He is a victim; she is a victim. All those people over there are victims, too.
History will use the term “victimology” to describe the pervasive cultural doctrine of the early 21st century.
By “victimology,” they won’t mean the traditional study of crime victims and the damages done by criminals. Modern victimology, after all, typically views the criminal as a victim of unfairness that motivates crime.
Victimhood has become such a modern form of faux empowerment that we aren’t supposed to address this topic. By doing so, we might re-victimize a victim. We might undo years of progress toward making losing appear as a good thing and winning appear as an unfair advantage. We address it, against the tide of woke sensibilities, because all people matter. No one should fall for the false premise that victim status amounts to success.
Until the late 20th century, victimhood was discouraged in the United States. Parents, schools, universities, the media and entertainment believed success and defiance of hardship improved the lives of individuals and communities.
The old unspoken mantra was “overcome and be great.” Helen Keller, Stephen Hawking, Ray Charles and others with serious disabilities were not victims. They were our heroes and sources of inspiration because they achieved against great odds.
Victors, not victims, ended slavery by smuggling slaves to freedom and winning a war. Victors ended school segregation by fighting and winning in court. Victors reduced hunger, worldwide and nationally, by improving society’s ability to grow more crops per acre at diminishing costs.
Throughout most of this country’s history, those who achieved — by improving the lives of others and themselves — have had the best health care, the best homes, the best cars and the best educations.
Previous generations valued success and viewed victim status as something to overcome, learn from and avoid.
Not anymore. To become the victim is to achieve a pretense of triumph. We glorify victim status and view it as a twisted form of stature.
We tell minority children they cannot succeed because society favors their nonminority peers. We revere Black Lives Matter protests, which highlight grievances and offer no solutions. Meanwhile, as protesters destroy minority neighborhoods, we ignore the public school system’s obscene failure in properly educating minority children.
“Black politicians, civil rights leaders, and white liberals have peddled victimhood to black people, teaching them that racism is pervasive and no amount of individual effort can overcome racist barriers,” wrote the legendary economist Walter Williams, who was Black and died in December.
In pre-victim culture, college students scraped to make the honor roll. In victim culture, they try to find “safe spaces” to protect themselves from “microaggressions,” “dog-whistle” bigotry and racism — whether real or perceived. The message is loud and clear. Do not achieve and conquer and improve the world. Instead, incessantly complain about social injustice. Demonize those who succeed. Mince no words if they are “old,” “white” and “male.”
In their 2018 book “The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars,” sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning document the West’s transition from “honor and dignity culture” to “victimhood culture.”
The authors explain how the old “honor and dignity” system advocated behavioral norms that encouraged achievement. Adults taught children that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That empowering advice reduced the power of the verbal insult.
In victimhood culture, mere words can be taken as grenades. Victimology, Campbell and Manning explain, “increases the incentive to publicize grievances.” Even successful individuals, they write, find themselves craving and seeking victim status. Maybe that explains successful white people who fake Indigenous lineage (i.e. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, professor Ward Churchill), Black lineage (i.e. Rachel Dolezal, professor Jessica Krug), or other minority identities.
Identity politics, in which individuals are stereotyped and treated as monolithic think-alike drones, fuels and exploits victimhood culture. In identity politics, the moral value of an individual has little to do with accomplishments or character and much to do with color, race, religion and ethnicity.
Though expedient in politics, the concepts of “victim stature” and “victim status” are classic oxymorons. No one gets far by wallowing in victimhood, despite all those ignorant lectures in Diversity Studies 101. It is a false-but-enticing promise that harms those who fall for it.
Though great art and music often bemoan life’s hardships, only victors and survivors — not persistent victims — create great music and art. Only victors invent vaccines. Only victors conquer slavery, discrimination and other forms of cruelty. Only victors make life better for themselves and others.
The spoils of victory belong to those who succeed, not those fooled into believing the sounds of grievance might improve their lives.
The culture of victimhood and grievance creates nothing but long-term hardship. The culture of honor and dignity — which conquers problems — made this country the envy of the world. The fruits of success, achievement and survival have foreigners risking their lives to come here.
Let’s stop cherishing victimization and return to overcoming it. In a society of honor and dignity — one that values success — we can help each other achieve for the indiscriminate benefit of all.
The Gazette editorial board
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