A new book (and a video) on “Victimhood Culture”

I believe a reader recommended the book I highlight below, which I’ve just finished. It’s written by two sociologists who take a sociological rather than a polemic approach to their topic, so that they analyze both Right- and Left-wing instances of victimhood. (As we all know, both Christians and conservatives often paint themselves as beleaguered victims.) In the end, though, the main topic is the pervasiveness of victimhood culture on college campuses, which means mostly the Left.

Campbell and Manning explain why campuses seem to have become the focus of this culture (I won’t explain that here), and contrast it with two other forms of culture that have existed over history. One is “Honor Culture” (the culture of the Old South, some Muslim societies, and many street gangs), in which individuals are expected to be offended by insults and take matters into their own hands, meting out what they consider “justice” to restore their honor. Another is “Dignity Culture”, in which individuals are supposed to ignore insults, but, if harassment becomes too pervasive or damaging, to appeal to third parties like the government rather than acting as vigilantes.

Campbell and Manning claim that “Victimhood Culture” is a hybrid of these two forms: individuals, seeing themselves as victims (the pivotal aspect of such a culture), easily take offense at slights and insults, real or perceived, and yet rather than rectifying these slights themselves, appeal to third parties for adjudication. In this case, it’s mostly university authorities (and, of course, social media) who are the “third parties.” That explains in part the huge recent growth of administrators relative to faculty members in American universities. Many of these administrators are there to adjudicate disputes or enforce speech or behavior codes.

The Rise of Victimhood Culture is a relatively short and lucid read, and has a lot of anecdotes you might know about, but also many you don’t. Where there are sociological data bearing on the issue, the authors adduce it. They cite one paper on “microaggressions,” for instance, that analyzes whether they are even definable and whether they cause psychological damage (the answers, respectively, are “not easily” and “no evidence”). I’ve cited that paper at the bottom, and, if the link doesn’t work, judicious inquiry might yield you a copy.

I realize that, working on a college campus, I am immersed in victimhood culture every day, and the features of such culture might not be as evident to those who live and work in the real world. Nevertheless, victimhood culture is spreading—now to social media as well as mainstream media like the New York Times and the New Yorker; and it will spread further as the termites dine. I recommend this book (click on the screenshot to go to the Amazon link):

Apropos of victimhood culture, I’ve put up several videos about it showing social psychologist Jon Haidt (see here), who sometimes calls this “offense culture.” Here’s another 11-minute talk by conservative scholar (and atheist) Heather MacDonald decrying that culture and its spread.

MacDonald has been demonized by the Left and deplatformed at several universities for her support of the police (she wrote The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe and has also been a critic of the Black Lives Matter movement). But nobody denies she’s a serious scholar—far from the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and other provocateurs. Nevertheless, this is how she’s been treated (from Wikipedia):

In the spring of 2017, a protest group announced plans to “shut down” her speech on the Black Lives Matter movement at a college campus in California, on the grounds that Mac Donald is, they allege, racist, fascist, and anti-Black. On April 7, around 250 protesters surrounded and prevented audience members from entering the building where she was speaking at Claremont McKenna College, whose president Hiram Chodosh stated afterwards: “Based on the judgment of the Claremont Police Department, we jointly concluded that any forced interventions or arrests would have created unsafe conditions for students, faculty, staff, and guests.” Mac Donald ultimately gave the talk to a small audience in the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum which was also live-streamed on the Claremont McKenna website. Chodosh added: “In the end, the effort to silence her voice effectively amplified it to a much larger audience.”

But listen to what she has to say and tell me if you think her thoughts are sufficiently odious to shut her down, much less see her as someone creating an “unsafe condition” for students. It seems to me that there’s plenty of food here for discussion—at least for those willing to hear her. (If you want to hear the full event—a discussion between MacDonald, Howard Dean, and Steve Pinker—the two-hour video is here.)


Lilienfeld, S. O.  2017. Microaggressions: Strong claims, inadequate evidence. Perspectives on Psychological Science 12: 138-169.


  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I would just say, they need a whole lot more Heather MacDonald’s out there.

  2. GBJames
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 10:00 am | Permalink


  3. glen1davidson
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    The universities are filled with adults who are the least bigoted people in human history, huh? Then she talks of all of the “preferences” used in hiring, which don’t sound exactly make positions open to anyone, with merit being the criterion.

    Of course she has a point about “victim” culture with that, but I don’t see the lack of bigotry. Btw, would they hire someone like Chrstina Hoff Sommers?

    Glen Davdson

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink


  5. Craw
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Rooting out micro aggressions at Harvard.


  6. jpetts
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Want to read the book, but $29 for the Kindle edition? They’re taking the piss…

  7. TJR
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    The replacement of Honour Culture with Dignity Culture is one of the great triumphs of enlightenment civilisation.

    I’ve always thought of Offence/Victimhood Culture as a partial throwback to the former, but their idea of it as a bastard mixture of the two is horribly credible.

  8. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Well there’s a saying that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, but… there’s a flip side which is that just because you are unpopular doesn’t mean you aren’t paranoid.

    For example, Christians are indeed unpopular in America these days, but nonetheless they really DO have a persecution/martyr complex which causes them to grossly misunderstand and misdiagnose the extent, dynamics, and motivations behind their lack of popularity.

    These days the Left has no ability to distinguish principled dissent from their favored positions and genuine bigotry.

    What gives the sense of safety and security is often quite different from what really gives safety. That’s why when you meet a mountain lion, the best course of action is to stay absolutely still, and worst is to run. Counter-intuitive but true!!

    • Posted April 10, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      I disagree on two points.

      First, I don’t see Christians as unpopular, except perhaps with this group. But most atheists disagree with all religions and don’t single out Christians.

      Second, I believe the best thing to do when in the presence of a mountain lion is to stand your ground and make yourself as big as possible by waving your arms and shouting. Mountain lions don’t like uncertainty. Plus, you might attract some aid.

      • Craw
        Posted April 10, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Evangelicals are unpopular. Wishywashy mainstream ones are not.

        • Posted April 10, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          Unpopular with us perhaps but what is your evidence for some sort of general dislike of evangelicals?

    • GBJames
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      “Christians are indeed unpopular in America these days”

      Say what? Are you using some special-purpose definition of “unpopular”? The fast majority of Americans are Christian.

      • Max Blancke
        Posted April 10, 2018 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        I probably drove by 12 churches on my way to the shop today. Not abandoned ones, either. I guarantee that every one has a sizable congregation every Sunday, and many other times as well.
        Such comments illustrate a mindset where people assume that because their personal circle of friends and selected news sources hold an opinion, that those views are shared by the majority of people.
        Of course, “Christian” encompasses a pretty diverse set of values and practices.

        • Posted April 10, 2018 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

          I’m glad you put it that way. I live in relatively godless Southern California but there are plenty of churches and they cause traffic jams when they let out on Sundays. Of course, there are many more people (myself included) that don’t go to church but we aren’t demonstrating outside these churches. To paraphrase Trump, “Most are probably good people.”

        • Harrison
          Posted April 10, 2018 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

          If we’re speaking from anecdote, then as someone with religious family members living in the heart of the bible belt and who’s attended church with them many times in my life I’ve definitely seen those large congregations shrink over my lifetime.

          However I think what the person above meant was that fundamentalism has become a lot less tolerated in secular society and governance. There’s still a lot of openly regressive, religiously-motivated attitudes and beliefs, and they still have their supporters, but the pushback is as large and vocal as it’s ever been and growing.

    • Richard
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      I don’t have to run faster than the lion. I only have to run faster than you.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Ladies and Gentlemen, I should have said that specifically evangelical Christians are increasingly unpopular with the rest of America. This has been especially exacerbated in the Trump era.

      See this month’s Atlantic Monthly

  9. Posted April 10, 2018 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I know we don’t really want to go there but aren’t the main causes of the victimhood culture the various movements themselves (women’s right, anti-racism, inclusiveness, etc.)? I see this as the elephant in this particular room.

    First, let me state that I support what these movements stand for. However, in effect they told people that they were victims. Some speakers focused on pride but many explained to members of their target group that they were victims and needed to stand up for their rights. A leader of such a group, it is in your interest to raise the sensitivity of the designated oppressed members of society, to open their eyes to the abuses that they may not be recognizing.

    It is much easier for group leaders to spend their time enlightening the oppressed than it is to effect change by working within the system.

    Our political climate is also to blame as it has made working within the system to effect change very difficult. This contributes their feeling of powerlessness which leads directly to victimhood.

  10. Posted April 10, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    This “victimhood culture” thing bothers me because there really are lots of victims of various injustices. I don’t know how to do the triage – sometimes even the petulant and whiny for the tiny things actually do have (small) legitimate complaints.

    One should of course divorce that from any proposed solutions.

  11. Posted April 10, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I think that it is natural for any group of people unified by a common trait and plight to unite and struggle for its interests. They may really be victims, or not, or be victims but continue the struggle to get things even after their victimhood disappears. I think the problem is in the failure of the authorized third parties and the whole society to say “no” to excessive demands.

    • Max Blancke
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      Or to assume that they share enough common values that any complaints made are valid, and serious enough to warrant the emotions associated with them.
      This also implies that if one submits to the demands, the claimant will go back to living their own lives, and leave the rest of us alone.
      But this is not the goal. The actual demand is irrelevant. Any gesture of submission is always met with more demands. At some point, the demands get so absurd that any normal person just stops giving in. Then the perpetually aggrieved usually moves onto another victim, whom they will claim has victimized them.

      • Posted April 11, 2018 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

        I am afraid, however, that supposedly normal people have lost their backbones and will not stop giving in, until satisfaction of escalating demands bring society to a very different new state.

  12. Nilou Ataie
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    This is a time for safe spaces! + maybe earpieces so people can hear over shouting?

  13. Sebastian
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    I watched the entire panel discussion. And I don’t know much about that guy Howard Dean but I found it quite remarkable of him to enter a stage with intellectual heavyweights like Steven Pinker on the opposing side being so utterly clueless about even the topics he himself brought up (Google memo in particular).
    I would be pissed if I had my side of the argument represented by someone as unprepared as him. Only his charisma and his opponents’ peacefulnes allowed him to not make a complete fool of himself there.

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted April 11, 2018 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      Howard Dean is an MD, a former governor and a former seeker of the Democratic nomination for president. I didn’t watch this video, but if it’s the one I saw posted elsewhere previously, he was talking out of his posterior nether regions.

  14. Posted April 10, 2018 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Just watched that video. The professional victims are absolutely right to hate and fear her. What she says is entirely sensible and devastatingly inimical to them. Their best tactic for survival is to prevent her and others like her from ever being heard. Joseph Goebbels would have understood this perfectly.


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