The Glorification Of Victimhood
Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning’s article, “Microaggressions and Moral Cultures” is a very interesting read. In it, the authors attempt to explain the microaggression culture prevalent on campuses (and elsewhere now), as part of a cultural transition from a culture of honor, through a culture of dignity, to where we are now: a culture of victimhood, clashing with the dignity culture that came before it. These aggrieved people broadcast what they see as slights against their collective identities in order to gain the aid of third party arbiters, in an attempt to further their political aims and to control the behaviour of others.
As much as Manning and Campbell’s article is informative—and I highly recommend you read it—it evidences the blind spots brought about by academia’s one-party system. Something not entertained by the authors, was the idea of individual personal identity, which in my view, is at the root of the rise of the modern Social Justice Warrior movement. While most humanities disciplines, and Sociologists more specifically, hold to the adage that those on the right have an inability to see the forest for the trees, (i.e. we consider the individual, only to miss the collective or larger trends), it doesn’t detract from the fact that individual identities are under attack, with people forced to latch onto anything passing their way in order to feel a sense of purpose, meaning and identity. As much as we have inclined towards collectivism in recent years, individualism is still very much alive. There cannot be a collective without individuals. As Ayn Rand once said, we don’t share a mind or a stomach, and accordingly, all that we can experience in life is our own individual experience.
At the root of the microaggression culture, or Social Justice movement, is white guilt, or collective white guilt. White guilt, extending beyond just Germany and the Holocaust, has been instilled in our youth through our education system and peripherally by the media. The West, never taught in a favourable light, is said to be something to be ashamed of, a stain on the white or western soul. This idea of collective guilt transcends the collective and enters the individual consciousness. There can’t be a collective without individuals. And the efforts of those on the hard political left are affecting westerners all the way down to the individual level.
Of interest, people of colour are also trained to think collectively, specifically, they are taught that their culture’s lowest moments—colonialism, slavery, mistreatment, etc.— is what defines their people and their story. Unlike the white, western identity, these minorities are taught to use this struggle to advance causes in their interest. While these past historical wrongs are a source of shame, this shame is channeled into constructive means for that particular collective, or those particular individuals.
The modern Social Justice movement, or microaggression culture, is largely found amongst white, western, middle class youth, instilled in them by western—mostly white— academics. While there is no denying that people of colour exist within these movements, the involvement of middle-class white kids has not been examined. If we are to take into consideration past historical injustices committed against people of colour, it's easy to see why they might be a part of a movement that advocates for social change in their interest. But what is the incentive for the white, western young person to belong to a movement like this?
The western individual, seen only for their collective historical wrongs, can find no way out of the guilt instilled in them, except to publicize an event or circumstance that has put them on par with the oppressed classes they have been taught to fight for, and have been trained to see as perpetually victimized and lowly. You can’t, after all, change your skin colour or heritage, but you can, in fact, get an exemption.
It’s here that we see a phenomenon which I call the Glorification of Victimhood, wherein a person is actually proud of their "misfortunes" and even go so far as to gloat about them publicly. I have personally witnessed many instances wherein people have bragged about their misfortunes, in a way that goes beyond just absolving themselves of their perceived "privileged" status. In a strange way, these events or circumstances have become an actual part of their individual identities and are what define them as people.
There has been a conscientious (and largely successful) effort by Marxists to eradicate the things that traditionally gave us meaning and purpose as individuals, specifically, the nuclear family and traditional religion. We have a strange experience as white western people, insofar as we are not allowed a positive collective experience (of course, who would want to be a member of an evil, oppressive, malignant group), nor are we allowed to exist solely as white, western individuals. It’s here that we see people take on identities that attempt to give them the same status as perceived oppressed minorities, that are on the one hand permitted to exist, and on the other hand, an attempt at forging at least some form of individual identity, regardless of the fact that these identities would have read more like deficiencies only a few short years ago. While the publicizing of "microaggressions" may very well be, in part, an attempt to persuade third parties to work in their favor for political causes, the offence taking to microaggressions may also be a genuine reaction to threats made against the only identity a white person, or westerner, has been allowed to have, regardless of how shallow or self-defeating that new and permitted identity may be.
I’ve had the misfortune of personally witnessing some concrete examples of this phenomenon. Most recently, during my summer job of waitressing, I served a woman who was celiac and lactose intolerant. While there is nothing inherently wrong with a chronic illness, in fact, we should feel bad for people who have to heavily regulate their normal daily functions in order to simply live, there was a strange sense of pride in the way she told me. As if gloating, she announced to both myself and the other woman that she was dining with, that she was both celiac and lactose intolerant, and appeared to actually enjoy the extra time it took me to go through each menu item listing ingredients, ultimately to keep her waiting even longer while I went to speak with the chef, face-to-face, in order to confirm that she could in fact eat what she had ordered.
Another example, perhaps more telling, is the Women’s Studies class I attended in first year university. The class progressed through a series of topics by unit, ultimately to land on the theory of "rape culture". Without the professor asking, a young white girl in the audience raised her hand in lecture and, when called upon, told the class a very detailed recounting of her own date rape. I want to provide the caveat that I did, in fact, feel bad for this girl and I believed her testimony. But something I couldn’t get out of my head as her words went around in my head later on throughout that day, was the unnatural length and graphic details of the story. Something equally as noteworthy were the three other students (in a class of thirty) who also, without being asked or prompted by the professor, proceeded to tell their own stories of rape or molestation—additionally in graphic detail and unusual length. But there was something different about the subsequent testimonies. These individuals weren’t crying. These individuals did not have the same pain in their voices. These individuals began their testimonies with, “Yeah. I also was raped.” These testimonies, one after another, expressed an increased level of wrong that was committed against these victims. What began as a heart-felt share session, quickly devolved into a one-upmanship of victimhood.
Today’s gender identity movement is yet another example. Labelling yourself openly as a pan-sexual, transgendered or other-kin for the sake of doing so, is an attempt to forge some semblance of individual identity and meaning, evidenced by the fact that the only people who truly need to know about your genitals and sexual proclivities are the people you intend to date or fornicate with. To put forth this identity label on anything other than a dating website, or to someone you genuinely believed you were going to be with, is an attempt to firstly, give yourself an identity, and secondly, give yourself an identity that is accepted by those who would not allow you an identity, unless it was one that had been pre-approved by those who determine what does and does not constitute ‘privilege’. Another thing to consider as well, is the fact that there can be no other individual with that specific an identity. Using a myriad of descriptors to define yourself provides a person with a unique individual identity. At the risk of making a lame joke, no two snowflakes are alike.
We have now reached a place in western society where it is viewed as cool, sexy and trendy to be deficient, or have lived through unfavourable circumstances. This is, in part, is an attempt to find an individual identity now that traditional identities have been destroyed. These new identities are ones approved by the political left, ones that put a person on par with the left’s cherished pet groups, and ones that absolve a person of the stain of white, western "privilege". A flawed identity, is at the very least, an identity.