Why do we value victimhood?

First of all, let’s get straight on the definitions.

To value: to consider something important. The value: the importance or worth ascribed to something.

The reward: something given to someone in exchange for good behaviour or good work.

A victim: someone or something that has been hurt, damaged, killed or has suffered, either because of the actions of someone or something else or because of chance.

Victimhood: the state of being a victim.

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Within this context, what are the values of a culture?

The easiest way to explain the values of a culture would be to say that, far from being things the people like, a culture’s values are the likes and dislikes typical for that culture. Values also require written and unwritten laws that encourage the members of that culture to pursue the things it likes and avoid the things it doesn’t like. Therefore, the protection of female virginity was one of the values of late medieval culture, not because virginity was liked, but because its absence was disliked. Similarly, a strong nationalistic and meritocratic drive was part of the values of 1960s America, as a counter to the perceived Soviet culture of the same time. The values of a culture could be ideas, states of being or activities that are good, bad or somewhere in between. Provided there is some sort of order designed for keeping people on the right path, you could say the culture is assigning a value to these ideas, states or activities. As such, they represent its values.

In the past, in most societies, the values coincided with what was healthy for the population at the time. When cheating and illegitimacy caused loss of wealth, distress and disharmony, the culture would respond by encouraging the values of legitimacy, marriage, monogamy and faithfulness. When diet or environment caused infertility and monogamy led to an ever-lowering birthrate, the culture would respond by creating a structure within which cheating was valued. When failing to save resources caused total poverty or starvation, the culture would respond by valuing thriftiness. When saving too many resources resulted in wealth inequality based poverty or starvation, the culture would respond by valuing charity. As such, an equilibrium is created within which a society can function. Shared values create integrity, regardless of what these values may be.

Sometimes the value had an immediate, direct benefit for the people. As such, it’s easy to understand why they would be adhered to. Marry one man, carry his children and his children only and you will guarantee yourself and your children resources for life. Save your resources now, and you will eat in Winter. But other times the value goes against hardwired behaviours, or the reward isn’t obvious enough. How does a man realize that if he can’t put a child in his wife, then his options are to have no children or let another man put one in her? Sure, there may be innumerable benefits to having children (legitimate or not) in his society, but the benefit isn’t immediate, even if it is direct, and it likely goes against his instincts. Likewise, there is no immediate, direct benefit in giving some of your crop to your neighbours rather than storing it for yourself. But, down the line, you may need them to till your field or even feed you for a year and if they’re dead they can’t do that. But the immediate, direct reward of hoarding surely calls louder?

This is where societies add extra incentives as well as punishments. The society may have a swinger policy, whereby all women are available to all men for a few weeks of the year, ensuring all the women get a chance at getting pregnant and all the men get a chance at having a new woman, as well as all but guaranteeing that every household will provide future workers and heirs. Or it may punish men who fail to produce children by taking their wives away, ensuring the woman’s womb is used, either by her husband (if he needed to get his act together) or another man (if he was infertile). Or the society may have a policy of sharing out all the food, or may place spiritual value on charity, to encourage those with accumulated resources to distribute them. Or it may punish greed with seizing your resources or even a physical beating for hoarding when your neighbour starved. The introduction of a punishment is the formal law we are all familiar with. Produce no children? We take your wife. Hoard your food? We beat you up. At first glance they seem like arbitrary, unfair rules. When we look to their origin, we see they come from a value upheld by the society: forming a family, acting charitably. And these values are based on the needs of the society: population maintenance through raised birthrate or lowered death rate.

The act of adding an incentive is less analyzed, but equally as important. It creates an informal rule. Nobody is forced to have sex with anyone but their spouse and no household is directly punished for failing to produce workers and heirs. But the culture encourages swinging to an extent where it’s assumed it will happen. And, if 99/100 men and 80/100 women swing, then the infertility that some men suffer is of no consequence. Unlike with the formal law, every fertile woman isn’t guaranteed to produce children, but she probably will. Likewise, when a culture places a spiritual value on charity, they aren’t directly punishing greed. However, by creating a society that values charity this culture is making it hard to be non-charitable. If you aren’t charitable, then you won’t receive charity when you need it (a likely thing in that sort of an environment) and your neighbours may become distant to you out of resentment or frustration. Therefore, most people will be charitable and the few who aren’t won’t impact the society too severely.

This shows how social attention can serve the function of a pressure, sometimes one that is stronger than the threat of punishment. A culture that encourages its people to lavish attention on those who conform to the values will always lead to inequality of attention. Even if they are not instructed to withdraw attention from non-conformists, most people within the society will. Even if they don’t, the conformists still get more attention. Once the cultural norm and values have been established, a society will celebrate members that most embody those values. In a society where chastity is valued, particularly chaste people would be held up as examples. In a society where swinging is valued, those who get through the most partners are pedestalized. In a society where thriftiness is valued, those with the most resources are admired. In a society where charity is valued, those who give away the most are looked up to. Examples of this can be seen in the value of virgins in European religious rites or the value placed on obesity (a symbol of wealth) in poor nations.

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However, modern, Western humans are hardly worthy of admiration. Not only are we weaker, more gullible, less intelligent, less agile, less educated, fatter, less skilled, less useful and generally worse all-round than ever before or anywhere else, but we don’t actually care. How many unfit people do you think are engaging in daily cardio to knock back their body-fat, lifting weights to strengthen their muscles and staying generally active all day? How many uneducated people do you think are reading every day, learning about new skills, fleshing-out areas of interest? How many less skilled people do you think are investing their time into becoming self-sufficient, learning plumbing, developing artistic skills, making a living on the side, growing their own? The modern, Western human isn’t the product of chance. Most unfit people got that way through poor diet and little exercise. And they will stay unfit through poor diet and little exercise. Most uneducated people got that way through a lack of curiosity and a willingness to have their opinions spoon-fed. And they will stay uneducated through a lack of curiosity and a willingness to have their opinions spoon-fed. Most unskilled people got that way through enjoying and abusing the eases of modern life at any expense. And they will stay unskilled through enjoying and abusing the eases of modern life at any expense. Very few ever change.

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So why do we not pursue what is best for us? Sure enough, laziness, following the herd, abusing tasty food and convenience and refusing to do uncomfortable things comes naturally to humans. It comes naturally to every animal. Biology’s course of action can be summed up as “What gets you the greatest reward for the least effort?” Yet surely as thinking humans they can see that dieting, working out, reading, researching and developing new skills would benefit them in the long run? Surely, like those in swinger societies or in charitable societies, they possess the ability to overcome their own base drives so as to engage in behaviours that benefit them in the long run? So what’s the missing variable? What do these societies have that we don’t? Well, as you’ve probably guessed: they have values.

Modern, Western society is in many ways like any other. We have laws that are enforced by standardized punishment. These are the fairly-in-stone rules that no member of that society should break. They are generally agreed upon, even if the details are debated. Few if any break these rules, because the fear of punishment is the strongest driver behind humans’ self-control within a society.

We also have things we socially reward. However, unlike in smaller, closer societies, these things aren’t values. They operate like values, though, and encourage certain behaviours. So, what do we reward? Now we find out why the unfit stay unfit, the uneducated stay uneducated and the unskilled stay unskilled. To use an American metaphor, we live in a bucket of crabs. In the modern, Western World where all can afford to be lazy, uneducated and unskilled, pretty much all are. We are all crabs. We are all the same. Nobody is perfect. Some may be fatter, but the thin people eat rubbish and are unfit as well. Some may have a degree, but are probably ignorant in most other areas. Some may be talented artists, but they have sacrificed other aspects of their lives. It’s also why we love the “nerds vs jocks” or “popular vs smart” or “artistic vs mathematical” dichotomies. We like the idea that people only excel in a few areas, that everyone’s good at something and that their contribution is always equal to that of anyone else. So, when some poor, deluded crab tries to climb out of the bucket, we pull them back. Some of you have probably already experienced this. You start losing weight so your co-workers start bringing doughnuts to work. You start learning a new language and your boss gives you extra work. You start working out so your wife starts planning things for you that are “accidentally” on workout days. You try and quit TV and all your friends are on your back about it. It’s easy to think it’s accidental. Until you try to do these things again and the conflict becomes borderline abusive. Or you begin again, without telling them, and somehow the doughnuts, extra work, plans and nagging stops. Then it’s easy to think it “comes from the right place”. But there is only one way that wanting to keep you in the crab bucket comes from the right place: success is lonely. Get fit? Most of your old friends won’t go jogging or lifting with you. Learn a new language? Most of your old friends won’t speak it with you. Get into woodwork? Most of your old friends will think it’s boring. Sure, you can make new friends, but the old ones are reluctant to part with you. They don’t know if you will make new friends. Maybe then it comes from the right place. But that place is also “laziness”. They could get fit, learn a language or practice woodwork. They may not do what you’re doing, but they could still get fit another way, learn something else or develop another skill. Then you could still interact, share your common ground and recall and discuss things. But if they’re lazy, then you don’t share any of your new traits with them. It’s not all about the activities, but if you’re bettering yourself and they aren’t, your entire behavioural pattern and mindset are different too. Soon you’ll have little in common.

Besides, generally it isn’t coming from “the right place” — if you can call laziness so. Generally it comes from frustration, due to the fact you’re doing something they know nothing about. Or from jealousy, because you’re improving yourself and they’re still the same. Or from confusion, because “you’re just not a thin person” or “quitting TV isn’t like you” and you’re already good enough, so if you improve any more you’ll disrupt the natural order. They reach out their claws and pull you back into the bucket. And most people are like that, at least to a degree. So, we punish excellence by socially conditioning those who would pursue it and creating an environment where excellence is more harmful than good. We don’t imprison anyone for lifting weights. We don’t fine anyone for reading. There is no law against learning mechanics. But we socially reward laziness, mediocrity and failure. These are our values because they are what we value. And it goes to a point where hard-work, excellence and success are viewed as either “having a special talent”, “being gifted” or “neglecting your social life”. Yes, they will try and drag you down, then socially exclude you, then complain you aren’t spending time with them. People suck.

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All of this can lead to an internalized fear of improving yourself, or a belief there’s nothing to improve, or a belief that you’re incapable of improvement. As noted by Maverick Traveler, when he was living a good life, doing what he enjoyed, he somehow felt he was doing the wrong thing, because everyone else was working in offices, with little time to themselves, letting themselves go. The social pressures are such that a human could be enjoying their lives, meeting all their base needs, rarely going against their impulses and feel guilty because they’re not “like everyone else.” I, myself, whilst I manage to avoid the social-pressure side of it, still feel the seeds of doubt whenever I do anything outside the norm. Marrying this young? Not many people do it, maybe there’s a reason for that? Keeping animals and gardening? Not many people do it, maybe it could be bad? Working from home? Not many people do it, maybe it’s bad for you. Of course, the social side of what “should” I do is avoided. But even then, not being part of the larger group can lead us to question our actions. Peer pressure is both active and passive and if one side doesn’t get you, the other will. Our culture wants us all to be lazy and useless and dash it, our minds will persuade us to conform to society.

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All this leads to a society where it has become easy to be a “victim”. Most people, in reality, are nothing but victims of their own socially sanctioned laziness. But, as mentioned above, victims can’t be a victim of themselves. It must be external. Most people seem happy to accept that their life is good and they are where they are because of their own failure. However society suffers two ills:

1: We can’t think that way of others. It’s fine to say “I’m fat because I eat too much and am too lazy to fight it.” It’s not fine to say “She’s fat because she eats too much and is too lazy to fight it.” It’s not just that there’s the minute possibility that the other person’s state isn’t down to their own failure. It’s that we must automatically assume that this is the case. There isn’t a minute possibility she’s fat due to a disorder, medication or someone else’s influence. We must assume that’s the case. We are a product of our own design. But everyone else is a victim.

2: We believe there is something noble about victimhood. That a victim is always, deep down, a good person. That without whatever (imagined or assumed) pressure led to their situation, they wouldn’t be in this situation. If it weren’t for her (assumed) disorder, she’d be fitter. She wouldn’t be like us because she’s a victim. Victims are always martyrs, victims are always saints. Whenever we find a real victim the press gushes over them, even if they managed nothing. They may be a true martyr who stood tall, fought back and suffered for it. They may be someone who got hit by a car, almost died and is now angry. Both of them are worthy of admiration. We don’t value the fighter, we value the sufferer.

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This has led to a reasonably large portion of the population embracing victimhood. All you need to do is say “this person is a victim” and that person will embrace it. You could even say “anyone who eats a vegan diet is a victim” and a number of vegans will embrace it. Say “all women are victims” and some women will embrace it. Victimhood has been valued so highly by our society that some people see nothing wrong in standing up and declaring themselves to be victims openly or subtly. They reap the social rewards, exaggerate their own weakness and failures to get more social reward, fight with other self-professed victims over who’s more deserving of the social rewards and generally neglect actually doing anything with or for themselves in lieu of being victims. Some even put hard work into being victims. Yes, time and energy they could have spent on bettering themselves is invested into becoming more of a victim.

And this problem is spreading. It may even become epidemic. People everywhere wishing to be weak and useless, to justify their own weakness by claiming victimhood and idly sit in a bed of their own making whilst crying about the injustice of it and demanding handouts. Because society values that.

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So how could we start fixing this? I’m sure many of you have already thought of making things illegal. Punish those who fail, those who depend, those who are lazy. Sure, there will be some civilian casualties: people who genuinely had a problem, who genuinely were victims, who will be caught in the crossfire. But they will be a minority and society as a whole will function better.

But there’s a problem with that.

When you take values and make them into law you won’t receive gratitude. This isn’t just because people are lazy and don’t want to change. Think of every nation that wrote or has written values such as faith, sexual behaviour or charity into law. It’s no surprise that they’re all viewed as tyrannical by most. Even those who give them some more room agree that certain of these laws were unnecessary and open to abuse. A value is an internal thing, a social thing and a cultural thing. Laws that are designed to protect the individual and the weak will always be viewed favourably. We may change our minds about who we consider weak, what we need protection from and what constitutes appropriate punishment but, in principle, if we say “someone who kills others must be punished”, the rest of society will agree. However values are different. If we say “someone who doesn’t follow the majority religion must be punished” even the followers will be hesitant to agree. We would start looking at ways of letting others practise other religions without bothering us, or for reasonably mild punishments. If we say “someone who abuses their body must be punished” we get even more hesitant, or even hostile towards the statement. It is their body to abuse. Of course, most members of a modern, Western society will agree that a variety of faiths and increasing numbers of obese people is doing us some harm. But everyone will have a different explanation as to why it’s wrong and a different solution. Few will suggest law, because culture, social interactions and everyday behaviours are not a legal matter.

When a law is introduced to control what people believe, what they say, how they dress, what they eat, etc, members of the society will not like it. And, regardless of whether they choose to rebel or to submit, they will resent it. They will seize any opportunity to shake off these laws. Because laws are immutable, inflexible and specific and culture is a permanently changing, highly adaptable, highly inclusive aspect of society. And that divide is what humans prefer. Law cannot replace values. Law cannot replace culture. It may solve your problems, at least for a while, but down the line it becomes a tyranny and disintegrates.

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So how else can we establish values? Well, as mentioned above, values tend to stem from needs. In modern society, we don’t need to be fit, strong, educated, skilled or driven. But humans weren’t designed with inactivity, weakness and lack of mental stimulation in mind. Think of laziness as salt. We need salt. As salt in nature is rare, we are designed to seek it out and eat as much as we can when we find a good source. When salt is limitless we abuse it because our bodies developed in a world where salt was scarce. Similarly, laziness was good. Humans didn’t develop in an environment where relaxation was always possible. We needed to run, jump, climb, learn, debate, strategise, make, mend, transform. So a few hours of sitting back, enjoying the sun and watching the animals, stretching out, napping or singing and talking would have been much appreciated. Our bodies are meant to crave this sort of a break from everything. Yet, as with salt, there’s a natural limit. Eating a spoonful of salt or tasting a salt-lick produces a disgust response in most people. We are adequately salted and, to an degree, know when we have too much. In the case of laziness, we start getting restless, feeling dissatisfied, developing depression… We’re meant to enjoy rest, but we’re not meant to be lazy.

On top of that, we find many inherent, biological rewards in being awesome. First of all there is pride, of course. When you get good at something, or manage to accomplish something, you feel proud. The more work went into it, the more right you have to feel that way. The greater and more unique the accomplishment, the more right you have to feel that way. On top of this, being better generally means you are… better. Funny that, eh? When you’re stronger or faster or more educated you find doors opening up, you find everything becomes easier. Your body benefits so much from being fit that you’re a shadow of your former unfit self. You can jog to work. You can do your own lifting. Your depression or anxiety are gone. You have more energy at the end of the day. And this holds true for every way you can better yourself. The more you improve, the more your quality of life improves.

Just ask this guy.

Just ask this guy.

And, secondarily, humans are relatively disgusted by inferiority and failure. There’s a reason we don’t want to go near seeping infected wounds or non-directionally aggressive people: they are dangerous to us. This explains why we don’t want to interact with people who have poor complexions or less control over their emotions. We can’t be certain, but our amygdala is hedging its bets and assuming these people are ill or unpredictable. As such, they could be dangerous. But what about those who present no direct threat, like the overweight, the underweight, the intellectually lazy or the self-pitying? That is a cultural conflict. First of all, if you’re strong, fit, attractive, knowledge-thirsty, proud and aspirational, you’re unlikely to find yourself in an environment where you have to interact with these people. This is because you have little in common with them. As you have little in common with them, you will not frequent the same locations. And when you try and talk to them it’s going to sound like they come from a separate culture. They talk about the pain of walking up the stairs, lethargy, how annoying it is to have to read for that lecture, how sorry they feel for themselves and how sad they are at having to miss a TV show for work. They talk to you like you understand when, in reality, it’s like they’re describing a Dream-Time experience, or complaining about how painful a horse bite is. It is not a shared experience. So we may not feel visceral disgust, but we’re already confused and distant. What are these exotic foreigners talking about? After a while we distance ourselves from them physically and avoid interactions, due to either awkwardness, or crab-bucketing and jealousy.

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On a conscious level, those of us who have worked hard at self-improvement understand why this is. They are not like us. They do not share our culture. They could share our culture and, in doing so, they would rid themselves of many of the things they complain about. But they choose not to. They choose victimhood. Which is probably the most disgusting thing about them. It’s easy to be repelled by someone who is not only culturally distinct from you, but who embodies the exact opposite of your values. They value weakness, mediocrity and laziness. You value strength, excellence and perseverance. It’s perfectly natural to feel repelled by that sort of a difference.

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But how can these people live with themselves like that? How can it be that we reached a point where weakness and victimhood are so prized?

There is a saying that misery loves company. I would add that so does almost every human state. Some may be more asocial, some may keep the odd thing from others, but generally, when we find a culture we identify with and can integrate into, we share our experiences. It’s actually a heavy driver behind the success of the internet. Find others like yourself, like-minded, with similar interests. Nowadays there’s an active forum and website for everything you could imagine. Humans seek others like themselves. So, misery seeks company, but so do anger, righteousness, motivation and laziness.

And what about before the internet? Well, anyone who remembers growing up pre-net or who grew up in a backwater little village knows full well what most people do: integrate. If there aren’t others like yourself, you make yourself like the others. The majority tends to dictate how everyone will behave. Influence of majority is the glue that holds society together. Otherwise we’d all go our own separate ways and promptly die.

So not only are the voluntarily weak members of our society being enabled by the environment and spurred by their strong instinctive drives, but they are also being encouraged by the fact they’re the majority and justified by a culture that worships victimhood. If you hurt your wrist deadlifting, unless you’re part of a forum or a gym, there’s nobody there to help you out with form and rehab. And accountability lies behind every corner; nobody will tell you it wasn’t your fault unless it genuinely wasn’t. Yet if you’re idle and consequently unfit, depressed, in pain and uneducated, most will support you with love and affection, many will justify your situation, many will portray you as a victim of chance or tyranny. The few who speak against these lies will be labelled haters, lunatics, jealous, prejudiced or epicaricatic. The “victim” finds comfort in victimhood and is encouraged to pursue it. To boot, when a “victim” casts off the label and tries to better themselves they are often attacked for turning against their friends, family and others like themselves, as described above. This creates a loop whereby it is incredibly socially rewarding to be idle and to reap the rewards of idleness. It’s easy and rewarding to excuse this idleness by becoming a victim. And the more times you go round this loop, the more committed you are to this identity, to this culture, to these values.

Furthermore, to try and make these “victims” feel even better about themselves, this culture attempts to rebrand universally appreciated values such as pride or respect. Pride comes to mean “I do what I want and I like it”, “I like myself however I am and will not change”. Pride comes to mean arrogance, ignorance and embracing your victimhood. Someone would rather be a proud “fativist” or “slut” than accept they were wrong about their weight or their teenage choices. Respect comes to lose all meaning, being granted freely to everyone rather than earned. Thus, respect ceases to matter. If everyone should have it automatically, then why should we value it? These attempts at rebranding preexisting values are a way of subverting the remaining traces of a prior culture, a culture in which victimhood was not valued. By taking something generally valued and changing its meaning to include things it used to specifically exclude, the new culture attempts to make itself sound and look better. Again, it’s an attempt at justifying idleness.

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In short, modern society prizes victimhood because it needs to excuse its idleness, mediocrity and weakness. As the majority are idle, mediocre and weak, this creates a social reward for being so as well. Whilst many will refuse to label themselves victims, they seem to do so out of a sort of humility and are ready to label anyone and everyone else a victim, with all ailments being beyond their control. When someone tries to break free of a negative habit, like crabs in a bucket the majority will reach up and pull them back.

Modern society values victimhood. Everyone will reward you for being a victim, for portraying yourself as a victim, for accepting your “fate”. You can never make progress until you accept that excellence is its own reward.

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