The eternal victimhood of the right-wing mind.

The right-wing has become obsessed with what they term the ‘Victimhood Olympics.’ Conservative politicians and pundits have made a cottage industry out of the idea that progressives indulge in a competitive display of grievances, vying for the spotlight of sympathy and the social currency that purportedly comes with it.

The accusation is straightforward: the right suggests that progressives are perpetually on the lookout to claim victim status, whether in terms of identity politics, economic disadvantage, or social justice issues. This narrative suggests that the left actively seeks out oppression or discrimination, often in increasingly trivial or contrived circumstances, to leverage for political gain or moral authority. The phrase “playing the victim” has been weaponised to suggest that claims of inequality are not legitimate calls for justice but rather a calculated move in a game of political chess.

The conservative right-wing traditionally assumes the role of the unyielding sentinel, the embodiment of stoicism and the paragon of individualism. They are the self-fashioned heroic protagonists weathering the storm of societal change with an unwavering demeanour, impervious to the ebb and flow of cultural shifts. They cast themselves as the sturdy bedrock of traditional values, refusing to bend with the prevailing winds of progressivism.

Beneath the veneer of rugged self-reliance, there is an undercurrent of right-wing victimhood that has become a potent weapon in the conservative arsenal. It’s not a passing refrain — it’s a foundational part of conservative rhetoric that has been masterfully woven into the fabric of conservative identity politics. The paradox at the heart of many right-leaning movements is the simultaneous claim to power and persecution. The narrative is wielded with a deft hand, crafted to create a unifying “us against them” identity among followers, but it sits uncomfortably at best and hypocritically at worst, alongside the professed values of autonomy and personal responsibility that are hallmarks of traditional conservative thought.

Conservative victimhood, as an ideology, taps into the perception among some right-wing individuals and groups that they are being unfairly marginalised, persecuted, or discriminated against by dominant cultural, social, or political forces, often those associated with progressive or liberal ideologies. Their manufactured sense of victimhood is typically articulated in the context of maintaining traditional values, resisting change, or upholding certain freedoms against what is perceived as a hostile and encroaching liberal agenda.

At the heart of conservative victimhood is the belief that conservative voices are silenced or ridiculed by mainstream media, academia, and other cultural institutions. It encompasses a range of issues, including the idea that traditional religious practices are under attack, that free speech is being curtailed in the name of political correctness, or that government policies are punishing success and rewarding dependency.

This narrative is employed to rally support, galvanise voters, and create a unifying identity among conservatives who feel their way of life is under threat. It also serves as a counterpoint to accusations from the left that conservatives are in positions of power and privilege, reframing the conversation to focus on instances where conservatives feel disadvantaged or oppressed. IE, when a standup comic on a late-night TV show dares to crack a joke about a white billionaire.

But are conservatives really victims?

Conservative victimhood claims centre on cultural changes such as the increased visibility and rights of LGBTQ+ communities — a tiny percentage of the population scraping the surface of parity with conservative rights — the teaching of a more inclusive historical narrative that highlights the experiences of minorities, and the defence of so-called religious liberties that extend into the realm of denying services to marginalised groups.

For those accustomed to a certain preeminence, broadening rights and consideration to encompass all groups can feel less like an expansion of justice and more like a personal affront. This reaction is emblematic of the discomfort that comes with the redistribution of power and privilege that had previously been taken as a given.

This unease is often articulated through a narrative that frames equal rights as a zero-sum game, where any gain for one group must inherently come at a cost to another. The advancement of minority rights, gender equality, or LGBTQ+ protections is perceived not as a collective societal progression but a direct challenge to the status quo that has historically benefited certain groups.

The conservative invocation of victimhood in the face of these changes is a defence mechanism against the perceived loss of status. In a world where the playing field is being levelled, any move towards equality feels like a step backwards for those who have always been ahead. Dismantling systems that have perpetuated inequalities is not an attack but rather an alignment towards fairness.

When traditionally dominant demographics voice feelings of victimisation in response to the expansion of rights for others, it is crucial to contextualise these feelings within the broader scope of historical and systemic power dynamics. It is not that they are being attacked but that others are finally being acknowledged and given a voice. The extension of equal rights and considerations to all groups is not an erosion of the rights of the historically privileged but a necessary evolution towards a more equitable society.

In a society that increasingly acknowledges and attempts to rectify historical and systemic injustices, the right-wing frames any attention paid to genuine victims as a sort of ‘victimhood capital’- where the status of being a victim carries with it a certain moral weight and the power to demand redress. And it seems clear that they want victimhood capital for themselves.

The pursuit of ‘victimhood capital’ by the right-wing is a strategic move to co-opt the language and posture of the genuinely oppressed to serve their own agenda. It is a quest to secure the empathy and the moral high ground often afforded to those who have been historically marginalised. By framing their discomfort with changing social norms as an equivalent injustice, their goal is to harness the power of victimhood without enduring its lived reality.

The drive to claim victimhood capital by those in positions of relative power dilutes the significance of the experiences of conservatives’ own victims. It deliberately trivialises the experiences of those who face discrimination and marginalisation daily through the dominant policies of dominant right-wing politicians. When the language and posture of victimhood are co-opted without the accompanying systemic disenfranchisement, it becomes a tool for deflecting criticism, resisting accountability, and maintaining the status quo under the guise of grievance.

The truth that anyone who has suffered through systemic inequality knows all too well: victimhood is not a desirable state nor a comfortable one. Genuine victims do not wish for their status; they want an end to the conditions of their victimisation. The true aim for a just society is not the accumulation of victimhood capital, but the total obsolescence of inequality.

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