Is the growing list of victims and offence and harms doing lasting harm to our liberal culture? Michael Buerk and guests explore the morality of victimhood.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell identified the seductive lure of victimhood nearly 80 years ago in his essay "The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed". Rachel Dolezal is the latest example of today's powerful incentive for individuals to present themselves as victims. She posed as an African-American and victim of racism; even became the president of the Washington branch of The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. Rather inconveniently it turned out she's 100% white. Perhaps we shouldn't be too hard on her. You could argue that she's a genuine victim of not just modern culture, but government policy on both sides of the Atlantic. A study by a British criminologist claims recognised victim groups that receive legal protection now make up 73% of the population. Groups that have been politically and legally recognised as victims are often keen to use their power, especially via social media, to silence those who offend or upset them as Nobel Prize winning scientist Sir Tim Hunt discovered to his cost. Irony is no defence against a Twitter storm over sexism. He's just the latest victim to stumble unwittingly in to a minefield of emotional, racial, sexual, and psychological grievance. Recognising and protecting victims is clearly a moral good. Would anyone really argue that our society was a better place when casual racism and sexism were the norm? But is the growing list of victims and offence and harms doing lasting harm to our liberal culture? Not making us more civilised, but fuelling division and resentment, making it harder to identify and help true victims? Or are these the same kind of arguments that we've heard throughout history as the powerful try to crush the weak? Trigger alert! The morality of victimhood, the Moral Maze.