I have neglected my blog for weeks, even months. A couple of people — which just about covers the entire readership of this blog — noticed and even wrote to me asking after my health. I wish to apologize to the two of you and say, “Sorry, but it’s not my fault.” You may find it somewhat incredible but allow me to explain.
It’s not my fault that I did not find time to write. Circumstances compelled me. First there are those awful distractions. The web is full of very interesting stuff to read and watch and listen to. People keep emailing me links to visit. They are to blame. That’s a black hole that sucks in huge chunks of time. You couldn’t blame me, could you?
Then I had visitors. I think they were important visitors although you may disagree. In any case, major time sinks. Blame those visitors, not me. Then of course there’s my roommate. The guy does not pull his weight around the apartment and I have to take care of things around the house. He’s to blame.
You may say that perhaps I should be prioritizing better. You may say that I should know how I should allocate my time better and not waste it on surfing the web. But really I am an innocent victim of circumstance. Yeah, that’s it. I am a victim. I am the injured party, and I claim “the holiness of always being the injured party” as Maya Angelou so eloquently put it.
At this point you may object saying that I am making excuses, rather transparent and flimsy ones at that. Perhaps you’re right but I am taking my cues from very important and famous people. I learn from examples. My greatest inspiration is our dearly beloved fearless leader, Dr. Manmohan Singh. He is unable to do the right thing because he is — as he readily and frequently asserts — bound by circumstances.
It’s never his fault. Every crappy thing he does, he does because he is a victim of this, that or the other. He’s in control but he is not in control. He is the most powerful political figure in India and yet he is powerless to do anything at all. If you notice the contradiction in that, you are one step ahead of Dr Singh. And may I remind you that he is a shining example of probity and moral excellence. I am merely following his example in attributing his failures to everyone and everything else. I refuse to take responsibility and with that I absolve myself of taking any corrective actions whatsoever.
This refusal to take responsibility is not limited to the high and the mighty. Perfectly ordinary people do it too. A few years ago a good friend of mine came to me with his tale of woe. His marriage had hit a rough patch. His wife, Urvashi (not the actual name, to protect the utterly blameless) had arrived at the totally reasoned position that my friend was the cause of all her troubles, personal and professional. According to her, she was perfect and was an ideal wife, while he was the personification of evil. She was the victim of an evil genius. The marriage was on the rocks because he needed to change. She, on the other hand, being perfect, had nothing to change. After all, who can reasonably expect her to step down from her perfection and make changes, eh?
It does not take a marriage counselor to guess that that marriage did not end up happily.
Just recently another friend told me about her teenage son. The son was the “victim” of unreasonable parents, messed up teachers, corporate greed (cell phone companies and the makers of electronic gadgets), and so on. It was all a massive conspiracy arrayed against him and it threatened his very existence. The universe owed him happiness and it was not delivering. As he was a victim, he was blameless and he could not take any responsibilities for fixing the situation.
There are endless examples of people blaming others for their troubles. No doubt you have given in to the temptation of declaring yourself a victim some time or the other. I know I have, and I feel ashamed for doing it. It’s an universal human failing to deflect blame from oneself, “an admirable evasion,” as Shakespeare put it so beautifully. “This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical pre-dominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc’d obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on.”
Playing the victim part in the great game of life isn’t just for individuals. Groups do it often enough and do it quite successfully — if success is appropriately defined. Entire collectives of people make it a way of life, of accusing others of oppressing them. Sometimes the claimed oppression cuts across great swathes of geography and centuries of time. Minorities, we are told in India, are victims, and they have been victims for hundreds of years. And having donned the mantle of the oppressed, they can not only do no wrong but are not required to do anything to help themselves. They are simply entitled, and as the aforementioned erudite and wise prime minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh — let’s not forget a victim by his own estimation and in his own right — said, “the minorities have a first claim to India’s prosperity.”
Being oppressed at once sanctifies one’s existence and relieves one of any responsibility at all. That responsibility is the burden of the other. My roommate or my spouse, or my co-workers, or my friends — they are responsible for the disaster that my life is. If only they took their responsibility seriously, I would be a success.
The immorality of this victim position aside, the consequences of this attitude are serious. Successful people don’t play the victim. Not only they don’t play the victim, they refuse to be victims. Successful people take responsibility for their failures and their shortcomings. They are in control. They choose how and on what terms they meet the world. It is not that successful people never make mistakes. They do, but built into the responsibility-taking mechanism is the way to correct for their mistakes and continue to be in control. Successful people don’t whine and complain that the universe owes them.
Unsuccessful people play the victim and, in time, consent to being victims because that’s how they define themselves. They don’t see themselves as winners but compete to be losers. They loudly proclaim that they are more oppressed, more poor, more powerless, more worthless — and therefore more deserving of charity, more deserving of consideration, more deserving of handouts — more deserving and “more equal” than others.
This attitude of being helpless innocent victims of external forces simultaneously absolves them of any responsibility for their sorry predicament and excuses them from exerting any effort in solving their own problems. They themselves block their way out of trap of their own making.
It seems to me that success and ability to assume responsibility are causally related, and the direction of causality is from being responsible to being successful. I should hasten to add that by “successful” I do not mean that one is rich, although being materially comfortably off is a necessary — but not the only — component of being successful. One does not have to be a millionaire to be successful. Success, as I see it, is that state of being where one is not in conflict with oneself, with others, and with nature — in that order. It is quite feasible to be only modestly materially well off and yet be successful in the sense defined above; conversely, one can be fabulously wealthy and still be miserable due to conflicts, internal or external.
To be a victim, one has to be party to a conflict. The relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor is not one of amicable friendship. If one is determined to be a victim, one has to be engaged in conflict — and manufacture a conflict if there isn’t one. Absent conflict, there would not be a victim.
The world is not, and never has been, a place of unfettered peace and tranquility. There have been and there will continue to be conflict. The modern world is unique in the sense that it has given rise to conditions that conflicts are manufactured for the sole purpose of manufacturing victims. Being a victim is good business in some parts of the world and thus comes into being the industry that manufactures victims and victim-hood by the truckloads.
The manufacturing victim-hood industry is large and flourishing. It has a superbly efficient supply chain, stretching from the highest political peaks to the lowliest man on the journalism totem pole. The prime minister Dr Singh has figured out that not only is he a powerless victim, but he is also the protector of hundreds of millions of other victims. The top journalists generally don’t claim to be victims themselves (unless they get caught with their pants down, in which case they squeal like stuck pigs) but do declare loudly whole sections of the population to be victims. These people make an enviably decent living from the culture of manufactured victim-hood.
Just a couple of days ago I was reminded of how lucrative this victim-hood industry is. I was asked on twitter to comment on a talk by P. Sainath. The video is on YouTube. I watched it — the whole hour and fifteen excruciating minutes of it. I watched it because I am like that only — a victim of the demands that people make on my time. But since I have watched it, I will comment on it tomorrow.
Sorry but I will have to call it quits for now. Don’t blame me. I am not at fault. I am just a victim of the tyranny of time.