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Understanding Victimhood Culture: An Interview with Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning

Bradley Campbell, Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, and Jason Manning, Associate Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University, have been described as “prophets of the academic world” by psychologist Jonathan Haidt, and their new collaborative work The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars, “a book of revelations,” by the sociologist Donald Black. The two sociologists have aimed to supply us with an empirical sociological analysis of the recent moral conflicts that have erupted on U.S. college campuses—and the extent to which these conflicts are spreading outwards into mainstream society.

After reading the book, I reached out to the American sociologists to interview them about some of the key themes of their book, and also to gain insight into some recent cultural trends that were not covered.  What follows is a transcript of our interview conducted via email.

I. Three Moral Cultures

Claire Lehmann: Just briefly for our readers who have not read your book, can you explain the main differences between the dignity, honor and victimhood cultures which you outline in your thesis?

Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning: The three moral cultures are different clusters of traits having to do with what people find offensive and how they handle their grievances.

In dignity cultures, there is a low sensitivity to slight. People are more tolerant of insult and disagreement. Children might be taught some variant of “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It’s good to have “thick skin,” and people might be criticized for being too touchy and overreacting to slights. If the issue in the conflict is something more than a slight or insult — say, a violent assault — you’re to handle the matter through appeal to authorities such as the legal system. Taking the law into your own hands with violent vengeance is itself a serious crime and generally looked down upon.

In honor cultures, there’s a much greater sensitivity to slight. Insults demand a serious response, and even accidental slights might provoke severe conflict. Having a low tolerance for offense is more likely to be seen as a virtue than a vice. Letting yourself be slighted without seeking justice is shameful. And seeking justice is more likely to take the form of violent vengeance. Appealing to authorities is more stigmatized than taking matters into your own hands.

These two kinds of cultures emphasize different sources of moral status or worth. Honor is one’s status in the eyes of other people. It depends on reputation. And while a lot of things might go into making this reputation, the core of classical honor is physical bravery. Tolerating slights is shameful because you let someone put you down without defending your reputation by force. It suggests cowardice. Appealing to the authorities is shameful for the same reason. Virtue means being bold and forceful, aggressively defending your reputation against any challenges, and being vigilant for signs that someone else is probing you for weakness.

Dignity is a kind of inherent and inalienable moral worth. It doesn’t depend on your standing in the eyes of other people. A dignity culture emphasizes that all people have this sort of worth, which can’t be taken away. It’s why an insult can’t devalue you. If anything, overreacting to an offense is unseemly because it suggests you’re not confident in your worth and need to take other people’s opinions so seriously. Virtue isn’t being bold, touchy, and aggressive, but restrained, prudent, and quietly self-assured.

What we call victimhood culture combines some aspects of honor and dignity. People in a victimhood culture are like the honorable in having a high sensitivity to slight. They’re quite touchy, and always vigilant for offenses. Insults are serious business, and even unintentional slights might provoke a severe conflict. But, as in a dignity culture, people generally eschew violent vengeance in favor of relying on some authority figure or other third party. They complain to the law, to the human resources department at their corporation, to the administration at their university, or — possibly as a strategy of getting attention from one of the former — to the public at large.

The combination of high sensitivity with dependence on others encourages people to emphasize or exaggerate the severity of offenses. There’s a corresponding tendency to emphasize one’s degree of victimization, one’s vulnerability to harm, and one’s need for assistance and protection. People who air grievances are likely to appeal to such concepts as disadvantage, marginality, or trauma, while casting the conflict as a matter of oppression.

The result is that this culture also emphasizes a particular source of moral worth: victimhood. Victim identities are deserving of special care and deference. Contrariwise, the privileged are morally suspect if not deserving of outright contempt. Privilege is to victimhood as cowardice is to honor.

We can see examples of honor cultures around the world and throughout history. They tend to have relatively high rates of violence, including such distinctive forms as dueling and feuding. Much of the premodern West can be understood as an honor culture. European elites used to preserve their honor by fighting duels to the death; in the US South, fatal duels continued up until the American Civil War.

The Code Of Honor—A Duel In The Bois De Boulogne, Near Paris, wood engraving by Godefroy Durand, Harper’s Weekly (January 1875)

By the 20th century, though, dignity culture had largely supplanted honor culture in the West. Writing in 1970, sociologist Peter Berger called the concept of honor obsolete, saying it had little resonance with modern people. People no longer lived in mortal fear of having their honor damaged. Questioning someone’s honor would result in a quizzical look rather than outrage. And duels to the death were a strange curiosity of the past.

We argue that victimhood culture, at least in its more extreme forms, is new. We see it in its purest form on contemporary college and university campuses. Manifestations of victimhood culture include complaining about and punishing microaggressions, demanding and creating safe spaces, requesting and requiring trigger warnings, and banning or disinviting speakers who might offend designated victim groups.

II. Moral Hierarchy 

CL: In The Rise of Victimhood Culture, you mention that this new morality imposes a moral hierarchy, with white people being at the bottom and oppressed or marginalised people (victims) being at the top. Can you elaborate on what you mean by a ‘moral hierarchy’?

BC & JM: Making moral judgments elevates the reputation of some people and lowers the reputation of others, so morality is always a source of a kind of social status that we can think of broadly as respectability. Other kinds of status have other sources, so in any complex society not only are some people more respectable than others, but some are also wealthier, more socially integrated, or more culturally conventional. Your position on these and other social hierarchies affects how people treat you. If you testify in court, for example, people are more likely to believe you if you are wealthy, respectable, and so on. And if you’re the victim of a crime, it’s more likely the offender will be brought to justice.

So respectability — moral status — acts like other kinds of status. And since moral judgments give rise to it, it takes different forms depending on the moral culture. Whether it’s important to have a reputation for kindness, chastity, obedience, courage, wisdom, generosity, self-control, or anything else depends on what people value. One culture might see obedience and self-control as key virtues, while another might see them as vices if they mean less individuality and authenticity. Even when different cultures agree on what’s virtuous they might emphasize some virtues over others. This is what happens in an honor culture. Courage, and one aspect of it in particular — physical bravery — is elevated over other virtues. It’s not that people in other cultures don’t value bravery, or that people in honor cultures don’t value anything else, but the emphasis on bravery and toughness in honor cultures leads to a morality that outsiders often find bewildering and immoral.

It also leads to a moral hierarchy with brave, strong, and violent men at the top and the cowardly and the weak at the bottom. Honor is one type of moral status, one revolving around a particular virtue. It arises under particular social conditions such as the absence of a government monopoly on violence, so we certainly understand why honor cultures exist and the logic of their moral system. But we agree with the critics of honor cultures throughout history who have objected to the conflict and violence those cultures produce. We also object to the moral hierarchy of those cultures. Emphasizing one virtue over many others leads to perversities: Cruel men and hotheads can end up being esteemed while peacemakers are denigrated.

The moral hierarchy of victimhood culture has some of the same problems, and it introduces others. Like honor cultures, victimhood cultures emphasize one set of vices and virtues over others. They are concerned with eradicating oppression and privilege, and this single-minded moral obsession can lead to the similar kinds of perversities that come from neglecting other virtues in honor cultures. But even in an honor culture your moral status usually has to do with your own behavior rather than someone else’s. In a victimhood culture it’s instead your identity as a victim that gives you status. It’s not your own virtue at all, but someone else’s treatment of you, that makes you virtuous.

One problem with this is that you end up with a system of morality that doesn’t offer much incentive for good behavior. Honor cultures incentivize bravery while neglecting other virtues. But if you want esteem in a victimhood culture, what can you do? It’s not like you can become a victim. Or actually, you can — you can portray yourself as weak and in need of help, you can portray others’ behavior toward you as harmful and oppressive, and you can even lie about being the victim of violence and other offenses. Victimhood culture incentivizes bad behavior.

Image of first page of the “A Rape on Campus” article from the November 19, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone, which was later retracted in its entirety due to the false claims made by the subject of the article.

The extreme form of victimhood culture we see among activists on college campuses leads to another problem in that one’s status as a victim comes not just from individual experiences of victimhood but also from one’s identity as part of a victim group. The idea is that all members of certain groups are victims, but that no one else is. Activists even argue that whites cannot be the victims of racism, or men the victims of sexism. Likewise, whether people can be victims of new offenses like cultural appropriation or microaggression, depends on their identity. A white person wearing a hairstyle associated with African Americans would be cultural appropriation, for instance, but an African American wearing a hairstyle associated with whites would not be. Likewise, those who have pioneered the concept of microaggression have made it clear that not all slights count. A white male elementary school teacher may experience stereotypes and put-downs, for example, but to call those microaggressions would be a “misapplication of the concept.”

So the moral hierarchy of victimhood culture places entire groups of people at the top or bottom based on the whole group’s victimhood status. And while it’s not always clear which groups qualify, Jonathan Haidt identifies seven groups that are currently treated as sacred: people of colour, women, LGBTs, Latinos, Native Americans, people with disabilities, and Muslims. Under this schema even many minority groups, such as Evangelical Christians, fail to qualify, and any discrimination against them is ignored or celebrated.

We have two problems with this. The first is a fundamental moral objection. We believe in the ideals of dignity culture — that all human beings have an inherent worth and should be treated accordingly — and we object to the new hierarchy of victimhood just as we would any racial and ethnic hierarchy. The second problem is the reactions it may produce. Whites, men, and others who do not have victimhood status are unlikely to accept a new morality and a new moral hierarchy in which they’re at the bottom. And they may end up embracing one in which they’re at the top. We find the recent prominence of alt-right white nationalists alarming, and we worry there will be more of it in reaction to the spread of victimhood culture. It’s a dangerous thing to undermine dignity culture and its ideals of equality.

III. #MeToo Movement

CL: You wrote your book before the explosion of the #MeToo movement. From your perspective, and your knowledge about the spread of moral cultures, do you believe that the #MeToo movement represents a significant shift in victimhood culture into the mainstream?

When we look at the full-blown victimhood culture among campus activists, the moral logic at work is starkly different than what we see in other contexts. But the lines between different moral cultures aren’t always so clear. The degree to which victimhood is a kind of status is variable, so even where dignity culture is still dominant, we might see some tendencies toward victimhood culture.

In the book we talk about the movement against campus rape, and we point out that the movement has support from journalists, members of Congress, and others who are not part of the campus victimhood culture. And rape isn’t a new offense like microaggression or cultural appropriation. It’s also not a minor offense. So the movement as such isn’t a pure manifestation of victimhood culture. But what we do see is that an effort to honor victims leads to credulity even in cases like the rape hoaxes at Duke and at the University of Virginia where it should have been clear that the accusers were lying. It also leads to efforts to weaken the due process rights of the accused. And alongside the more mainstream elements of the movement are the campus activists and others enmeshed in victimhood culture who make more radical arguments — that accusers should always be believed, for example. But so far such ideas haven’t been widely adopted.

The #MeToo movement may be similar. To some extent it may have facilitated the mainstreaming of victimhood culture, but it’s also a mainstream enough movement that efforts to radicalize it and to use the moral language and logic of campus activists seem mostly to have failed. The movement as a whole appears not to have relied on accusations of new victimhood offenses and has focused instead on things like rape, groping, and other kinds of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The accusations against Harvey Weinstein and against most of the other prominent targets of the #MeToo movement haven’t been about microaggressions and haven’t relied on creative ideological expansions of the concepts of assault and harassment. The accusations against Weinstein, for example, include 19 coerced sexual acts and many more instances of unwanted touching and sexual exhibitionism.

Harvey Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment, assault and rape by more than 80 women.

Much of the #MeToo movement might be seen as an expression of dignity culture — an appeal to ideals already widely held in the culture but commonly violated in practice. Women demanding that they not be bullied, groped, fondled, demeaned, assaulted, or harassed by men the workplace, and that the men abusing their power in this way face consequences, aren’t relying on radical feminism or its notions of endemic patriarchal oppression — not usually, anyway. They seem to be trying to bring to light behavior that was already considered wrong but that many people weren’t aware was going on.

But the #MeToo movement is large and has less mainstream elements as well, so some of the accusations have indeed drawn from victimhood culture in various ways. We might think of the most prominent accusations existing on a continuum from Harvey Weinstein to comedian Aziz Ansari. In January 2018 the online magazine Babe published an article by Katie Way about an anonymous woman’s date with Ansari. The article, “I Went on a Date with Aziz Ansari. It Turned into the Worst Night of My Life,” recounts in detail a date between “Grace” and Ansari. Ansari doesn’t come off as particularly gentlemanly in the account, but it’s clear that the story is not about rape, it’s not about sexual assault, and it’s not even about sexual harassment. After going to dinner, the two went to Ansari’s apartment, engaged in sexual acts with one another, and according to Grace, Ansari then kept wanting to engage in intercourse, she didn’t, and she eventually went home. Later in a text message she told Ansari that he had ignored “clear non-verbal cues” and said that he had to have noticed she was uncomfortable.

The accusations against Weinstein, which deal with clear-cut cases of violence, coercion, and harassment, are understandable in terms of mainstream morality, while the accusation against Ansari is understandable only in terms of victimhood culture.

The same perspective that leads to the labeling of uncomfortable conversations as a kind of aggression, or conservative political speech as violence, leads here to the labeling of boorish behavior on a date as sexual assault. To the extent that the #MeToo movement accords a special status to victims, to the extent that it establishes victimhood solely based on whether someone is a woman or man, and to the extent that it blurs the distinction between serious offenses like what Weinstein has been accused of and the kind of noncoercive sexual advances on a date that Ansari is accused of, it will indeed lead to the spread of victimhood culture.

Another thing the Ansari case illustrates is something we have thought of as moral emaciation. Victimhood culture’s focus on oppression narrows the range of moral discourse, and activists seem to be losing the capacity to make moral judgments based on anything other than victimhood terms. It seems that anything activists find bad they define as harmful and oppressive, whether it’s an ugly statue on campus or a bad date. As Mona Charen points out, isn’t what Grace wanted — affection, kindness, attention — what many people want when they go on a date? “What does it say about dating in our time,” she asks, “that those are unrealistic expectations?”

The problem is that Grace has no moral language to communicate this. She can’t describe Ansari’s behavior as caddish, lascivious, or any of the other old-fashioned terms that would more accurately capture her moral reaction. Instead, it has to be oppression, assault. This is probably not good for the #MeToo movement, and it may shift attention away from the kinds of offenses the movement was supposed to call attention to. It also doesn’t help anyone to think better about how people should behave on dates. Moral emaciation leads to moral confusion.

IV. Cultural Appropriation

CL: Do you see the many complaints made today about ‘cultural appropriation’ as being a part of victimhood culture? Cultural appropriation seems to be one aspect of the new morality that most people find baffling. But can it be understood as a culture imbuing certain cultural objects or practices with moral status, that cannot (or should not) be accessed by people who are lower down in the moral hierarchy? Is cultural appropriation in some way similar to a form of moral pollution?

BC & JM: Complaints of cultural appropriation illustrate victimhood culture quite well. As with microaggression complaints, it’s a grievance about a nonviolent, probably unintentional slight that many observers wouldn’t even see as offensive. As with microaggressions, the offense is framed as a matter of collective oppression, of one social group harming another. And in practice, it’s usually an offense defined by identity, something only people in designated privileged groups can be guilty of.

Victimhood culture’s high sensitivity to slight means it continually coins new types of offense. And this is certainly one of the most baffling of the new offenses. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, one particularly confusing aspect is that many of the things that get called cultural appropriation were, until very recently, virtues — signs that one was cosmopolitan and open-minded. If anything, we might expect social and cultural conservatives to be the ones most upset about Westerners practicing yoga or mindfulness meditation, or white kids adopting black fashions and hairstyles. In many cases they are, but these days so-called progressives are often vocal and visible critics.

Your suggestion about moral hierarchy is on point. Though the complaint is framed as a matter of someone dominating or exploiting the vulnerable — in a victimhood culture, virtually all complaints are — it might be more helpful to understand it as a matter of the offenders aping their betters. As sociologist Donald Black discusses in his book Moral Time, various societies throughout history have had rules — sumptuary laws — preventing people from adopting the styles, entertainments, and recreations of their social betters. The Han and Ming dynasties forbade commoners from wearing certain colors of clothing. Premodern Japan had laws forbidding peasants from wearing clothing distinctive of townspeople. In medieval England a law stated that no one under the rank of knight should wear any fur clothing (later amended to allow them to wear distinctive kinds of fur). And no one below the rank of lord was allowed to wear the period’s fashionable pointy shoes. The unwritten norms regarding cultural appropriation seem analogous to these sorts of restrictions.

As you suggest, thinking of it as a kind of moral pollution also might help us put it into a larger sociological context. As sociologist Murray Milner argued in his work on the Indian caste system, sacredness is but a special form of status. It corresponds to what we call moral status in our book, though like honor it might be a particular style of moral status. The sacred is that which is treated as special and worthy of reverence. It must be set apart from the profane, protected by rituals associated with cleanliness and purity. One might immediately think of Mosaic Law, but if we understand it abstractly we can see these sorts of purity rules everywhere, including regarding secular things like national flags and anthems. What is going on when a white Westerner practices yoga or paints in an indigenous style or quotes a lyric from a Beyoncé song? Perhaps it’s like having the unclean enter the temple and put on the vestments. The culture of vibrant, good, brave, people is being polluted by those who carry the moral stain of privilege.

It also seems like there’s also a theme of moral pollution in some of the discourse surrounding “whiteness.” Sometimes the manner in which it’s discussed makes it seem like a curse, or something that spreads and infects places and things as well as people. Hence we see pieces where people complain about the prevalence of whiteness in LGBT spaces, or Taylor Swift exuding whiteness, or, to give a case we mention in our book, people accusing others of asking white questions and employing white research methods.

Conservatives and Victimhood Culture

CL: It was really interesting to read about how conservatives (particularly those who are very flamboyant or attention seeking) have learned to use victimhood culture, or exploit victimhood culture for their own selfish benefit. You argued that this might, in fact, lead to an increased uptake of victimhood culture morality in the mainstream culture. Would you be able to elaborate on this point for our readers?

BC & JM: Victimhood culture is mainly a leftwing phenomenon, but it has a way of spreading. Conservatives and others who find themselves opposed to campus activists might uphold the values of the dignity culture the activists reject, but sometimes they end up departing from it themselves. One way they might do this is by embracing whatever victimhood culture opposes. This can mean being deliberately provocative and offensive in order to get a rise out of the activists, or at the extreme, it can mean embracing alt-right ideologies that reject equality and diversity. But another way conservatives might depart from dignity culture is by embracing the assumptions of victimhood culture and pointing to their own victimhood.

In our first article on victimhood culture in 2014, we pointed to the case of Tal Fortgang, a Princeton student who wrote an article about checking his privilege, as campus activists had been urging that he and others do. The idea was that when he checked his privilege he found in his background a long history of hardship and persecution, including family members who had been persecuted and murdered in the Holocaust.

Now in one sense, that’s perfectly reasonable. It points to the absurdities of the victimhood framework. The grandson of Holocaust survivors might legitimately wonder why he should have the burden of being labeled privileged while others at his elite university gain sympathy and status by labeling themselves victims. We ourselves sometimes wonder why in an academic environment where people constantly talk about disadvantage, inclusivity, diversity, and the like, our working class, small town, Southern backgrounds gain us no victimhood points. So the idea might be, if you’re going to denigrate the privileged and valorize the victimized, at least be more accurate — don’t base it all on skin color, sex, and a few other such traits.

But this easily leads to competitive victimhood, where moral disputes become contests over who can claim the most disadvantage. Conservatives at colleges and universities might be especially prone to embracing victimhood since they can actually make very plausible claims of being one of the most victimized groups on campus. Conservatives are vastly underrepresented among the faculty, especially in the social sciences. Far more sociologists identify as Marxists than as conservatives, for example, and a survey of sociology professors found that nearly 30% of them acknowledged they would be less likely to support a job candidate who was a Republican. Conservatives on campus are also subject to what the activists would call microaggressions or worse if directed toward recognized victim groups. Many of them remain closeted.

The claims of victimhood are understandable, then, but if conservatives end up adopting their adversaries’ assumptions about what constitutes victimhood and what the response to victimhood should be, they’ll become just another force undermining dignity culture. And we’re seeing some of that. For example, National Review published an article by Frederick Hess with the title “When College Presidents Mistake Lib-splaining for Conservative Outreach.” Lib-splaining is presumably like mansplaining, whitesplaining, and other new victimhood culture offenses, and here it refers to a college president encouraging a group of campus conservatives to read more serious conservative works and meeting with them to discuss one of them. As with the other “splaining” offenses, the notion seems to be that any attempt to discuss or explain something coming from an outsider can be offensive.

We also see claims of victimhood becoming a key part of the campus conservative message. Conservatives should definitely complain about the suppression of free speech on campus. But sometimes this takes the form of engaging in intentionally offensive speech in order to get a reaction from the left that then becomes the basis of further complaints. This actually combines both of the dignity-rejecting strategies — the embrace of offensiveness and the embrace of victimhood. Conservative groups that have brought in the provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, for example, seem more interested in stirring up controversy and angering the left than in advancing conservative ideas.

Milo Yiannopoulos

They should have the right to do so, of course, and even when groups have brought in conservative intellectuals campus activists have sometimes reacted in the same way. Still, bringing in someone like Yiannopoulos hardly advances the ideals of dignity. As conservative UCLA professor Gabriel Rossman wrote to the Bruin Republicans recently after they scheduled a talk by Yiannopoulos on “10 Things I Hate about Mexico,” “if your mission is to spread conservative ideas, you should recognize that hosting Yiannopoulos will only render your organization and our ideas toxic.” In that case the group ended up canceling the talk, but the temptation to court controversy through popular, attention-grabbing speakers can be powerful.

Another way that conservatives and other opponents of victimhood culture may end up adopting its assumptions, perhaps unwittingly, is by valorizing the victims of victimhood culture.  Consider the recent case of Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student and teaching assistant at Wilfred Laurier University who was certainly treated badly by the faculty and administration there. In a communications class, Shepherd showed a short clip of a debate on the use of gender pronouns and was called to a meeting with two professors and an administrator, who berated her and told her that showing the debate was transphobic and possibly a violation of Canada’s anti-bias laws. When Shepherd released a recording of the meeting, there was an outpouring of support for her from those concerned about free speech and academic freedom, and the university ended up apologizing.

In the aftermath of all of that, though, Shepherd has become a kind of celebrity among opponents of victimhood culture, with regular speaking engagements and honors, including the Outstanding Student Award from Heterodox Academy and a prominent speaking spot at their upcoming meeting. While Shepherd behaved well in the initial conflict with her superiors, her prominence seems to come almost entirely from her status as a victim-of-victimhood culture rather than from any insights of her own. Her views have been consistently supportive of free speech but otherwise mostly inchoate and rapidly shifting. Initially describing herself as on the left, for example, she released a video recently announcing that she no longer identified this way, citing the left’s blurring of the distinction between white nationalists and white supremacists as one of the main reasons for the change. As Genevieve Weynerowski commented, “This granular sidebar made her centrist bona fides a little hard to swallow.” Shepherd also cited the reaction to her campus group hosting a talk on campus by Faith Goldy, an alt-right activist who once gleefully recited a white nationalist slogan and was fired by the right-wing Rebel Media after appearing on a neo-Nazi podcast. Shepherd is both an opponent and victim of campus victimhood culture, but she isn’t necessarily an advocate of dignity culture and seems increasingly to be employing the strategies of deliberate offense and an embrace of victimhood herself. For many opponents of victimhood culture, though, her status as a victim gives her a kind of moral authority and perhaps even immunity from criticism.

Preserving Dignity Culture

CL: I really liked the way you offered insight and not just condemnation of victimhood culture. How do you remain so detached from your subject without becoming judgemental? 

And finally, what are some simple ways (for those who don’t want to live in a victimhood culture) to preserve dignity culture?  

We both have somewhat analytical thinking styles. And from our early training, we’ve both approached sociology out of scientific interest in patterns of behavior. We each got into studying conflict and social control because that seemed where the action was, scientifically speaking. We were drawn to Donald Black’s theoretical work, which used simple principles to describe and explain social behavior.

In our book we talk about the politicization of sociology. The field has long tended to attract people with axes to grind — mostly liberal or progressive ones, occasionally conservative ones. Even if they take scientific methodology seriously — and many still do — their topics and questions are driven by what they feel passionate about for practical or political reasons. Hence the common pattern of people studying their own gender, race, ethnicity, or else writing about the topic they were doing activism on before deciding to go to graduate school.

That’s not been our bag. Our previous research topics — genocide and suicide — weren’t chosen because we were particularly involved with them outside of sociology. They just seemed like strange phenomena, and topics we could tackle given using the approach we’d learned from Black.

Victimhood culture does hit closer to home for us. Its epicenter is the university, and it has a lot of traction in the social sciences. As academic sociologists, we definitely have practical worries about what the future holds. Even with this topic, though, our initial forays into it were more of a “Hey, this is weird” than “Man the barricades!

Throughout the process of writing the book we were simply more interested in describing and analyzing than merely complaining. Complaint is boring. Analysis is interesting, especially if one is making cross-cultural comparisons and searching for the general principles behind it all. There’s a reason so many of our chapters start with examples from the days of dueling aristocrats. In comparative context, all human behavior is bizarre and fascinating.

We are social scientists, but of course, we are not only social scientists. We have political views and strong moral commitments. Our book considers several consequences of victimhood culture that we, and probably most of our readers, think are bad. Outside of the book, including in The Chronicle of Higher Education, we’ve stated our support for free speech and academic freedom and our belief that victimhood culture isn’t conducive to these things.

How, then, would people who agree with us go about preserving dignity culture?

Jordan Peterson’s rule #6 isn’t bad practical advice: “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” So we might start with ourselves. Can we make ourselves less sensitive to slight? Studying ancient wisdom, learning the lessons of cognitive behavioral therapy, or even absorbing some folk knowledge might be helpful. So might searching for sources of involvement and meaning that don’t revolve around a moral hierarchy of identity groups. Can we find better ways of handling our grievances other than venting online or complaining to a bureaucracy? Talking things out is hard. It requires confrontations that many of us would rather avoid. But like anything, if you can force yourself to start doing it, it might get easier with practice.

We might also focus on the epicenter of victimhood culture — our colleges and universities. Do we know how much of state universities’ funds go to administration as opposed to instruction? Do we know how much of that is for the policing of offensive speech and propagating microaggression theory and implicit bias training? Do our legislators know? Maybe we should call and ask — or better yet, get together a group of a half-dozen friends to call and ask. If it were possible to shrink the university bureaucracy — particularly the bureaucracy charged with handling offensive words and images — it would reduce the moral dependency of victimhood culture. It would reduce the incentives to jockey for victim status and increase the incentives for alternative ways of dealing with problems. It might even make people more prone to talk to talk to one another and speak their minds without fear of reprimand.

Along those lines, another strategy would be to try to reduce the ideological homogeneity of the academy, where a mainstream conservative is a rarer thing than a radical leftist. There’s no guarantee this would increase dignity culture as such — as we’ve seen, conservatives can join in the victim game too. But since victimhood culture is currently most concentrated on the radical left, some of its most severe manifestations involve demonizing those on the right. According to Black’s theory, tolerance of diversity is greater in exactly those places that have more diversity to start with, while concern with cultural purity is greatest where culture is relatively homogeneous. Theoretically, increasing ideological diversity should reduce the degree of ideological intolerance on campus, and so undermine some of the more severe eruptions. It would also provide some more tolerance for those wishing to criticize victimhood culture as such.

For many college students, socialization into extreme sensitivity and dependency began before they arrived. There are signs that children and youth — at least from the middle and upper classes — are more sheltered, supervised, and regulated than in decades past, and that they have correspondingly less practice in coping with difficulties and handling conflicts on their own. Supporters of so-called free-range parenting campaign against this, encouraging parents to allow their children unsupervised play and school districts to provide recess grounds with such dangerous equipment as jungle gyms and monkey bars. One might find ways to encourage these kinds of initiatives locally or nationally, such as by raising money for the legal defense of people charged with neglect and abuse for what many of us would consider a reasonable bit of autonomy or schools held responsible for accidental injuries.

And finally, it’s important to combat victimhood culture and to deal with the problems it creates in the universities and elsewhere, but it’s also important to create alternatives to the universities and the mainstream media where serious ideas can be discussed and debated.

 

Bradley Campbell, Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, and Jason Manning, Associate Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University.  The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars, is on sale now via Amazon. 

Claire Lehmann is the founder and editor-in-chief of Quillette.

76 Comments

  1. WWW says

    The true prophet was the Australian art critic Robert Hughes with his legendary 1993 book, Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America. He had planned all this and 20 years in advance. A genius, literally.

    • Immigrant Striver says

      Yes, I have read that book, and it’s what ran through my head as I read this interview. Hughes’ observations show, if one didn’t know already, that the culture of victimization began well before the 2016 election. Indeed, many of the eye-popping examples in Susanna Hoff Somers’ 1994 book “Who Stole Feminism?” about the culture of victimization among what she called “gender feminists” (as opposed to “equity feminists”) came from an academic journal called “Victimology.” It all goes to show that this sort of thing has been building for a long time.

  2. Matthew B says

    Great interview. Very informative. It’s so refreshing to read such objective analysis.

    • If you’re a regular Quillette reader, there isn’t anything refreshing about that piece of writing. In fact, it rehash arguments use elsewhere on the website.

      • OleK says

        With that type of view, then we might as well stop writing any new novels, make new art, movies, or almost anything for that matter since it’s just a rehashing of a few basic themes.

        Sometimes concepts need rehashing because a fresh look can make people think about things differently or remind them to repeat the past.

        • I agree with you. But in that case, I see people making the exact same type of comments — i.e victimhood this, minorities that…etc. It has become an an echo chamber.

      • Grant Dewar says

        Sometimes a hash is really appetising… great synthesis of views in this piece

      • Immigrant Striver says

        Yes, Campbell and Mannings’ work has been noted before here, and in the Heterodox Academy and even in the Atlantic. Still, I found it interesting and worthwhile to read the first-hand view. E.g., I found their take on Lyndsay Shepherd interesting.

  3. Rainer Rohr says

    Thank you for this timely article. The Rise of Victimhood Culture is on my short list of books to read as I am increasingly running into highly educated, privileged “victims” who won’t dain to reason or present arguments when I disagree with them. I am a white male and I must appear to them as if were the devil himself.

      • Indeed there are. I’m one of them and there are plenty others who are horrified at the patheticisms of victimhood culture and identity politics.

      • TarsTarkas says

        There are many, but those with a lick of sense have learned to remain quiet and keep their heads down if they want to keep their friends and/or their jobs or both, especially if they are low on the victimhood totem pole.

        • Paula Connelly says

          As a white, female liberal I speak up quite frequently on these issues, both personally and on social media. I am middle-aged and I am unafraid of receiving blowback. I encourage everyone to speak up.

  4. Charles White says

    A very informative article, thank you for it. I look forward to reading the book.

    The “Conservatives and Victimhood Culture” was of particular interest. The caution against using leftist technique is valid. However, continuing the example of Ms. Shepherd, where does a young student like her receive the mentorship on campus to be consistent. As stated in the article, the majority of professors are of the victimhood persuasion. There are only a handful of professors that openly subscribe to the “dignity culture” as defined in the article: Campbell and Manning themselves, Peterson, Saad, Harris. Others who may so subscribe hide. This does not provide much opportunity for students like Ms. Shepherd for mentorship. However, more and more professors seem to be coming forward as supporters of academic openness and freedom. This to the concern of the left on campus, because future students like Ms. Shepherd may receive the mentorship to consolidate personal philosophy..

    Maybe the “Intellectual Dark-Web” is “Dignity Culture” on campus?

    • Burlats de Montaigne says

      Honorable mention for Dr. Janice Fiamengo also. An insightful and witty commentator.

  5. dirk says

    Some 15 yrs ago, Oprah Winfri had a guest in her program that was rather obese , in the same year also somebody who told she had been raped (maybe, somebody still rembers exactly when this was). I leaned back before my TV, anxious what she would have to tell again.To my surprise, she was not consoling these persons, but gratifying them with their misery, which, she explained, was no misery at all, instead she was telling them that they were heroes and great persons, as if they were winning the song festival. I found this very strange, and remembered how different things were in my youth. Of course, Oprah was not the first one to express so, but just sensing the new trend, and made it popular, it must have been some pedagogical or andragogical, post-Spock trend, I am not very knowledgable in those fields.

    • Matthew B says

      Funny – I’ve jokingly blamed Oprah and the daytime talk show crowd with the beginning of the ‘victimhood’ mentality that’s become so pervasive.

  6. Robert Paulson says

    “They’re quite touchy, and always vigilant for offenses… But, as in a dignity culture, people generally eschew violent vengeance in favor of relying on some authority figure or other third party. They complain to the law, to the human resources department at their corporation, to the administration at their university, or — possibly as a strategy of getting attention from one of the former — to the public at large.”

    Back in grade school we used to have a word for these people – “pussies”.

    • dirk says

      And also quite different of the cowboy culture, somewhere in-between dignity and honour culture, but less individualistic (serving the community). At least, that’s how I understand the movies, and the ideals in situations without much state influence involved.

        • Charles White says

          Ava,

          Cowboy culture is simply a blue collar culture based on the land just like farm culture is. The difference is the farm labourer works to grow crops and the the livestock labourer works to raise protein. In short, good honest agriculture labour that provides necessities. Nothing wrong with that.

          • dirk says

            With cowboy culture, I hinted more on the well known ( and idealised of course, doesn’t matter here) heroes of the Magnificent Seven and Rawhide , than on the real and ordinary vaqueros or farmhelps. In Europe it’s an insult, free riding farmers that do not comply with the environment and other rules, but that’s a different matter of course.

  7. cyclingmartin says

    Well done! A great read, full of insight. I like the way in which Quilette has nailed central issues for the questions, rather than getting on a high horse — moral or whatever. I’ve ordered the book.

  8. Laura Sauter says

    I’ve always considered myself a “leftist” AND I deplore the victimhood culture. They are NOT synonymous!

    • ga gamba says

      OK, in what ways does the contemporary left eschew victimhood culture? From my view, it’s absolutely fixated on it and creates ever more claims of victimhood.

      The poor are victims of capitalism, so socialised housing is built for them. This is later denounced as stigmatising. Build basketball courts and fence them (to prevent the ball from bouncing into the street or from people playing at 2am thereby keeping the neighbours awake) and the poor fellas are victims of being encaged. The left demands police wear body cameras, and only God knows how much is spent to that end, and then they complain about the cameras when they nullify claims by the oppressed of being victimised by police.

      It never stops, and it’s why many have grown weary of and even deaf to their laments.

    • Jack Danzey says

      Laura,

      I believe that you believe that. One fundamental problem of leftism (not that everything leftist is wrong) is summed up nicely by the old phrase “the left eats its own”. Young leftists do not seem to understand that their new ideas are not quite in line with the ideas of previous leftists. Eventually, however, a new breed of leftists grow up and have their own new ideas. The previous leftist might claim, as you have, that these new ideas are not leftist, but that is the process of leftism. Leftists see their new ideas as changes that were obviously needed, but when even newer leftists come along with ideas that are counter to theirs, they see their brand of leftism as the true brand, and do not understand that what is happening to them is exactly what they did to the generation before them.

      I do not mean to sound hostile to you; I am not. I only mean to suggest that it appears leftism has moved beyond your idea of leftism, and that means that you are no longer a leftist; they have left you behind (no pun intended).

      • Laura Sauter says

        seems that is also true of the right. Many traditional conservatives are appalled by “alt-right,” are they not? The whole world has lost its collective mind!

      • dirk says

        Today in my newspaper: the old left was passionately in favour of Israel, but are now for the Palestine case. And it all can be explained nicely. Free speech (=anti-authoritarian) was something of the left, now of the far right.

        • So? Considering what has happened can it be said to be rational or simply humane to be in favour of Israel? This isn’t about the left and authoritarianism or about right or wrong. It’s about truth.

          • dirk says

            Are you serious Ava? You must be very young, or naive, to say such a thing. In politics, there is no truth!

        • TarsTarkas says

          In the 1940’s, kibbutzes, like anything communistic, were cool with the left crowd, especially since most of Israel’s attackers were kingdoms. As soon as ‘socialistic’ dictators supported by Russia took control of Israel’s neighbors, Israel became uncool.

  9. Ramon Meza says

    Interesting article. There’s more needed on the connection between dignity culture and victimhood Culture, specifically the latter stemming from the failures of the former in a context where honor culture is rejected.

    The part on victims of victimhood culture gaining celebrity was funny and fascinating. I couldn’t help but think of the IDW – Weinstein, Harris, Nawaz, etc… who’s identity seems to be largely based on being victims of victimhood culture. When Ezra Klein accused Sam Harris of not recognizing his tribalness, he couldn’t articulate what it was. This is it !

  10. Joaquim C says

    Great read! helped me putting some order on my thoughts.
    Thanks!

  11. AC Harper says

    …and here’s your thought homework:

    “In your nation which political party can be characterised as a ‘Dignity Culture’ party, an “Honour Culture” party, a “Victimhood Culture” party?”

    I suspect that political parties are rather more malleable than we are led to expect and I worry that they get sucked in to the prevailing culture whatever their principles might suggest.

    • brian jackson says

      “I suspect that political parties are rather more malleable than we are led to expect..”
      Well said. Politicians are by definition status seeking opportunists. Most will jump on whatever bandwagon is most likely to win them the most votes or advance their standing within in their own party. As the pendulum of popular opinion swings from one idiotic extreme to it’s reactionary opposite, wily politicos position themselves to profit from this confusion being sown by a phony left/ right political dichotomy. Notionally left or right leaning individuals share a lot more common ground, interests and enemies than they often realize. Rather than trying to tailor government to best balance the rights and duties of society with those of the individual by means of rational debate, democracy has descended into a cynical personal point scoring exercise, never missing an opportunity to exploit our human tendency toward logical fallacy and tribalism. This political polarization of society plays right into the hands of certain special interest groups whose activities harm us all. Many if not most of the functions of government could be better performed by an efficient piece of blockchain technology.
      I will be the first to welcome our new artificially intelligent administration.

  12. David Norman says

    As others have said, a fascinating read and very illuminating. I do feel though that the criticism of Shepherd is wide of the mark. If you listen to the extraordinary disciplinary interview she had to put up with, and of course recorded, it is clear that she was a real victim. She had the courage to stand up for herself and go public. Yes, she has acquired a degree of celebrity as a result but the fact that her other views may be ‘inchoate and rapidly shifting’ is surely irrelevant.

    The fact that we are discussing victimhood culture shouldn’t blind us to the fact that real victims exist or lead us to think that the true victims of that culture are exploiting that same culture. If dignity culture is to win the battle it is going to need a few heroes.

  13. Same old, same old on Quillette. Any grievances or complaint can only come from race card waving, self-aggrandizing, victim-loving snowflakes. The left has enormous flaws and I do feel that it promote tribalism and to a certain extent victimhood. This is without talking of the fact that often it has no care for reality. However, if the left ideology has so much followers, it doesn’t come from a vacuum. There was a seed for this to flourish.

    • TarsTarkas says

      The seed is called envy, and the left fertilizes it with vast waterings of verbal manure.

    • Why are you on Quillette if you don’t like it? Just to make snide comments that show a lack of understanding of the actual comments? I find it strange that people like you spend your time reading articles that are clearly so wrong to you, or taking your time commenting for such idiots as we who read Quillette. Don’t you have anything more productive to do, or something more deep, insightful, or less predictable to say?

    • brian jackson says

      Absolutely true. The “left” being shot down ad-nauseam by Quillette writers is comprised mostly of post pubescent under graduate university students. Not exactly the most formidable intellectual opponents. Quillette comments is fast becoming a platform for conservatives to stroke each others inflated egos while arguing against a hastily constructed progressive/ leftist straw man.

      • Jeremy H says

        @brian jackson

        Could you point my inflated conservative ego to the “real” left with whom it should be engaging? As a Canadian it often seems that the current Liberal government has been consulting more with these “post pubescent undergrads” you dismiss than the traditional center-left they have historically embodied. There seems to be some actual meat to the strawman up here at least.

  14. the buzz words and axioms, full inversions of word/term to def, are perfect nutshells of the hypocrisy that thrives in what i think is an inverted culture: it is the victims who now attack, who are now the “victors,” for their ill fate and/or failures. “me too” is really me only/me me me. “equal opportunity” is anything but equal. “diversity” is homogeny. it’s all so ironic.

  15. Sean James says

    A recent New York Times piece “Why Isn’t Rape a Priority for the Men Running the Police Department?,” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/11/opinion/sexual-assaults-new-york-police-department.html) is an example of taking a serious topic such as rape investigations and blending it into a victimhood cultural narrative. Even the title’s use of “Men Running Police Departments” suggests women are not involved in running police departments. The real issue is the lack of staffing to investigate sex crimes.

    The lack of police staffing to investigate sex crimes is troubling because it does not allow law enforcement to help all victims, particularly some more than others. Although the New York Times Editorial Board addressed the lack of police staffing to focus on MeToo and women, it failed to address the other victims of sex crimes, boys and men. The sexual assault against men is an afterthought in the chronicles of sex crimes. And with fewer people to investigate, certain victims of sex crimes continue to be abused as limited resources support some victims (mostly girls and women) more than others (boys and men). When we ignore certain victims, we do greater harm. Sexual victimization and gender is a complex issue. In 2017 Scientific American (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sexual-victimization-by-women-is-more-common-than-previously-known/) released a piece about sexual victimization by women. Scientific American makes a good point: “in presenting our findings, we argue that a comprehensive look at sexual victimization, which includes male perpetration and adds female perpetration, is consistent with feminist principles in important ways. For example, the common one-dimensional portrayal of women as harmless victims reinforces outdated gender stereotypes. This keeps us from seeing women as complex human beings, able to wield power, even in misguided or violent ways. And, the assumption that men are always perpetrators and never victims reinforces unhealthy ideas about men and their supposed invincibility. These hyper-masculine ideals can reinforce aggressive male attitudes and, at the same time, callously stereotype male victims of sexual abuse as ‘failed men.’”

    The train of thought in Scientific American is logical. The views may not be popular, but they are ethical and need to find their way into the mainstream press. Many articles surrounding sexual assault do not address sexual victimization as a human issue at a time when gender roles, gender identity, and gender empowerment, and victimhood cultural are drastically changing. Sexual assault and sexual victimization is not a zero-sum, gender game; it is a human issue that is complex and needs more attention when stories involving sexual assault, sexual victimization, and the resources available to law enforcement to investigate these issues make their way into the mainstream press.

    Reading the New York Times piece and the Scientific American piece well demonstrates much of what is being discussed here when it comes to our ability to discuss topics that have been dominated by certain cultural groups instead of embracing human dignity.

  16. Sean James says

    A recent New York Times piece “Why Isn’t Rape a Priority for the Men Running the Police Department?,” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/11/opinion/sexual-assaults-new-york-police-department.html) is an example of taking a serious topic such as rape investigations and blending it into a victimhood cultural narrative. Even the title’s use of “Men Running Police Departments” suggests women are not involved in running police departments. The real issue is the lack of staffing to investigate sex crimes.

    The lack of police staffing to investigate sex crimes is troubling because it does not allow law enforcement to help all victims, particularly some more than others. Although the New York Times Editorial Board addressed the lack of police staffing to focus on MeToo and women, it failed to address the other victims of sex crimes, boys and men. The sexual assault against men is an afterthought in the chronicles of sex crimes. And with fewer people to investigate, certain victims of sex crimes continue to be abused as limited resources support some victims (mostly girls and women) more than others (boys and men). When we ignore certain victims, we do greater harm. Sexual victimization and gender is a complex issue. In 2017 Scientific American (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sexual-victimization-by-women-is-more-common-than-previously-known/) released a piece about sexual victimization by women. Scientific American makes a good point: “in presenting our findings, we argue that a comprehensive look at sexual victimization, which includes male perpetration and adds female perpetration, is consistent with feminist principles in important ways. For example, the common one-dimensional portrayal of women as harmless victims reinforces outdated gender stereotypes. This keeps us from seeing women as complex human beings, able to wield power, even in misguided or violent ways. And, the assumption that men are always perpetrators and never victims reinforces unhealthy ideas about men and their supposed invincibility. These hyper-masculine ideals can reinforce aggressive male attitudes and, at the same time, callously stereotype male victims of sexual abuse as ‘failed men.’”

    The train of thought in Scientific American is logical. The views may not be popular, but they are ethical and need to find their way into the mainstream press. Many articles surrounding sexual assault do not address sexual victimization as a human issue at a time when gender roles, gender identity, gender empowerment, and victimhood culture are drastically changing. Sexual assault and sexual victimization is not a zero-sum, gender game; it is a human issue that is complex and needs more attention when stories involving sexual assault, sexual victimization, the resources available to law enforcement, and the services provided yo victims make their way into the mainstream press.

    Reading the New York Times piece and the Scientific American piece well demonstrates much of what is being discussed in “Understanding Victimhood” when it comes to our ability and inability to discuss topics that have been dominated by certain cultural groups instead of embracing human dignity.

  17. Mike Smith says

    Honor culture does not consist solely of gentlemanly duels among consenting equals, nor is it usually a contest between “manly men.” It is a culture based on bullying. Generally, the “strong” do not attack the “strong.” They attack the weak, but only after carefully weighing the capacity of the weak to defend themselves.
    Victimhood culture is also a culture of bullying. with words they prefer, while stamping out the use of words they don’t like.
    The difference between the two, in practical terms, is nil: each is committed to establishing its “right” to reach its ends by any means necessary.
    Honor culture uses guns and knives and fists. Victimhood culture uses words and whines. The former will take your life, the latter your livelihood.

    • Tim says

      Over the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries, honor culture gradually developed into dignity culture via a change in the concept of the gentleman. In its original form, the gentleman was the man of honor, and was pretty much as described here. He was also generally considered as worthy of honor because of his social status.

      But over the period mentioned, most especially in America, the gentleman became the man who behaved as a gentleman, blending the most important parts of the the cultures of dignity and honor. For him to bully and abuse the weak, to take advantage of those dependent on him, or to allow others to do so, became a failure to live up to the code of the gentleman.

      That ideal has been denigrated for the last 50 years, and we now are seeing the fruits of its destruction. Almost nobody has pointed out that you don’t need to go to the group victim idea to object to, for example, vicious male behavior against dependent women. Cosby, Clinton, Weinstein et al can be entirely effectively denounced as “no gentlemen.”

      The true gentleman would refuse to consider imposing himself sexually on a woman dependent on him, because doing so would mean he would lose his status as a gentleman in his own eyes.

      The denigration of the code of behavior appropriate for a gentleman is seldom referenced in the sexual harassment cases, but I think it explains much.

      • Tim says

        Sorry, forgot to add that the concept of the gentleman also became largely detached from social status and was generally democraticized. Hence, the gentleman was the man who behaved as a gentleman in how he treated others, especially women. It was associated more with the upper classes, but by no means exclusively.

  18. These guys are simply trying to protect the male hierarchy that has privileged them./sarc off.

    You know who else fits the description of over sensitive and appealing to authority? Children.

  19. Darren, Nottingham says

    The whole thing is based on a distorted view of history. More conscripts died in the ten years of WW1 and WW2 than were taken as slaves to the US over centuries (no disrespect). Add to those the civilian deaths, victims of the depression, the flu epidemic, the purges and famines… The first half of the 20th century is a huge memory hole crammed with more actual victims than you could imagine.
    Today’s victim culture would evaporate if it came anywhere near that.

  20. stevengregg says

    Back in the 1990s, women in the Dallas City Council claimed they were victims of society. The black council members rejected that to claim they were much bigger victims than women. Back and forth they argued as to who was the biggest losers, but the biggest loser of all was the city of Dallas who elected these pinheads to govern them.

  21. stevengregg says

    Cultural appropriation is a contrived grievance which lefties employ selectively only to their advantage. For example, most such accusers wear blue jeans. Such pants are inventions of the Mongols to ride horses. The accusers have culturally appropriated them. Denim is a French cloth from Nimes, yet most wearers of jeans are not French. The dye used to color jeans blue was originally indigo from India, yet few of the accusers who tar others as cultural appropriators are Indian. Wearing blue jeans is a volcano of cultural appropriation when you press the looney lefty logic to its absurd conclusion. No pants, no peace!

    Cultures do not have patents on their customs. One way knowledge is spread is through the adoption and mixing of cultures into new forms. There is nothing we say or do or wear or eat that is not a mixture of cultures. Contriving claims of cultural appropriation is an attempt to stop the propagation of knowledge to promote ignorance.

    • dirk says

      Such as potatoes, a crop developed and cultivated by the old Incas. They have vanished from the scene, so, can’t complain anymore. Avocadoes and tomatoes are a gift from the Aztecs to the world. Same story. Why not refuse to appropriate ignorance itself? Now, everybody has embodied it already, without much critique!

    • TarsTarkas says

      Let’s see all those screaming about cultural appropriation give up the use of English, the right to a fair trial before a jury of your peers, free speech, and all those other multitudinous oppressive inventions, traditions, and freedoms of a white heteronormative patriachial western culture and see how they like living in a land where might makes right.

    • Peter says

      These examples certainly show the hypocrisy of those who cry “appropriation!” at every turn — but you’re completely missing the point. The left’s point is not to have a consistent world view that applies equally across all groups of people. The point is to selectively wield power in ways that increase their power and control over others — PERIOD. You can come up with all the funny examples you want, but at the end of the day it literally does not matter.

      You’re expecting this to be a two way street. It’s not. It’s a dark alley and you’re about to be mugged.

  22. After I left a 30-year brutally abusive marriage, the abuser killed himself. For a time, it served me well to think of myself as a victim. It gave me refuge to recover emotionally and physically. Soon I recognized how victimhood limited my recovery. I started thinking of myself not as a victim of domestic abuse but rather the target of a skilled controller. In those terms, I learned how to protect myself from controlling abusers and create an abuse-free life.

    When the victim identity outlasts its value, it becomes a trap. See my blog post

    https://powerfulbeautifulwise.com/2018/02/13/the-victim-stage/

  23. What causes ‘victimhood culture’? Do the authors even attempt to answer that important question?
    (I haven’t read the book.)

    • Jeremy H says

      I believe they imply that victimhood culture is a reaction against (or degeneration of) the prevailing dignity culture, which itself was a reaction against honor culture. In other words, victimhood culture is a kind of substitute honor culture that manifests when the means for defending oneself (or one’s honor) with violence is restrained by a more dominant dignity culture. Also it bestows a certain social status and power upon those who would play the role of priest in this new moral religion; in this sense it’s not really new but a continuation of a trend in the West that began with Marxism. (This is my interpretation or the article; I also have not read the book).

    • James Lee says

      @breathnumber and @Darren, Nottingham

      As Darren says, you are highly unlikely to have a victimhood culture with college students crying “We are in pain!” about seeing the words “Trump 2016” written in chalk, if you have to deal with actual violence and war. While there are undoubtedly many factors that go into the genesis of victimhood culture, the unprecedented lack of threat in the very recent West is paramount.

      I try to make a similar case in this essay.

      medium.com/@james3lee321/why-the-west-has-gone-blind-6ef8996b686c

  24. dirk says

    I wouldn’t be able to write a book on it breathnumber, but the aversion of hierarchy (started in the French revolution and the enlightenment, and developing in socialism, and in existentialism) certainly must play an important role). Also 1968 was a breaking point, but not a sudden one, because the roots had been spread out widely already. Before, say 1800, a strict hierarchy was the rule in society (and in most of the world outside the West they still are), and helped to let things run smoothly among the different classes and familymembers.

  25. A great read, and a well-conducted text-based interview that offers readers more than, say, a looser live conversation-in-performance might. That live format, even in edited transcription, can be vulnerable to tangents, misstatements, sound-bites, and throat-clearing distraction. The choice of slow-motion text allows the interviewee(s) to formulate and express their thoughts in a coherent, considered manner, and the interviewer (CL) to ‘listen’ attentively in the spaces between equally considered and thoughtful questions. More, please.

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  27. sylv says

    A few years back when I first started seeing this turn in left-leaning commentary I was mostly on board because the discussion seemed to revolve around what was essentially etiquette; don’t be mean to people just because you can, don’t abuse your position to demean the people beneath you in the pecking order. I was (and am) perfectly fine with imprecations such as “it is needlessly cruel to mock overweight people for their appearance, or imply that it reflects poorly on other aspects of their character,” or “try not to interrupt other people when they’re talking.”

    I don’t know when I noticed that it was shifting from etiquette — social conventions about how to have more pleasant and fair interactions — to the naked exercise of power that it has so often become. A lot of my social media acquaintances seamlessly shifted from a point of view that quite reasonably urged people to be considerate in their interactions with others, especially online where its easier to be rude, to a point of view that is increasingly proscriptive, threatening, and capricious. The self-appointed arbiters of the new etiquette suddenly find themselves in positions of power and influence, power which paradoxically demands that those exercising it deny that they have it; As one’s position in the woke hierarchy rises, one must turn increasingly complicated rhetorical somersaults to maintain the appearance of “Punching Up.”

    Meanwhile it’s impossible not to notice that this new tone of constant escalating opprobrium is a giant political liability. The superstars of wokeness are winning Twitter and losing the world, while many of the rest of us watch on exasperated, but unwilling to wade in.

    • Potter says

      Yes. This. The original “ Sh!t White People Say” videos were a funny way to gently get the point across that black people don’t like having their hair patted and third gen Americans don’t like people asking, “Where are you *really* from?” It was on par with the tedium of women named Angie, Caroline or Roxanne hearing a guy in a bar sing a certain song to her as a ‘novel’ pick up line or how I get annoyed with strangers (usually little old ladies) touching my daughter’s hair because she’s a redhead. But somewhere along the way, mild annoyance morphed into micro-aggression, oppression and victimhood.

      I’m a big believer in intent. The word aggression implies intent, which is why the phrase micro-aggression is so dangerous to civil discussions on how to be polite to others. The accusers now see the accused as malicious and the accused get defensive about being called aggressive and lash out.

      But my emphasis on intent works both ways. While I refuse to vilify someone who doesn’t realize they are making an etiquette faux pas, the same can’t be said for people who know they’re hurting others with their words but continue to do it anyway. In a healthy dignity culture, there must be dignity on both sides or the system breaks down with one side being the convenient stoic punching bag to the other side’s cruelty. Politeness is emphasized over unlimited free speech.

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  29. Immigrant Striver says

    It occurs to me that Campbell and Manning, who are sociologists after all, just might be conservatives. Or at least liberals in the old-fashioned sense of that word. In which case I think maybe they should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Perhaps they should be kept in a glass-enclosed ‘office’ with a life-like ecosystem inside, and we can all shuffle by to have a look, pointing and oohing and awing.

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