Victimization

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We worry a lot in Canada about sorting out victims. First Nations, women, LGBQTA2S+, Muslims, francophones, immigrants and many others are all under the political spotlight because of their status as victims. Victims of immigration policy, economics, religious and racial phobias, residential schooling, colonization, internment, oppression, government policies and decisions, microagressions, misogyny, man-spreading and -splaining, and sometimes just plain bad luck. The ways to be victimized are now justification for Canadian governments to splinter our society into victim classes. I don’t like it. Victim means a perpetrator acted, and so, grievances to be redressed against such a perpetrator. Victim status is not neutral, as Liberals like to pretend.

(And often, where harms were suffered, the perpetrator turns out to have the same ideological background as those now parsing the victims, perpetuating the harm, not addressing it: I digress.)

When I encounter, work, or hang out with people, I am not interested in their victim status. Tell me your plans, loves, families, hardships, accomplishments, relationships, hobbies, trials and tribulations: a sense of your experience in life. Treating with someone based on their victim status dehumanizes and diminishes them, removes their agency (in your mind, but an insult to boot when acted upon), and reduces the ‘victim’ in stature so the sympathizing party feels superior. It’s awful stereotyping of a conscious and deliberate kind, whether against an individual or a group.

Canadian progressive political parties (all political parties in Canada, only varying in degree) have lately campaigned on this kind of disrespect. If they looked at it, they’d see they are doing nothing different than what’s already been done for the last 50 years of progressive politics (just the jargon changes) which at best might be neutral, but likely has caused more conflict. It’s a failing in our democracy and our constitution.

Canada got near universal suffrage in 1960. I’d tell you about the various groups granted suffrage at various stages…but that’s just creating victim classes for others to use. People under 18 don’t vote in Canada, and that’s the way it should be. Most brains don’t completely develop until they age 20+ years, and so one should not vote any earlier.

Universal suffrage encourages politicians to buy classes of votes through class bribery. It’s not a willful or malicious purchase, but rather, just how a system running on victimization tends to push decision making by perverse incentives. “Hmmm,” I think to myself. “As a politician, I can’t campaign on complex issues that impact people’s lives, because most people are not well informed, and they want sound bites, not sound policy.” After all, it’s Canada, and you don’t need a majority of the vote. Just appeal to enough voters in densely populated areas to get first past the post and get a majority of seats in Parliament (or a provincial legislature). If you convince a class of voters that you’ll give them more government benefits (bribes in any other context), you increase the odds they’ll vote for you. Such class bribery was identified in 1896 by William Lecky, although I suspect that if I read back further, Maine, de Tocqueville and Burke saw this coming too.

Except in Canada, governments cannot bribe classes of people, because they may not discriminate against people in favour of others. So sayeth the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (part of our constitution, and so the supreme law of the land). Note section 15:

  1. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

The Charter applies to governments and government actors, meaning even the decisions of university and hospital boards are subject to it.  So far, you cannot bribe particular classes because that would be discrimination, challengeable in court and vulnerable to be struck down. Provide to all, or provide to none, it seems. But wait, let’s read a little further…

(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

The Supreme Court of Canada (the supreme arbiter of the supreme law of the land) has ruled that subsection (2) also includes “other analogous grounds.” If the group to bribe has a personal characteristic that is “immutable, difficult to change, or changeable only at unacceptable personal cost”, then you may bribe them as well. Citizenship was the first ground identified by such judicial fiat.

So, to bribe: identify the target class as “disadvantaged” because of distinguishing characteristics or analogous grounds. What classes can I bribe this way? Almost any, as long as I identify them as disadvantaged (victimized) and my bribes as amelioration for those disadvantages.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms was effective as of April 17, 1982. It has run 36 years. Perhaps it would not be abused if our politicians were not professional self-promoters, but had some other backgrounds, such as business, education, academics, health care, or dare I say…the clergy! But they do not.

Politicians are professionals making a living not for doing a good job of, but mostly for attaining, their offices. If the easy path to attain office is to bribe to classes of voters, then some will try it, and section 15 gives the rules: bribe only those classes who are victims.

If I’m a smart politician I play to groups already identified as victims, saying I’ll give them benefits in order to garner their votes. If I’m smarter, I identify new classes of “victims” with no voice in government (meaning, no politician pretends to represent their interests) and campaign on bringing them ‘justice’ for their victimization.

And here’s the nasty part: I’ll argue the only way to deal with any grievances, real or perceived, is through electing me and my use of the machinations of state, not by encouraging individuals to make their own lives better – hence, the diminishment and theft of agency of the individuals within a group.

Once in power, I must work even harder to maintain the victim status of my preferred groups, or else, all those bribes could be challenged and struck down. Thus, a perverse incentive to continue to keep groups victimized (if they are no longer ‘victims’, no benefits, no votes), and to establish that only I, through government action, can redress those grievances. Governments spend a lot of money affirming victim status these days: what else could an Office for the Status of Women, or a Motion M103, for example, be about.

After almost four decades of this kind of perverse incentive, it’s no wonder so much of politics divides society by victim class. Perhaps the better question is why it took so long, or why it surprises us. We placed victim status in our highest law, and so victimization became high status. Hence, the obsession with victim sorting.

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