After last week, which saw presidential candidate Ben Carson say some extremely careless and shameful things about guns and gun victims, it seems the retired neurosurgeon may have finally caught up with Donald Trump in the crazy department.
The week started out with Carson not-so-subtly blaming victims of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College the previous week. “I would not just stand there and let him shoot me,” said Carson during a Fox News interview. “I would say, ‘Hey, guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.’” In other words, Carson just couldn't believe the victims didn't bum-rush the man with thirteen guns on him.
The following day, Carson recalled a past experience where he was not so heroic, and seemingly did the opposite of what he’d do in his imagination, when a gunman walked up to him and put a gun to his ribs at a Popeyes. He recounted: “Guy comes in, put the gun in my ribs. And I just said, ‘I believe that you want the guy behind the counter.’”
His trifecta of idiocy concluded on Thursday, when he repeated an old Nazi gun-control conspiracy theory (a favorite of Alex Jones), that if only the Jews had had guns and resisted, they could have stopped the Holocaust.
(Carson also appears not to fully grasp what the debt limit is, but that's a whole 'nother story.)
Throughout Carson’s comments, there is one underlying theme, which is victim blaming. And of course, victim blaming is an underlying theme throughout the Republican party. It is the one thing that members of the GOP appear to fully agree on in this time of factional strife. Whether it is poor people, victims of police violence, rape victims, victims of predatory loans -- Republicans seem to always believe that it is probably their fault, and that they must have done something to deserve it. If someone is poor, they must be lazy. If a woman was raped, she was probably asking for it, or wearing revealing clothes. If a black man (or boy, even) is shot or choked to death, it’s because he had a pellet gun or was selling untaxed cigarettes.
Psychologists call this kind of phenomenon the “just-world hypothesis." As Oliver Burkeman explains at The Guardian:
"The world, obviously, is a manifestly unjust place: people are always meeting fates they didn’t deserve, or not receiving rewards they did deserve for hard work or virtuous behaviour. Yet several decades of research have established that our need to believe otherwise runs deep. Faced with evidence of injustice, we’ll certainly try to alleviate it if we can – but, if we feel powerless to make things right, we’ll do the next best thing, psychologically speaking: we’ll convince ourselves that the world isn’t so unjust after all."
Burkeman goes on to explain how the just-world bias provides comfort to human beings, much like the belief in an afterlife:
“What’s truly unsettling about the just-world bias is that while it can have truly unpleasant effects, these follow from what seems like the entirely understandable urge to believe that things happen for a reason. After all, if we didn’t all believe that to some degree, life would be an intolerably chaotic and terrifying nightmare in, which effort and payback were utterly unrelated, and there was no point planning for the future, saving money for retirement or doing anything else in hope of eventual reward. We’d go mad.”
While the just-world bias may help you from going off your rocker and becoming immeasurably depressed, it can also make you a pretty terrible human being, if taken too far.
Conservatives like Ben Carson have always taken the just-world bias too far, and tend to view society as a supremely fair and just place, where everyone has the same level of opportunity and things like economic inequality can be explained away by hard work, as if there are no hard-working poor people in the world. The right has also always been hostile towards progress, and wants to conserve traditional social institutions and values. Therefore, it blames victims when something like institutional racism is revealed. Rather than addressing the broken justice system, conservatives blame the “black community” (as Bill O’Reilly does regularly) and “drug addicts,” instead of our draconian drug laws and police misconduct When the United States invades another country and drops a bomb on civilians, it is justified as a means of spreading democracy and freedom, while protecting American people from the victims who were surely involved with terrorists.
The just-world bias is a defense mechanism that we all have to varying degrees, but if it is not tamed, it can quickly lead to a delusional worldview that seemingly defends injustices that it purports not to exist. Like the rest of the world, America is not a just society, and one only has to follow the news to realize this. Progress is largely about correcting injustices throughout society, and to correct them, we must be aware of them. This is one of the ultimate differences between progressives and conservatives; progressives are under no illusion that we are living in a just and fair society, while conservatives, for the most part, are. When it comes down to it, injustices can only be truly addressed when the majority of citizens and leaders become aware of these injustices. The civil rights movement did exactly this, and when Americans around the country witnessed Selma police officers brutalizing non-violent civil rights demonstrators, the pressure demanded action, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law.
Today, Carson blames the victims of shootings when the topic of gun control comes up, while Bill O’Reilly blames the black community when someone brings up institutional racism. There is a long tradition of victim blaming in conservative politics, so none of this is at all surprising. However, when someone blames a victim, it does not necessarily mean he or she is a heartless bastard, and may have just as much to do with being delusional about the real world and its countless injustices.
Watch four of the scariest thing Ben Carson has said on the campaign trail:
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