Nathanael Garrett Novosel, May 8 2024

The Ethics of Victimization

There is a famous condition known as Munchausen’s. It is a fancy way of saying that a person is faking a condition to gain sympathy. There is another one, Munchausen’s by proxy, where a person pretends that a dependent has an illness so that they can take care of them and be a hero. As life becomes easier and less risky, people need to create adversity for themselves to gain the attention, sympathy, fame, or adoration they crave.

It has become more prevalent in recent years. What happened? Social media. Before, you had to con or scam people in person, making it much harder to make it successful and profitable one person at a time. Additionally, people who knew you could tell if you were lying or faking, and their patience would wear thin over time. But unlike the old days where snake-oil salesmen would go from town to town to find new marks (the word for “suckers” or gullible victims in the world of cons, carnies, and professional wrestling) and take months or years to continue their scheme, now you can instantly make a post that can be seen by millions of people within hours and lead to followers, supporters, advertising revenue, and the resulting fame and attention that people crave.

When you combine the better quality of life (leaving everyone to be more sensitive to any discomfort) with the power of sympathy attention, you get today’s world of victimization. Everyone was slighted at some time by someone, and it’s time for “justice”—aka revenge—by shaming the person, pushing for your cause, or profiting (often all three!). Centuries ago, when terrible atrocities were everyday life, all people wanted was freedom and the right to do what they wanted to do without interfering with anyone else’s life (and vice versa). But now that atrocities are (thankfully) much less common, people want to drudge up the past to get “credit” for the past in the form of taking away other’s freedom and interfering with others’ lives (and not vice versa). It’s an unfortunate reality that most people see weakness as a virtue.

So what are the ethics of victimization? It is simple logic: if a person commits a crime or tort against another person, the victim gets justice in the form of the perpetrator being punished. That was historically simply jail or monetary compensation in the amount of restitution for the direct harm caused. For example, if you kill someone, you could be imprisoned for life to not only punish you but also to keep you from harming anyone else. If you burn down someone’s barn, you have to pay for a new one. The punishment fit the crime, and most people (except for the famous blood feuds where eye-for-an-eye revenge was the norm) just wanted to either have the perpetrator be directly punished for a direct act or to be reimbursed for the damages done.

But society evolved quickly to more advanced logic that is more prone to abuse: if you know that a harm might occur and then harm occurs, you are now often liable even if you didn’t directly do anything. Examples include:

Of course, in modern times, these seem like sound reasoning because of the wealthy societies we live in today to hold people accountable to more complex levels. And, as I usually do, I won’t say whether any of these are good or bad or right or wrong—just that they are more downstream than direct crimes and direct impact.

It gets more extreme, however; there are people who are so desiring of victimhood status that they falsify their identities or appropriate others’ victimhood to claim it: people are falsely claiming other demographics, appropriating the real crimes against their ancestors as their own, or even both (i.e., appropriating crimes against others’ ancestors for their own benefits or causes). The logic is the same only taken to the limit: if I can find any reason to feel victimized, I can justify being a vindictive, horrible person and it actually making me a righteous, virtuous person. What started out as a child being able to lie about his sibling hogging a ball or video game console to get more time for himself became armies of people claiming the whole system oppresses them so they can justify taking trillions of dollars from people (if you think that is an exaggeration, Bernie Sanders predicted that his system would cost in the tens of trillions) to give to them.

People claim it’s selfless, but it is selfish—Michael J. Fox wouldn’t be as passionate about Parkinson’s Disease if he didn’t get it, and people looking for financial compensation only care because it benefits them or people they identify with. Remember, objectively, there is nothing ethically wrong with selfishness—as long as it isn’t at someone else’s expense. If you aren’t selfish enough to feed, clothe, bathe, etc. yourself, then someone has to do it; if you do not want to clean your house but have a roommate that you know will clean it for you if you simply wait long enough, then you are abusing that relationship. In Michael J. Fox’s case, he became aware due to his own affliction, but he is asking people to voluntarily help and so he is allowed to spend his time how he wants (and others are allowed to spend their money how they want). In many other cases, though, people are looking to use force to take from people and give to themselves and their identity group.

And that’s where the ethics of victimization go wrong. Specifically, it’s two problems:

And this is where the ethics of victimization can get abused to monumental proportions. Without a direct perpetrator, you can point the finger at “society” and so have society pay for your grievances. Without direct harm to you, you can point the finger at major atrocities throughout all of history and use that to justify changing everything to exactly the way you want it in response. And this becomes unsustainable. Everyone knows the problems, as there are plenty:

There are many more. But the point is simple: at what point does a problem in society become that individual’s problem and not for society to fix? The more an individual can gain at the expense of the group by claiming victimhood, the more frequently you’re going to see it.

Unfortunately, this is not a post with all of the answers. It just raises the question above and states a firm point on the issue: at some point, blaming the world for your problems and using them as an excuse to either harm other people (or benefit at their expense) or slack off in your own life to exploit others’ generosity or the system’s redistribution mechanisms is wrong. It’s not for me to say where that line is in my capacity as the author of this blog, but there is a line.

There is good news (or bad news if you play the victim), however: the people who don’t participate in this behavior are statistically better off in the aggregate and in the long run than the ones who do. There are three reasons for this:

So it is not for me to tell you where the line is or whether what you experienced is a real or fake example of victimhood. But what I can tell you is that the only difference between a despicable human being and a righteous one is whether someone did something to him or her first—so if you are wrong about your injustice, make it up, or take it out on the wrong person, guess which one you are? In short, if you are truly the victim of something, take direct, immediate action so that it’s most easily rectified. Once it gets to the scale of societal issues, you are going to harm thousands or even millions of innocent people if you try to “fix” things through penalties at that level. Try not to abuse any system that rewards victimhood, and try not to fall for it by hurting yourself and others “for the greater good”, either.

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Nathanael Garrett Novosel


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