The Capital of American Victimhood
The most disappointing lesson any human being learns is the unfairness of life. Greed and ambition are usually the speedier stairs to success than meekness and modesty. A Muscovite friend of mine once remarked upon this truism, stating both wryly and aptly that the more democratic a society was, the slower its people were to acknowledge this reality.
In the United States we have a long history of taking what we know we deserve from our government. Some Americans very charitably depict the historical US government as having granted rights over time, some voting rights for women here, some civil rights for black people there. But the reality is that, as with all governments, we took what we wanted and we did it using a lot of time and moderate force.
Rights are a funny thing. In the West we talk about them rather academically and in condescending, entitled overtones that suggest they had been forthcoming since the inception of governance. As though we had always known these rights belonged to us and it was just a matter of heading to the lost and found to claim them. But the reality is, our rights were by and large thought up, discovered, witnessed in the hands of those luckier than us, and then viciously, desperately fought for and retained. Despite what we tell ourselves today, we were never entitled to them, and had we been we would never have had to fight for them, least of all consider which ones are fundamental to happiness versus just icing on the cake.
If rights were absolute and fundamental, the way we imperiously and pompously pronounce them to be, then why do we fundamentally disagree about which ones should be granted? Why does each country, even among liberal democracies, demonstrate such a variety of them? And if we’re entitled to these rights, how is it that they can be wished, washed, and whittled away without so much as a popular vote?
The answer is that rights are actually arbitrary. You are neither entitled to them nor owed them. Americans believe this because our fights for rights have often been successful. We have rarely lived with the aftermath of a truly failed rights movement. Though I imagine the Chinese, Russians, Iranians, Iraqis, and many South Americans and Africans could instruct us on what that is like. They may well wonder where the American and European notion of rights entitlement comes from.
They may also wonder where the new trend in American victimhood comes from. In countries where rights are not arrogantly presumed all-inclusive with the lease of life, victimhood has no capital. But in the United States it comes freighted with all manner of squalid privileges. The psychology of American victimhood is as teenage as it is self-gratifying; quick to establish a fast and loose binary of winners and losers and even faster to declare what the losers are entitled to, the largely middle-class and over educated proponents of this feminist fueled infantilism have declared any and all who are perceived as winners indebted to them.
If you have any doubts as to the validity of this claim then consider their vocabulary. What is a safe space other than an entitlement to an echo chamber? What are microaggressions other than an entitlement to another’s intent? I don’t care what you meant, I’ve decided for you that you acted maliciously. And what is cultural appropriation other than the entitlement to own, reserve, or designate for others entire cultures? But what all this really condenses to is an entitlement to a society that functions precisely as one wishes it to function.
In a University paper I read the other day a girl complained about feeling unsafe when, after a neighborhood shooting, she was not warned by the campus police of the event’s happenings. She felt entitled to this warning. She felt that she was owed constant updates despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans, and indeed the world, exist without such notifications.
It is strange that so many Americans of my generation clamor and with such ease for so intense an awareness of their personal feelings while at the same time insisting as loudly that they are deeply sensitive to the needs of others. The reality, however, is that today’s social justice warriors wallow in the capital of victimhood; entitlement. I have been wronged by society, thus you all must give unto me. It is not I who should change, but all of you. It is always difficult to make real change when you wait for society to do it for you and avoid doing any of the work yourself. Complaining, after all, is much easier than doing.