Are We All Victims Now?

In a true tour de force, Philip Stephens of the Financial Times published an Op-Ed today suggesting that we have entered a period of time where victimization is now regarded by many to be the highest virtue.

We live in the age of victimhood. Wherever you look there is someone with a grievance. The richer and more powerful they are, the bigger the wrong that must be righted. Political leaders, bankers, corporate bosses and the plutocrats of the hedge fund industry have joined the poor and disadvantaged among the swelling ranks of the oppressed.

Of course the target for Mr. Stephens does not immediately lend itself to the same interpretation as that of the Radical Brownies, but the bridge is there, best illustrated by the 2006 white paper “We’re (Nearly) All Victims Now! How political correctness is undermining our liberal culture” by David G. Green. While I find the entire paper presciently fascinating, I find the below examples most pressing:

Victim status can alter the balance of power in the work‐ place by making it more difficult for employers to object to conduct that is open to valid criticism. Ironically Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner who has been one of the champions of political correctness, has found that his ability to manage gay or ethnic minority officers has been weakened. He recently moved Brian Paddick to another position and altered the management responsibilities of Tarique Ghaffur. The Guardian remarked that Paddick was the highest ranked openly gay officer and that Ghaffur was the Met’s most senior ethnic‐minority officer, and quoted George Rhodes, chairman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, as saying, ‘What message does this send about respect and reflecting diversity in the police service?’

The spread of Political Correctness has created another ally of the traditional “victim group”, those who are convinced to renounce their supposed inherent privilege and urged to feel offense on the behalf of the aggrieved. To reject third-party grievance is to become tacitly a party to the structure which maintains the inherent privilege, to accept becoming an active ally of the victim group is the acceptance that the privilege exists and is unjust.

To gain political recognition it is necessary to build a coalition to put pressure on political parties. This need encourages groups to define themselves as widely as possible, to increase their voting impact. But it is not just that existing groups seek recruits, it is also that individuals who previously did not see themselves as victims change their attitude in order to profit. I recall a successful American business leader telling me about his mixed feelings about using his victim status. He was a Puerto Rican who had been very successful in America without playing the ‘race card’. Yet, when his daughter was 18 he learned that he could get her into a better college if he highlighted her race. He believed in ‘making it’ on your own merits, but admitted that the temptation was too much and he seized the opportunity to benefit his daughter, despite his feelings that it was unjust.

The pressure groups and their partners in media who are enabling the wholesale attack and dismantling of civil discourse–recently visible in the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere that were used to inflame social tensions in service of a specific menu of agendas–are well aware that they paint their opponents into very precarious corners by framing their arguments in the way that they do. When any rational opponent can be shouted down with an avalanche of “ists and isms” (Racist, Sexist, etc) they are able to control the place and time of battle, one of the surest recipes for success according to Sun Tzu in the Art of War. As all social groupings become increasingly Balkanized, increasingly at odds in competition over a smaller and smaller pie, the conflicts are likely to intensify and escalate to levels unseen in Western Democracies in decades.

[Financial Times][civitas.org][New York Times]

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