observations and opinion
Any time spent, at all, on social media will reveal the crushingly consistent mindset of the modern age:
It is this last aspect of the phenomenon, our victimhood, which may be the most sour and hazardous cultural development we face. Once a person views himself or herself as a victim, it requires them to identify someone or something else as “the villain.”
The victim, being overpowered and taken advantage of, loses all agency in his/her own life – they become talking larvae, limbless but loudly complaining.
At the same time, the accused (the villain) is caricatured into a monster. The villain’s every word and deed is re-cast into evidence of their perfidy and corruption. That in turn permits the “victim” to say anything they like about the villain, because the villain is “bad.” It also permits us to organize efforts to punish the villain, who deserves whatever he gets, because he is “bad.”
This tendency produces a daily flood of comment and debate, steadily frying the modern nervous system into a twitching mass of pain receptors with mouths. Everybody hurts. Everybody is a victim. Everybody has been wronged. Everybody else is an abuser, a monster, a villain.
We see this in small ways every day. And of course in big ways – exploiting the burbling cauldron of unjustified grudges is how Donald Trump became President.
The most grotesque historical example of this cultural tendency of course, occurred in early 20th Century Germany, where right wing politicians named a particular kind of enemy (Jews) and profitably exploited popular discontent and insecurity into a program of mass torment and murder. But scapegoating and mass victimhood didn’t stop when the Allies liberated the German death camps. It continued and has been actively revived, everywhere around the globe.
Let’s pause for a moment to be clear about this argument: no, not everyone who calls himself a “victim” is a Nazi. No, most modern manifestations of this thinking do not approach the evil nature or scale of what the Germans (and their willing collaborators) did to the Jews and other target groups.
The point of the argument is not to call anyone today a “Nazi” (other than Nazis of course) but to identify the strong similarity in thinking, and lack of thinking, among the different brands of victimhood.
Indeed, most modern iterations of victim-think are terribly mundane and silly. A business owner objects to being forced to pay a 20% wage increase forced by the minimum wage law. He sees himself as a victim.
The employee whose work barely warranted the old minimum wage is getting a 20% raise, for which he has done precisely nothing except have a pulse. If his employer takes any steps to deal with this (asking for more productivity, cutting hours or other costs to offset the wage increase), then the employee feels himself a victim.
The public, happy to guzzle cheap coffee or scarf down cheap donuts, thinks the store owner is a villain for trying to maintain profits. The government happily exploits that popular sentiment by calling the owner a “bully.” Business owners respond by calling the government “bullies.” And anyone who attempts to talk about any of it in a fashion which does not involve screaming slogans and names, is a traitor to both sides.
And that’s just donuts.
Nobody in the donut story is a Nazi. Nor are many people involved, truly victims or villains. They are just people in different circumstances who hold different opinions. Someone with a complaint is neither automatically right or wrong; someone accused is neither guilty nor necessarily innocent. Things are complicated.
And when we face complicated questions of rights and wrongs, we have two choices: always get it wrong – by judging too quickly – or maybe get it right, through a little thing called “due process.”
There are REAL villains and victims in this world, of course, but we are rapidly losing sight of them in the huge crowds of phony ones. If all we hear is the shouting and not the evidence, if all we see is the story and not the proof, if all we register is how we feel and not how we might think, we will make any kind of justice impossible.