Monday, January 14, 2019

"Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"

We have long known and studied dignity cultures and honor-shame cultures. Now sociology professors Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning say there has emerged a new kind of social-interaction dynamic: victimhood culture, explaining an incident at Oberlin University.
The Oberlin student [who took offense at an email] took a different approach: After initially emailing the student who offended her, she decided to publicly air the encounter that provoked her and their subsequent exchange in the community at large, hoping to provoke sympathy and antagonism toward the emailer by advertising her status as an aggrieved party.   
 But she was met from the original emailer with even more strident claims that she had victimized him even more. And it went downhill from there - "There is no end to conflict in a victimhood culture."

What's distinguishes this culture from honor-shame or dignity cultures? The professors explain:
It isn’t honor culture. “Honorable people are sensitive to insult, and so they would understand that microaggressions, even if unintentional, are severe offenses that demand a serious response,” they write. “But honor cultures value unilateral aggression and disparage appeals for help. Public complaints that advertise or even exaggerate one’s own victimization and need for sympathy would be anathema to a person of honor.” 
But neither is it dignity culture: 
“Members of a dignity culture, on the other hand, would see no shame in appealing to third parties, but they would not approve of such appeals for minor and merely verbal offenses. Instead they would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue, or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.”
The culture on display on many college and university campuses, by way of contrast, is “characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties. People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth, the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization.” 
It is, they say, “a victimhood culture.”
Read the whole thing, "The Rise of Victimhood Culture" in The Atlantic.

Now I have two responses. The first is that victimhood culture is literally childish. It is a dynamic that resides at elementary-grade level, although, as the professors explain, college students today are far more adept and energetic in it than small kids. It is taking personal disagreements or conflicts to well, this level:

Remember one of the first rules of economics: That which is subsidized increases. When posting one's latest "I'm being repressed!" event across social media or public forums become routine, it will become rewarding. Posters become affirmed in their grievances and over time (not a long time!) want that affirmation again and again. So their level of "I'm offended" get lower and lower, their sprint to public revelation becomes quicker and sooner, and their claims of harm become ever-more insistent and exaggerated.

In short, victimhood culture is not about justice or peacemaking or conflict resolution. Quite the opposite: it is about domination and conflict creation and lengthening the fight, all the better to be affirmed. Victimhood culture is at bottom selfish, self-centered, and ultimately self-defeating.

My second response is that victimhood culture is very specifically contrary to the teachings of Christ, so anyone who thinks him/herself a Christian who engages in it very seriously needs to get a new understanding. Let me start with a referral to my essay of how Jesus rebutted the honor-shame dynamic that was firmly entrenched in first-century Judea, "How Jesus invented individual liberty."

Then how to get even with others the right way.

More urgently than ever, this is what we must teach our children.