It is an occasional human fault to get pulled into the habit of 'blaming the victim.'
Most people do not do it regularly, except in the case of some uninformed prejudice or in response to misinformation.
But some people seem to do it more often and sometimes habitually. Why is that?
As we might imagine, nothing can make a certain type of person feel better about themselves than attributing the misfortune of another to foolishness or stupidity. Since a similar misfortune has not happened to them, they must therefore be a superior type of person, and not the ordinary person that they fear they might be who just happened to get lucky.
In my experience this 'distancing' of oneself from the rest of humanity is at the root of much of the bad behaviour that can become institutionalized into the corruption of an organizational structure that eats at the fabric of society.
Sometimes people do engage in serial risky behaviour that leads them into trouble. It seems as though everyone knows at least one person who gets themselves into a bad situation by acting foolishly and recklessly. Sometimes it is caused by mental illness, alcoholism or some other negative influence. Everyone can think of someone who 'brought it on themselves.' And our imaginations can extend that instance quite easily and broadly.
We can use these few anecdotal examples to blame the victims unjustly on a more general and uninformed level. And we often fall into this bias on the prompting of con men and sociopaths of the predator class who use it to justify their own criminal actions and personal injustice. They are not burdened with empathy for their victims, and even delight in their misfortune. But they must find ways to make their actions more acceptable to society as a whole that normally does have such concerns for equity and justice.
Personal exceptionalism is rooted in pride, and is the antithesis of the old saying, 'There but for the grace of God go I.'
Those MF global customers? They had it coming because they should have known better. Those people who lost money in the stock market? Well, no one MADE them buy those fraudulent paper assets that professionals recommended to them. That family who lost their home to foreclosure because the father was severely injured by sickness or accident? They should have planned better and taken more precautions.
In its extreme example, the subornation of human caring becomes a form of madness, the 'demonization of the other.' That whole group/class/race/nation of people who are being mistreated, brutalized, cheated, starved, and even murdered? It is unfortunate of course, but they are lazy/cheap/stupid/dirty/sneaky/different/subhuman and so they had it coming. But we are not like that so we are doing well and even prospering.
But these are just thoughts from my own direct experience. Here is a systematic and more thorough analysis that I found to be interesting.
Blaming the victim – why do we do it? For example, are rape victims responsible for what happens to them? Are victims of car crashes or other accidents responsible for what happened to them? These are the kinds of questions we examine as we look at the strange human tendency to blame the victim.
Here is the concept map for the biases discussed in this show:
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Source: Blaming the Victim and Other Biases
Attribution Map Quiz
1: Fundamental Attribution Error
•“people do what they do because of the kind of people that they are, not because of the situation they are in”
•“people tend to underestimate external influences when explaining other people’s behavior”
2: Actor/Observer (bias) Difference
•“Whereas we are very likely to find internal causes for other people’s behavior, we tend to look …to the situation to explain our own behavior”
•Example: in a murder trial, the prosecution will call the person a murderer, defense will focus on the difficulty of the person’s life at the time or their childhood, characteristics of the person murdered. “That person drove my client to do what he/she did”
3. Self-serving Attribution (bias): while we tend to take credit for our successes (attribute success to internal causes), we blame our failures on external causes
•I earned an A, my professor gave me a C
•Why? Because it threatens our self esteem to think that failures were caused by something about ourselves
•Example: sports – when a team wins, they attribute it to talent or skill, when they lose, they attribute it to bad luck, poor playing conditions, bad calls from the umpires rather than “I didn’t train hard/study hard enough”, “Our team wasn’t as good”
•It feels bad to attribute our failures to ourselves
4. Optimism bias: “good things are more likely to happen to oneself than to others and bad things are less likely to happen to oneself”
•A kind of “defensive attribution”
•Why do we tend to hold this belief? Because the world is a scary, unpredictable place and that makes us feel anxious. The only way to feel a little better is to believe that it couldn’t happen to me. “I would have acted differently”, “That wouldn’t happen to me because…”I would make different decisions”
5. Belief in a Just World: bad things happen to bad people, “or at least to people who make mistakes, poor choices, etc.” thus, bad things won’t happen to me because I wouldn’t make those mistakes.
•“the belief in a just world keeps anxiety-provoking thoughts about one’s own safety at bay” Aronson, et. al.
•when the world seems chaotic or dangerous, this is anxiety provoking. so we attempt to reassure ourselves by blaming the victim