In the American way of life, one earns merit by behaving with grace and self-restraint. The pursuit of happiness, ideally, is the perfection of virtue. The moral drama centers on the citizen, who will succeed or fail — morally, not materially — by his own choices and actions.
There’s an alternate way to look at the same world. Suppose the human race were divided between exploiters and victims: no middle ground, no shades of gray. In that case, the only possible way to earn merit is to claim victimhood — preferably as a member of an oppressed class, since individual victimhood has a vaguely accidental odor to it. We must be crushed by forces far beyond our power to resist.
Our virtue in victimhood in turn activates a whole class of Platonic guardians — bureaucrats, sociologists, social workers, therapists, nongovernmental advocacy groups — whose livelihood derives from the protection of our frail personalities in this brutal and oppressive world. And the best government allows all citizens to become victims in some way. Checks and balances, in this scheme, have to do with when one’s turn to be a victim comes, and when one must play the oppressor.
In “Everyone’s a Victim,” Heather MacDonald of City Journal reflects on the newest entry into the victim class: boys. But wait. Aren’t boys bullies, risk-addicted and aggressive, climbing over nurturing females to their throne of glory in the patriarchy? That was the Nineties. This is now. The key statistic: boys are a declining minority of college students and applicants. Something must be done. By someone.
The joy of it, according to MacDonald, is that the victimhood of boys need not preclude the victimhood of girls.
The great thing about victim thinking is that it is not zero-sum; it is win-win. Each individual, each group, can be a victim in his or her or his/her own special way. And victims can provisionally join the oppressor class for special occasions — the alliance between Western white liberals and Third World peoples of color, for example, was unceremoniously broken when Episcopal priests and congregations in Africa declared their lack of enthusiasm for gay ministers. No need, then, to dismantle the vibrant private and public Title IX and women’s “equity in education” offices. Girls can be victims vis-a-vis boys when it comes to sports and representation in math and science. And boys can be victims vis-a-vis girls when it comes to enrollment in undergraduate education in general, and in such majors as anthropology and psychology in particular.
Sure enough, the virtual ink was barely dry on MacDonald’s article when the curiously named Leonard Sax appears in the WaPo, asking the poignant question, “What’s Happening to Boys?”
Anyone who has read or seen Frankenstein knows that there exists forbidden knowledge, which if attained will destroy us: anything having to do with creating life, for one. Another example of Frankensteinian knowledge, let me suggest, is the answer to the question of what’s happening to boys. If they ever tell us, our heads would explode. I am a father of sons, and know whereof I speak.