But there is another way of looking at these debates. In a 2014 article, “Microagression and Moral Cultures,” in the journal Comparative Sociology, Bradley Campbell and Joseph Manning offer another diagnosis. They note that a peculiar feature of the recent events surrounding microaggressions has been the rush to publicize grievances, usually through social media and university websites, to inflict shame and punishment upon the offender. They claim this dynamic suggests “an approach to morality that is relatively new to the modern West,” particularly with regard to responding to insults. In the “honor culture” typical of pre-modern societies and still present in some settings, those who suffer insult are encouraged to respond directly to their detractors, calling upon tight communal bonds for support. In the modern West, however, honor has given way to “dignity culture.” Officially, the judicial system addresses all damage to life and property. Lesser, verbal offenses are not directly addressed, because individuals are taught to view themselves as autonomous rights-bearing individuals.

Perhaps because this ideal of autonomy places great pressure on our sense of self, the individualism of dignity culture seems to be combining with the sensitivity of honor culture to produce a third epoch. In this “culture of victimhood,” psychological pain itself bestows moral authority, leading to a culture of “competitive victimhood,” as Campbell and Manning describe. In their conclusion, the researchers highlight just how consequential this dynamic may become. “The clash between dignity and victimhood engenders a similar kind of moral confusion: One person’s standard provokes another’s grievance [and] acts of social control themselves are treated as deviant.” This can of course provoke a perverse victimhood arms race.

Source: What Tocqueville Can Teach Us About Microaggressions – Acculturated


Category: Espresso

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

One Response to Acculturated: What Tocqueville Can Teach Us About Microaggressions

  1. Oscar Gordon says:

    Competitive victimhood, how apropos.

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