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Victimhood Culture: How Abuse, Bullying, Trauma, Mental Disorders, Addiction, and Prejudice Became Pervasive

Psychological "concept creep" pathologizes everyday experience and encourages a sense of impotent victimhood.

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Many of psychology's concepts relating to the negative aspects of the human experience have expanded their meanings so that the now encompass a much broader range of phenomena than before, according to University of Melbourne pscyhologist Nick Haslam. In his article, "Concept Creep: Psychology's Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology," Haslam focuses specifically on the expansion of the concepts of abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice. These concepts have undergone both "vertical" and "horizontal" expansion over the past few decades. By vertical, Haslam the concepts meaning is less stringent and covers milder variants of the phenomenon to which it initially referred. Horizontal expansion occurs when the concept is applied in a new context.

Consider the case of bullying. The concept was first defined as intentional repeitive aggressive behavior directed toward a child by someone or a group who has greater power due to numbers, size, strength, age, status, or authority—than the target. The concept has now spread horizontally from the schoolyard to adult workplaces and online. Vertical creep has occurred as the requirement that bullying be intentional has been relaxed. The result is that a person can claim to have been bullied even though the identified as a bully had no intention to harm the victim.

Haslam similarly argues that the concepts of abuse, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice have been expanded and now typically get defined by the subjectivity of those who think of themselves as victims. Haslam notes, "Although conceptual change is inevitable and often well motivated, concept creep runs the risk of pathologizing everyday experience and encouraging a sense of virtuous but impotent victimhood."

Over at The Guardian, he and New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt explain in their op-ed, "Campuses are places for open minds—not where debate is closed down," how concept creep is encouraging the development of victimhood culture and demands for safe spaces. They cite the recent hullabaloo at Emory University in which students woke up one morning to see "Trump 2016" scrawled in chalk on sidewalks around campus. (Read my colleague Robby Soave's excellent reporting on this "traumatic" incident.)  As Haslam and Haidt note:

Students who are taught to interpret small or ambiguous experiences on campus, such as seeing "Trump 2016", as instances of bullying, trauma or prejudice, rather than as the ordinary ferment of differing people with differing views, come to see themselves as aggrieved and fragile victims. Their vulnerability defines them and gives them a moral platform from which to demand protection and safety. At the same time, they typecast their opponents as bullies, traumatisers and aggressors.

This polarised image of vulnerable victims needing protection from vilified perpetrators is hardly a promising basis for a mature and respectful exchange of views on campus. It shuts down free speech and the marketplace of ideas. And it is not even healthy for the students who are the objects of concern.

Of course young people need to be protected from some kinds of harm, but overprotection is harmful, too, for it causes fragility and hinders the development of resilience. …

One step that might reverse concept creep is to expand notions of diversity to include viewpoint diversity, especially political diversity. Between 1990 and 2010, American university faculties went from leaning left to being almost entirely on the left, especially in the humanities and social sciences. But if students are not exposed to conservative ideas, they are more likely to find them traumatising when they encounter them outside of college.

Ultimately, it is the students themselves who will have to stand up and reject victimhood culture and its creeping concepts. One way to do this is to embrace the term "danger" the way earlier activists reclaimed the term "queer".

Students at every university should push their student governments to hold a vote on whether the students want a "safe" university that routinely bans speakers, warns students about novels, and punishes students and professors for speech acts, or a "dangerous" university that takes no steps to protect its students from exposure to words, speakers, and ideas (with limited exceptions such as slander or threats of violence).

The debates that would surround such campus votes would help students see that too much safety is, ultimately, more dangerous than anything written in chalk.

I suspect that the campus safe space bullies are actually few in number and most students would vote for "danger."

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  1. Consider the case of bullying. The concept was first defined as intentional repeitive aggressive behavior directed toward a child by someone or a group who has greater power due to numbers, size, strength, age, status, or authority?than the target.

    You mean, like school administrators?

    Oh, it hasn’t expanded that much.

    1. [golf clap]

    2. The result is that a person can claim to have been bullied even though the identified as a bully had no intention to harm the victim.

      The progressive state bullies people with their well-intentioned laws.

      Seems to me that people are waking up to the fact that the biggest bully is government, so now we’re getting the “bullying and abuse are overused” shtick from government-employed psychologists. The Ministry Of Love can’t be far behind.

  2. I AM NOT A VICTIM!

    *kicks cis-shitlord in the nuts*

    1. That’s not your purse.

    2. That’s not your purse.

        1. I can’t access the youtubes on my work computer, but that had damn well better be Bobby Hill kicking someone in the nuts.

          1. It is.

            1. Well done

  3. I’m old enough to remember when kids sorted out bullys on their own.

    1. I was a tiny depressed kid who made friends with one of the bigger kids in class and got protected that way. Was never much of a fighter.

      1. I saw that episode of Oz.

        1. I’ll be in my bunk.

      2. I kind of was the big guy who stopped bullies. I would rather read a book, but I couldn’t just look the other way when some kid was getting a swirllie. So I spent my middle school years as some batshit crazy guy. It kept the bullies from messing with me too much.

      3. I was too damned stubborn to ever give in, and it usually took only one encounter for a bully to decide there was less embarrassing fodder out there. Took me a long long time to realize what was going on. I had a sorta reverse FYTW attitude towards bullies.

    2. I never got beat up or anything. I got picked on by some kids, and I picked on some others myself at times. That’s the playground pecking order.

      But my Mom always told me that the best way to deal with some minor bullying was to not give them the satisfaction of a reaction. And that usually worked remarkably well.

  4. These kids need to learn to dodge hammers.

    If you can dodge a hammer, you can dodge a chalk scrawl!

    1. Wrenches too.

      And maybe wenches!

      1. I can’t dodge wenches, they know where I live.

        1. Is it necessary to deink my own urine? No, but I do it anyway because it’s sterile and I like the taste!”

          Hugely underated film.

  5. sense impotent victimhood

    ^of

    1. Sorry to go all ‘prescriptive-y’, but it seems to me the level of proofreading on this blog has gone way downhill. And extends even to (sub) headlines now. I was just about to mention this and you beat me to it. Whether we like it or not, obvious grammatical errors send a signal either of ignorance or carelessness.

      1. Bailey can’t hear you.

          1. Usually you do pretty good at keeping the right words in the right order, but this one looks like word termites got in and ate up almost too many to keep it intelligible.

      2. but it seems to me the level of proofreading on this blog has gone way downhill.

        And to think they had the balls to fire Lucy.

        1. DON’T TALK ABOUT LUCY!!!

      3. The whole point of blogs is to make quick posts – there is no proof-reading other than what the writer chooses to do on their own. You should not expect published-level editing at any blog.

        1. Then all blogs should be abolished. Everyone knows that the only acceptable standard for any published piece of writing is, “perfection”.

      4. I wasn’t nearly as upset as you.

        I just figure for all the asshole comments we make (and I include myself in that “we”), we could at least be useful sometimes and point out some typos.

        1. Your grammar fixation marganilizes those of us whu kant spell something something shitlord

  6. “Vertical creep has occurred as the requirement that bullying be intentional has been relaxed. The result is that a person can claim to have been bullied even though the identified as a bully had no intention to harm the victim.”

    And rich celebrities can claim to be bullied because someone living in a basement somewhere said something mean on Twitter.

  7. I wonder if the explosion of [insert latin prefix]gender identifying individuals recently has to do with this. People with no victim cred trying to manufacture an oppressive social liability so they can get onto that moral highground.

    1. If you’re implying that Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony isn’t actually an alter ego of mine, than you have another thing coming, otherkin denier.

      1. Figures. My alter ego is Nightmare Moon.

    2. I wonder if the explosion of [insert latin prefix]gender identifying individuals recently has to do with this. People with no victim cred trying to manufacture an oppressive social liability so they can get onto that moral highground.

      That about sums it up. “Normal” people are the enemy, so every personality type, personal preference, weird behavior or attitude is now recategorized as a gender or sexual identity oppressed by the whitecisheterochristianshitlord

      1. I spent all my school years envying how easy a life the normal kids seemed to have it, only to become normal as I mellowed with age and suddenly find myself on the defensive again. C’est la vie.

    3. It has a lot to do with power. If the feminists or civil rights folks or some group packed up its stuff and said “we’ve done about all we can really do on a societal level,” that would be a lot of people with nothing to do in the morning.

      Pick a cause, an old professor said.

      1. I watched the documentary “Miracle on the Plains” today. I have no particular feelings one way or the other towards Auburn, but I did watch the end of both games (Georgia and the Iron Bowl), and saw both those plays live. And I’ll never forget them, particularly the Kick Six, as long as I live.

    4. [insert latin prefix]gender

      Parvogender?
      Subgender?
      Archigender?
      Circumgender?
      Hexagender?

      1. Is circumgender someone who is uncut, but identifies as a firehelmet?

          1. Bully!

    5. If you’re talking about all the alternative “non-binary” identities with their demands for idiosyncratic pronouns, I suspect it’s related to the rise in personal branding. I’m afraid the main effect of social media has been to encourage people to compare themselves to others and to seek attention.

      Oh yeah, and speaking of concept creep, the concept of “health” has become seriously conflated with beauty.

  8. The concept has now spread horizontally from the schoolyard to adult workplaces and online.

    If there’s a word that needs to be purged from adult conversations and its users shamed, it’s bullying. Here’s the thing about bullies: it’s a two-way street. Bullies are aggressive and mean-spirited, but they need runty pipsqueaks to make it bullying. If you’re an adult and you’re allowing yourself to get bullied, you’re being the runt and have nobody else to blame for your lot. Act like an adult or be a child, but don’t hold it against someone else for steamrolling you because you won’t defend yourself.

    1. the tried and true method for dealing with bullies has been head-on confrontation. You don’t have to win the fight, just be willing to engage in it and perhaps able to inflict a little damage. But society has made retaliation equally bad as instigation.

      1. /\ This.

      2. “You don’t have to win the fight, just be willing to engage in it and perhaps able to inflict a little damage”.
        Screw that. When I was in college I knew how to fight but couldn’t afford to be involved, but I knew people who would break arms for a carton of cigs.

  9. “pathologizing everyday experience and encouraging a sense of virtuous but impotent victimhood.”

    That about sums it up; we’ve [the collective “we;” my adult daughters don’t buy into this one iota] raised a generation of virtuous but impotent victims. As schools have become responsible not so much for education but the students emotional well being, many supposedly good intentions have lead down the proverbial road to hell.

    I prefer to call it “victim creep.” And they cannot see why the special protection should stop at college, or the real world. Funny thing though how they are turning on their left leaning academics for not trying hard enough.

    1. On second thought…not so much “impotent” but utilizing their claimed victim hood as leverage against persons and institutions as it suits them.

  10. This article victimized me.

  11. I just heard a podcast interview with a guy named Daryl Davis.

    I hadn’t heard of him. If you haven’t either, I strongly recommend listening to that episode or reading up on the guy. He’s a freaking American hero in my book. Rather than whining about safe spaces or trying to shut down free speech, he has engaged with members of the KKK, going so far as to attend rallies. And he is credited by many former klansmen as being the reason they ultimately left the KKK. He puts the outrage class and cowards to shame.

    1. I saw a documentary that followed someone doing the same kind of outreach (it may have actually been him, but I can’t remember). Truly an amazing man and a real American hero.

    2. the nut of it

      “The lesson learned is: ignorance breeds fear,” says Davis. “If you don’t keep that fear in check, that fear will breed hatred. If you don’t keep hatred in check it will breed destruction.[5]

      The whole thing with the Social-Justice brigades and their portrayal of their oppressors is basically a similar exercise in social-bonding through collective loathing. They project their worst fears and animosities onto others and it brings them together and gives their lives meaning.

      they shy from any actual debate or discussion of these issues, or grant that there *is* any legitimate alternative view because it will dilute these bonds.

  12. By vertical, Haslam the concepts meaning is less stringent and covers milder variants of the phenomenon to which it initially referred. Horizontal expansion occurs when the concept is applied in a new context.

    A.K.A. Progressivism

  13. “I suspect that the campus safe space bullies are actually few in number and most students would vote for “danger.””

    If this were the case, do you think we would be where we are right now?

    1. Yes. What we’re seeing is the squeaky wheels getting the grease. SJWs and similar types are truly obsessive about their causes, whereas those who disagree with them usually aren’t, and therefore it takes a lot more to get them to speak up.

  14. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

    And sometimes you’ll get mental illnesses.

    1. But don’t worry because we now have early intervention and treatment!

  15. We live in a sick culture where claiming to be a victim is a club you can use to force the submission of others. When victimhood is power, everyone will claim to be a victim.

  16. I don’t really think the term “Danger” is right. I don’t think its quite the opposite of ‘safe spaces’. It implies potential for actual harm. It actually grants the safe-spacers their silly claim that there’s something out there that might “hurt” them.

    “Conflict”? “Competition of Ideas?” Open-ness to Debate? The idea is that nothing proves its worth unless/until it is tested and criticized.

    I’m not sure i’m quite getting to the point either, but i think ‘Danger’ is one of the poorer terms to use.

    1. “Dissent”?

      Maybe that’s worse, since they seem to think their own rhetorical ‘soccer-flopping’ and claiming victimhood is itself the pre-eminent form of intellectual dissent from the Cisheteropatriarchicalcaucasoid Status Quo.

      1. “For believe me! ? the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves! Be robbers and conquerors as long as you cannot be rulers and possessors, you seekers of knowledge! Soon the age will be past when you could be content to live hidden in forests like shy deer!”

        –Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 283

    2. I agree “danger” is wrong. Another example of concept creep is that we’ve lost the distinction between “dangerous” and “scary” (to the point where people say they “feel unsafe” when they really mean they’re “scared”). Perhaps “discomfort zones”?

      1. “discomfort”

        Yes.

        I didn’t really mean to try and come up with some conceptual “opposite” of ‘safe-spaces’… just some idea to counteract their own belief that “Safety” is to be valued above all else… to the point of exclusion of experiences required to mature themselves intellectually.

        And i think ‘”discomfort” is better than ‘danger’. Because no one grows without some pain, and learning is an endless process of realizing that you don’t know everything and that maybe you’ve been wrong before. “Discomfort” is something ‘necessary’, and probably a better way to describe the reality that requires people to learn to live in a pluralistic society.

        These progressive college-student-protester types love to consider themselves so open to “Diversity” but the truth is that they insist on controlling what anyrange of diversity includes/excludes. They love to pretend how much they care about “lower-income’ black peoplePeople of Color” they say… but nothing is so gleefully cringe-worthy as watching them try to hold hands and sing Kumbaya when they don’t actually share the same interests at all…. and are entirely disinterested in each others respective goals, when it comes down to it.

  17. The same thing happens with all charged terms that, when expanded, tend to give more power to those who encourage the expansion of the terms: fascism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, misogyny, privilege, aggression, bias, bigotry, etc. etc. These days, any public use of those terms is more likely to be pearl-clutching bullshit and political posturing than to accurately describe what’s being labeled.

  18. This is friggin sad

  19. The more vicious part they don’t mention is that it all propagates the delusion of power, as these descriptions are nonsense if we admit that people are free agents not subject to being taken over and controlled by others.

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