularly offers to the authorities running things. Instead, the damage comes exclusively from amoral individuals who have learned how to exploit weaknesses and take advantage of virtuous citizens—like ourselves.
Those aggressive Russians
For liberalish and Demo-leaning sorts, the counterpart to Carlson’s mewling tears of victimhood is Putin and the Russians, who brought us Trump and keep failing to cooperate with American plans for worldwide prosperity. The detail that two years of Mueller’s probe based on the allegations of conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and his Russkie friends failed to find a shred of evidence for it is as quickly forgotten as the role of George Bush in lying us into a war of conquest. (Bush is now an avuncular friend who gives Michelle candy and dislikes “disinformation.” He wrote in Condoleeza Rice on his 2020 ballot—she of the “mushroom cloud” emanating from Baghdad. But he hates Trump, so all is forgiven.) Also, Russia paid bounty money to Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan—oops, no that was the Chinese or maybe Iran. They hacked the DNC servers to weaken Hillary—except that the FBI has never claimed that to this day. Putin just staged a massive build-up of troops on the Ukraine border—the Ukrainian attempt to provoke a firefight goes unremarked. And so on.
Fearing Russia and hating on Putin is the version of victimhood for those shuddering in horror at the red-state version and laughing at the QAnons, those whose eyes glisten with tears during Lunchbucket Joe’s speeches. That way, it’s easier to forget that Biden’s Pentagon budget is higher than Trump’s.
As above, so below. We all feel badly used from time to time and resent people who appeared along our life paths to do us dirty. It’s a cozy way to explain why things didn’t go exactly as we hoped and desired, but it leaves out a key element: what part did we ourselves play in it? We’re taught not to ask that question because if we did, we might address the same one to the guys in charge.
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