Quote of the day: on the benefits of victim status

On pp.48- 49 of his book The End of the Holocaust (2011), Alvin Rosenfield discusses the adoption of the “Holocaust” trope by groups like the Nation of Islam, whose leader Louis Farrakhan argued that “The holocaust of the black people has been a hundred times worse than the holocaust of the Jews.”

I take no position on Farrakhan’s mathematics; what I want to show is how the Oppression Hierarchy arises, and how its adherents benefit from it:

As Christopher Lasch and others have pointed out, a politics of suffering and victimization has been developing within American society over the past several decades, a politics whose proponents draw on the pervasive presence of Holocaust images in order to garner for themselves a certain moral superiority that victims have come to enjoy in our society. In the words of one commentator, “paradoxically, in our era, which proclaims happiness as a universal goal, not only preoccupies itself with—even invites despair over—certain forms of suffering, but also on an ever escalating scale it recognizes, ideologizes, and politicizes some forms of suffering and victims, making them valid, fashionable, and even official.” In such a manner “suffering  becomes a moral identity and a basis for political entitlement.” The philosopher Tzvetan Todorov takes these insights still further:

“What pleasure is to be found in being a victim? None; but if no one wants to be a victim, everyone wants to have been one. . . Having been a victim gives you the right to complain, protest, and make demands. . . Your privileges are permanent.

“What is true of individuals here is even more true of groups. If you succeed in establishing cogently that such-and-such a group has been a victim of injustice in the past, this opens to it in the present an inexhaustible line of credit. . . Instead of struggling to obtain a privilege, you receive it automatically by belonging to a once-disfavored group; hence the frantic competition, not as in international commerce, the status of ‘most favored nation’ but that of the group most in disfavor.”

I’ll add the usual (and unnecessary) caveat that of course some oppressed people must call attention their situation so that others become aware of it. The archetype for that was this abolitionist medallion designed by the Quakers in the late eighteenth century:

But I’ve also seen many people who seem to revel in their own personal “lived oppression” when it is both dubious and unnecessary. The point is that one’s ethnicity, gender, and so on, instantiated as victimization, does not give you moral rectitude, a correct point of view, or the right to shut up or dismiss people from other groups.


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Interesting, and well put.

    … I also like the “show, don’t tell” approach. The blood doesn’t boil that way. Seems rare to me.

  2. yazikus
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    But I’ve also seen many people who seem to revel in their own personal “lived oppression” when it is both dubious and unnecessary.

    But who gets to be the arbiter of whether someone’s complaints/explanations of marginalization are ‘dubious’ or ‘unnecessary’?

    • Posted September 18, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      OTOH, who is the arbiter of victimhood itself. Whether one is fully a victim or just “on the team.” Hence the problem.

      • yazikus
        Posted September 18, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Indeed so. I’m just pondering this article on the heels of the one about Weinstein, where our host wrote that he had been made to ‘flee’ Olympia. That is the sort of language on could use to enhance a victim narrative, though I’m skeptical of its accuracy. Olympia is the state capitol, a place where many people of many differing opinions visit and reside. Where was the healthy skepticism when it came to Weinstein’s claims of victimization?

        • Posted September 18, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

          Didn’t the police warn him they could not guarantee his safety if he returned to campus? Isn’t being hounded by his academic peers with demands he be fired harassment?

          I’m guessing you don’t like the way he has portrayed how he was treated.

          • yazikus
            Posted September 18, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

            The death threats that closed down the campus were not aimed at Weinstein, they were aimed at the ‘commies’ who the would-be-shooter presumed attend the progressive school. And while he may have been roundly criticized by his colleagues, that is far from being made to ‘flee’ the state’s capitol. Also, he wasn’t fired, he resigned, and got a nice check out of it. I think his portrayal in the media was very forgiving, and he speaks well for himself.

            As a side note, he invokes being a Jewish man as one of the reasons he wanted to protest the DoA.

            • Posted September 18, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

              I guess my point is that in the post I was responding to, you were the arbiter of whether his claims were dubious or unnecessary. IOW, you’ve answered your own OP question.

              I suppose you meant it as a rhetorical one anyway.

              • yazikus
                Posted September 18, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

                IOW, you’ve answered your own OP question.

                You got me.
                For myself, as a general rule, if a person tells me they have been victimized/marginalized I’ll be inclined to believe them unless presented with something that indicates otherwise. I think that this general principle holds well with my other life-values, especially the one that goes something like ‘try not to be an a**hole’.

            • BJ
              Posted September 18, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

              You’re forgetting some very important parts of the story.

              1. Campus police called Weinstein at home and told him there was a group of students searching car to car and believed to be searching for him. The school president told the campus police to stand down and not interfere with these students in any way, or with “protesters” in the future (for weeks after), and so the campus police felt compelled to call Weinstein and his wife at home and tell them to stay away from campus because the police couldn’t protect them.

              2. A group of students roaming the campus with baseball bats, following students who were supporting Weinstein and waiting outside their buildings when they would go inside.

              3. Weinstein received threatening phone calls.

              It seems like you’re accusing him of fleeing for the optics.

              • yazikus
                Posted September 18, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                On point one, I would hope that the campus police would work with the city police if the threats were legitimate, not just call him and tell him to stay home. That seems dangerous and unprofessional.
                One point two, there are differing narratives regarding the students with bats. I’ve heard that they were merely trying protect students who felt at risk or marginalized (I do not agree with their actions, and think that they should have responded differently).
                On point three, I don’t condone threatening phone calls or violence of every kind. I hope he reported them to the appropriate authorities.

                I do not accuse him of fleeing for the optics, I’m just pushing back on the idea that he was forced to ‘flee’ the city at all.

              • BJ
                Posted September 19, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink

                I guess I’m confused. If someone leaves their home with their wife and children because they have been repeatedly threatened, you still think it’s not necessarily fleeing? Do they have to actually be physically assaulted first?

                Also, the campus police *could not cooperate with local or state police*. That was the point: they were explicitly told by the administration not to do anything.

                And you can find reports from multiple students on the campus about what that groups with bats *actually* went around doing.

                It really seems like you’re just doing your best to minimize what went on.

        • Posted September 18, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Right. But what video I saw of the events that unfolded at the school, it would be hard not to feel like a victim.

          And language is an important point here. I’m going to point out, as you’ve seen me do before, the internet. Once firebrands, ideologues, agitators had to work through word of mouth and printed material. Now one can find a pundit in the room next door. Not positing a solution, just observing.

          • yazikus
            Posted September 18, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

            Internet + humans has always been a mixed bag. And yes, I would not have protested as those students did, either.

            • Posted September 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

              That’s the main problem with the “aggressive/regressive” left, it’s manufactures victims. Or at least shades those that would visit violence on others as victims.

    • Posted September 18, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      It is often the case that whether a claim is dubious or unnecessary is highly subjective, in which case the answer to your question is; “anyone who hears it”.

      Often times, I can be that arbiter. So can you. So can the man behind the tree. That’s the point; many people claim a privilege they don’t really have from people who do not owe it to them.

      • Posted September 18, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Yes, that’s the case. We can all look at evidence. My claim that I’m a victim because I’m a Jew, for instance, doesn’t carry any weight. I currently experience no discrimination or bars to advancement, and only a very, very few slurs. I am not a victim.

        • BJ
          Posted September 18, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          “My claim that I’m a victim because I’m a Jew, for instance, doesn’t carry any weight. I currently experience no discrimination or bars to advancement, and only a very, very few slurs. I am not a victim.”

          I’m glad you said that. Historical oppression of a group should not mean everyone in that group is somehow vicariously oppressed. I’m not a victim either. I had relatives die in the Holocaust and during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, but that doesn’t make me a victim. I have relatives today who face abuse for being Jewish where they live (mostly in Europe), but that still doesn’t make me a victim. And why would I want to be one?

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:36 am | Permalink

            Well said, both of you.

            Who wants to be a victim?

            (Actually, I’d say anybody who thinks like a victim when they don’t have to, really is one. A victim of their own creation. I’ve come across a few people who I’d say had a ‘victim personality’ and they really did not lead an enjoyable existence).


  3. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    A friend of mine many years ago said that “oppression” is as over-used on the Left as “treason” is on the right.

    He cited Monty Python’s Dennis the Peasant character (from MP and the Holy Grail) as the embodiment of this tendency.

  4. BJ
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I can’t remember if it’s this book or another on the Holocaust and modern-day antisemitism, but whichever one it was put forth the idea that one of the biggest reasons antisemitism is making a comeback — especially on the far left, which is obsessed with its hierarchy of oppression — is that those who engage in these politics on the far left resent any group they consider white being recognized as victims. Since Jews are considered white and are recognized as being historically oppressed around the world, it’s imperative that any victimhood is minimized or outright denied, and that they are presented as oppressors to deny them any place within the hierarchy. And this isn’t true in just the US; one need only look at someone like Jeremy Corbyn, who has consistently managed to get away with antisemitic deeds like calling Palestinian terrorists “friends” and posing for photos with them. Corbyn has repeatedly allied himself with leaders of antisemitic terrorist organizations and Holocaust deniers, among other things (here’s a good article cataloging some of his thinly veiled antisemitic past: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/alan-dershowitz-will-brits-vote-for-hard-left-anti-semite-jeremy-corbyn/article/2624883 ). How does a man like that become the new leader of the left in the UK?

    Victimhood politics is an insidious force. Not only does it lead to fighting over victimhood status to claim Ultimate Oppression, but it splits people into ever smaller groups, and it leads to each group trying to deny the victimhood of others in order to gain more social and political capital. It’s a terribly damaging system to everyone in any society that embraces it. It can lead only to further division and hatred.

  5. jay
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    There is a newspeak redefinition of ‘gaslighting’ I encountered recently and apparently it’s a serious offense in left world: it now refers to attempting to convince a person from a victimhood group that they really aren’t that victimized.

    Horrors. Helping a person get up on their own feet is now a form of racism.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted September 18, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      In a related vein, when listening to one of the oppressed, I often find myself wondering “What would you do if suddenly everything on the planet was made ‘right’?” Or more to the point, since things in our current social environment are actually pretty damn good for most of the people I observe, why aren’t you out doing whatever that thing is anyway?

      It is my distinct sense that we are so far into the culture of victimhood that a lot of people don’t actually have anything they want to do instead. Their entire consciousness is built around negativity. Ask them what they would do if they won a lottery and the answers will still reflect reaction, not aspiration.

  6. Randy schenck
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Degrees of oppression and comparison of one group to another is just meaningless and somewhat juvenile. Who can comprehend a worse condition than the Holocaust. What or who are you trying to impress? Why not just say, my dad is smarter than your dad.

  7. Heather Hastie
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I think this shows the importance of treating all people as in individuals, each according to their needs.

    If you think of something associated with being a victim, like being raped, which affects different people differently. It depends on multiple things like how traumatic the occasion was, the victim’s own capacity to handle trauma, how “bad” the attack was, the support afterwards, and multiple other factors. Some people are able to live a pretty normal life quite soon afterwards and others will have their whole life destroyed. There’s obviously a whole range of reactions in between. Each one is equally valid. The person who’s been attacked should be treated as to his or her need. The important thing is to be understanding and aware of possible issues.

    What the modern far left does is put everyone in the same box. However poor people, for example, suffer more in society whatever their colour, religion, sexuality etc than wealthy people these days. Otoh, being wealthy doesn’t mean a charmed life either.

    We need to treat people according to their needs. Theis a saying about that, but it’s 5am in NZ, so I can’t recall it.

  8. Marou
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Glad of Yazikus’ contribution – this site can sometimes be an echo-chamber – and the well-mannered responses.

  9. Diane G.
    Posted September 19, 2017 at 2:55 am | Permalink


  10. Posted September 19, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Jason Stanley’s article on what his father taught him about the Holocaust is interesting, and related to what I try to do. That is, I regard injustices as in a way belonging to the species (or maybe beyond, in the case of other animals), and so we can work together to fix. Yes, someone has to recognize who actually was killed, punched in the head, stolen from, etc.

  11. Posted September 19, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Glad of Yazikus’ contribution – this site can sometimes be an echo-chamber – and the well-mannered responses.

    • Posted September 19, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the criticism of this site. I suggest you visit other sites that aren’t “echo chambers.”

      What a rude first comment.

  12. Posted September 30, 2017 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    And you can find reports from multiple students on the campus about what that groupings with bats *actually* went around doing. campus constabulary called Weinstein at dwelling and told him there was a grouping of students searching machine to machine and believed to be searching for him.

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