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Victim-think is a strategy for denying all responsibility. “Since I have no power, it’s not my fault, and you can’t expect me to deal with it.”

Victim-think is versatile; you can deploy it in many ways, varying across several axes. It applies to individuals and to social groups. It can be first person (I or we are victims), or third person (he/she/they are victims). You can use it as an excuse for bad behavior, or as a plea for aid. Those can be directed at powerful people or institutions, or at God or some other eternal ordering principle.

Some common patterns of use:

  • Maybe I did steal that, but I am having a hard time. It’s society’s fault.
  • My social group is victimized, so we are justified in attacking members of another one.
  • I know this relationship is bad for both of us, but I’m too weak to end it.
  • That social group is oppressed, so the authorities should give them special privileges.
  • That guy is a member of an oppressed group, so you can’t hold him responsible for his criminal act.

Each of these may be accurate in rare cases. More often, they are harmful distortions, and covert power-plays.

Generally, it’s rare for anyone to bear no responsibility for their actions—just as total responsibility is rare or impossible. These extreme, confused stances are attractive because they simplify moral reasoning, and can be used as weapons in social conflicts.

Mostly, everyone involved has partial control over events, which makes questions of moral responsibility complex and inherently nebulous. We may not like that, but any serious ethics or politics has to acknowledge and work with reality as it is, not as we would like it to be.