Victim culture marks a return to a culture of revenge

Where perceived slights are personally avenged, and the law is supplanted as the final arbiter of justice

Maxwell DeGroat

It’s truly astonishing that no other national political figure beat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to an apology to the LGBTQ2+ community.

In 2008, his predecessor Stephen Harper was first to offer an apology for Indian residential schools. And Canadians have hardly been spared from endless variations on the theme over the past decade.

Similarly, the British government issued thousands of pardons to gay and bisexual men in January 2017.

The British apology does little good for the likes of Alan Turing or Oscar Wilde. In 2016, Lord John Sharkey, the sponsor of the two unsuccessful British “Turing Bills,” admitted that at least three-quarters of the pardons issued automatically under Westminster’s Policing and Crime Act of 2017 would be posthumous.

On Sept. 11, 2015, journalist Megan McArdle published an article on the increasing scramble for victim status overtaking the United States. Her piece summarizes a paper from the journal Comparative Sociology on “Microaggression and Moral Cultures,” explaining how western societies shifted from honour cultures, in which offences are taken very seriously and usually avenged by the one slighted, to dignity cultures, in which personal revenge is discouraged and justice is outsourced to the law.

The sudden uproar over ‘microaggressions’ in post-Protestant societies marks a transition from dignity culture to a victim culture, in which people are encouraged to claim victim status, because victimhood is now a prerequisite for getting redress.

McArdle points out this new “victim culture” lacks the social conventions and safety mechanisms such as rituals to constrain the violence, formalities and extended opportunities for apology that once all helped honour cultures to survive.

“Unless victim culture can find similar stopping mechanisms,” McArdle writes, “it will collapse into the bloodless version of the endless blood-feuds that made us seek alternatives to honour cultures in the first place.”

There’s no evidence of any “stopping mechanisms.” Instead, we’re seeing artificial dodges by individuals to avoid extending victim status to once-favoured groups, and increasing tensions as former out-groups contest their levels of victimhood.

Aggressive appeals to victimhood over Trinity Western University’s proposed law school, and the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission are being challenged at the supreme courts of Canada and the United States, where they may only be stopped by the remnants of classical liberalism embedded in our constitutional orders.

For now, this cohort is mostly confined to university campuses. But every human rights or truth and reconciliation commission (or parliamentary apology) represents an effort by government to bring the victim mindset to the wider world.

The victim culture is a product of the overextension and collapse of liberalism, which, as Patrick J. Deneen writes in his upcoming book, is an “anti-culture,” a “comprehensive effort to displace cultural forms as the ground condition of … liberty.” These displaced cultural forms include all of the stopping mechanisms that the victim culture needs to be sustainable.

Ultimately, we may be sorrier for all the apologies than the sins they fail to absolve.

Maxwell DeGroat is a lawyer and a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

victim mindset, victim culture, culture of revenge

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