Are We All Becoming Professional Victims?


imageLately I’ve been pondering how difficult it is to have a grown-up debate in this country. By “grown-up,” I mean a discussion where people logically discuss an issue without flying off the handle after being offended that someone actually disagrees with them…

It seels like more and more people are apt to take views personally then are quick to either insult the other party or bring up an anecdotal account of their own suffering that is, in some  tangential way, vaguely related to the issue at hand. The person making the original argument is forced, though social pressure, to concede to the “injured” party or risk coming across as a giant asshole.

Since logically debating an issue doesn’t seem to get anyone anywhere, people are instead falling into who-is-the-bigger-victim contests, where the person who can tell the sadder stories wins.

Sadly, the liberals seem especially prone to this type of argument. I say “sadly” because I’m quite liberal myself, yet find myself increasingly frustrated by my team’s penchant for always favoring the underdog, regardless of any factors at play.

Sure, the conservatives have been giving it their best shot with the “War on Christmas” drama, but they remain true amateurs at pulling our heartstrings, what with all the wealthy CEO’s whining about how poor people wouldn’t feel as poor in the Third World.

And now we have the rise of a new term: microaggressions. “Microaggressions” are small, unintentional insults that supposedly degrade a socially-marginalized group of people in the grander scheme of things.

I can appreciate the thinking behind this term. People have variously assumed I was a secretary, nurse or ballet dancer, for example, on the basis of nothing but femaleness, and one time at college, when a group of students was playing an icebreaker game in which  you had to tell two truths and a lie, most people were more apt to believe that a black student was Magic Johnson’s first cousin than a pre-med student (he was a pre-med student).

However, I also think it’s quite dangerous to decide that every time anyone is offended by anything, no matter how unintentional, it represents a grand insult not only against that person but their entire group which implicates another entire group. There’s a lot of potential chaos hinging on how a random person perceives someone else’s behavior.

On that note, I saw an article recently in The Atlantic that talked about this culture shift. It’s an interesting read.

In a nutshell, the article talks about how society deals with perceived slights. Centuries ago, people operated under an “honor culture,” where they considered insults an affront to dignity and might have a duel or fistfight to sort it out. The downside to this, of course, is violence. The upside is that people probably didn’t react to minor slights and knew they were inviting violence with major ones.

Then, the article says, our society progressed to a “dignity culture,” where violence is forbidden and you use legal means instead, but only for major slights (like theft, murder, etc). Minor disputes were handled by the affected parties themselves, who would either work it out or avoid each other. Independence and reluctance to involve authorities was valued. This is supposed to be the way we handled things in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Now, according to the authors, we live in a “victimization culture,” where being a victim gives you power. In this environment, people appeal to authorities  (and the public) to handle every slight, no matter how unintentional or frivolous, considering it symptomatic of a larger problem. Under these new rules, anyone who has suffered  more or comes from a background of greater oppression calls the shots.

So, what do you think? On the one hand, I think it’s important to give marginalized groups a voice. We need to be able to discuss racism, sexism, classism, and what have you, and need to talk about the bad things that happen in order to do so.

But on the other hand, I’m nervous about our society’s diminishing ability to have a logical discussion that focuses on the issue at hand. Because we seem to focusing debates instead on where your ancestors came from and how sad or angry you are.

For example, a couple of months ago, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about how depressed she was about the recent shootings of black minors. I responded to her by saying I was sorry she was feeling that way and that I hoped things would improve, that our kids or grandkids would live in a better world someday.

I got a pile-drive of angry responses to my comment, all saying that it was just “lip service” and that someone who really cared would be putting their lives on the line to change things right now (not from my friend, but others). I was told I had no place in the discussion, which seemed odd since it was public.

I was pretty taken aback, since I only meant to be supportive, and found myself wondering how any unity could be achieved if even supportive comments were shut down. Of course, as a white person, I’ll never understand what it’s like to be a black person facing these issues, but how will we change  society if we can’t even talk to each other?

Another example: there was a web article out recently which talked about how French parents raise their kids differently,  and how some of their methods led to kids sleeping better through the night, being less disruptive in restaurants, and eating healthier food.

The comments section (as in most) was largely an explosion of defensive anger. People said things like, “I hate French people and French kids grow up to French adults!” Or, “How can anyone ever criticize any children anywhere? You should be ashamed!”

What struck me was the fact that no one seemed capable of discussing child rearing methods and their relative pros and cons. The majority of commenters didn’t logically digest the article. All they took was: Someone said French parents are better so you should insult French people because they are wrong for making you feel bad.

Is this where we are now? Are we at a point where we judge everything by how flattering it is to us personally, and judge people not by their ideas, but by what group they represent?

I don’t know… I think it’s important to care about feelings, to an extent, but I’m a pragmatist at heart, who sees no point in airing grievances without some practical ideas about how to fix them.

Any thoughts?







7 thoughts on “Are We All Becoming Professional Victims?

  1. I agree! It’s the same with immigration which is obviously a sore subject at the moment. People just want any foreign person out without discussing why they are here, what they do and the benefit to our country. My wife is in hospital at the moment and a large number of staff are not from the UK, so if they weren’t here then who would be doing the job? If you support them you get abuse. We segregate ourselves and yet we are all human. Arguments are sadly created through ignorance, fear and without free thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry to hear your wife is in the hospital! I hope she recovers well and hope you are coping well also.

      We have similar immigration debates in America. Recently it has been about the Serbian refugees, but generally it’s about Mexican immigrants, since we have so many (especially in California).

      Mexican immigrants are such a large part of our workforce that we would be in real trouble if they disappeared… I can’t fault people for trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, either. We don’t chose where we are born, right?

      I think much of the fear over here is about driving down wages or losing jobs, so the debates rage harder when the economy is bad. Right now, Donald Trump is a top Republican contender for the next election, and he says vile things about immigrants all the time (calling all of them rapists and criminals, for example).

      Normally, this guy would be a joke, and many of us can’t believe he is doing so well. The only way I can understand it is to believe that some people view him as “telling it like it is” or somehow outside the political machine. I think it speaks to our frustration about not having real conversations anymore… but he is not the answer!

      Hopefully we will come to our senses.

      At any rate, I’m sending good thoughts from overseas to you and wife 🙂


  2. I think this was very well said. Honestly, I’m afraid to say anything any more for fear someone will twist the words, when all you meant was to be supportive or question something, or provide another route of thought. God forbid. So, I simply do not say anything anymore. I see a post, and move on.

    Being in Southern CA, the melting pot of so many individuals of mixed backgrounds and blending of families from so many different countries originally – there are going to be issues, but we should be able to talk about them and contemplate all views. We won’t always agree, but should be respectful and kind. Appreciate our diversity and heritage. We shouldn’t be afraid to voice any thoughts for fear of being chastised for not agreeing.

    I don’t like this trend of “injured party.” I really want those in the same group to stand up and say “Although this person makes some valid points that do need to be addressed, it’s time to stop the poor, poor me. No one is attacking us personally. So the individual with chip-on-shoulder, knock it off already.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s a really touchy topic, but I’ve been frustrated by it for some time.

      What bothers me most is that people can’t seem to have honest discussions anymore. There’s so much hair-trigger sensitivity and everything devolves into a who-is-the-bigger-victim contest, with the biggest victim winning regardless of anyone’s logic.

      I understand it when someone is going out of their way to be insulting or shocking, but having a different opinion is enough to freak people out. And if there are different opinions, how can you find common ground when no one is allowed to say anything?

      No one actually changes their minds, they just keep their opinions secret.

      Southern California? I’m from Northern California (and lived in LA for two years). So, not so different–I wonder how people feel about this in other regions of the country. We definitely have a lot of diversity out here, which probably leads to culture clash.


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