I’ve talked about the “your feelings are your own choice” tactic before, but not in depth. In this entry, I mentioned it as one thought-stopper amongst many, because it’s used to invalidate people’s feelings and thereby silencing whatever gave rise to those feelings.
I mean, yes, in theory it sounds all empowerment-y and self-help-like, but in practice it’s used to manipulate others. I believe it’s actually a standard trick they teach in management school: they learn to deflect a worker’s unwanted expressions of emotions (anger, boredom, resentment, what have you) by making it the worker’s responsibility, that if they wanted they could be “positive.”
Another area where this principle is used, although implicitly, is when a person is incriminated by the fact that they don’t express feelings, or express the “wrong” feelings. In general, we view people who don’t express the “correct” feelings in response to an event as inherently suspicious, as if they either have some mental issue or are hiding something.
I hope I don’t have to actually explain this to anyone, but feelings do not arise from conscious thought. Feelings are an automatic response to stimuli. The concept that we consciously modulate our emotions based on some criterion does not describe normal human beings: however, it does describe sociopaths pretty well, so it is perhaps not entirely surprising that the two places where this principle is most applied, cults and businesses, are places where sociopaths excel.
One can apply this principle to fool others, in which case it means manipulating others through one’s reactions, or one can try to fool oneself, in which case it means lying to oneself. The latter, I think, is especially damaging because of its lack of integrity: at least when you lie to others you still retain your own personality and your own truth, but when one is thought-stopping, one is actively trying to erase one’s own truth.
To make a person responsible for their own feelings is a form of false responsibility. Now, while I say this, I don’t mean to say that all feelings are valid and should be passively accepted; if you have a wildly disproportionate emotional response to a situation, then you might want to change something about your life. But you are still not responsible for the existence of that emotional response (your physical response, on the other hand, is a totally different story).
We can observe the collapse into oneself that this causes with the following quote I once saw hanging at my workplace:
The remarkable thing we have is a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.
The message, I think, is clear: the outside world is out of your control, so it’s useless to even think about change. Instead, you have to turn inward and work on your “attitude.” In the case of Swindoll, an evangelical Christian pastor and the author of such books as “The Mystery Of God’s Will: What Does He Want For Me?”, the “attitude” in question is presumably “blind faith and a naive trust in authority.” But what do I know. I’m just a raging atheist.
In its usual context, it’s really another form of blaming the victim, because it’s used to deflect the feelings of people who have been victimized. I showed one example of this in my entry on David Wasserman’s pathetic arguments in Debating Procreation, where he trots out the testimony of one paraplegic to “prove” that even the worse harms are really not so bad if you have the right feelings about them.
This is an incredibly disgusting and despicable way of arguing. But more importantly, it reflects how the very concept of victimhood itself is being erased: according to liberal rhetoric, we can’t plainly state that someone is a victim any more because it “erases people’s agency” in “empowering” themselves, which really means an artificial feeling of power but no actual power. Essentially, they are negating facts of reality with subjective feelings. Usually we call that a delusion.
I know I often come back to the concept of “agency” to the point of obsession, but it’s such a fundamental issue that we have to come back to it. It’s the chewy center of all anti-radical rhetoric, the code-word used to hammer against egalitarianism and for hatred, the number one thought-stopper used in “social justice.” It is difficult for people to even consider “agency” as a false concept because of the widespread belief in free will.
So here are what I think are the two parts to this whole erasure of victimhood:
Step 1- Acceptance of the belief that victimhood is not a statement of fact but a feeling. Anyone who does not feel victimized cannot be a victim.
I’ve already pointed out how this is used generally. We also see this strategy used to support the rape culture (e.g. “if a woman doesn’t feel like she was raped, then it wasn’t rape”). We also see it in the attempt to separate “good” oppressed from “bad” oppressed (i.e. “Some of those *minority group* complain all the time, but other *minority group* work hard and get along in society”).
Step 2- We can change our own feelings simply by wishing it so.
Assuming that victimhood is a feeling does not nullify its existence, if you are still rational enough to understand that feelings are not under our control. It is only once you believe that feelings are part of our “agency” that victimhood disappears.
We’re told that if we point out that someone was victimized, that we are the ones actually victimizing them. Understand what that means: if a rapist molests a little girl and we point out that the little girl was victimized, we’re the ones who victimized her, not the rapist. What the rapist did can be interpreted in many different ways, and if the little girl decides that it was a good thing, then we should shut up about it. Isn’t that a pretty good definition for collective insanity?