Rationalization # 35: Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.”

"Yup, should have seen THIS coming..."

“Yup, should have seen THIS coming…”

Mark Draughn, who blogs at Windypundit, proposed this latest addition to the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations list,  after I forgot to add it to the list in December 2012, when it was first proposed by reader Dwayne Zechman. It is an excellent one, and both Dwayne and Mark deserve the credit for it.

Asserting the rationalization of Victim Blindness attempts to shift responsibility for wrongdoing to the victims of it, who, the theory goes, should have known that their actions would inspire the conduct that caused them harm, and thus they should have either avoided doing what sparked the unethical response, or by not doing so waived their right to object to it. This is closely related to a sub-category of #7, The Tit-For-Tat Excuse, which holds that one party’s unethical conduct justifies similar unethical conduct in return. The sub-category is “They asked for it.” Victim Blindness is similar, but it applies even greater responsibility to victims: whether they asked for it or not, they should have known their actions would be met with this unethical response, and their ignorance,  carelessness or stupidity constitutes a waiver of ethics.

Clever, but also illogical nonsense. We do not judge the ethics of conduct according to the virtues, or lack of same, of its object. Rescuing a rotter from certain death is as admirable as rescuing an innocent child; horse-whipping a chiseling, cheating, wife-beating cannibal is still wrong. Predicting that another individual’s unethical conduct might follow from one’s own acts, good or bad, is irrelevant to the analysis of whether that subsequent conduct is right or wrong. Stopping or avoiding unethical conduct that I know is coming may be wise and it may be prudent, and I may blame myself for failing to do either if that was possible, but the last person who has standing to blame me for my fate is the one doing me harm. He, not I, had the last opportunity to prevent the wrongdoing, by simply declining to do it.

This rationalization, I realize, is why I have always disliked the too-often quoted fable of the Frog and Scorpion (or sometimes snake)  You know the one: the scorpion begs the frog to carry him across the river, and promises the frog that he won’t sting him. But he does sting him, and as the frog is dying, the amphibian asks the scorpion why he would do such a vicious and ungrateful thing. The Scorpion, at least in some versions of the parable, says, “Don’t blame me: you knew I was a scorpion; what did you expect? It’s my nature.”


OK, the frog was a fool to trust the scorpion, and as he sinks to the bottom of the river (with the scorpion)), he should rebuke himself for being so gullible. The scorpion’s logic, however, is that of all predators from the beginning of time: “You’re weak, you’re careless, you’re stupid, and you should have seen this coming.”

Yes, we should have.

And you’re still an unethical son-of-a-bitch.


Graphic: Thinking on Scripture

37 thoughts on “Rationalization # 35: Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.”

  1. This often happens with victim blaming. Telling women “oh, you shouldn’t have word that dress if you didn’t want to get raped”.

    • There’s a weird mutant hybridization of this argument I see sometimes. I find it absolutely abhorrent to tell a woman she deserved to be raped for dressing skimpy, or being alone, or what have you. I find it perplexing, though, when I see the reaction to admonishments such as “go with a friend, pour your own drinks” as anger and accusations of victim blaming. Surely it’s not wrong to suggest that, just because nothing you do would excuse an assault, you shouldn’t bother to take precautions?

      • I have had the exact same argument with some self described feminists )other feminists in the discussion agreed with me). There is a huge difference between telling someone if they wear short skirts they might get raped (victim blaming) and telling someone that they should watch their drink when they go out and never leave it alone (common sense). We don’t live in a perfect world and taking away a rapist’s tools is always a good thing.

        Of course, asking a woman after a rape IF she kept an eye on her drink is victim blaming.

          • That’s where I tend to stand. To be clear: there is a difference between “Yous shouldn’t have dressed excessively provocative” and “You shouldn’t have dressed excessively provocative if you didn’t want to get raped”.

            In the same sense that “You shouldn’t have walked down that dark alley in the bad part of town” is not the same thing as “You shouldn’t have walked down that dark alley in the bad part of town if you didnt want to get mugged.”

            The first regards responsibility for the personal security that made the attack possible, the second regards responsibility for the attack itself.

  2. “Of course, asking a woman after a rape IF she kept an eye on her drink is victim blaming.”

    Without tone, no it’s not. That question quite simply is trying to figure out what opening the rapist took to (what, in this instance, we assume must be a drugged beverage).

    The tone may be accusatory however. A more blatant victim blaming would look like (if beverage drugging was the strategy used): “See what you get for not watching your drink”

  3. What would you say about a warning, though? Say, I’ve been told that if I go to a certain place, the inevitable result will be someone else behaving unethically. If, with that warning, I went anyway, and the other person behaved unethically as they warned… how much of that burden would I share? Would his still apply if the victim is warned ahead of time? My logic says yes, experience says no.

    • I don’t think so, in general. It seems living out of fear and holding one’s own life in hostage because of possible unethical, uncivic behavior directed at them is unreasonable. The victim, knowing a possibility exists can’t be held accountable for that behavior against them one iota.

      That fear is the same logic terrorists hope will dissuade civilized cultures from advancing civilization.

    • You might add to the blame, but you wouldn’t “share” it. Your mistake adds to the misery of the situation, but it doesn’t mitigate the other person’s ethical failing. While you may be unwise or be taking unnecessary risks, you’re not behaving unethically.

      However, you might be guilty of unethical behavior if you involve an innocent third party. If you regularly go drinking in dangerous bars in dangerous neighborhoods, and you get mugged, that is merely unwise. But if you bring along a friend who also gets mugged, your exposing him to that danger could be unethical (depending on things like reasonableness, disclosure, and assumption of risk).

  4. Just to give an example of what I was talking about, many years ago at a company I worked for, some people I knew in another department won a contract for a multimillion dollar project. The big bosses at headquarters in another city decided to put someone there in charge of the project. The original team was told that they would still run day-to-day activities. Nevertheless, over the next year or so, the new boss forced out all of the people who had originally won the contract so that he could hire people loyal to him. When confronted about his broken promises, he responded, “You should have seen the writing on the wall.”

    Indeed, had my friends been more aware, they probably would have seen this guy for the snake he was. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t still a snake.

    • How can anyone not know this? The new leader is fighting for his/her career and rightly suspects jealousy and possible subversion from the standing team. It is what is expected of a manager. Not unethical, unless promises were made to the contrary.

      • How can anyone not know this? Because it was wrong to suspect jealousy and subversion. Because it’s not what they would do. Because this sort of thing only happens in poisonous environments. Because allowing managers to build fiefdoms at the expense of the company is bad management. Because this kind of manager has other problems. Because it’s a bad way to run a company. (Having gotten rid of the team that won the contract, the company lost it after only two years.)

  5. Jack you pretty much told a tale of the world.. This is why wars start, why horrible people sometimes succeed and why good people are sometimes cheated.

    Everyone should have a questioning attitude towards others, but having your faith in others rewarded in kind is what carries the day.

  6. I concur with the apparently unanimous assessment here, but I’ve got a philosophical twist on it, as usual. Anyone who blames someone for “making” them do something is abdicating their own agency, and by extension their own conscious existence. They’re effectively saying “I’m not a person; I’m not responsible for my own actions.” If that were actually true, it would be just as ethical to kill them as it would be to put down a dangerous wild animal (that happens to talk like a person), but it isn’t true. They are responsible for their actions; they just live under the all-excusing illusion that they aren’t.

    Also, regardless of how “obvious” a person’s future actions may be, just because a person is predictably unethical doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held to account for it. When one phrases the notion like that, it just sounds silly.

    • You must have watched the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

      Well, I did. And I will not let go of the theory that if Ferris had decided not to do all his shenanigans on that one day, his mother would have closed the real estate deal – and bought THAT car for Ferris.

      And Cameron would still be the self-defined non-person you describe.

        • You recall how Ferris walked all over Cameron – because Cameron let Ferris. Then later, after Cameron’s tantrum about the car…you know (I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone else), Ferris offered to take the heat, but Cameron refused, saying he would “have a little chat” when his (presumably) maniac-about-the-car Dad got home. That was after Cameron had pranked Ferris (the pool and Jacuzzi scene). Via his panic over the car, Cameron reached a turning point, an epiphany: He actually could control his own destiny. You might not remember that Ferris’s Mom was about to close a real estate deal. But she did say, after missing the deal, that she had planned to use the commission to buy a car for Ferris. What other car was there to talk about in that movie, besides the one Ferris adored? That’s how I connected the dots, anyway.

            • Ah, I see. That connection didn’t occur to me, but it makes so much sense!

              And you’re absolutely right; it’s not only unethical people who limit themselves by what they think is their “nature.” Among many others, there’s people whose only ambition is to survive and live out a life prescribed by society, and those who want to “be themselves” in a way that translates to useless hedonism. This whole phenomenon has been a huge problem with this planet since civilization began.

  7. For example, if a lady goes to a bar and some sleaze ball slips something in her drink once and bad things happen she can learn from this experience. However, if she repeatedly goes back to the same bar, leaves her drink alone, and it happens again, she has some culpability. She acted recklessly and didn’t take reasonable precautions. This is not to excuse the sleaze ball who says “she was asking for it”.

      • That’s what I see as the key distinction as well. Blindness to the risks of becoming a victim is a fault, but it’s not an ethical fault.

        I think you could argue that willful victim blindness is unethical if you know that the potential perpetrator is mentally incompetent — e.g. leaving children’s toys lying around in your front yard where passing children will be tempted to steal them. I mean, sure, they shouldn’t steal them, but at some low enough age it’s probably unrealistic to expect them to resist temptation, especially if it’s repeated.

        I think you could also argue that waving temptation in front of people because you want them to fall for it and suffer the punishment is also unethical — again, especially if it’s repeated. So, for example, a wife who hires a hot young woman to test her husband’s fidelity is crossing an ethical line. He may cheat, but she knowingly brought it on so she could gain an advantage. Likewise, I think there’s something unethical about undercover cops who repeatedly urge protestors to break the law so they can be arrested.

        • Your last example strikes a nerve. When I was a bouncer there was an undercover female cop who would shove people, and arrest them for “assaulting an officer” if they retaliated. At the time I needed the job and couldn’t do anything about the situation without getting fired, at least now I’m able to loudly point her out when she comes slithering into an establishment I’m patronizing.

        • What about self appointed ‘civil rights leaders’ who get bullhorns and bellow “No justice, no peace!” to easily incited morons who then go into riot mode. Should these ‘civil rights leaders’ be arrested for inciting a riot?

          • In a word, yes. But I think Windy makes the case. There is a definite difference between lack of judgement and someone taking advantage OF someone’s lack of judgement in order to perform a deed that is either unethical, unlawful or both.

  8. Some things that “should have been known” are not necessarily predictable. Innocent people such as children, old people, people with different background or experience experiences etc. may not have any idea that an action could have the consequences it turns out to have. This is why we need to insist on a society that takes ethics seriously.
    Since we can’t predict what people might do out of innocence or ignorance we have to be able to stop or prevent people without ethics from being predators.

  9. If you ask your unreliable father-in-law to deposit $5000 in cash for your because you can’t make it during bank hours (and don’t want that kind of cash lying around), is it not your fault in any way if it doesn’t get deposited? Is he completely blameless? If he decided to stop at a seedy gas station and left your $5000 visible on the passenger seat with the window down, is he completely blameless for it being stolen?

    This can’t be an absolute principle. This is a judgement call area, but there has to be some common sense. If I ask my unreliable father-in-law to do such a thing, I know I am gambling with my money (or more accurately, he might gamble with my money). People have to be somewhat responsible in their actions. We can’t all be Pollyannas. If this example isn’t good enough for you, what if your father-in-law was running late and gave your $5000 to a homeless person who promised to deposit it for him. Is he still completely blameless in the loss of the money?

    Now, I am not saying I would hold the father-in-law as accountable as the thief, but there is some accountability for the loss there? Yes.

  10. The sub-category is “They asked for it.” Victim Blindness is similar, but it applies even greater responsibility to victims: whether they asked for it or not, they should have known their actions would be met with this unethical response, and their ignorance, carelessness or stupidity constitutes a waiver of ethics.

    I can imagine it now.

    “Your Honor, the bank kept its cash in a cardboard box in the middle of the lobby. Did they expect my client to not take it?

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