Contributor Post Created with Sketch. I’m a Victim and That Makes Me Better Than You

 

CampusLast year, George Will got into a heap of trouble for a column in which he wrote that colleges and universities are learning that “when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous … and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.”

It wasn’t a particularly great column by the author’s standards: It was a little unfocused and too easily allowed for ungenerous readings that implied Will was downplaying sexual assault. (It would almost certainly have fared better had it been published after the exposure of the Rolling Stone/University of Virginia hoax). The resulting outrage was enough to get Will disinvited from a speaking gig at Scripps College, a women’s college in Claremont, California. Will’s position gets some support, however, from a new paper by sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, summarized at length by Jonathan Haidt at his The Righteous Mind blog.

The study posits that the West is in the process of a third major cultural shift. In brief, it argues that we began as an honor-based society characterized by a low tolerance for slights and a strong preference for seeking personal redress (think of the characters of the Iliad or duelists in the early American Republic). Over the past few centuries, we’ve shifted to a culture based more on personal dignity, which encouraged people to shrug off all but the worst slights as being beneath their notice and to appeal to third-party authorities for redress of the most intolerable wrongs.

Today, the paper argues, we’re seeing the emergence of a victim-based society that combines the honor society’s obsession with meeting every personal slight with the dignity-based society’s demand for appeals to others for redress. In other words, the obsession with grievances — and the ever-ratcheting definition of what counts as one — that we’re seeing on college campuses is both a symptom and a cause of something much, much bigger.

That’s a very brief and partial summary. I commend the whole thing to you.

One of the more interesting things about a grievance culture — and one that I don’t think has been discussed a great deal — is how it inverts the usual narrative of injustice. Rather than citing an injustice as a way to pull down one’s oppressor by exposing his immoral or dishonorable behavior, it is often used as a means of elevating oneself.

Indeed, identifying the culprit — something important in both honor- and dignity-based societies — often becomes an afterthought, if not a distraction. It’s the victim that matters, not the malefactor. The so-called guilty party need not be conscious of his action and can be forgiven more easily by repenting and acknowledging his wrong than by taking any meaningful action.

This is among the reasons why hoaxes — especially those that cite unidentifiable or improbable oppressors — are so powerful and appealing. Consider, for example, how quickly “Jackie’s” story of being gang-raped at the University of Virginia would have collapsed had her refusal to name her attackers not been indulged for so long and by so many. Look also to the example of Scripps College’s neighbor, Claremont McKenna College (my alma mater), a decade earlier, when a visiting professor faked a hate crime against herself in order to force the administration to respond to a series of minor incidents on campus that she felt had been ignored. (She was subsequently caught, pled guilty to insurance fraud, and spent a year in prison). Or, lest the temptation be thought of as something unique to the left, consider Princeton student Francisco Nava sending threatening letters to fellow campus conservatives and then beating himself up and blaming it on a gang of masked liberals (seriously).

These hoaxes weren’t committed for material gain, to frame a specific enemy, or even to make the perpetrators look brave in the face of adversity (notice that Nava didn’t claim that he fought off his attackers) so much as to confer status on the supposed victim himself. The point is less to punish the criminals than to laud the victims. Couple some people’s dishonesty with the relative anonymity available in the digital age, and the only wonder is that these things don’t happen more often.

No society is perfect and any system has its trade-offs. It’s easy to see, for instance, how a dignity-based society’s dismissal of real — albeit small and unintentional — slights might sow the seeds for a victim-based one, just as the personal squabbles and violence that typify honor-societies led to the adoption of a dignity-based society. But whereas that change was almost certainly an improvement over what preceded it, it’s hard to see how a culture that encourages victimhood will lead to anything like a brighter future.

There are 22 comments.

  1. Merina Smith Inactive

    Beat me to it Tom! I was going to write about this interesting paper, but thanks for saving me the time.

    A couple of observations. I think this phenomenon is related to what I would call the “equality culture” that has been running amok for about 40 years. In an odd way, it’s an affirmation of traditional ideas of status that many people who have such status (race-based for example) probably don’t even hold, but that those who don’t have the “status” assume they do. So-called “micro-aggressions” just appear to be interpretations of what someone thinks is an assumption behind what someone says or does. So it’s a lot of second-guessing, and boy, is that a recipe for trouble! They want to bring third party authorities in to punish the assumed assumptions, and of course the third party “authority” is probably part of the “micro-aggressing” class, so they have to grovel all the more to not fall into the trap so that yet another “authority” is necessary.

    This is also a result of moving away from Judeo-Christian values that emphasize the prime importance of forgiveness for both the aggrieved and the aggriever. It doesn’t take a genius to see that people who are always on the look-out for slights will find them. Nor is it hard for those of us among the faithful to see that when left to our own devices, humans make things infinitely worse.

    Another thought–I see this new equality-based victim culture as a mirror image of honor culture. In that culture, only elite people were regarded as capable of having and defending honor. In this one, only people who regard themselves as underprivileged are capable of the glory of victimhood.

    Pardon the scare quotes, but this topic kind of demands them.

    • #1
    • September 16, 2015, at 10:40 AM PDT
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  2. Tim H. Member

    I was reading Haidt’s summary to my wife last night. She and I are both professors, and we see this victim culture spreading across academia, both among students and even professors. Thankfully we’re a physicist and an astronomer, so we have to deal with less of this in our classrooms. I think the description of this culture, and the contrasts with the honor and dignity cultures, are pretty close.

    I come from something closer to an honor culture. I’m an East Tennessee, Smoky Mountain hillbilly, with a strong sense of my pioneer family background and my Scotch-Irish attitudes. I’ve always thought that a fair fight between two men shouldn’t be an issue for the police. My family once had a property-line dispute with a neighbor (we moved his cattle fence from our side of the creek back to the middle, where the line is) that resulted in threats made against our dogs but no actual feuding. I was almost disappointed, just because I wanted to be able to brag in later years about our own family feud. But it was something we stayed cool about, never went to the authorities over, and we were able to get back on friendly terms later.

    My parents instilled in us a strong prejudice against whining, and I can’t imagine writing the oh-poor-me essays the victim culture revels in. It is public self-humiliation, and it reeks of self-disrespect.

    • #2
    • September 16, 2015, at 10:44 AM PDT
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  3. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Merina Smith: Another thought–I see this new equality-based victim culture as a mirror image of honor culture. In that culture, only elite people were regarded as capable of having and defending honor. In this one, only people who regard themselves as underprivileged are capable of the glory of victimhood.

    That’s a very good point. One of the more interesting things in the early Republic was that affairs of honor were limited to men of a certain class and — depending on circumstances — you could actually schluff-off some insults by claiming that one’s opponent was beneath notice (slightly different than the dignity-based argument that the insult was beneath one’s notice).

    • #3
    • September 16, 2015, at 10:45 AM PDT
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  4. Sabrdance Member

    What I said on facebook, and still don’t have much to add beyond that:

    Finally got around to skimming (still haven’t had a chance to read it carefully) the linked Campbell and Manning article, but reading this reminded me of another article I read a year or two ago:

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/…/10133-Corvo-Is-Not-An-Hon…

    And it seems to me that “victim culture” is not the right word. We’ve shifted from an Honor-Duel Culture to a Dignity-Law Culture, and are now slipping into an Honor-Vendetta Culture. What is microaggression except the pale imitation of Lucretia beseeching her brothers to avenge her? Except with less cause, less honor, and less suicide?

    • #4
    • September 16, 2015, at 10:48 AM PDT
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  5. Dad Dog Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Rather than citing an injustice as a way to pull down one’s oppressor by exposing his immoral or dishonorable behavior, it is often used as a means of elevating oneself.

    Again, as described — and predicted — by Christopher Lasch.

    • #5
    • September 16, 2015, at 10:55 AM PDT
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  6. RyanFalcone Member

    I am a Christian, white, male…destroyer of civilizations, killer of all things living and un-living, raper of the all who are, identify as or who at one time were shackled by the the construct of femininity that I created to enslave those who were born with vaginas. All other races have I violated. All other cultures have I scorned. Science has been retarded by my greed, art by my insensitivity. History has been clouded by my lies and nature has been seared by my unquenchable ambition. I roam the earth devouring peaceful nations, making sport of them for no greater ends then to sooth my appetite for power and……oh, I’m sorry. I was just daydreaming while standing in line for 4 hours at the DMV.

    • #6
    • September 16, 2015, at 11:06 AM PDT
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  7. katievs Member
    katievs Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Put me down as someone who quite likes the concept of microaggressions. I think it’s a true and valid development of our moral sensibilities.

    I dislike hearing people who haven’t been victimized mocking the psychic fragility of those who have been. (I’m assuming real cases here, not made-up ones.) Speaking of honor culture, whatever happened to “noblesse oblige”?

    The problem comes in, it seems to me, when new levels of sensitivity to wrong is combined with force and power—speech codes and criminalizing and litigiousness and all that.

    I’m against glorifying victimization. I’m against assuming the guilt of the accused. I’m against speech codes.

    I’m in favor of more awareness, better communication, and less abusiveness between persons.

    • #7
    • September 16, 2015, at 11:10 AM PDT
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  8. Brian Wyneken Member

    No doubt due to some deep-seated psychological defect I have never fully rid myself of the attraction of receiving pity. It’s absurd and contemptuous, but there it lurks. I have known adults who are more prone to this, but I keep good company and I know more who take their self measure in stride.

    As a child, however, this defect was more prominent and a large part of growing up was realizing and experiencing the destructive nature of envy and self pity. Part of the seduction was the false ennobling and reflexive at-the-ready excuses. Key to getting beyond this was that the grown-ups around me declined to reinforce these childish character flaws. No privileges were offered.

    There is no beneficial trade off in any transition to a victim based culture. It’s a regression to immaturity.

    • #8
    • September 16, 2015, at 11:14 AM PDT
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  9. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    katievs: Put me down as someone who quite likes the concept of microaggressions. I think it’s a true and valid development of our moral sensibilities. I dislike hearing people who haven’t been victimized mocking the psychic fragility of those who have been … I’m in favor of more awareness and better communication between persons.

    I agree there’s benefit to learning how our assumptions or privileges can make us unconsciously and needlessly insensitive or offensive. I’ve said some boneheaded things in my time that way, and I regret it.

    The problem is that the focus on them so easily slides into the one-downsmanship competition we both deplore.

    • #9
    • September 16, 2015, at 11:24 AM PDT
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  10. Merina Smith Inactive

    RyanFalcone:I am a Christian, white, male…destroyer of civilizations, killer of all things living and un-living, raper of the all who are, identify as or who at one time were shackled by the the construct of femininity that I created to enslave those who were born with vaginas. All other races have I violated. All other cultures have I scorned. Science has been retarded by my greed, art by my insensitivity. History has been clouded by my lies and nature has been seared by my unquenchable ambition. I roam the earth devouring peaceful nations, making sport of them for no greater ends then to sooth my appetite for power and……oh, I’m sorry. I was just daydreaming while standing in line for 4 hours at the DMV.

    Gets my vote for comment of the week!

    • #10
    • September 16, 2015, at 11:39 AM PDT
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  11. Merina Smith Inactive

    Brian Wyneken:No doubt due to some deep-seated psychological defect I have never fully rid myself of the attraction of receiving pity. It’s absurd and contemptuous, but there it lurks. I have known adults who are more prone to this, but I keep good company and I know more who take their self measure in stride.

    As a child, however, this defect was more prominent and a large part of growing up was realizing and experiencing the destructive nature of envy and self pity. Part of the seduction was the false ennobling and reflexive at-the-ready excuses. Key to getting beyond this was that the grown-ups around me declined to reinforce these childish character flaws. No privileges were offered.

    There is no beneficial trade off in any transition to a victim based culture. It’s a regression to immaturity.

    This is interesting. I hadn’t really thought much about this because I hate to be pitied and always have, but I can see how people might come to like it, and if indulged, will never become grown-ups.

    • #11
    • September 16, 2015, at 11:41 AM PDT
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  12. Brian Wyneken Member

    Merina Smith:

    Brian Wyneken:No doubt due to some deep-seated psychological defect I have never fully rid myself of the attraction of receiving pity. It’s absurd and contemptuous, but there it lurks.

    This is interesting. I hadn’t really thought much about this because I hate to be pitied and always have, but I can see how people might come to like it, and if indulged, will never become grown-ups.

    I’ve always had an uncanny talent for perceiving slights. I guess I’m lucky that way, or maybe it’s just that I’m short. Anyway, it doesn’t help when my wife tells me that I “shouldn’t be short with people.”

    • #12
    • September 16, 2015, at 12:07 PM PDT
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  13. Merina Smith Inactive

    Brian Wyneken:

    Merina Smith:

    Brian Wyneken:No doubt due to some deep-seated psychological defect I have never fully rid myself of the attraction of receiving pity. It’s absurd and contemptuous, but there it lurks.

    This is interesting. I hadn’t really thought much about this because I hate to be pitied and always have, but I can see how people might come to like it, and if indulged, will never become grown-ups.

    I’ve always had an uncanny talent for perceiving slights. I guess I’m lucky that way, or maybe it’s just that I’m short. Anyway, it doesn’t help when my wife tells me that I “shouldn’t be short with people.”

    Nice pun! And I don’t even groan at puns. I like them.

    • #13
    • September 16, 2015, at 12:21 PM PDT
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  14. Johnny Dubya Inactive

    Host: “…And our next victim celebrity is…Ahmed Mohamed! Come on down! Ahmed, you’re 14 years old. And we understand that you’re quite a clever young fellow – you built an electronic clock! And you decided to bring it to school to show your friends and teachers, is that right?!”

    Ahmed: “That’s right, Bob.”

    Host: “And what did those Texas troglodytes do, Ahmed?!”

    Ahmed: “They arrested me?”

    Host: “Well, they’ll say you were merely detained! Ha ha ha! I have to say, Ahmed, that your timekeeping contraption, with its circuit board and wires, doesn’t look all that scary to me! They thought it might be a bomb, didn’t they?!”

    Ahmed: “I guess so.”

    Host: “Ahmed, we just received a phone call, and I think you’re going to want to take it!”

    Caller: “Ahmed, this is President Barack Obama. I’d like to invite you to the White House to show me your clock…”

    True story: Obama has invited Ahmed Mohamed to the White House.

    • #14
    • September 16, 2015, at 12:22 PM PDT
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  15. Tim H. Member

    Johnny Dubya:Caller: “Ahmed, this is President Barack Obama. I’d like to invite you to the White House to show me your clock…”

    True story: Obama has invited Ahmed Mohamed to the White House.

    I was about to express my skepticism here and gently ;) accuse you of naively believing a false internet rumor…but nope. Here it is, in The Hill.

    Good grief. And I’m sympathetic to the kid.

    • #15
    • September 16, 2015, at 12:35 PM PDT
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  16. Brian Wyneken Member

    katievs:Put me down as someone who quite likes the concept of microaggressions. I think it’s a true and valid development of our moral sensibilities.

    About 25 years ago I was a clerk for the local district court. I was standing in a corridor reading something and drinking my coffee. Within earshot, a judge mentioned that the governor had named a new judge for the district. Still distracted by my reading material I absent-mindedly asked, “Oh, what’s his name?” The judge, a woman, walked over and punched me in the stomach saying, “HER name is Diane.”

    Now that’s how grown-ups should deal with micro-aggression.

    • #16
    • September 16, 2015, at 12:44 PM PDT
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  17. katievs Member
    katievs Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Brian Wyneken:

    katievs:Put me down as someone who quite likes the concept of microaggressions. I think it’s a true and valid development of our moral sensibilities.

    About 25 years ago I was a clerk for the local district court. I was standing in a corridor reading something and drinking my coffee. Within earshot, a judge mentioned that the governor had named a new judge for the district. Still distracted by my reading material I absent-mindedly asked, “Oh, what’s his name?” The judge, a woman, walked over and punched me in the stomach saying, “HER name is Diane.”

    Now that’s how grown-ups should deal with micro-aggression.

    I prefer non-violent resistance myself.

    • #17
    • September 16, 2015, at 12:57 PM PDT
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  18. Sabrdance Member

    Tim H.:

    Johnny Dubya:Caller: “Ahmed, this is President Barack Obama. I’d like to invite you to the White House to show me your clock…”

    True story: Obama has invited Ahmed Mohamed to the White House.

    I was about to express my skepticism here and gently ;) accuse you of naively believing a false internet rumor…but nope. Here it is, in The Hill.

    Good grief. And I’m sympathetic to the kid.

    What steams me? Stupid zero-tolerance policies have been entrapping kids for literally decades. I was bumping into them in middle school in 1996. It has been a cottage issue.

    But now it’s a thing. And are we going to fix stupid zero-tolerance policies? No, we’re going to self-flagelate (in a disgustingly onanistic way, Mr. President) about Islamaphobia.

    We completely deserve the barbarians.

    • #18
    • September 16, 2015, at 1:10 PM PDT
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  19. Johnny Dubya Inactive

    Tim H.:

    Johnny Dubya:Caller: “Ahmed, this is President Barack Obama. I’d like to invite you to the White House to show me your clock…”

    True story: Obama has invited Ahmed Mohamed to the White House.

    I was about to express my skepticism here and gently ;) accuse you of naively believing a false internet rumor…but nope. Here it is, in The Hill.

    Good grief. And I’m sympathetic to the kid.

    I have to say, I’m not all that sympathetic.

    Texas Muslim Student Clock

    • #19
    • September 16, 2015, at 1:31 PM PDT
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  20. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Quite frankly, the self centered aspect of this post makes me queasy. I demand a trigger warning on your microaggression… And now, let’s talk about ME!

    • #20
    • September 16, 2015, at 2:42 PM PDT
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  21. Tim H. Member

    Johnny Dubya:

    Tim H.:

    Good grief. And I’m sympathetic to the kid.

    I have to say, I’m not all that sympathetic.

    Texas Muslim Student Clock

    Considering there’s no display, it doesn’t look much like a clock, does it? I don’t fault the school for not figuring out on their own that it wasn’t anything dangerous, because how much expertise do the teachers or staff have in electronics?

    I’ve still got a lot of sympathy for the kid, though. (Except if he really wasn’t cooperative when they asked him about it, then that’s his fault.) I played a bit with electronics and brought some of the guts of things to school with me, and nobody said anything. That was in the 1980s and in a safe and disciplined school system, before the highly publicized attacks on schools (remember that the Columbine massacre was supposed to involve explosions, too), and it wasn’t on people’s minds.

    But the zero tolerance attitude is over the line, and that’s where the biggest problem was here. I hate the Racism!” “Islamophobia!” cries that I’m seeing all over Facebook this morning. As if a white, Christian kid doing the same wouldn’t have been treated the same. Heck, there was a white kid punished for making his Pop-Tart in the shape of a gun. And that didn’t involve any mysterious wiring!

    • #21
    • September 17, 2015, at 6:20 AM PDT
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  22. James Madison Member

    Thank you for a very insightful observation.

    • #22
    • September 29, 2015, at 10:59 AM PDT
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