Thursday, April 6, 2017

Why is victimhood all the rage?

We’re living in an age of great moral pressure, even if we lack the words to articulate it. In fact, as Wilfred McClay points out in a brilliant essay called “The Strange Persistence of Guilt” for The Hedgehog Review, religion may be in retreat, but guilt seems as powerfully present as ever.

Technology gives us power and power entails responsibility, and responsibility, McClay notes, leads to guilt: You and I see a picture of a starving child in Sudan and we know inwardly that we’re not doing enough. ...

McClay is describing a world in which we’re still driven by an inextinguishable need to feel morally justified. Our thinking is still vestigially shaped by religious categories.

And yet we have no clear framework or set of rituals to guide us in our quest for goodness. Worse, people have a sense of guilt and sin, but no longer a sense that they live in a loving universe marked by divine mercy, grace and forgiveness. There is sin but no formula for redemption.

The only reliable way to feel morally justified in that culture is to assume the role of victim. As McClay puts it, “Claiming victim status is the sole sure means left of absolving oneself and securing one’s sense of fundamental moral innocence.”

“If one wishes to be accounted innocent, one must find a way to make the claim that one cannot be held morally responsible. This is precisely what the status of victimhood accomplishes.”

I’d add that this move takes all moral striving and it politicizes it. Instead of seeing moral struggle as something between you and God (the religious version) or as something that happens between the good and evil within yourself (the classical version), moral struggle now happens primarily between groups.

We see events through the lens of moral Marxism, as a class or ethnic struggle between the evil oppressor and the supposedly innocent oppressed. The moral narrative of colonialism is applied to every situation. The concept of inherited sin is back in common currency, only these days we call it “privilege.”
--David Brooks, NYT, on our need for redemption