Victimization as Power

Bernie Sanders, a Democrat Presidential candidate, stands in the background, head down and hands clasped, as "Black Lives Matters" protesters storm and occupy his podium at a Seattle rally.

As astute social observers might have surmised, the last few years have seen the birth of an intense focus throughout our society on ‘Social Justice’, as well as an accelerating progressive ideology across the United States and in Europe. It is quite clear that the counter-culture of yesterday has won; ‘Progressive’ ideology is the new standard of American institutional policy and shapes our entire frame of reference for political and social discussions.

Despite an open-armed embrace of progressive liberal values by government organizations, non-governmental organizations, and businesses across the US and Europe, this change in institutional ideology does not appear to have been noticed by many members of the Left. Many believe that the United States and Europe remain as discriminatory and exclusionary to minorities of various stripes as ever, despite all evidence to the contrary. This is classic ideological thinking; despite evidence to the contrary, the ideologue does not waver in their conviction. Yet these same people must understand, on some instinctual level at least, that our Western societies are uniquely interested in sheltering and protecting any form of minority from the constant burden of ‘oppression’ and ‘hate’ that is found lurking around every corner within our societies.

These individuals on the Left are peculiar to many moderate and Right leaning people. Their enthusiastic embrace of victimhood and of various flavors of minority status stands in contrast to many of our moral outlooks. Quillette writer Jamie Palmer recently gave a fantastic look at the mindset of these individuals:

Their lives of almost unparalleled opportunity, privilege, and comfort are a source of considerable guilt and anxiety for these people, and so conspiratorial notions of omnipresent oppression have been contrived against which they oblige themselves to struggle. This idea is supported by claims that liberal democracy is a sham, that objectivity is illusory, and that even the Liberal love-child ‘reason’ is elitist. And since all that makes discussion and productive argumentation virtually impossible, debates about ideas, race, gender/sex, and even increasingly economics are transformed into competing professions of woe, decided by whoever turns out to be subject to the greater degree of structural oppression, real or imagined.

Sustaining such beliefs requires a person to ignore a considerable amount of information. To be able to shut out anything ideologically disagreeable, and to stigmatize those who come bearing uncomfortable news, facts, and figures is therefore useful as a political power play. It is also extremely damaging to societal cohesion and personal relationships. When you defer your beliefs, opinions, and decisions to those of a group you deem to be subject to the most ‘discrimination’, you alienate those around you who do not subscribe to the ideology of victimization as a source of truth. But from where did this poisonous branch of Liberalism arise? What is the driving force behind this polarization and self-subjugation to those who are deemed to be the lowest on the proverbial totem pole? I believe that the answer can be found in the writings of the 19th century philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche was, and still is, a rather controversial moral philosopher who differed significantly in his outlook and philosophy from those who came before him. Openly hostile to Christianity, Nietzsche considered it a manifestation of what he called the ‘slave morality’. This is a concept he held in contention with ‘master morality’. The dichotomous nature of the Master/Slave moralities is the framework through which Nietzsche viewed societies throughout history. To understand the connection between the modern fetish of victimization and a moral theory from a 19th century German philosopher, we need to delve a little into what ‘Master’ and ‘Slave’ morality means to Nietzsche.

Master morality

For Nietzsche, the very essence of life was the subjugation and oppression of those weaker than you through what he termed the ‘Will to Power’. All higher civilizations, according to Nietzsche, arose from the barbarians, who with their will and desire for power, have preyed upon the weaker, meeker, and more cowardly members of society. This is not a bad thing in his eyes; Nietzsche argues that:

It is just as absurd to ask strength not to express itself as strength, not to be a desire to overthrow, crush, become master, to be a thirst for enemies, resistance and triumphs, as it is to ask weakness to express itself as strength.

This acceptance of a ‘natural order’ of strength as inherent to Life itself is a cornerstone for his ‘Will to Power’ conception. It is not the fault of the lamb for being weak, nor is the lion to blame for its strength. It simply is. With this in mind, he argues that a healthy society does not exist for its own sake, but exists for the sake of a ‘higher type of person’ – a master – who builds and shapes society into something from his vision through his own will. For Nietzsche, the Will to Power is the dominant principle of organic function. Society cannot develop into a higher-order civilization without the Will to Power exploiting the weak. It was his argument that nation-states and society cannot be formed from nothing and aren’t something that naturally arises; it requires a strong, guiding hand of an aristocracy to mold it into something.

This idea of the Master morality informs another Nietzschean concept, the Ubermensch, or “over-man”. The Ubermensch is not subject to the morality of the lower-type, of the meek and common people who speak of good and evil largely in terms of equality. Since the noble type of man is of the higher-type, he is not subject to the morality of the herd. Morality favors mediocrity; standing ‘beyond good and evil’ is rising above the herd. The Master doesn’t have notions of morality thrust upon him by the Slave; he is above the plebeian conception of ‘good and evil’, and creates his own values, as we see in Nietzsche’s own words:

The noble type of man experiences itself as determining values; it does not need approval; it judges, ‘what is harmful to me is harmful in itself’; it knows itself to be that which first accords honour to things; it is value-creating.

For these strong-willed men, the ‘good’ is the noble, strong and powerful, while the ‘bad’ is the weak, cowardly, timid, and petty. The essence of master morality is nobility in the form of how ‘noble’ was used amongst the Ancient Greeks. Other qualities that are often valued in master moralities are courage, truthfulness, trust, and an accurate sense of self-worth.

Slave morality

Slave morality begins as a rejection of Master morality, as the yin to master morality’s yang. Master morality has also created slave morality; it is reactionary in nature, and exists because it seeks to rationalize to the weak their position in life. The primary hallmark of slave morality is one of a ‘relief of suffering and oppression’. Those things, whatever they are, that are useful in opposing oppression is a moral ‘good’. This makes values such as selflessness, altruism, meekness, and feeling pity a moral good to the weak. It is fundamentally pessimistic about the human condition by seeing people as inherently weak and pitiful, questions the happiness of the strong and noble, rejects hierarchy as an manifestation of oppression, and doubts the ‘good’ of this life. Generally, it argues for a morality for all, noble and weak alike. Because of the conditions its adherents find themselves in life, it must look to the future, to ‘progress’, for ‘salvation’. It lacks respect for, and in instances has outright disdain for, tradition and ancestors; what have their ancestors or traditions done for them?

To truly understand slave morality, it is necessary to examine where Nietzsche first observed the inversion of master morality, in the Roman-Jewish interactions of Ancient Rome. The Jewish underclass of the Roman Empire ‘achieved the amazing feat of inverting values’. This had the effect of creating a moral outlook from the act of being subjugated. In Beyond Good and Evil (BGE), Nietzsche describes the Jews’ ‘slave rebellion in morality’, and how they managed to invert the higher values as prescribed by the master morality:

The Jews, a people “born for slavery”, “the chosen people among peoples,” as they themselves said and believed, achieved the amazing feat of inverting values, thanks to which life on earth for two millennia has possessed a new and dangerous appeal. Their prophets fused “rich,” “godless,” “evil,” “violent,” and “sensuous” into a unity. In this inversion of values (to which belongs the use of the word for “poor” as a synonym for “holy” and “friend”) lies the significance of the Jewish people: with them begins the slave rebellion in morality.

Nietzsche noticed that the Jewish subclass ‘were the first to mint the word ‘world’ as a curse word’. Worldly success (what was ‘good’) indicates moral failure (is now ‘evil’). But the Jewish prophets were only the beginning – it was Christianity which carried the flame of the slave revolt to the world.

Christianity

Disregarding the claims of the theological truth in Christianity, it is the primary manifestation of the slave morality mentality throughout the world. Christianity, with its ‘paradoxical god-on-a-cross’, is a reactionary movement born initially from the Jewish ressentiment, a rebuff against the values of the masters and an inversion of their morality upon itself. For slave morality, the primary characteristic in the transformation of moral thought wasn’t one based upon strength, power, and honor, but rather a defensive prejudice against those things that the successful and ruling class had, wanted, and believed in. It transformed the archetype of the ideal person from one in a position of power to one of meek stature, oppressed and impoverished. The roots of this ressentiment grew into a mythos of its own, with the seeds of hate for Roman rule growing into a tree from which the Jewish underclass could climbed upward. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche said that:

The Christian faith is from the beginning a sacrifice: sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit, at the same time enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation … Modern men, with their obtuseness to all Christian nomenclature, no longer sense the gruesome superlative which lay for an antique taste in the paradoxical formula ‘god on the cross’. Never and nowhere has there hitherto been a comparable boldness in inversion, anything so fearsome, questioning and questionable, as this formula: it promised a revaluation of all antique values. – It is the orient, the innermost orient, it is the oriental slave who in this fashion took vengeance on Rome and its noble and frivolous tolerance, on Roman ‘Catholicism’ of faith – and it has never been faith but always freedom from faith, that half-stoical unconcern with the seriousness of faith, that has enraged slaves in their masters and against their masters. ‘Enlightenment’ enrages: for the slave wants the unconditional, he understands in the domain of morality too only the tyrannical, he loves as he hates, without nuance, into the depths of him, to the point of pain, to the point of sickness – the great hidden suffering he feels is enraged at the noble taste which seems to deny suffering.

In Genealogy of Morals, He goes further:

The act of most spiritual revenge. It was the Jews who, with awe inspiring consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value-equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = beloved of God) and to hang onto this inversion with their teeth, the teeth of the most abysmal hatred (the hatred of impotence), saying, “the wretched alone are the good; the suffering, deprived, sick, ugly alone are pious, alone are blessed by God . . . and you, the powerful and noble, are on the contrary the evil, the cruel, the lustful, the insatiable, the godless to all eternity, and you shall be in all eternity the unblessed, the accursed, and damned!

Rather than adopting the values of the Romans, the Hebrews took their station in life and examined it from a new perspective. Instead of seeing themselves as failures when competing for Power and Wealth against the Romans, they inverted their ideological alignment and re-branded their ressentiment into a form of self-righteousness. This self-righteousness, this new moral footing they had found, provided ample opportunity to re-value not only their ressentiment but their entire value system, ultimately forming a morality not so much concerned with attaining a good life as it was with lambasting those who did. Thus, asceticism was borne anew, re-branding the lack of ability to have a good life as an active choice, and a morally ‘good’ choice at that. In abstaining from the pleasures of this world, many imagined that they would be morally permitted to enjoy pleasures even hence unknown in ‘the next life’, as recompense for their suffering in this one. One can easily see how this moral perspective was attractive to the underclass of its time. In a world where you cannot obtain the good life, pretending that the poor circumstances you find yourself in is a virtue is a good way to rationalize and sustain your existence in this life.

It is on the basis of this analysis that Christian morality is inherently a form of slave morality’s ressentiment towards the masters, and provides an impotent form of revenge in providing the moral foundation for those of the underclass to pass judgement on those of the upper. The embrace of the downtrodden, poor, oppressed, passive, and meek as those of true moral character, coupled with a denial of wealth, power, strength, self-assertion, and dominance as a moral failing is pervasive throughout the Christian New Testament. The very center of the religion’s iconography, Jesus Christ, a physical manifestation of God upon this Earth as his ‘son’, helps to show this. He is a man borne from low status, had every ‘virtue’ of slave morality thrust upon him by his destiny, and overcame the ruling Romans to return to Heaven, that next life his followers and followers of slave morality dream of. In the Christian mythos, during his life, he rebuked the powerful and wealthy, he embraced the poor, sickly, and oppressed, and he did all of this while maintaining a lifestyle of a Roman underclassman. It is my belief that Christianity’s major value proposition from a perspective of utility is that it provides an underclass with a moral foundation that spiritually and psychologically sustains a ‘slave’ class, be it racial, sexual, economic, etc, under such a burden. It acts as a lever does, reducing the weight associated with life as an underclassman of various sorts.

Social Justice & the Victimization Fetish

As the centuries passed, Christianity waxed and waned across the Middle East & Western world, and in recent years, has been in decline in its traditional stronghold, Europe and America. Secular Liberalism, with its ‘Humanist’ religious flavor, has largely replaced Christianity in these societies. The progression was one of ease; Christianity and Liberalism are similar in many regards, and as science begins to shed light on many of the claims that the Bible made, it has left plenty of room for doubt for those believers who believed more than the spiritual and moral lessons. In truth, I believe that Liberalism was an evolution of Christianity, a next step for humans who have learned much about the physical reality of the world and left behind the more mythological aspects of the religion. As Liberalism gains and Christianity declines, we see only the form change – the substance remains largely the same.

Despite this shift in religious persuasion, one thing is clear: this modern shift in to a new religion is nothing revolutionary or new. The old and the new are remarkably similar in that the new is likewise predicated on the acceptance of the slave-morality foundation. This condition is prevalent in our society’s recent quest for ‘Social Justice’, and the self-flagellation that tends to accompany those who champion the cause. Liberalism, with its core foundation based upon the notion of human equality, appears in many aspects to be overcompensating for past grievances that racial, sexual, and economic ‘victims’ of the Western world have. Those with a proclivity towards social justice causes tend to give ‘minorities’, who are defined as such only through a Western lens, a revered status within their circles. They willingly defer in stating their opinions to those who come from a traditionally maligned group, as they believe that by virtue of not being a member of the same underclass, they cannot understand the experiences of those people. This is exacerbated throughout society by those who attempt to publicly shame, degrade, and enact mob vengeance on those who do not hold opinions that they see as ‘palatable’, typically opinions that they see as ‘oppressive’ or ‘hateful’ towards a pet minority group. This focus on social justice issues has even taken precedence over and influenced our discussion of other political topics affecting Western society, such as immigration, terrorism, etc.

This focus has manifested strongly amongst the political Left, and has started to become institutionally recognized amongst governmental organizations and businesses. Businesses cannot maximize profit when a group of potential customers feel the company is hostile to their interests, and so they do not buy their products. For many companies, it is purely an economic concern that drives them towards enabling and, on occasion, joining in the minority protection theatre by taking carefully calculated moral stances against perceived oppression and hate, either real or imagined.

This fetishization of ‘victim’ status has become so powerful in our societies that we now have cases of individuals who come from traditionally ‘privileged’ homes who attempt to deceive the world and pretend that they are also members of the various types of underclasses society at large recognizes today. Prominent examples are Shaun King and Rachel Dolezal, both being individuals of European descent who have lied and modified their lives and appearances in order to appear African in origin (as people of African descent are a societally recognized victim class). If we have reached a societal point where people who are considered by many to be inherently ‘privileged’ are pretending to be of another race for the benefits and power that we give to people of these varying minority groups, perhaps it is time to consider whether those groups can still be considered an underclass.

The inversion of values that occurred during the Roman Empire has been such a successful movement that I believe we are still witnessing its effects to this day, two millennia later. Perhaps it was always going to turn out like this; by definition, the underclass is far larger than a ruling class can ever be, and they require a spiritual base from which to find the will to continue their meager, poor, infirm, and downtrodded lives until they can indulge in the pleasures of the next. Yet the spread of this ideology has been so far-reaching in the West that by virtue of being of an oppressed minority group, among those who subscribe to the ideology, one can have Power over them. From the under, seeds of resentment grew upwards, now reaching the top; truly, a successful inversion of values, as Victimization becomes Power.