Losing a Pity Contest: The Shamelessness of Glamorized Tragedy

Given the declining crime rate, there is no question that “America’s Crime Wave” is a racist dog whistle

            Whenever I talk about my past, I don’t feel sorry for myself and I try to not sell myself as a sob story. Which is a lot of the reason I try to use humor when talking about it. Alas, in a capitalistic society where pity can get many forms of capital, I have surrendered at times and in various contexts and peddled my story but with only limited success since my assets do not lend themselves to public sympathy. I am not hot or sparkly enough of a victim that would sell true crime stories if I were murdered. However, I was in indirect competition with one of the foremost sob stories at my college whom possessed all of the assets I did not. I won’t reveal her identity but if you were around in that time and place, you might be able to guess.

We were both bullying victims albeit she was just cyberbullied while I was physically bullied. My story was objectively worse in terms of what it consisted of, not that I have any want to compare. Amazingly, when she told her story her fans not only thought it was shocking but also novel. As if there was some uniqueness to her particular tragedy and that she had endured a hell few others experience. As far as bullying stories go, her’s wasn’t that bad. At that college, hundreds of stories of domestic abuse and worse forms of bullying existed but they didn’t get locally famous.Yet, she was able to market herself extremely well and manicure her brand to be as juicy as possible.

Around campus, she would post flyers calling herself a “Suicide Survivor” for her regular events detailing the Facebook cruelty visited upon her a few years earlier. I’m not going to say her story didn’t deserve sympathy but the pathos-fueled rivers of tears were not warranted. She attempted suicide, so did I. Lots of people have. The great questions are whether she underwent voluntary suffering for an altruistic cause to show she was doing something more than getting popularity points through pure marketing and whether she scientifically and practically did things that materially aided her causes. As a member of the student senate she didn’t put forward a single bill that would have actually materially helped people who are suffering from the issues she ostensibly championed, I wasn’t a member and I still managed to get a mental health related bill into the student senate.

She wasn’t a particularly immoral person but she wasn’t an empathetic or kind person either, despite her reputation. Oxytocin slants judgments about whomever one feels pity for in favor of them. Being a public victim, she got virtue points for things she never did that other people did to her. She was an average person, morally, who subconsciously pursued her rational self-interest rationalized ethically through a number of cognitive biases. The foremost way to judge character is whether they go out of their way to love the ugly and the pariahs, give in such a way that it costs them socially and materially, whether they maintain grudges or actively try to forgive, and whether they will stand by good principles when it is unpopular. Like billionaires giving to charity, I have seen too many popular kids and posterchildren get meritless moral honor out of irrational pathos. There are solid metrics to character so when judging someone, use them. 

I didn’t consider my past traumas to be appropriate material for my activism. Firstly, because it would be self-pitied. Secondly, I was a middle-class white kid and Syrians, Somalians, and Yemenis all deserve more sympathy than me so I wasn’t going to put myself before people in much worse conditions. I did protests about poverty and war, not me being urinated on and having rocks thrown at me. I didn’t want to shift to doing shallow identity politics about myself. However, I would increasingly find that people don’t care about foreigners with melanin in their skin, even if they have that melanin themselves. A single bomb on a Tuesday morning in Damascus kills more women than Ted Bundy did in his entire career, but it doesn’t kill pretty white ones with money so the public is less excited.

If I was going to win in politics, I was going to have to capitalize on my story. I don’t touch alcohol but the thought of that would make touching it tempting. It didn’t fail completely, I did get friends that way. Yet, I didn’t become nearly as successful as my competition. It was a lesson in human nature, most people aren’t civically-minded. They don’t spend their days watching world affairs and they don’t care. If it doesn’t chemically enthrall them, they won’t watch. I’m thankful that I have the screenshots of the bullying that I do since that adds to my case. I wouldn’t completely stop trying to sell the local public on less gory things but I would increasingly shift my non-juicy politics to the backstage like working with local journalists and politicians.

Being an unworthy victim competing with a worthy victim is a microcosm of a politics dominated by scandal and metaphorical blood. That is, in summation, what politics is: a competition to secrete neurochemicals in others not based on a rational protocol and mostly devoid of cognitive ethics because people are mostly devoid of cognitive ethics. As heartening as the George Floyd protests have been, they beg the question of why it took the combined rage of mass unemployment and a global pandemic to incite them. The Black Lives Matter movement was over five years old. Because people needed two things: extreme discontent in themselves (not others) and a relatively sympathetic victim. Politics is a Barnum Circus that disproves the idea humans are mostly good. Yet, I must play in that circus because of moral duty.

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