POS334-L: THE RACE AND ETHNICITY BOOK REVIEW DISCUSSION LIST
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Charles Sykes, A NATION OF VICTIMS: THE DECAY OF THE AMERICAN CHARACTER (St. Martin's, 1992)

Subject: Re: Review of SYKES (Wilson)

Subject: Commentary: Review of SYKES (Drumm)

Subject: Review: Charles Sykes (Lyle)

Subject: Re: Wilson's Review of Sykes (Lyle)

Subject: Re: Wilson's Review of Sykes (Treacy)

Subject: RE: Wilson's Review of Sykes

Subject: Chet Lyle's Review of Sykes (Nakayama)

Subject: Re: Review: Charles Sykes (Huck)



  
From: john karl wilson 
Subject: Re: Review of SYKES (Wilson)


Review of Charles Sykes, A NATION OF VICTIMS
By John K. Wilson
jkw3@amber.uchicago.edu
University of Chicago
Graduate student, Committee on Social Thought


This is an awful book, almost a self-parody in its whining complaint 
about how everyone is thinking of themselves as victims in order to 
justify their crimes and failures. If Sykes were writing a sequel, 
we'd no doubt see extensive chapters on the Menendez brothers, the 
Bobbitt case, and Tonya Harding. The "victimology" cry about the 
decline of Western civilization was a tired theme even when Sykes 
wrote the book.

What makes Sykes' account so amusing to me is its nearly total 
omission of the most successful self-invented victim group in recent 
times: the conservative white male. Over and over we hear their cry, 
we're being oppressed by PC thought police. Stephen Thernstrom, the 
tenured professor at Harvard who felt he "had" to stop teaching a 
course because some students accused him of "racial insensitivity," 
says in recounting his horrific ordeal, "I felt like a rape victim." 
Robert Weissberg, a professor of political science at the University 
of Illinois, says to his fellow conservatives: "We are the queers of 
the 1990s." Sorry, but queers are still the queers of the 1990s, and 
conservative white males fall quite a distance behind in the 
oppression category by my observation.

Political correctness is itself the perfect invention of these 
victimized conservatives. Instead of attacking Marxists, feminists, 
etc. and trying to drive them out of the university as they had in 
the past, conservatives adopted the new tactic of victimization: PC 
police are oppressing us. Victim-talk dominated the PC debate, 
whether it was "reverse discrimination" against white males, or the 
ultimate conservative victim: Dead White European Males in the 
curriculum.

It might be tempting to follow Sykes' somewhat disingenuous advice 
and eliminate all talk of victims altogether. But I happen to think 
that there are still real victims in the world, and that racism and 
sexism and homophobia are not simply the hallucinations of a victim 
ideology. To adopt an illusion of equality instead of its reality 
will do us no good. And until then, we have to keep the idea of 
victims. However, we do need to be vigilant against false cries of 
victimhood, especially when they come from those (like Sykes) who 
pretend to be the critics of victimtalk.

This is not precisely a review, since it's been a while since I read 
the book and it's not worth reading (Sykes' PROFSCAM still is, for 
all its flaws). This is instead a review of what is omitted from 
Sykes' account, and from the general dialogue of victim ideology. 
While everyone condemns "victim feminism" (eg Roiphe and Wolf), no 
one seems to see that the primary purveyors of victimspeak are the 
conservatives who cry out against "political correctness" "sexual 
correctness" or the latest fashionable paranoia of the day.


From: Kevin Drumm 
To: gmklass@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
Subject: Commentary: Review of SYKES (Drumm)


John's indictment of Sykes is quite pithy, but lacks the social
"tolerance" I think he himself advocates.

There are victims and there are victims. As a white male I have been
unemployed primarily because of my race and gender (and I may be about to
be unemployed again for same reasons, but that's a long story). I have been
told on several occasions, "a white male has no chance at this job
regardless of qualifications." That clearly has made me a victim.
However, I would never suggest that I was a victim in the category of many
African-Americans or even many women.

I make this point to say that when a man says he has been raped, and we
do not believe him, it is tantamount to the same problem women face, who
often say they have been raped but they can't prove it so they are not
believed.  When our dignity is ravaged, we might be said to have been
raped (maybe there is a better choice of words). It's that these days PC
seems to apply to anyone other than a white male. I treat others
with dignity, and I expect to be treated the same way. I ask for nothing
more as a decendant of the aforementioned DWEM's... I would not affront
anyone's ancestors and I hope no one will affront mine.

Cheers,

KD
--------------------------------------------------------------
Kevin Drumm, Dir/Title III              3301 College Ave.
NOVA Southeastern University            Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314
drummk@Polaris.NOVA.edu 305-424-5758
--------------------------------------------------------------
  "Don't ever let school get in the way of your education."
       Samuel Langhorne Clemens


From: "Lyle, Chester G." 
To: gmklass@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
Subject: Review: Charles Sykes (Lyle)


  Review of Charles Sykes, A NATION OF VICTIMS: THE DECAY OF
          THE AMERICAN CHARACTER (St. Martin's, 1992)
                         Reviewed by:
                           Chet Lyle
                
                   Illinois State University
                            2/16/94


     "It's not my fault!"  This helpless cry echoes
throughout American society today.  It is a cry that has been
adopted not only by the traditionally underprivileged
classes, but by the middle class and the wealthy alike.  From
Wall Street to Florence and Normandy the cry, "I am a
victim!" resonates through streets, schools, homes, and
especially through the offices of psychiatrists and lawyers.
Charles Sykes' A NATION OF VICTIMS examines the "victim
culture" that reigns supreme today.  America has become a
youth culture, Sykes says, not in the sense that its citizens
hold the youth in high regard, as they did in the 1960's, but
because they refuse to grow up.

     The cause of this "nation of victims" lies in what Sykes
calls the "therapeutic culture."  Sykes quotes Dr. Bernie
Zilbergeld's THE SHRINKING OF AMERICA to imply that the blame
lies in large part on psychotherapists, in an effort to
create more work for themselves.  "The truth is that mental
health researchers and clinicians see problems and not
strengths because that is what they are trained to see and
because it is in their interest to do so" (p. 39).  There
seems to be a widespread conspiracy, according to Sykes, to
promote "the psychologization of life."

     This psychologization, or the attempt to sustain the
therapeutic culture, consists of making mountains out of
molehills.  Small difficulties encountered in everyday life
are portrayed as large problems, over which people have no
control.  The significance of minor problems is overstated,
and larger problems, such as gambling and spouse abuse, are
treated as nothing short of diseases.  In this way, virtually
everyone is portrayed as a victim of circumstance.  Once the
word has been spread that it is acceptable to have a problem
that cannot be solved on one's own, the direct result is mass
migration to lawyers and psychotherapists.

     While Sykes' accusations of self-interest on the part of
lawyers and psychiatrists certainly have some validity, they
are probably somewhat exaggerated.  Ironically, he comes
closer to the root of the problem when he discusses some of
the results of the therapeutic culture.  He refers to a 1986
book (of which he gives no author) entitled I DESERVE...  as
an example of the results of the psychologization of life.
The author of I DESERVE... claims a right to everything from
friendship to respect to sexual pleasure (p. 41).  This
attitude may persist after the institution of the therapeutic
culture, but it is this sort of attitude that led us in the
first place to where we are now.  This extremely optimistic
view of human nature, by maintaining that virtually anything
is possible, is displeasing in its results.  When people fail
in getting what they claim to deserve, they view their
disappointment not as a result of their own shortcomings,
rather as one of circumstance.  "After all," they say, "it's
my right!"

     The most adverse effect of the victim culture is the
fact that it undermines our compassion for genuine victims.
When we see self-help groups for "codependents of sex
addicts," or "self-abusers anonymous," it is tempting
to dismiss the whole concept of victimization as something
that is trivial, or just in the minds of the self-proclaimed
victims.  There are, however, genuine victims of racism,
sexism, and social class who may appropriately be called
victims of circumstance.  If, however, we give legitimacy to
the wealthy obsessive compulsive's claim to victimhood, we
reduce the significance of the victimization of the single
mother living in the inner-city working as hard as she can to
raise her child.  If we accept the compulsive gambler's claim
to victim status, we put him in the same category as a woman
who has been raped.  Such indiscriminate allocations of the
status of victimhood fail to make the distinction between
being a victim of one's status, and being a victim of one's
own actions.

     There is no such thing as personal responsibility in the
society of victims.  When everyone clams that nothing is
their fault, then nothing is anybody's fault.  Personal
accountability is replaced by collective responsibility;
responsibility on society, or rather, as the self-proclaimed
victim would say, every part of society except for "me."  The
adverse results of throwing personal responsibility to the
wind have been seen in a number of cases that have occurred
even in the short time since Sykes' book was published.  What
perfect examples of Sykes' points are made by the cases of
Lorena Bobbitt and Eric and Lyle Menendez!  We can see how
far the victim culture has come when a woman who cuts off her
husband's penis while he sleeps is found not guilty by reason
of temporary insanity, which was caused by his abuse of her
(of which he had even been earlier acquitted).  Sykes' point
that the victim culture reaches into all walks of life and
all social classes is perfectly illustrated by the wealthy
Menendez brothers, who killed their parents, as they claim,
out of fear for their own lives.  Even the looters,
arsonists, and murderers who took part in the 1991 riots in
Los Angeles have been portrayed as victims of racism by
certain politicians and media.

     The victim culture offers as its ideal a risk-free
society.  When the proponent of such a society discovers
that it is very far-gone from reality, it seems only to be a
result of the way that things are, and is certainly not a
result, he would say, of any of his own actions.  If nobody
can say, "It's my fault," then nothing is anybody's fault.
If nothing is anybody's fault, then the most obvious
scapegoat is society.  As a result, society should pay, he
says, for anything that I can find wrong with himself that is
not his own fault (which includes everything that is wrong
with him).

     Sykes agrees with Shelby Steele, who writes in THE
CONTENT OF OUR CHARACTER, that victimization is a form of
empowerment, one that "binds the victim to his victimization
by linking his power to his status as a victim" (p. 23).  It
is difficult, then, to assess Sykes' recommendations about
how we can overcome the therapeutic culture.  He recommends
"empowerment through responsibility" (p. 244), but this seems
to be a paradox if we accept the premise that victimization
is empowerment.  On the contrary, responsibility is not
empowerment.  It requires that we take the blame (or the
credit) for our actions.  We give up our claims to any
rewards we may receive on the grounds of our victim status.

     The rest of Sykes' recommendations seem rather vague.
He calls for a move "toward a culture of character" (p. 241)
and follows with a discussion of Aristotle's ideas of virtue.
He also calls for a "moratorium on blame" (p.253) and the
resurrection of good, old fashioned common sense (p. 254).
Specifically, when deciding educational and economic
policies, as well as when deciding lawsuits, we must first
ask the question, "Do we appear to be rewarding the
acceptance or rejection of personal responsibility?" (p.244).
All of these proposed solutions seem rather idealistic.  If
it were possible to carry out such solutions today, the
victim culture would probably not exist in the first place.
The elimination of the victim culture cannot be achieved
through imposed morality, rather it is only possible through
individual choices of personal sacrifice and responsibility.
In light of the American culture of today, however, this
seems very unlikely.!



From: "Lyle, Chester G."
Subject: Re: Wilson's Review of Sykes (Lyle)


Comments on John Karl Wilson's review of Charles Sykes:

        By focusing his attention on those self-proclaimed victims
that Sykes may have missed, conservative white males, one almost gets
the impression that John Karl Wilson agrees with the main thesis of
Sykes' book.  True, conservative white males have in a sense
proclaimed themselves victims of political correctness, but this
only strengthens Sykes' thesis: America has become a nation of
whiners.  Although this "victimized" group is not mentioned
specifically, Sykes does point out that "[t]he victim-ization of
America is remarkably egalitarian" (p.11).

        Contrary to Wilson, Sykes does not advocate the elimination
of "all talk of victims altogether."  Wilson "happen[s] to think that
there are still real victims in the world," and Sykes would agree.
In the section entitled "The Rape Culture," for example, Sykes says
that "the genuine suffering of victims of sexual assault and
harassment has proven eminently exploitable by those for whom rape is
a convenient symbol of society's oppression of women" (p. 184).  He
makes no attempt to deny the right of rape victims (or other victims
of oppression, whether racist, sexist, or classist) to call
themselves victims.  The problem as Sykes sees it is that these
genuine victims are used as means to empowerment for politicians,
activists, and self-proclaimed spokespeople.





=============================================================
Chet Lyle                    |
1803 Hoover Dr.             |
Normal, IL 61761             |"I never saw myself as being above the
(309) 452-0824               | law, nor did I ever intend to do
                            | anything illegal."
                            |        --Lt. Col. Oliver North
Illinois State University   |       (USMC, Retired)
=============================================================



From: JTREACY@DESIRE.WRIGHT.EDU
To: gmklass@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
Subject: Re: Wilson's Review of Sykes (Treacy)


From: "Lyle, Chester G."
Subject: RE: Wilson's Review of Sykes

The problem as Sykes sees it is that these
genuine victims are used as means to empowerment for politicians,
activists, and self-proclaimed spokespeople.
Treacy: See the Wall Street Journal piece Feb. 24 p.A1 on beltway
bandits hitting the Russian Foreign Aid cookie jar!
Advocates don't come cheap.  But this is simply a varient
of the problem we have with "charity" organizations a la
the UNITED WAY and Toys for Tots.
jTreacy@desire.wright.edu



From: NAKAYAMC@ACFcluster.NYU.EDU
To: gmklass@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
Subject: Chet Lyle's Review of Sykes (Nakayama)


Comments on Chet Lyle's review of Charles Sykes
by Chisako Nakayama
nakayamc@acfcluster.nyu.edu
New York University

Chet Lyle is a careful reader and his review of Sykes is through.  I agree with
Lyle's view that Sykes' intention is not to "eliminate all talk of victims
altogether," but to warn people that this trend of victim culture has an
"adverse effect that it undermines our compassion for genuine victims."

Then, how can we define "genuine victims?"  I think this is a difficult
question to answer.  For example, one may say "rape victims" are genuine
victims.  However, rape cases are sometimes very subtle and hard to be
judged from a third party's point of view.  I understand that many
extreme cases that Sykes cited in his book (such as "neurotic compulsion
for lateness") should be considered as false victims, but cases in the
grey zone are hard to judge, particularly when they are involved with
human mental side.

The only solution to minimize these cases seems to be that we should not
be abused by the commercialism (by psychotherapits and lawyers) and think
about our own personal responsibility before blaming somebody else, but
this seems easier said than done in this current society.



From: Robert Huck
To: gmklass@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
Subject: Re: Review: Charles Sykes (Huck)


Despite our political differences, I normally agree with Chet on most
issues.  I found his review of A NATION OF VICTIMS to be, for the most
part, insightful and right on target.  There was, however, one section in
his review which bothered me.

> What
> perfect examples of Sykes' points are made by the cases of
> Lorena Bobbitt and Eric and Lyle Menendez!  We can see how
> far the victim culture has come when a woman who cuts off her
> husband's penis while he sleeps is found not guilty by reason
> of temporary insanity, which was caused by his abuse of her
> (of which he had even been earlier acquitted). 

Lorena Bobbitt was a victim.  If half of what she said in her testimony
was true, John Bobbitt got exactly what he deserved.  The fact that John
was acquitted was beside the point.  Bobbitt's acquittal came only because
Virginia has no marital rape law.  In Virginia, it is perfectly legal for
a husband to rape his wife.  If the case had not received so much
publicity, he probably wouldn't have gone to trial.

Lorena Bobbit may not have been temporarily insane, but I still would
have acquitted her had I been on her jury.  My vote for acquittal would
be justified by the doctrine of self-defense.  John Bobbitt had a history
of raping and abusing his wife (a history that was confirmed at Lorena's
trial by witnesses) and Lorena had good reason to fear for her safety.

I agree that people should not "take the law into their own hands" (no
pun intended) but women who are abused by their husbands are in a
different category.  It is wrong to assault or kill someone, but it is
justifiable to do so in self-defense.  Victims of spousal abuse do not
have the luxury of waiting until there is an "imminent danger of harm" to
take action to defend themselves.  When husbands/boyfriends are on
an abuse rampage, their victims are usually not in a position to take
proactive measures.  Often there are children involved and the instinct
to protect children overrides everything else.

The law should recognize the special circumstances faced by abused
women.  The law says that people have a right to protect themselves, but
women who attempt to exercise this right often find themselves treated as
the criminal and not as the victim.  Until our laws and court systems learn
to deal ruthlessly with men who beat their wives/girlfriends, we must
recognize that the doctrine of self-defense isn't always as black and
white as we might wish.

By the way, Chet was right about the Menendez brothers.  These guys were
not vitims.  In the future I hope Chet does not lump greedy opportunists
like the Menendez brothers in with real victims like Lorena Bobbitt.

============================================================================
Robert Huck |rohuck@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu
314 Walker Hall |"I live only in the past, boy.  The
Illinois State University |present is a flat beer I poured down the
Normal, IL  61761-2993 |kitchen sink, and the future is a loaded
(309) 436-9887 |shotgun, locked in the toolshed with the
|busted power mower."       Dave Etter
============================================================================