COVID19 as a Classic Example of Victim-Blaming

posted in: Observations | 1

I’ve written before about how I believe that what we often see as victim-blaming is really people with a need to feel safe finding a reason why something bad happened to that person, and why it wouldn’t happen to us. Statements like “she shouldn’t have been drinking that much”, or “he shouldn’t have been hanging around those kinds of people” allow us to feel that no matter had random an act might be, we are safe from it and can continue going about our day feeling less anxious.

As this global pandemic continues, it’s pretty easy to see some of the same attitudes coming out. In some cases it’s not necessarily blaming a victim of the virus, but it definitely falls into the category of rationalizing why it won’t happen to us.

See if any of these sound familiar:

  • It’s just old people, or already sick people, who need to worry
  • If it wasn’t for New York, this would be nothing
  • It’s the government’s fault
  • It’s the Chinese Communists fault
  • It’s a hoax to get us all to be vaccinated by Big Pharma
  • People are too stupid to stay home, they are spreading it
  • New Orleans should have cancelled Mardi Gras, they were stupid
  • The lock down is just government over-reach

The thing is, I’m already tired of these kinds of statements because in most cases, not all, there’s enough truth in their for people to nod their heads in agreement, but they also don’t mean anything.

For example:

Yes, statistically speaking if you are older, or have existing health conditions, you are more at risk. That doesn’t mean younger, healthier people can do whatever they want, because inevitably, for even many younger folks, the virus is pretty horrible, and who knows how many people you’ll carry it to? Yes, there are things about New York City (population density, public transport) that make it more dangerous when it comes to spreading a virus, yes Mardi Gras greatly impacted the spread in Louisiana, and sure, lots of people in governments and elsewhere have gotten plenty of stuff wrong.

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So what?

None of that changes the reality that over 200,000 people around the world, over 55,000 in the US, are dead from this virus. But, sometimes finding a reason why it’s happening to “other” people, not people like me, or finding a single place to point the finger of blame makes us feel better about our own situation.

If I’m anxious about getting sick, I soothe myself with the fact that I don’t live in New York, or I’m not that old, and I’m relatively healthy.

If I’m anxious about my job, or have lost my job, of course that is the government’s fault for shutting down, or the company’s fault for not paying everyone anyway.

If I’m anxious about everything I can easily buy into a conspiracy theory, knowing that as the “smart” ones to figure it out, we won’t fall for it, and we’ll be safe. Those are especially great because eventually they will explain every single risk we may find in society. It’s all someone else’s fault, they control it!

Simply put, we will take any excuse to eliminate the risk of randomness from our lives, even though life is, in many, many ways, random.

Let’s take a few examples. Why do some older people, even very sick ones, either not catch the virus, or survive, while others do not? Why does a tornado touch down in one area, then disappear before hitting the next street over? Why does a drunk driver enter the very same intersection at the very same time, as you, versus someone else?

Could we dig into the details and find some reasons to explain that a little bit? Sure. Health care, genetics, air pressure patterns, drive times, etc. But in the big picture, even most of that is random.

And, most of all, trying to explain it away, or blame someone is demeaning. Telling someone what they “should have done” instead of taking a subway in New York, or attending Mardi Gras way ahead of when anyone was giving any kinds of warnings about the spread outside of China and a few people traveling from China is nothing more than revisionist history. Talking about how it’s “only” old or sick people is completely dehumanizing to anyone who falls in that category, “only” New York and other stupid cities is dehumanizing to the thousands of people who’ve been gravely ill, or died, outside of there, and telling anyone it’s just a hoax when they’ve watched friends and family members die alone in a hospital or suffer through on a ventilator is just rude. On the flip side, supporting further lock downs because it’s “only” other people losing their jobs, not me and my people, is just as rude.

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It may be natural for us to find something, anything, to ease our own anxiety during a difficult time like this. Blaming the victims, or blaming someone, anyone, for all of this misses the point though. This is a virus, a new virus that has spread quickly, and infected a lot of people around the world. People who did nothing more than live theirs lives the same way you or I do. Trying to slow down that spread has been an experiment in trying various things to, basically, get people to stop living their lives the way we were before. That, in turn, has caused a lot of pain for people who can’t work, businesses that can’t survive not making money, and a whole host of other issues.

If you’ve managed to make it thus far without any major hits in any of those areas, you’re not smarter, or better, just lucky this time. You can accept that, be grateful for it, and be part of helping everyone get through this in some small way, or you can sit back, safe in the knowledge that “people like us”, don’t have to worry.

I’d like to think that we are all in this together, doing our best to get through it, together. I fear that isn’t true for everyone, and it makes me sad.

  1. Mark Radewagen
    Mark Radewagen

    That’s great you’re able to retain the perspective that you are lucky through this. I am too. Thanks for the reminder!

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