“The appeal to ‘social justice’ has by now become the most widely used and most effective argument in political discussion. Almost every claim for government action on behalf of particular groups is made in its name, and if it can be made to appear that a certain measure is demanded by ‘social justice,’ opposition to it will rapidly weaken…. It seems to be widely believed that ‘social justice’ is just a new moral value which we must add to those that were recognized in the past, and that it can be fitted within the existing framework of moral rules. What is not sufficiently recognized is that in order to give this phrase meaning a complete change of the whole character of the social order will have to be effected, and that some of the values which used to govern it will have to be sacrificed. It is such a transformation of society into one of a fundamentally different type which is currently occurring piecemeal and without awareness of the outcome to which it must lead.”
This selection may read like something written in the post-2014 milieu – perhaps published in an outlet like Quillette – perhaps referring to ‘SJW’ students run amok. In fact, the words are more than 40 years old, taken from Hayek’s 1976 The Mirage of Social Justice.
How about this:
“Leftists have helped to put together such academic disciplines as women’s history, black history, gay studies, Hispanic-American studies, and migrant studies. This has led [some] to remark that in the United States the term ‘cultural studies’ means ‘victim studies.’ [This] choice of phrase has been resented, but [it makes] a good point: namely, that such programs were created not out of the sort of curiosity about diverse forms of human life which gave rise to cultural anthropology, but rather, to do something for people who have been humiliated – to help victims of socially acceptable forms of sadism by making such sadism no longer acceptable… Nobody is setting up a program in unemployed studies, homeless studies or trailer-park studies because these people are not ‘other’ in the relevant sense. To be other in this sense you must bear an ineradicable stigma, one which makes you a victim of socially accepted sadism rather than merely economic selfishness…
To step into the intellectual world which some of these leftists inhabit is to move out of a world where citizens of a democracy can join forces to resist sadism and selfishness into a Gothic world in which democratic politics has become a farce, in which ‘liberalism’ and ‘humanism’ are synonyms for naivete – for an inability to grasp the full horror of our situation.”
One would be forgiven for believing this was an essay riffing on the recent ‘Grievance Studies’ hoax. In fact, the term (victim studies), and the debate surrounding these lines of research, long predated Pluckrose, Boghossian and Lindsay’s stunt. This particular passage is from Richard Rorty’s 1998 classic Achieving Our Country (published roughly 20 years prior to the ‘Sokal Squared’ affair).
Similarly, sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning’s 2014 paper “Microaggression and Moral Cultures” was met with great fanfare (and expanded into a book, The Rise of Victimhood Culture, in 2018) — in large part because it ostensibly explained the sudden surge of student protests in the months that proceeded (and the years that followed) its publication, as well as the new language and strategies that seemed to define these demonstrations. Yet well before the rise of the current student protests, two other sociologists (Fassin & Rechtman) had already chronicled the rise of victimhood culture in their prescient 2009 work, The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry Into the Condition of Victimhood. Here is their story in a nutshell:
Although the notion of psychological trauma goes back to the late 19th century (particularly via the work of Charcot, Freud and Janet) – even as late as World War II, trauma was not taken too seriously. Many argued that appeals to trauma were merely a means for soldiers to excuse their weak constitutions (unlike the ‘real men’ who could hold themselves together in war). It was widely believed that soldiers were exaggerating their symptoms in order to return home from the field, or avoid returning thereto. This widespread dismissal spurred a decades-long campaign among practitioners treating those soldiers, and veterans advocacy groups, to privilege testimony and subjective experience – to not only take these seriously, but to place them, in some senses, above meaningful scrutiny or reproach.
Nonetheless, trauma was not widely embraced until the Vietnam War. Most intellectuals and academics were against the war. Psychologists and psychiatrists, many of whom had been formerly hesitant or skeptical of the trauma framework, increasingly sought to ground their opposition to Vietnam in their domain of expertise — by arguing that the conflict was traumatizing our nation’s young men en masse. The image of the psychologically damaged veteran became an important component of antiwar advocacy — and PTSD was formally added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) III, following shortly after the U.S. withdrawal from the theater
From there, the concept was gradually expanded beyond soldiers to include civilian survivors of war and terrorism, then police officers and other first responders, then victims of crimes including (especially) sexual assault and, eventually, those who had lived through natural disasters or other catastrophes. In this process, to be a ‘victim’ or a ‘survivor’ took on less of a negative connotation – and eventually became something like a source of pride. 9/11, and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the valorization, even sacralization of those who were killed or wounded therein), played a pivotal role in this transition. These new understandings of trauma and victimhood – and the corresponding elevation of subjective experience or personal interpretations – have since been exported to much of the rest of the world.
Importantly, the ‘trauma’ construct is not uniquely informed by political considerations relative to other psychological concepts. There is an analogous story to be told about the emergence of our dominant paradigms for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression, autism, extremism, etc.
Moreover, Fassin & Rechtman’s account is not necessarily at odds with that of Campbell & Manning. However, it does place the emergence of victimhood culture far earlier than most seem to recognize — visible well before the emergence of ‘woke’ student protests. Their account also ties the valorization of ‘trauma’ and ‘victimhood’ to a set of actors and issues that have not been central to these conversations up to now… perhaps because it is far more satisfying for many to lambast college kids for privileging personal experience and subjectivity, for finding pride rather than shame in their struggles, etc. than it is to target war veterans, terrorism survivors and their supporters for advocating the same – even though it was the latter, not the former, who were most central in driving this transformation.
Excellent article and plenty more to read on the link
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