The Lessons of the World Cup for our Victim Culture
Publisher: Socialist Project
Date Written: 02/08/2018
Year Published: 2018
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX22899
That we are living in an age of victim culture is well-exemplified by an article recently published by the CBC suggesting that minorities "feel apprehensive about heading into the wild because they don't see themselves reflected in the outdoor industry and media." The underlying premise is that a paucity of representations of members of these groups constructs the outdoors as a kind of "unsafe space" of which people from these communities ask, according to the African-American author of a book called The Adventure Gap, James Mills, "'Do I belong here? And if somebody believes that I dont belong here, will they do something to harm me?'"
By "victim culture" I mean a constellation of assumptions, values and norms that suggest oppressed groups need to be sheltered in particular ways from prejudice, bias or worse. This has already been an increasingly common refrain in many institutions of higher education, although, happily, it's one that doesn't particularly resonate at my own, at least not yet. Such a refrain holds that students require protection from dangerously "triggering" literature or art works, where "safe spaces" need to be constructed exclusively for female or minority students where they wont have to interact with menacing white men. And where students are increasingly shielded from having to actually make arguments in response to perspectives they may disagree with. Victim culture is a form of infantilization as feminist cultural critic Laura Kipnis has argued.
This kind of rhetoric has spilled over into the public sphere. Not too long ago, for example, trans activists demanded that certain books be taken off the shelves of the now-defunct Vancouver Women's Library (VWL) because they made the space "unsafe." A local bookstore that had the temerity to supply the VWL with books was threatened with a city-wide boycott. This was far from the worst of it.
As the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre argued, rather than being determined by a pre-given essence, we first exist in the world and then decide what sort of person to become. While there are clearly social and historical limits to such freedom, Sartre was on to something important. We are human to the extent that we take up freedom as kind of a project. Before their estrangement, Sartre was close to writer Albert Camus. Camus contended that human existence was "absurd," that it entailed a Sisyphean search for order in a disordered world. The only defensible response was a perpetual act of rebellion at this condition. Significantly, Camus, one time the goalkeeper for the University of Algiers, famously stated that, "What I know most surely about morality and the duty of man, I owe to football." As a keeper he was the quintessential outsider.