Competitive Victimization in Today's Culture

Let’s play a game: I say something that makes my life seem terrible, and then you tell me something that makes your life seem even worse. Whoever claims to have the worst life wins the satisfaction of knowing that they are suffering more than other people, and is entitled to elevated levels of sympathy and privilege, until life is all good in, like, twenty minutes or something. Ready? Go!

I’m sure we’ve all encountered a scenario like this in our lives: a person who tries to compare their struggles to others, just to brag about how their’s are worse. This is what we call competitive victimization and it seems like it’s really hard to avoid these days. According to sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, authors of the article “Microaggression and Moral Culture”, victimhood is currently embedded into our moral culture. We have long since departed from the days of honor or dignity; our status is now defined by how offended we are. And this isn’t anything new. Campbell and Manning wrote their article in 2014, pioneering a ridiculous, right-winged social critique of the “sensitive millennial”. I respect the perspective the authors offer, but as per usual, it takes unwarranted stabs at the idea of the “whiny twenty-something.” As a twenty-something myself, I would like to know why we are whining so much.

“Microaggression and Moral Culture” offers an unexpected cause of this victimhood culture. Campbell and Manning actually blame large administrative bodies: that’s right kids, colleges and universities are to blame for our self-depreciative morals. Schools foster a protective, egalitarian society, where all students are safe and treated equally. In this setting, it is easy for young  people to forget the “true struggles life has to offer”. Whatever that means.

Alternatively, many of us have experienced berations from bitter, middle-aged men and women (sometimes from our parents), with reminders of how difficult life is going to be. Here we are sitting in limbo, climbing the social ladder like each rung represents a time somebody pitied you, and when we reach the end…there’s nothing. We can expect to experience extreme levels of resentment and dissatisfaction with life, and these qualities will embody themselves as misery and aggression. And if you’re lucky, you might even experience some happiness.

If this is the future sold to us, what is stopping us from being miserable today? Again… nothing. So there are two possibilities here: are young people over-protected or over-pressured? Are we complaining because we have nothing better to worry about, or are we so inundated with stress for the future that every obstacle is as big as the picture? Here’s the answer: Both and neither.

“Both” is the real answer, but if we said that then we’d be self-victimizing again. The unreal answer is “neither”, because the pressure is imaginary and protection isn’t an offense. I’d like us twenty-somethings to build a better world. From what I’m hearing, it seems we are the only ones that know what it is like to live in an equal and diverse context. We could tarnish the world’s prejudice, yet we keep digging for the next disadvantage to claim. If we’d stop digging for just a second, we’d notice that we can’t hear each other when we are all in our own mile-deep holes. And maybe that’s what we need to start doing: listening, instead of just waiting to respond.