A Nation of Victims?

The conservative side of the blogosphere (National Review Online, Instapundit, Commentary, etc.) has been alight with articles about an analysis by two sociologists describing the changes in western culture from having been based first on personal honor (requiring the occasional duel or whatnot), then later on individual dignity, to now emphasizing personal victimhood. To quote a summary by Jonathan Haidt (http://righteousmind.com/where-microaggressions-really-come-from/ ):

“Campbell and Manning describe how this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture. But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized. It is the very presence of such administrative bodies, within a culture that is highly egalitarian and diverse (i.e., many college campuses) that gives rise to intense efforts to identify oneself as a fragile and aggrieved victim.” And:

“The key idea is that the new moral culture of victimhood fosters “moral dependence” and an atrophying of the ability to handle small interpersonal matters on one’s own. At the same time that it weakens individuals, it creates a society of constant and intense moral conflict as people compete for status as victims or as defenders of victims.”

The observation that victimhood is now prized in western culture is sharp, but I think the description of its cause is incomplete. Rather than focusing on the emphasis on victimhood on college campuses which, as the authors posit, is no doubt related to the presence of (governmentally encouraged or required) administrative bodies that both encourage and mediate such concerns, why not look for the cause of the emergence of a culture of victimhood in society as a whole? To me, the cause is the seemingly inexorable growth of the entitlement/administrative state, in which for many, or even most, Americans how much you get (from the government, rather than from your own efforts) depends on your inclusion in groups favored by “virtue” (if you will) of the group’s perceived relative need or victim status.

In other words, we are moving toward a culture of victimhood and away from one based on dignity because entitlements and rules, an ever-larger factor in our lives, are supplanting – and often in conflict with – individual rights; for too many, the freedom of the individual that has traditionally enabled – and required – him or her to produce enough to meet his or her needs is now seen as less important than what he or she can get from the state – and that is always maximized by a sense of victimhood.

So gradually, as discussed in Freedom, an emphasis on individual rights is supplanted by a clamor for legal entitlements to meet perceived needs and redress alleged wrongs. We are incentivized to become a nation of dependents, each pleading our alleged victimhood.

This cultural change is what happens when getting money from the government, and following its arcane rules and social signals, is the biggest game in town.

 

M.H. Johnston 9/30/15

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