I get so tempted at times to play the victim card, or at least the narrow-escapee card. I see people spouting stuff that’s even stupider than the national average on subjects over which they have zero practical experience, and I know that with a handful of words I could shut them up. I would probably not change their mind, but I could stop them repeating whatever they’ve learnt by rote long enough to listen to another side of the story, at least for a while.
The temptation of the victim card is vexing on a number of levels:
Firstly, it works when it shouldn’t. However, I absolutely and categorically should not be able to say that I’m an expert on every aspect of a problem just because I have gone through it. If I got hit by a car, I wouldn’t magically be transformed into an expert on traffic. I may be able to state that a suggested theory or solution would not have applied to my particular circumstances, and that fact ought to be taken into account. The same logic ought to apply to any other life event, regardless of how shocking and traumatic it may be.
Secondly, it’s damn annoying that it’s so damn hard to open people’s minds to unpleasant subjects without showing them some scars. Also, I wonder whether pulling the victim card actually activates a part of people’s brains that has nothing to do with learning, and everything to do with gawking. I know that many people learn more from stories than from theories; they feel more “real” and are often easier to process. I also know that many people get more involved in real life stories than in fiction, but I don’t see that tendency as fully benign. It could be a function of people wanting to face up to real life, but it could also be just a symptom of emotional vampirism. People don’t buy gossip mags because they want to learn from the plights of celebrities, after all; however they may justify their interest, to me it seems like a modern-day freak show. The victim card may get you a platform, but it may completely change the way in which people process what you say.
Thirdly, there is an issue of privacy. I don’t want all and sundry to know every details of my private life. The gorier something is, the less I want people outside of my inner circle to know about it. I don’t want to be part of the freak show. Also, certain events happening in your life change the way people look at you, and create a barrier that can be hard to overcome. I could use my friends’ experiences as teaching tools, but my friends also have a right to privacy and respect. I don’t want to toss them in a freak show, either.
Fourthly, sometimes this backfires, particularly when your life experiences have taught you lessons that go against current dogma. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been talking about sexual assaults to be told that my opinion does not count because I’m clearly emotionally scarred by events, so I am naturally unable to see the issue as clearly as those who’ve never encountered the problem. Admittedly, it could be true. Unfortunately, this is used by indoctrinated people liberally discount any real-life experience that doesn’t fit their dogma.
Still, it would work, so it’s tempting. Even when I know that I would be using sloppy logic and underhanded tactics, regardless of the risks involved, it’s tempting. I really wish I could think of a better way to achieve the same results in modern-day debates.