Traditionally, almost every culture had discouraged victim mentality, i.e. the worldview of oneself as a victim of external circumstances, and instead encouraged everyone to adopt a can-do attitude. The downside was that the protests of those on the receiving end of very real injustices were generally dismissed. Possibly as an overreaction to this history, nowadays some progressives are effectively encouraging women, ethnic minorities and LGBT individuals to adopt a victim mentality. Of course, this more than solves the traditional problem of dismissing protests against injustice. But going too far in the other direction may also have unintended consequences.
Don’t get me wrong. We need to recognise the actual injustices that are happening out there, so we can remedy the situation. Encouraging minorities to speak up about the actual injustices they face in their lives can provide all of us with much needed insight. However, when one’s identity and worldview is almost defined by being a victim of forces beyond one’s control, that is what I would call having a victim mentality. With the recent increasing popularity of identity-based ‘socialism’, where the concept of class consciousness is extended to cultural ‘oppressions’, and where everyone is competing to claim less privilege, victim mentality has never looked so cool. However, a victim mentality is not only personally disabling and psychologically unhealthy, the widespread adoption of victim mentality can have severely adverse consequences for liberty. Since we are talking about moral libertarianism here, the rest of this article will only deal with society-wide consequences.
Having an all-encompassing victim mentality inevitably colours one’s cultural and political worldview too. Feeling like a victim all the time naturally makes one desire, and even demand, protection from ‘stronger’ people. This creates a justification for those who think of themselves as the protectors of oppressed minorities, giving them licence to police the speech of other people. Any dissent can then be labelled as bullying or victimization. Hence, victim mentality and free speech are mutually incompatible. Furthermore, from a moral libertarian point of view, this is totally unacceptable, because it effectively means one is making moral decisions for others, even if it is justified on social justice and protection.
Those with a victim mentality worldview are also at risk of developing a mutually oppositional, us-vs-them worldview. When one thinks of certain groups in society as their oppressors, it is easy to think of them as enemies. Fears of giving the ‘oppressors’ any chance to ‘oppress’ also loom large. Thus, it becomes easy to see personal liberty and opportunity as a winner-takes-all ‘competition’ between forces of good and evil, where for the ‘oppressed’ to thrive, the ‘oppressors’ must have as little liberty as possible. Literal equal opportunity becomes unacceptable because this would give the ‘oppressors’ opportunity to harm the ‘oppressed’. It is therefore unsurprising that people who think this way often have no problems with reserve discrimination and even, in some cases, reverse oppression. Of course, this way of thinking is also incompatible with the moral libertarian goal of equal moral agency for all.
I am not saying that pursuing justice and standing up for minorities isn’t important. But there are ways to do so without encouraing people to adopt a victim mentality. We can instead lead by example and tell the world that we stand against bigotry and discrimination, because we are not as cowardly as those who cannot face their own prejudices. We do not need ‘safe speech’, because we are confident of the rational righteousness of our position. We are confident that our position will win in the free market of ideas, and with reason bigotry and hate will be defeated once and for all.
In conclusion, the rise of a culture of victim mentality is not something liberals, and particular moral libertarians, can accept. Victim mentality is not only uncool, it is dangerous for the future of all humanity. There are better ways to bring about social justice.
The Moral Libertarian Horizon book series examines the moral libertarian ideal in depth, and examines its application over a range of topics such as free speech, freedom of conscience, the free market of ideas, the question of private property, and social justice. Moral libertarian cases against social engineering, victim mentality, identity politics and political correctness are also presented.
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