in Articles, Opinion

Why Victimhood Is Thriving at College, and What We Can Do about It

Trigger Warning: This ironshrink post contains reference to hash browns.Here’s a modern-day riddle. In a world where predators prey on weakness, why would anyone pretend to be gutless and fragile? Bad guys search for vulnerability in their victims. It makes no sense to paint a target on oneself by feigning weakness.

Yet that is precisely what some college students have done in recent years. They shout it from the mountaintop: We are feeble. Vulnerable. Incapable of weathering even the mildest discomfort.

For example, students at Brown University last year constructed a “safe space” when they claimed to be traumatized by a speaker who was critical of the term “rape culture.” Students were not forced to listen to the woman; she simply visited the campus to participate in a debate. Her mere presence was too much for the students to withstand, or so their actions suggested. Their safe space was equipped with coloring books, Play-Doh, and a video of frolicking puppies.

There is a celebration of frailty on college campuses. Certain students, and the professors who encourage them, seem desperate to convince the rest of us that their universities are hellholes of crime and oppression, and they are the constant victims of thugs and bigots. Here’s a small sampling.

  • In Connecticut, Students at Wesleyan University demanded the school newspaper be defunded, claiming the paper was no longer a “safe space” after running an editorial critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • In Pennsylvania, students at Lebanon Valley College demanded the school rename the Clyde A. Lynch building, named after a benefactor. They found his surname to be too “triggering” to tolerate.
  • At Amherst, students demanded that people who posted free-speech flyers in response to a student protest be subjected to “extensive training for racial and cultural competence.”
  • At Northwestern University, feminist students filed Title IX charges against feminist professor Laura Kipnis after she suggested feminists have become too reactionary and hypersensitive. (The irony is staggering.)
  • Activists at the University of Kansas shut down a sorority’s pediatric cancer fundraiser on the grounds that selling candy canes constituted a “microaggression.” We’ll come back to that term.
  • Student protestors at Yale last year famously berated Professor Nicholas Christakis after he and Professor Erika Christakis expressed reluctance to censor Halloween costumes. Yale’s president quickly undercut the two professors and apologized to the protestors for failing to protect their feelings. Erika and Nicholas Christakis recently resigned their posts after months of harassment from irate students.

These students behave as if their campuses are overrun by racists, rapists, and gay-bashers. If that were true, then advertising their frailty would be like gazelles feigning injury in front of lions.

Any street-savvy gazelle surrounded by racist, sexist lions would try to look tough. Maybe he’d wear a leather jacket and carry one of those big wallets attached by a chain. He certainly wouldn’t hobble around with crutches and an eye patch.

Yet on American college campuses—those alleged cesspools of hostility toward the vulnerable—students proudly wear the mark of the creampuff. Something doesn’t add up.

Ya wanna know what I think? I think they’re faking it.

I don’t believe anyone is truly outraged over candy canes or Halloween costumes. I don’t believe they need puppies and coloring books to salve their emotional wounds. And I certainly don’t believe these students are powerless when they routinely issue demands, silence free speech, and force apologies from authority figures.

So why are the wealthiest and most privileged students on the planet pretending to be tormented and oppressed? I can’t read their minds, but like any good behaviorist I can study their incentives.

First, allow me to dutifully state the mandatory caveat: yes, there are racists and sexists, even on campus. But I defy anyone to produce a single American student whose ambitions and good works are being blocked by campus bigots.

I’m not talking about someone who limits herself because she feels oppressed; show me one who is actually being prevented from pursuing her academic or professional goals. Just one.

Anyone?

I didn’t think so. American campuses do not welcome racism or sexism. But they do welcome a culture of victimhood that causes more harm to students than an army of Archie Bunker frat boys ever could.

Unfortunately, overcoming that culture will be difficult because it is much more than a lifestyle. Being offended on campus has become a profitable industry. Professors and administrators are compensated with money and position while students gain less tangible but equally compelling rewards. Hurt feelings are the coin of the realm on campuses, redeemable for…

  1. a sense of purpose
  2. a light workload
  3. political power
  4. money

Let’s look at ‘em.

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Incentive #1: A Sense of Purpose

I wanted to be Luke Skywalker when I was a young man. Who didn’t? He had purpose and hidden talents. He was cast into a righteous battle against an oppressive regime and he emerged the hero. Any self-respecting young adult wants purpose. That, and beer.

The campus victim industry provides a sense of purpose by offering a righteous (but illusory) battle against an oppressive (but not really oppressive) establishment. The victim industry gives these young Skywalkers a chance to demonstrate effectiveness by “speaking truth to power” using aging, standardized scripts about social justice.

(As an aside, there’s a big difference between justice and social justice. Justice demands fair and equal treatment. Social justice elevates prejudice and favoritism to acts of virtue. That’s why students protest Don McLean for his domestic violence charges but remain silent about Hope Solo’s similar charges. Justice applies to everyone. Social justice applies to the right kind of people.)

This fight for social justice on campus is an illusion because the “power” to which these students speak their “truths”—administrators, professors, and classmates—are hardly despotic. They are the most benign opponents imaginable. These supposed oppressors cower and apologize like battered spouses.

Western college students have no real oppressors to absorb their angst. They have only countless opportunities at their disposal. There is no Monopoly-man plutocrat, no backwoods Klan member, no institutional —ism to block their ambitions.

All that remains for them to protest is the very system that nurtured them. That makes this the strangest group of rebels in history. Rather than attempting to dismantle the establishment, they demand more of it.

The educational establishment is philosophically indistinguishable from its students. Like students, the majority of academics endorse liberal viewpoints—more than 90% in the social sciences. Professors in my own field have admitted their willingness to discriminate “in matters ranging from paper reviews to hiring” against the 6% of their colleagues who are openly conservative (Inbar and Lammers 2012).

So much for diversity. While not all professors are liberal ideologues, liberal ideologues maintain a stranglehold on academic culture and curriculum. When students demand liberal policies like speech codes and free tuition, they are in fact behaving as dutiful minions of the only system that has ever exercised power over them. Columnist Jonah Goldberg said it well:

“You kids think it is somehow rebellious to be liberal. So let me see if I get this right. The administrators at this school are liberal. The professors are liberal. Your high-school teachers were probably liberal. Your textbooks are, for the most part, liberal. Hollywood is liberal. The music industry is liberal. The fashion industry is liberal. Publishing is liberal. The mainstream media are liberal. Silicon Valley is liberal. Believe it or not, most corporations and the overwhelming majority of charitable foundations are liberal. And yet, you think you’re sticking it to the man by agreeing with them?”

It’s a brilliant point, but Goldberg is overlooking something: nobody works for free. Everyone benefits when students pretend to rebel against the evil Empire.

Last year, when Yale was in the throes of its drama over Halloween costumes, a handful of students forced an apology out of the school’s president. “We failed you,” he reportedly told a small audience of professional victims.

Later he sent a campus-wide email in which he promised “a $50 million, five-year, university-wide initiative that will enable all of our schools to enhance faculty diversity.” He also promised to double the budget for campus cultural centers.

From my vantage point, the protest worked out well for everyone. The students got to pretend they were Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star. They fought their very safe battle, for which they received a sense of purpose and a victory lap. Some of them may have even gotten laid for the first time.

But the administrators were the real winners. Yale’s president may have sounded contrite, but I can’t imagine he and his colleagues regretted the opportunity to increase their budget and their authority.

And that’s how the victim industry works. Both sides sacrificed their dignity, and both sides got a nice, fat payday. The only losers were the aforementioned professors Christakis who tried to impede the outcome by defending freedom of expression. They were abandoned by their colleagues and harangued by students until they could stand no more. Let that be a lesson to others.

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Incentive #2: A Light Workload

This may come as a shock, he wrote sardonically, but some college students seek the path of least resistance in their educational endeavors. They want the maximum amount of diploma for the minimum amount of work.

Others, like me, take a more constructive path. You may want to skip the next paragraph because I’m going to boast, but only for one paragraph. I haven’t accomplished enough for two.

I received my doctorate from a fairly prestigious clinical program. For my doctoral paper I designed a curriculum to help healthcare workers handle violent outbursts from patients recovering from traumatic brain injury. It was hard work, and it was rewarding. My curriculum was implemented at a top-tier brain and spinal injury clinic.

Most of my classmates took a similar approach to their educations. They identified problems in need of solutions and did the gratifying work of creating something useful.

But you don’t have to work hard if you participate in the victim industry. You can simply recycle 60s-era theories on oppression, claim to be marginalized, and voila: an easy A. If you regurgitate enough words you can even graduate from lowly professional victim to revered victimologist.

You may have heard of Dr. Melissa Click, the University of Missouri communication professor accused of assaulting and inciting violence against a student reporter.

Dr. Click’s dissertation was titled It’s a Good Thing: The Commodification of Femininity, Affluence, and Whiteness in the Martha Stewart Phenomenon. Sounds titillating, no? At the risk of sounding unbearably smug, I think it’s a shining example of the ease and unoriginality encouraged by the victim industry.

Dr. Click grounded her paper in feminist theory, which is to feminism what Darth Vader was to interplanetary diplomacy. These people are pissed. Their theory has changed very little in recent decades, as Click demonstrated in this section of her dissertation:

“The feminist scholarship that emerged from the early 1970s was founded on a critique of the ways in which scientific discourses, far from being neutral and objective as regularly claimed, were biased, androcentric, ethnocentric and heterosexist and distorted the experiences of those under study. Feminist scholars argued that scientific research produced partial knowledge that worked as violence against non-dominant groups, excluding them and silencing their voices” (p. 57).

The message here, dating from the 1970s, is that science is “violent” toward groups of which she counts herself a member. There are 400 pages of this, none of it particularly insightful or original. And just because it’s long doesn’t mean it’s useful. (That’s what she said.)

The victim industry doesn’t require insight or originality. It only requires a constant stream of false suffering and outrage in order to fuel diversity bureaucracies, like the one at Yale, where grievances translate into funding.

Feeding the beast is easy and formulaic. You simply aim the tired old orthodoxy of victimhood at new targets—Martha Stewart in this case. It’s like following one of Stewart’s recipes, except rather than a nice batch of cookies you end up with a steaming ream of misery.

If you can stand it, here’s another paragraph deep from within Click’s dissertation that captures the philosophy, and the tortured verbiage, that is the lifeblood of the victim industry. Here Click is exploring Stewart’s role in the ImClone stock trading scandal.

“…the inequitable attention Stewart received as the news of her involvement in the ImClone scandal unfolded is based in part upon the gendered, raced, and classed contradictions that my textual analysis and fan interviews revealed. Simultaneously domestic advisor and media mogul, Stewart’s public persona displayed the contradictions with which many contemporary American women live. These gender contradictions, paired with Stewart’s elite whiteness, were at the heart of the many critiques of Stewart before the ImClone scandal. Then, Stewart was largely protected from these critiques by her “good girl” status, which allowed her to succeed in ‘a man’s world’—a capitalist system based upon ‘class stratification, sexism, and racism…’ that Stabile (2004) argues ‘Stewart wholeheartedly embraced’ before ImClone” (p. 328).

Dr. Click clearly despises Stewart for embracing the racist, sexist patriarchy. She also despises the racist, sexist, patriarchs who held her accountable for her criminal behavior. Click doesn’t seem to like much of anything.

If I may analyze Click from a distance, I think I understand why Martha Stewart captivates her. Victimologists recognize two kinds of people: the oppressors and the oppressed. Stewart doesn’t fit neatly into either category, and that must torment the good professor.

I know how she feels. Sometimes I can’t choose between the hash browns at Waffle House or the biscuits and gravy at IHOP.

Whatever her motivation, it’s hard to see how the world is a better place for the existence of a turgid gripe-fest about a woman who creates jobs and pays taxes. Yet students continue to churn out these formulaic social justice dissertations year after year. I know this because I’m forced to weed through them whenever I search an academic journal database for useful information.

There’s a reason students are willing to squander their educational opportunity by writing the next thesis on Ivy League victimhood: it’s easy. The heavy lifting has already been done.

For example, regarding Dr. Click’s concerns about patriarchy and sexism, it wasn’t long ago that Western women faced genuine structural disadvantages. Back then, universities were instrumental in establishing equal rights.

But things have changed. Women now outnumber men on American campuses by 10%, Western women enjoy more options in life than men, and women actually earn more money until their mid-thirties when many choose—of their own free will—to spend less time at work and more time with family.

And let’s not forget that Western women live an average of 5.2 years longer than men. Men are at greater risk for death in every age group, and the disparity is growing (Garfield, Isacco, and Bartlo 2010). Sorry Dr. Click, but you simply cannot make an honest case that Western women continue to be oppressed.

ProTip for Students: You are under no obligation to reenact the glories or the grievances of previous generations.

Nevertheless, the victim industry compensates students for perpetuating the belief that the cruel, white patriarchy is crushing their dreams by allowing them to graduate while adhering to shamefully low intellectual standards.

Of course, professors and administrators are the real winners. In exchange for doling out low-rent diplomas in gender studies or community organizing, they receive a constant supply of grievances they can use to justify funding, staff, and programs.

Welcome to an industry built on the backs of the world’s least industrious people.

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Incentive #3: Political Power

Tinkerbell couldn’t survive unless children believed in her, and neither can the victim industry. It needs students to believe—really believe—they are oppressed. There’s just one problem: they are privileged beyond the wildest dreams of most people past or present. Cultivating a belief that sits in stark contradiction to reality requires the industry to manage perceptions, and the most efficient way to manage perception is to control language.

Here’s an example. Captains of the victim industry would like to eliminate gendered pronouns because they make some people uncomfortable. Victimologists need students to believe that being uncomfortable is the same as being persecuted. They would like us to replace “him” and “her” with words like “ney,” “zir,” and “xem,” proving that there is no inconvenience the victim industry is unwilling to let the rest of us endure.

This is, of course, a bridge too far. People aren’t going to relinquish “him” or “her,” especially the great majority of us who actually enjoy the presence of the opposite sex. But the victimologists’ effort is instructive. Their constant insistence that society must change contributes to the illusion that society is abusive.

Policing speech also gives victimologists the obvious advantage of silencing opposition. They have done so on campuses across America and Europe by turning opinions into hate speech and hate speech into violence. And when professional victims punish people for using the wrong words, they absolve themselves of their own viciousness by imposing standards and training rather than mandates and force.

Leaders in the victim industry have repeatedly shown their willingness to punish badspeak, like Colorado College’s decision to ban a student from campus for making a boorish joke, or the president of Ohio University promising mandatory cultural competence training for all after someone anonymously penned a pro-Trump message on a designated “free-speech wall.”

ProTip for Students: If you find yourself policing speech, then you are not fighting the establishment... you are the establishment.

Victimologists must insist on absolute control over language—right down to the pronouns we use—because their sensitivities are subjective and ever-shifting. The power to police words must therefore be unlimited.

But despite their best efforts, there is one obstacle preventing victimologists from gaining Mao-like control over language: that pesky First Amendment. While many universities conduct what are effectively speech tribunals, the law denies them the authority to decimate the national lexicon.

Professional victims must instead rely on the power of intimidation to silence opposing viewpoints. Their weapons of choice are anger, injury, and righteousness.

Examples? Oh, they’re plentiful.

  • Anger: At Warwick University, a 19-year-old student wrote a personal blog post questioning the value of sexual consent training. He argued that most men “don’t have to be taught not to be a rapist.” This provoked the rage of campus feminists. Like an incensed, pitchfork-wielding mob, they drove him out of classrooms and bars, harassed him on social media, and labeled him a racist.
  • Injury: The rugby team at the University of Mary Washington was permanently disbanded after several players chanted unsavory sentiments about women (though nothing illegal or threatening). Professional victims pretended to be injured and called on school administrators to rescue them. Although the event took place at an off-campus, private house party, university administrators explained that “no student on this campus should feel unsafe, ostracized, or threatened.” (Rugby players notwithstanding.)
  • Righteousness: Like high priests of some primitive religion, leaders of the victim industry understand that self-flagellation is a path to the moral high ground—and with moral high ground comes power. Such is the case when schools like the University of Northern Colorado promise to cleanse their souls by hiring new bureaucrats to oversee diversity. Never mind that students and taxpayers, not university presidents, must pay for these expensive apparatchiks. The appearance of penance is a simple way to look righteous and secure high-paying leadership positions.

(Also in the category of manipulative self-flagellation, I suspect more than a few young men have apologized their way into some freaky, social justice hate-sex.)

ProTip for Students: The surest path to lasting influence is not to become an authoritarian but to become an expert.

This tawdry emotional manipulation is the cheapest kind of power. These are the same shameless tactics used by abusive spouses, con artists, and sociopaths.

Sadly, it’s effective. Too many non-victims walk on eggshells with a constant, nagging fear that we will displease professional victims and suffer their wrath. We have come to believe their happiness is our responsibility, and so like abused spouses we grant them control over our behavior in the futile hope of avoiding the next outburst.

This atmosphere of intimidation creates an obvious political advantage. Others have outlined the professional victim’s political goals at length so I’ll leave it at this: it’s easier to advance your ideas when the opposition is afraid to speak.

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Incentive #4: Money

Climbing the career ladder in the victim industry is like selling Tupperware. You have to start at the bottom and work your way up, annoying the hell out of friends and family along the way.

If you make it to the top, huzzah! Tenured victimologists can sell textbooks to captive audiences, relax into cushy professorships, or become six-figure inclusiveness officers in student-funded diversity bureaucracies.

The cruel joke is that few students will make it to the top. There just aren’t enough gender studies professorships to go around. But who cares about the losers? There’s big money and job security for the winners.

For instance, the University of California system has been facing budget cuts for years, but while arts and sciences are on the chopping block, UC’s massive diversity bureaucracy remains untouched, thanks largely to the generous efforts of student protestors who demand protection from scary badthink.

Like any other industry, innovation is the path to riches. Success belongs to the victimologist who can find new ways to distribute hurt feelings. One of the most successful new products of recent years is the microaggression.

A microaggression is usually defined as “a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.”

Honest-to-God examples of microaggressions include asking someone where they were born, complimenting their grammar, or any other benign exchange a professional victim chooses to be offended by.

Will you indulge me in a brief aside? For some reason I’m reminded of a woman I met in Sarajevo. During the Bosnian War she ran supplies to people who were pinned down by snipers, even after a dangerous encounter with Serbian militiamen. She had an indomitable spirit and told wonderful dirty jokes. She said her sense of humor helped her thrive. For the life of me, I cannot recall her seeking out ways to be offended.

Anyhoo, microaggressions are the latest technology in hurt feelings. They are acts of oppression so minuscule they can only be detected with special skills the diversity industry will happily sell to you.

For example, victimology professors force students to purchase the textbook Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation written by the venerable victimologist Derald Wing Sue. It can be yours for the bargain price of $46.95. The Kindle version is $31.99—more than three times the average price of an e-book.

Victimologists typically consider capitalism a system of oppression, but they clearly understand how to jack up the price of a requisite commodity in a captive market. In fairness, all textbooks are overpriced. But your average victimologist’s contempt for free trade should compel him to reject its benefits. I guess their convictions don’t run that deep.

Admittedly, I’ve never read Microaggressions in Everyday Life and I never will. I was subjected to a snootful of Dr. Sue’s eternal search for the Invisible Bigot in graduate school. (Victimologists weren’t selling microaggressions back then. We had to be offended with good old-fashioned paranoia.)

I’m told Sue didn’t invent microaggressions, he just peddles techniques to help people locate them because they are quite elusive. Since I failed to stay current on advancements in victimology, let’s hear from students who were forced to endure Microaggressions in Everyday Life. Here are a few comments from their one-star Amazon reviews:

“[Sue’s] books (and especially this one) are filled with straw-man arguments and examples. He would have us all cower in fear of offending rather than communicate. If you have to buy this book for class, I’m sorry. I can’t not-recommend this book enough.”

“Sue suggests making microaggressions illegal. Herein lies one of the main goals of this kind of leftist palaver: create a utopian society where feelings, thoughts, and every single action are under the watchful eye of the state. Authors such as Derald Wing Sue, Heeson Jun, and others in the psychology field are riding on the current wave of divide-and-conquer race politics, and it’s unfortunate that their books and ideas are being pushed on naive counseling students.”

“Not only is this a bad book, but it is a dangerous one. It promotes victimhood in its readers, and a self-pitying attitude that fosters immaturity. Life is hard, and it’s not just because of the ‘white man.’ I am not a white male myself. However, I try to take responsibility for my actions.”

Microaggressions in Everyday Life also has plenty of five-star reviews. This one from someone named J.A. caught my attention because of its troubling tone:

“This book shows how covert racism, sexism, and heterosexism are being overtly manifested in subtle but effective ways continuously in our society today. Through media, how we treat each other, and basic world views of American’s [SIC], this book explains why, as a woman, you are depressed and have no explanation for it.”

What a wretchedly sad endorsement. J.A. has clearly bought into the victim industry’s delusional message that the world is full of covert bigots speaking in code and plotting against her.

ProTip for Students: If you need a textbook or a theory to determine whether a statement is aggressive, then it isn’t aggressive.

Microaggressions, like every other offering of the victim industry, are a recipe for depression. By teaching students to relentlessly monitor the environment for imaginary persecution, victimologists are instilling an external locus of control.

The term locus of control refers to the manner in which a person approaches responsibility for the events in his or her life. The person who externalizes (as opposed to internalizing) believes he is the victim of circumstance rather than the architect of his own life. If he fails a math test, for example, it’s because the professor was unfair.

The externalizer approaches life as if luck defines the boundaries for his happiness and success—which happens to be precisely the message sent by the victim industry. If you were born the wrong color, or gender, or orientation, they say, then all is lost and you will be crushed by the heartless patriarchy. Researchers have repeatedly shown that externalizing responsibility contributes to:

  • depression (Culpin et al. 2015)
  • anxiety and low life satisfaction (Warnecke et al. 2014)
  • reduced appreciation for freedom (Verme 2009)
  • self-pity and anger (Stöber 2003)
  • reduced persistence (Nowicki et al. 2004)
  • reduced success (Ahlin & Lobo Antunes 2015)
  • difficulty overcoming physical illness (Helvik et al. 2016)

At the other end of the spectrum is the internal locus of control. The internalizer sees himself as the captain of his own ship. Luck be damned. If he fails a math test, he resolves to work harder next time.

The same body of research describing the dangers of externalizing has described the countervailing benefits of internalizing:

  • positive mood
  • reduced anxiety
  • increased life satisfaction
  • increased appreciation for freedom
  • reduced self-pity and anger
  • increased persistence
  • increased success
  • increased ability to weather illness and life difficulties

The idea of microaggressions, and the victim-based worldview in general, places responsibility for happiness and success far beyond the influence of the individual. How can a person possibly thrive if they believe their options are mysteriously diminished by imperceptible slights? Or if they are somehow harmed and impeded by the thoughts and opinions of others?

To buy into such rubbish is to embrace the dark art of helplessness in which being offended is considered high virtue. Sure, it works on campus, but good luck persuading an employer or a spouse to play along.

Externalizing is not the victim industry’s only means of destroying motivation. It also preaches the poisonous idea that discomfort is intolerable.

Did someone ugly flirt with you? That’s harassment. Did someone pretty overlook you? That’s a microaggression. Does someone have more money than you? That’s an injustice. Any source of discomfort requires the paternal intervention of authority figures, says the victim industry. Discomfort must be eradicated at all costs.

What tripe. Any informed psychologist will tell you discomfort is one of life’s most valuable experiences because it fuels the drive to overcome hardships and lead a values-driven life.

Personally, I doubt I would have obtained a reasonable degree of success had I not experienced the various discomforts of my younger days. I’d probably still be schlepping boxes on a loading dock. Discomfort made me want more out of life.

Victimologists ain’t down with that vibe. By insisting that discomfort is intolerable they are working to deprive students of one of life’s most valuable motivators. This is why no professional victim will ever win the nobel prize in chemistry or appear on the Fortune 500.

ProTip for Students: The world is not trying to make you happy or sad.
That’s good news. It means the choice is yours.

Any college attempting to profit by hobbling students with all the self-pity and impotence brought on by an external locus of control and an unwillingness to experience discomfort should have the decency to disclose it in their brochures.

This is what I find so utterly repugnant about the victim industry. The only real commodity it offers to students is an excuse for being unhappy and failing to meet their potential.

But hey, textbook sales are rockin’.

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Buck up! There’s a Way Out of This Mess.

Getting back to the original question—why would students pretend to be gutless and fragile in a world of predators—the answer is simple. First, their predators are imaginary. Second, these students are anything but fragile. Finally, they are compensated for the pretense. Ironically, that makes professional victims effective (if mercenary) capitalists. Be gentle if you tell them. It may break their hearts.

My decade in higher education offered plenty of direct experience with ill-tempered victimologists. I was nearly kicked off campus for refusing to be bullied into compliance. If I can survive it, so can you.

Before we come out a-swingin’ it’s important to separate the bullies from the well-meaning true believers. Kindhearted people try to persuade rather than dominate, and they’re able to see the good in people with whom they disagree. Bless them for exercising tolerance and the First Amendment.

Professional victims behave much differently.

First, they rely on arguments and accusations that are not their own, and that they don’t understand very well. For example, prior to Christina Hoff Sommers’ recent speech at the University of Massachusetts, students reportedly distributed flyers claiming that she and her co-presenters…

“…all demonstrate either that you don’t give a shit about people’s trauma and pain and think it’s funny to thrust people into states of panic and distress OR that you fundamentally do not understand what a trigger is, what it means to be triggered, and what a trigger warning is meant to prevent.”

In a similar incident at Oberlin College last year, a group of students penned an editorial claiming…

“By bringing [Christina Hoff Sommers] to a college campus laden with trauma and sexualized violence and full of victims/survivors, [Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians] is choosing to reinforce this climate of denial/blame/shame that ultimately has real life consequences on the well-being of people who have experienced sexualized violence. We could spend all of our time and energy explaining all of the ways she’s harmful. But why should we?”

For the love of Gaia, why must they torture language? Are they angry at English?

In neither example (and there are scads more) did the protestors specify what Dr. Sommers has supposedly done wrong. We could explain why she’s harmful but why should we? That is quite literally the weakest argument I have ever heard, and I live with a 9-year-old.

Given their propensity to filibuster, I can only assume these professional victims failed to articulate their position because they don’t understand their position. They sound as if they are simply parroting what they have heard from tenured victimologists.

That’s the first mark of the professional victim. Here’s the second: they will always attack your character rather than your ideas.

During Dr. Sommers’ University of Massachusetts speech, one protester attempted to silence her by screaming “Stop excluding women of color!” and “Rape apologist!” She made no attempt to refute Dr. Sommers’ argument during the open discussion segment of the evening; she simply insinuated that Dr. Sommers is a racist and a misogynist.

Unlike Dr. Sommers, most of us can’t outmaneuver professional victims on their own turf. They can parrot their own gospel for days, even if they don’t understand it. Don’t worry about that. Their words are irrelevant. Their tactics are the issue.

The name-calling, the accusations, the attempt to silence and to control others… that’s where we need to shine the spotlight. These bullies need to be told, like any raging toddler, that their outbursts are unacceptable. In that spirit, here’s my favorite response to the professional victim:

Sorry, kiddo. You don’t get to control me.

What’s the worst they will do? Call you a sexist? A racist? They’ve stretched those terms beyond all meaning. If everyone is Hitler, then no one is.

Don’t be distracted by their words. Engage them on their belligerent methods. If they’re acting like tyrants, say so. If they’re trying to control or silence you, point it out as many times as necessary. Like a child having a screaming fit over a bowl of ice cream, their behavior is the issue, not the ice cream.

Next—and this may be unpopular among other freedom-minded people—I think it’s important to meet these young adults with compassion because they have been cheated and misled.

It’s up to us grownups to help budding victims understand that life doesn’t have to be so miserable. They need to be rescued from this pit of despair, if not for their sake then for our own because students who lack any purpose beyond griping become adults of the same stripe. They graduate from bullying people on campus to bullying people in the real world.

For example, when a recent poll found “nine of 10 Native Americans aren’t offended by the Washington Redskins’ name,” a University of California sociology professor called the poll (and by extension the poll-takers) “immoral.”

He called them immoral for asking a question that led to an answer he didn’t approve of. And to what end? His name-calling doesn’t improve the Native American community at all. He isn’t helping to educate a child, prevent an illness, or even locate a lost set of car keys. It only serves to increase his victimology bona-fides through the illusion that he’s battling big, racist meanies.

I cannot believe students want to be so ineffectual and miserable. Humans generally strive for productivity and happiness. I believe the victim industry attracts students who don’t realize they have something worthwhile to offer. Like the depressed Amazon reviewer searching for the roots of her sadness, I think most of them are seeking an explanation for the emptiness they feel. In fact, I’ll bet you breakfast at Waffle House they have never experienced the dignity of a real challenge.

When people can’t find pride in accomplishment they often turn to the pride of survivorship. That’s why people who are stuck in unrewarding jobs frequently boast about surviving bosses they characterize as cruel and unreasonable. There’s an alluring sense of dignity that comes not only from surviving oppression (especially the imaginary kind) but also in regarding oneself as a better person than one’s oppressors.

The victim industry is safe haven for lost souls in need of dignity and purpose, and it offers plenty of compensation for perpetuating its lies. But it is minimum wage for the soul. To accept payment is to abandon hope.

ProTip for Students: There is no meaning or joy in coveting other people's advantages. Instead, seek joy in meaningful challenges.

I believe we adults have an obligation to show students that we expect great things of them. Challenges, not victimhood, are the path to a meaningful life. If students don’t yet have high expectations for themselves, then the expectation must come from the grownups in their lives. That’s one of the most basic tasks of parents and elders, and research has shown that high expectations from adults have an immensely beneficial effect on a child’s success and happiness later in life (Larson et al. 2015). There is no reason we should lower expectations when those children enter college.

We also know that perseverance and passion for long-term goals contribute tremendously to success and happiness (Duckworth et al. 2007). The victim industry decimates this wonderful trait by selling the poisonous lie that effort is meaningless because the game is hopelessly rigged.

Students need a positive message to counter this dispiriting dreck. I frequently hear them referred to as snowflakes, or worse, and I don’t think that’s very helpful. It might shame some of them into turning away from the dark side, but it doesn’t tell them what to do instead.

Besides, the epithet is demonstrably untrue in most cases. A lot of these kids are full-on thugs in the war of ideas. Let’s be accurate if we’re going to label them.

More importantly, telling people they’re wrong only causes them to argue that they’re right. In this shrink’s opinion, the best answer (aside from keeping our children and our checkbooks far away from victimologists) is to offer hope and inspiration.

Victimologists peddle the false virtue of frailty; we need to show the true virtue of resilience, resourcefulness, and the nobility of the human spirit. They preach intolerance; we need to show that good people can disagree. They teach the lie that discomfort is unacceptable; we need to help students view discomfort as a gift. The younger the child is when she begins hearing messages of strength and nobility, the greater the hope of eradicating this cancer on society.

Frankly, I don’t think you can blame a student for being tempted by victimology when they see so many people profiting by it. But they don’t see the long-term costs—the depression, the paranoia, the lost potential. That’s why it’s up to the adults in their lives to answer every cry of victimhood by saying, “Knock it off. You’re better than this. Let’s find out what you’re capable of.”

Those are the words we need to say. More importantly, those are the words they need to hear.

 

References

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