The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

The Moral Superiority of Pretend Martyrs

It is widely assumed martyrs are highly moral people, perhaps superior people, with principles. Thus many assume any “persecution” they experience — which may be as mild as someone disagreeing with them — makes them high and mighty victims. That’s without taking into consideration what “principles” they are upholding.

Before I made my escape from evangelicalism I saw this practiced those circles. Later at a secular university I wrote a column for the daily campus newspaper and wrote of some very non-academic pursuits such as “ghost hunters” speaking to one campus group and faith healers at another. I said this was contrary to the very principles of rational, academic inquiry. The most impolite thing I said was if university groups were going to pursue such things perhaps the school should start granting witch doctorates.

The handful of outraged evangelicals on campus decided to pursue martyrdom and insisted on meeting with the editor. As the newspaper employed me I saw her every day and warned her they will try to anger her and push her to her limits in order to claim they are being persecuted. I’ve seen it before.

They believed Jesus said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” (Matthew 5:11) I told her I thought they would come into her office, get increasingly angry and confrontational until she finally lost her patience and thus they achieve the “reviling” being sought.

When I showed up for work that evening she said to me, “You were right.” She was very accommodating but the nicer she was the more insulting they became and the more aggressive. They didn’t want a resolution — they wanted something they could pretend was persecution. So they pushed and insulted until she finally threw them out and thus they achieved — in their own mind — the moral superiority of the martyr and were “blessed” by Jesus for doing so.

This sort of warped mentality is now pervasive in conservative circles. Many of whom have learned well from their evangelical puppet masters to seek pretend martyrdom. They assume the way to do this is be intentionally offensive until someone complains at which point they climb to the moral high ground and proclaim their own sainthood. This is precisely why what passes as “intellectual” arguments in today’s conservative circles are an endless string of insults. Their whole routine isn’t about principles, it’s about insulting and angering others in order to invoke a response.

Conservatives pursue this strategy intentionally. Consider the odious Jordan Peterson. His university asked professors to use the gender pronouns students preferred and Peterson made a major kerfuffle insisting he had the right to address students in ways they found offensive. Now remember he was the employee of the university and students in the classroom were paying customers.

Peterson started shouting from the mountaintop that a request for civility was a violation of his “free speech.” It wasn’t and it was no violation of academic freedom either. If you prefer to be called Bob instead of Robert there is no free inquiry at risk. To use a name — or a pronoun — that you explicitly said you want avoided is rude to you. Peterson was demanding, not academic freedom, but the right to be rude to the paying customers on campus. What pronoun he used had nothing to do with course material.

I tried to remain civil when at university and I wrote for the campus paper the whole time — even if the editor disagreed with me. I ran a campus libertarian group but also was an officer of the gay alliance. I was welcomed as much at the campus Republicans—they were an entirely different species then—as I was at the Women’s Center rap sessions. I was asked to give lectures in classes I took to explain how my views were similar and how they differed. Most my professors became friends and some openly recommended their students read my columns. A little politeness goes a long way.

What it doesn’t accomplish, however, is martyrdom.

With pretend martyrdom comes pretend self-esteem and when you have no self-esteem—often for good reasons—you’ll seek it out by denigrating others. Today’s right shuns civility and embraces bigotry and hate. And then, when people respond to these insults, our conservative friends scream loudly how they are the victims.

What I find particularly bizarre is before heading to the University of Connecticut I was a student at a conservative, Christian “college” where free speech was absolutely forbidden. If I said anything about what I thought I would have been thrown out, which in hindsight would have been beneficial.

Academic freedom is important and the evangelical school had none of it. You knew what they were going to say before they said it. At UConn I had professors who were Marxists and others who were libertarians and was on friendly terms with both. Most found they didn’t have to indoctrinate students with their ideology, they simply taught the course.

But what conservatives call academic freedom today is not academic at all. Twitter is NOT an academic forum even though it’s as close as some conservatives get. Being rude to students is not an academic right anymore than students should be intentionally insulting to the professor. I do not see demands for civility in the classroom as a violation of academic freedom and that goes for both students and professors.

I also have to call out another conservative tactic in the name of “academic freedom.” They change the course material to fit the professor’s personal prejudices. A professor may be hired to teach economic theory but instead of discussing that he decides to go into a diatribe about the racial inferiority of certain groups — which almost always implies his own racial superiority as well.

As I see it that is an act of fraud. A professor who is hired to teach X takes his payment and then pontificates about totally unrelated issues, but students, and their families, spent precious resources for an education. They signed up for a course on introductory economics and ended up getting a racist diatribe and not what they paid to hear. They were defrauded out of money by the professor in question.

Academic freedom covers what a professor says in the class within the confines of the course material. He or she may be a libertarian, a socialist or anything in-between. If they are a professor of economics then they ought to be free to present the material from the course in a way reflecting their perspective.

But, what we are witnessing are individuals going out of their way to be offensive and uncivil in order to pretend they are martyrs. Grifter Peterson wept profusely to the idiot Right and they showered him with money. He got a pretty penny by faking martyrdom.

The fake martyr will consistently insult and torment and do as much as they can legally get away with to harass those they hate. When their victim responds they embrace fake victimhood and seek a superior moral status to act as a substitute for their own lack of self-esteem.


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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.