The Attraction of Victimhood
Americans have always rooted for the underdog. Examples abound such as the 1969 “Miracle” Mets. Or the US hockey team defeating the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics in a game known as “The Miracle on Ice.” Some of you ancient ones out there might remember Peter Sellers in “The Mouse that Roared” a movie made in 1959. Or perhaps Finland defeating the Soviet Union in the 1939 Winter War comes to mind. Coming back from the underdog victories of the distant past, how about Brock Purdy, 2022’s Mr. Irrelevant (the last man picked in the NFL draft)? He was called in to replace injured 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and took the team to the NFC Championship (and the 49ers under Purdy are atop the NFC West as I write).
Right now, newspaper headlines and TV news shows are chock full of stories about American college students protesting in favor of those perennial underdogs, the Palestinians. But this is different, and not as heartwarming as the other underdog stories. First of all, are the Muslim Palestinians really the underdogs? There are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world according to the Pew Research Center but only 14 million Jews, outnumbering them about 115 to 1. Soon after the creation of Israel by the United Nations in 1947 nations of the Arab league invaded the outmanned and outgunned country with the intention of wiping it off the face of the Earth. So who is the underdog?
If any ethnicity should be considered underdogs it should be the Jews. Enslaved by the Egyptians, captives of the Babylonians, exiled by the Romans, reviled as middlemen and money lenders for millennia, subject to pogroms all across Europe and nearly exterminated by the Nazis, they are the ultimate underdog survivors. So the Palestinians may not be underdogs, but they are victims. At least according to the new lexicon of the left.
The postmodernist philosophy that permeates leftist thinking these days divides the world between oppressors and the oppressed. Critical Race Theory, which has taken hold of academia, corporate HR departments and is being pushed on K-12 students, defines the oppressors as white people and the oppressed as almost everybody else. Asians and Jews, however, are excluded from this elite brotherhood of the oppressed even though the Asians are clearly not white people and the Jews are more closely related to the Palestinians than European whites. However, Asians and Jews tend to be rich and so must be oppressors, not oppressed victims.
Being an oppressor is bad, so by the leftist way of thinking being one of the oppressed must be good. Even if Hamas rapes women and microwaves babies, they must be good because they are so oppressed. Being oppressed excuses any sort of horrific act. Leftists excuse rioting and organized mass retail theft as normal reactions to an oppressive system.
After rioting drove residents into hiding, Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson stated, “In no way do I condone the destructive activity we saw in the Loop and lakefront this weekend. It is unacceptable and has no place in our city, however, it is not constructive to demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities.” Pity those poor rioting victims.
Victimhood is not only a release from the constraints of civil society, it is now also a desirable social asset. Leftists now classify normal people as cisgender (a heteronormative identity which seems to be almost on a par with white supremacy). Victim identities can feel safe in their victimhood. They are safe from cancel culture. They are safe from microaggressions. They have the fellowship of their fellow victims. The superstars of victimhood are the people who proudly announce their multiple victim identities, known as intersectionality. More and more of America’s youth are identifying as oppressed victims than as normal kids.
The reason we rejoice at an underdog’s victory is that the underdog rose up above their lowly status to triumph against the odds, not that the top dog was dragged down. But dragging down the oppressors is justified. It justifies rape. It justifies murder. And it justifies the extermination of the country of Israel and the genocide of its Jewish citizens.
To understand the role of victimhood in leftist ideology, you have to understand the role of agency in Western philosophy. An agent is defined in my New World Dictionary of the American Language as “a person or thing that performs an action or brings about a certain result.” Agency is the power to perform that action. Western philosophy is dedicated to giving citizens agency, the right to pursue whatever they consider happiness, the American Dream. Citizen agency requires limited government because our rule of law grants government the legitimate use of power to enforce its laws but this comes at a price because the greater the scope of that legitimate power the less agency citizens have.
Victims are, by their nature, helpless and unable to rectify their victimhood. That is why they need big government to rescue them from their misery. They need the power of big government to force the wealthy to fork over their money to help poor victims of the capitalist system. They need big powerful government to give them parental leave, free childcare, unending unemployment benefits and discounted food staples. Victims have no agency. They cannot take care of themselves so they need the nanny state to do it for them.
But right wing people are also vulnerable to the attraction of victimhood. Right wing populists try to convince them that they are the victims of globalist elites that have stolen their jobs and are undermining their culture. The anti-individualist collectivism spawned by the counter-Enlightenment split into left collectivists (communists and socialists) and right collectivists (populists and fascists) as recorded by Stephen R. C. Hicks in his book, Explaining Postmodernism. People attracted to populism also believe that they are victims but to their minds the oppressors are not whites and Jews but global elites and intellectuals.
Victims on the right also need a powerful government that can right the wrongs against them just like the victims on the left. Only a powerful government can bring the manufacturing jobs back from overseas, build a wall to keep foreigners out and fight the culture war on their behalf. Unfortunately, the solution to redress these wrongs is the same. More power to government and to the populist leader that intends to dominate that government. Democratic institutions are sacrificed to the populist leader so that he can more easily right the wrongs that afflict the victims. But like the leftist vision the end result is even more oppression and less agency for the citizens. Just because a victim’s needs are met does not mean the victim is free. The solutions of the radical left and the radical right (or should we actually name them -Biden and Trump) are the same, more power for the government and less agency for American citizens.
The true power of the American people is in their agency, their ability to act in their own self-interest, not in their ability to vote. In the past people around the world have voted to sacrifice their agency for security, and in the process given away their freedom and along with that their security as well. We see this loss of freedom all around us. Remember, democracy is not the goal. The goal is liberty because liberty gives people the ability to live their lives as they see fit, it gives them agency. Democracy is a tool and as with any tool, it can be used for good or evil. In the 2024 election the forces on the extreme left and extreme right want you to sacrifice your liberty, your agency, your ability to live your life, on the altar of government power to address the needs of the many victims.