In her 1957 masterpiece, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand introduced us to a powerful concept which she called “the sanction of the victim.” This concept is defined as “the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the ‘sin‘ of creating values.” As Rand explains through the character of her hero, John Galt, “Evil is impotent and has no power but that which we let it extort from us,” and, “I saw that evil was impotent…and the only weapon of its triumph was the willingness of the good to serve it.” In Rand’s view, morality requires that we do not sanction our own victimhood. This concept may be original in the thinking of Ayn Rand and is foundational to her moral theory: she holds that evil is a parasite on the good and can only exist if the good tolerates it.
The sanction of the victim takes many forms, on the individual level in our personal relationships, and in the social or public realm in our relationship with the State. In Rand’s Atlas Shrugged it primarily takes the form of unearned guilt and the need to acknowledge and show kindness towards our tormentors and those who would exploit us. Ultimately, the sanction of the victim is used by our exploiters as the weapon of our own destruction. The victim becomes an accessory to the crime.
On the personal level, among countless situations, the sanction of the victim would apply to the beaten wife, the verbally abused husband, and the parents of mooching offspring that refuse to grow up and leave home (excluding the handicapped and emotionally disabled). An ever-growing percentage of our youth now choose to remain at home with their parents indefinitely. The parent-victims have been played like a violin by their offspring, conditioned to believe they are financially and emotionally helpless, incapable of surviving independently. The parents are terrified of the unbearable guilt they would carry if they were to send them packing. The parents’ acceptance and acquiescence constitute the sanction of the victim. Consequently, the parents become the victims of their own cowardice.
The sanction of the victim in the public or political realm expresses itself in two principal forms: participation in popular democratic processes, including elections, and acknowledging, approving, and extending respect and kindness toward our political exploiters (i.e. elected officials, their many toadies, and the supportive media).
Participating in the political process in all its forms constitutes the sanction of the victim. Again, you are an accessory to the crime, a victim of the crimes in which you are an active, but ignorant participant. You are in effect abating the crimes of the political elite. All of these things send the wrong message to the criminals and reprobates that comprise the political class. Voting, attending political rallies, and perhaps worst of all, sending them money, constitute the sanction of the victim. We are telling the political class, “We approve of your system. Even though you’re robbing us blind and crushing our Constitutional liberties, we still like you. Even though you’re corrupt beyond words, you are nevertheless lovable thugs, and we could not begin to fathom or contemplate life without you.
So how do we beat these people? Democracy and every form of representative government based on popular consent with constitutional constraints is the god that failed. We are told that political apathy and disengagement is to blame. I disagree. Disengagement is the solution, not the problem. The sanction of the victim only reinforces the problem, whether it’s a bad marriage or a corrupt, tyrannical government.
Here is the Three-Step Program for defanging the snake.
DON’T VOTE. As political satirist P.J. O’Rourke said, “Don’t vote, it only encourages them.” Elections change nothing systemically. They only decide who gets to pick your pocket and hold the boot over your neck. What difference would it have made if slaves had been allowed to elect their plantation overseers? When you vote you’re doing the same thing.
When has there ever been an election that gives you the choice of A, B, or none of the above? Hmmm? Never. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a voting district with no legislator, no congressman, no senator, no one to suck up to? Yes, but you don’t have that option. But you can refuse to be part of the whole scam by not voting. So don’t vote. Look, you’re being used like a cheap condom. Furthermore, the odds of you casting the deciding vote are far less than the odds of your winning the Big Lotto. In fact, the odds of your being involved in a fatal car accident en route to the polling place are far greater than the odds of casting the deciding vote. When you vote, you are sanctioning the system, its leaders and their crimes.
Voting is just a bad habit. Like all bad habits, it is self-defeating. Moreover, it serves to reinforce the bad habits of your tormentors. I gave up voting and smoking over 30 years ago. Both healthy choices, and among the most liberating and empowering I had ever made.
I remember a popular saying when I was young: Imagine if they held a war and nobody showed up. Well, imagine if they held an election and nobody showed up. Talking about sending the political class a message !
STOP TREATING POLITICIANS WITH KINDNESS. What do politicians crave more than power? Attention. Attention is their drug of choice. Indeed, politicians must seek the affirmation and approbation and applause of those whom they would never invite into their homes, have a beer with, or call their friends. In other words people like you and me. They have nothing but scorn and contempt for us. And besides, they’re corrupt beyond words. So what do we do? We cram into public auditoriums to catch a glimpse of their faces and suck up their lies like a cat does a saucer of warm milk. We reach out to grasp their hands as though they were the healing hands of a divine savior. If you came home from work to find a burglar carrying your possessions out of your house, would you shake his hands and wish him well? No, you’d call the cops, maybe even beat him up. Why do we treat politicians any differently when they steal our money every day? If we started denying politicians the attention and approval they so crave, maybe they’d consider getting an honest living.
A few years ago, on my way to work, our district congressman was shaking hands with us commoners at a Metro station in his district. Half asleep, I shook his hand and actually wished him well. Not five seconds later, I realized what a dumb-ass I was—shaking hands with a common criminal, a guttersnipe, a reprobate, a predator, a public parasite. There I was, extending my best wishes to high-ranking political leader who bore direct responsibility for the mess we found ourselves in. Would you shake hands with a cat-burglar, a serial rapist, a pedophile? No, of course not, so why would you shake hands with a politician?
So, take the pledge. When a politician reaches to shake your hand, act like the person has a communicable disease (what we used to call the “cooties”). Take your hand back as quickly as possible, and say something pithy like, “No, thank you. When you sleep with dogs, you get fleas. Don’t ever try to shake my hand again.” If more of us started treating politicians with the disdain and contempt they deserve, they might begin to consider a more respectable line of work.
3-REFUSE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PROCESS AT ANY LEVEL. A good friend of mine is constantly urging me and everyone else he knows to “get involved. It’s the only way we can fix things.”
As Sherman Potter would say, “Horsehockey !” What sort of track record does popular participation have compared to apathy and disengagement? None. Politicians have always used elections and every form of democratic process to sanction and justify the criminal enterprise we call government. It just gives them cover. Government is, and has always been, nothing more than an organized crime syndicate, a protection racket sanctioned by the many forms of popular approval—which Ayn Rand called the sanction of the victim.
So, stay home, focus on your beautiful family, your kids’ Little League and soccer games. Spend quality time with your friends. Work at your hobbies, do crossword puzzles, listen to a symphony, read a good book, take your spouse and kids to the movies. Watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Return the ladder you borrowed from your neighbor seven years ago. Clean out your fridge, there’s probably stuff in there since you were in grammar school. Take your grandkids to the playground. Have a glass of champagne with your breakfast cornflakes. Tell your kid to rake the leaves while you nap in a hammock. Go to church, bake brownies, take your dog for a walk; mow the lawn; clean out your gutters; weed the garden, shovel the snow in your driveway. Be at peace with your Maker, whatever you imagine him to be. But whatever you do, avoid politicians like stray dogs.
The Artful Dilettante