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Author: Bradley Campbell

Victimhood Culture and Howard Dean

Victimhood Culture and Howard Dean

The clash between dignity culture and honor culture that Jason Manning and I discuss in our book is not the familiar clash between between left and right. The new victimhood culture comes from the campus left, to be sure, but many on the left reject the new culture’s focus on minor offenses, or the blurring of the boundary between speech and violence. Barack Obama for example, has spoken out against it, saying that he doesn’t agree “that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view.”

It is perhaps strange, then, that Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, former Democratic presidential candidate, seems to embrace even the extreme manifestations of the new culture, such as the attempts to prevent conservatives from speaking on campus or to punish people for even mild objections to the campus activists’ aims and tactics.

Here is Dean, starting at 26:47, recently defending the students who vilified Yale professors Nicholas and Erika Christakis in the fall of 2015:

You might recall that the Christakises were the headmasters of one of Yale’s residential colleges until students became outraged that Erika wrote an email questioning whether the university needed to be involved in policing Halloween costumes. She suggested that maybe students could handle offensive costumes themselves through conversations with one another, through self-censure, and social norming. At one point a group of students confronted, berated, and cursed at Nicholas, and the uproar eventually led the Christakises to leave their positions as headmasters after the end of the term.

Dean’s summary of the events is one falsehood after another. He mischaracterizes the content of Erika Christakis’s email, and, laughably, claims he later found out that Nicholas Christakis was the leader of the William F. Buckley Society at Yale, which Dean says he “thought was rather fitting.” (Christakis is a lifelong liberal and was not the leader of the William F. Buckley Society.)

Nicholas Christakis pointed out these and Dean’s many other errors in a series of tweets.

Of course, anyone might just half-remember a story and not realize it, but this isn’t the first time he’s gotten things wrong in defending the extreme manifestations of campus victimhood culture. During a controversy over a planned talk by Ann Coulter at UC Berkeley, last April, for example, this is what Dean tweeted:

Here again Dean was factually wrong. The Supreme Court has been clear. But it’s remarkable that these kind of statements now come from mainstream political figures and journalists, not just campus radicals. Whether out of confusion or conviction, or more likely, some combination, Howard Dean believes Erika Christakis’s congenial, thoughtful email deserved angry denunciations and more, and he even rejects longstanding first amendment jurisprudence. Victimhood culture is on the march.

(Photo by Matt Wright, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Victimhood Hoaxes and the Culture of Credulity

Victimhood Hoaxes and the Culture of Credulity

Recently it became international news that an 11-year old Muslim girl in Toronto was the victim of a hate crime. She was on her way to school, we all learned, when a man attacked her and used scissors to cut her hijab. After initially running away when she screamed, the man even returned to attack her again.

Now Toronto police say the incident never happened. Yet the story was accepted as fact. News reports even named the apparent victim, as did the Canadian Prime Minister of Justin Trudeau, who tweeted out his sympathy.

Why was everyone so credulous? It’s not exactly esoteric knowledge that people sometimes make up stories. It’s not even the first time someone has made up a story about an attack involving a hijab. Just in 2016 a woman falsely claimed three men attacked her on the New York subway and tried to remove her hijab. At the University of Michigan a woman falsely claimed that a man threatened to set her on fire if she didn’t remove her hijab. And at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette a woman falsely claimed two men robbed her and stole her hijab.

One might expect skepticism upon hearing a similar story, or at least a hesitancy to weigh in quickly and emphatically. But as Jason Manning and I talk about in our new book, the emerging culture of victimhood leads to credulity about certain kinds of claims. Skepticism about such claims of victimhood can get one branded an oppressor, while credulity is seen as virtuous. There is no penalty for being wrong over and over again, but there may be a penalty for any reaction that can be said to further victimize a victim. Thus will the Justin Trudeaus of the world keep believing and publicizing such claims, no matter the harm it does to the apparent victims or to the broader culture.

(Image: Pinocchio, by Enrico Mazzanti (1852-1910) -, Public Domain,
Victimhood Culture and Higher Education BS

Victimhood Culture and Higher Education BS

Higher education is drowning in BS, according to Christian Smith at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Note that many of the problems come from the rising culture of victimhood that Jason Manning and I discuss in our new book. Here’s Smith:

BS is the ascendant “culture of offense” that shuts down the open exchange of ideas and mutual accountability to reason and argument. It is university leaders’ confused and fearful capitulation to that secular neo-fundamentalist speech-policing.

BS is the invisible self-censorship that results among some students and faculty, and the subtle corrective training aimed at those who occasionally do not self-censor.

BS is the only semi-intelligible outbursts of antagonism from enraged outsiders incited by academe’s suppressions of open argument, which primarily work to validate and reinforce the self-assured superiority of the suppressors, and sometimes to silence other legitimate voices.

What Smith calls the “culture of offense” is of course better known as “victimhood culture.” One idea that has come out of this culture that is especially threatening to universities is the idea that speech campus activists find offensive is violence — not even that it is akin to violence, but that it actually is violence. And people have to refrain from violence, be protected against it, and punished for it. The things Smith talks about — speech policing, self-censorship, etc. — naturally follow. And as he point out, the reaction from outsiders it is often semi-intelligible and unprincipled, sometimes even just as threatening to free speech and academic freedom.

The future looks bleak at the moment, and these aren’t even the only problems. Smith’s list of BS is much longer, and that he is able to go on for so long — mostly convincingly — is perhaps the main problem, since the goals of the academy have been undermined in so many ways and from so many sources that saving higher education at this point might be impossible.

(Photo by Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada (Tibet-5874 – Something smells here!) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)