Human beings are complex social animals who evolved the extraordinary ability to empathize with others—especially in their suffering—which further led to the ability to signal suffering to other humans as a strategy to receive help, resources, and social status. This tactic can be morally desirable. For example, people are more willing to donate to causes, such as GoFundMe, when difficult social circumstances are a factor in the request. A just and moral society is concerned with the welfare of those in low positions through no fault of their own.
Wherever benefits can be obtained from exhibiting hard-to-verify personal information, however, there will always be cynical and morally obtuse people looking to cash in on the generosity of a well-intended populace. This unfortunate reality is exacerbated by our modern proclivity to use victimhood as an identity.
Victim identities, deserved or undeserved, are said to warrant special care and deference, whereas “privileged” identities are devalued. Victimhood confers a special status that today generates tremendous power; it can be used as justification for retributive acts against “oppressors,” provide an exclusive moral legitimacy or position to speak to certain issues, and function as an excuse for one’s personal wrongdoing or failures. The allure of victim status—because of the leverage it seems to impart to people who want to obtain power and sympathy all at once—should not be underestimated. Seeking this anointed status, would-be victims often exaggerate the severity of offenses or create these offenses themselves.
Recent research into victimhood signaling found individuals who exhibit high degrees of narcissism, psychopathy, personal entitlement, and amoral manipulation. The frequency with which these individuals signal victimhood predicts their willingness to engage in ethically questionable behaviors, such as exaggerating claims about being harmed in an organizational context.
The Victim Hoax Game
It is difficult to miss the proliferation of racial and other victim-class hoax crimes. Last month, racial slurs and swastika graffiti found at Emory University were revealed to have been produced by a school employee. Last week, at a high school in Missouri, racist graffiti was similarly produced by a black student, marking the second time this situation occurred at this specific school in the span of a few years. This week, a black man with a history of victimhood accusations claimed without evidence that a white woman told him and his fiancé to “stay in [their] hood” at a Williamsburg dog park. Due to a powerful social media following, he was able to contact the woman’s employer and immediately get her fired. While claiming to be the victim, the black man exerted tremendous power over a complete stranger in a way one wouldn’t have thought possible in America a few decades ago. The list of fake or questionable hate crimes is extensive.
Victimhood has itself become a virtue, often replacing merit. In 2019, the College Board announced it was adding an “adversity score” to its Scholastic Aptitude Test, mixing in victimhood with merit. America is becoming obsessed with victimization.
While there exist evolutionary reasons for victim signaling and evolutionary explanations for humans to masquerade as victims, victimhood culture is magnified by the media and given “intellectual” legitimacy by academia. Victimhood culture grows from the same postmodern narcissism of the ’60s and ’70s that gave us critical race theory, gender studies, and cultural anthropology.
The most effective and perverse forms of victim signaling occur not from one’s own personal experiences but from one’s identity in a victim group, often drawn along racial lines. A perceived slight against one member of a victim group serves as a slight against all members of that group. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt identifies seven groups currently treated as “sacred”: people of color, women, LGBTs, Latinos, Native Americans, people with disabilities, and Muslims. Haidt misses the profound omission in his list: white, Christian, heterosexual men, especially those with masculine and traditional values.
This is no coincidence; an attack on Judeo-Christian morality and Western Civilization more broadly is a necessary condition to stripping Americans of individual liberties and destroying traditional values. The tyranny of victimhood culture may come from personal and selfish reasons to gain resources and status but combined with the postmodernist view of oppressor/victim relations, primarily functions—in the aggregate—to remove power from white, Christian, heterosexual men, and Western culture.
Today’s victimhood culture is a damaging and superficial substitute for individual dignity and agency, perpetuated by an elitist class of insidious actors with no actual concern for either. Academia and the media industry are actively interested in pushing victimhood culture and eager to assist in manufacturing evidence to promote an ever-expanding population of victims, thus proving the racist, sexist, and unfair nature of Western Civilization.
A healthy society cannot be sustained with the continual amplification of aggrieved differences between different minority groups. Victimhood culture not only allows the powerful to benefit from the good intentions of others—escaping blame for their own misdoings. It also incentivizes people to be victims, stripping them of their agency and, in so doing, also strips them of any ability to improve their circumstances. Thus the impulse to shift the blame for unfortunate circumstances onto a perceived oppressor, namely Western Civilization. The end result is a pervasive sense of nihilism which favors the blanket destruction of systems over the difficult task of improving them.
The Bait and Switch
Any critique either of the ideology or culture of victimhood is seen as an attack on the “victims” themselves. Men who criticize radical feminists are misogynists, Christians who criticize Islamists are Islamophobic, whites who criticize blacks are racists, and Americans who criticize illegal immigration are nativists. An entire lexicon has grown around this victimhood culture: mansplaining, microaggressions, slut-shaming, and myriad “phobias” (which oddly do not refer to any sort of irrational fear, but instead refer to deviation from liberal orthodoxy). In effect, the Left uses this rhetorical pretense to push “privileged groups” (those with traditional values) to mutely support “victim groups” (those with progressive and culturally Marxist values). This is a clever bait and switch.
Western culture stands against this subversion. It favors justice over a victimhood caste system. It esteems courage over obedience, chastity over sexual impropriety, grit over idleness, and restraint over licentiousness. In doing so, it has long served as fertile ground for societal evolution. Victimhood culture lays waste to such soil. It is a Trojan Horse we accept at our own peril.
We have begun to normalize behavior that our previously civil and ordered society would have labeled pathological. The Left has convinced virtually every major corporation to play along with this victimhood narrative. From my own experience practicing corporate law, it is evident that most corporations go to extreme lengths to hire individuals from victim classes and often prioritize victim status over skill or expertise. Of course, corporate executives obtain short-term gains by signaling their support for victim classes while ignoring the long-term consequences of basing hiring decisions on anything other than merit. We’ve seen through recent advertising campaigns that corporations will pay homage to victim classes and promise enforcement of the values that lead down a path of intellectual and moral decay. Victimhood culture has powerful financial and academic backers—the former seeking maximization of personal profits, and the latter the erosion of Western Civilization.
Victimhood culture achieves this by sowing division and strife between citizens. Hitler convinced Germans they were the victims of international Jews, creating fertile ground for history’s worst genocide. The Hutus believed themselves to be victims of the more successful and less numerous Tutsis, demonizing them, eventually escalating into the Rwandan Civil War. Today, the Palestinian victim narrative prevents a lasting peace agreement with Israel and encourages Palestinians to focus on attacking Israel instead of improving their own society.
To deny victimhood culture is not to endorse freedom of speech bereft of all consequences. Leftists are partially correct when they claim being tolerant requires, at times, a degree of intolerance. They are wrong, however, in delineating areas of tolerance and intolerance. Bigotry repulses most Americans, as most understand it denigrates the human dignity in which we all share. Building a grievance industry to address an essentially non-existent problem is not only gratuitous but counterproductive.
While victimhood culture is most dangerous when tied to leftist beliefs, a focus on oppressor/victim relationships is not inherently wrong. The triumph of the underdog is a common Christian motif, such as the contrast between David and Goliath or between Moses and Pharoah. It is often a good rhetorical tactic and one that conservatives use wisely when speaking out against the deep state. There is also the societal obligation to help those needing protection, and a just society will castigate and vilify those who victimize others. Vigilance is necessary, however, to prevent victimhood culture from replacing our traditional values. Without it, society continues its gradual divergence from what was long considered civilized.