Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The moral advantage of victimhood

If you've been perplexed by the outrage about "cultural appropriation" this essay, "The Evils of Cultural Appropriation," from Tablet may help explain what is going on. From that:
.... In a culture that increasingly rewards victimhood with status, in the form of op-ed space, speaking events, awards, book deals, general deference, and critical approbation, identity has become a very valuable form of currency. It makes sense that people will lie, cheat, and steal in order to get some. Expressing offense over a white person wearing a sombrero hat might seem ridiculous on its face—but for those who live inside these sententiously moralistic bubbles, it may be both a felt injury and a rational strategic choice.

Complaints about cultural appropriation are not really complaints, they are demands. ....

In their newly released book, The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars, the moral sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning describe the three main moral cultures that exist today, which they give the shorthand labels of dignity, honor, and victimhood. A dignity culture, which has been the dominant moral culture of Western middle classes for some time, has a set of moral values that promotes the idea of moral equality and was crystallized in Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision that people ought to be judged according to the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Victimhood culture departs from dignity culture in several important ways. Moral worth is in large part defined by the color of one’s skin, or at least one’s membership in a fixed identity group: i.e., women, people of color, LGBTIQ, Muslims, or indigenous peoples. Such groups are sacred, and a lack of deference to them is seen as a sign of deviance. The reverse is true for those who belong to groups that are considered historical oppressors: whites, males, straight people, Zionists. Anyone belonging to an “oppressor” group is stained by their privilege, or “whiteness,” and is cast onto the moral scrapheap. ....

One might make the case that while complaints about cultural appropriation are annoying, they are ultimately harmless. What is the harm in showing deference to peoples who have historically been the victims of exploitation, discrimination, and unfair treatment? What is the harm in showing respect and compliance with these new rules—isn’t it a way of making up for past sins?

The short answer to these questions is, no. The notion that a person can be held as responsible for actions that he or she did not commit strikes at the very heart of our conception of human rights and justice. ....