The Fall of Honor & Dignity Heralds the Rise of Victimhood


I read a lot about people that have been victimized in some manner. There are victims of abuse, fraud, impaired driving, police brutality, identity theft, wage theft, religious persecution, government over-reach, false advertising and discrimination in all of its many forms. We have victims of doctors and hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, tobacco companies, coal mining companies, utility companies, airlines, railroads and luxury cruise lines. Air and water pollution, noise pollution, light pollution, tainted meat and produce, airborne viruses and STD’s create lots of victims. War, political unrest, religious extremism and natural disasters probably contribute more to the victim pool than all of the rest combined.


It’s not my place or my intention to challenge the validity of anybody’s claim to victimhood. I guess it’s because I kept hearing about it so much that the term “victimhood culture” just sort of popped into my head one day. I thought maybe I had just made it up since I had never heard it before. I Googled it and discovered it’s not a new term by a long-shot. It’s used in conjunction with two other terms I was unfamiliar with: honor culture and dignity culture. Sociologists study on this type of thing and many seem to be in agreement. They suggest that in the history of our country we have gone from a period of “honor culture”, to a “dignity culture” phase and have most recently entered into the era of “victimhood culture”.



So what does all of this mean? Here is a short summery of the 3 cultures and how they are manifested.


Honor Culture- this is the earliest phase for our country. In an “honor culture”, people (almost exclusively men) were quick to take offense. A man had to be prepared for a physical confrontation (pistols at dawn, showdown at high noon, etc.) as a response to an insult or slight to himself, his family, ancestors or even his property or business. It wasn’t necessary to defeat an offender but only to be willing to fight to the death in order to preserve personal or family honor. Honor can be won or lost and can potentially be regained if lost. It has also been a major source of status in many societies. In today’s world, honor cultures are seen mostly in Islamic countries and women, if perceived by men to be un-chaste or a potential threat to male rule, may be beaten or killed in the name of preserving honor.



Dignity Culture- Western societies began the shift from honor to dignity culture during the 19th century. This was an era during which all citizens were thought to be equally endowed with inalienable rights (except black people and other minorities). Instead of fighting a duel, insults and other offenses were defended by a third party such as a lawyer, judge or the cops. In some cases, violence could be wielded on behalf of the offended party but overall, dignity cultures tend to be more tolerant and less violent than honor cultures.



Victimhood Culture- victimhood culture engenders the quickness to take offense seen in honor culture, and dignity cultures reliance upon third parties to redress offenses. Some believe this encourages people to view themselves as marginalized, weak and held down. The irony about victimhood culture is that the more strides we make toward equality, diversity and tolerance, the lower the bar for what is considered an insult or offense. In the extreme, a completely innocent question like “where are you from” can be labeled as anything from insensitive to an offense to an outright act of aggression.



To me it’s much simpler. I think the motivation to become a victim often has more to do with financial gain than any other factor. In a society based largely on consumerism, we constantly dangle images of lifestyles unobtainable for most. We are shown what it means to be successful, smart, happy, healthy, sexy and fulfilled. We see the winners getting all of the special treatment and lament how pitifully inadequate our lives are compared to those with more money, resources and notoriety. We see that hard work isn’t always the way to tip the scales in our favor. Victims sometimes get awarded large sums of cash for their victimhood as well as fame and special treatment. We may actually think of them as lucky to have been victimized and equate them with lottery or sweepstakes winners.



In a time when, as some believe, the game is rigged in favor of the 1%, we may start to feel as though our only hope of having what we’re entitled to is if we are fortunate enough to be victimized by a person or corporation with deep pockets. We’re ready to blame someone else if we get sick due to a bad habit like smoking, drinking or doing drugs. We want to let everyone know that it’s because of having been victimized at some point in our lives that we haven’t achieved our fullest potential.



 Being a victim excuses us for not being diligent, smart or determined enough to have earned the material success we crave. I’m completely aware this is a broad generalization and many victims did not wish it and would much prefer to have not been victimized. I do know that in other countries, like Canada for instance, there are a far fewer lawsuits per capita and much less celebration of victimhood. I only suggest that just maybe, we should not be quite as litigious and easily offended.

Published by Bill Hoover