Our culture now revolves around a giant game of Victim Olympics. Prizes are awarded to whoever suffers most in the opinion of the judges. Schools teach children how to demonstrate suffering because that’s the skill that our culture rewards.
There are many events in the Victim Olympics—some based on inborn traits and others open to anyone who proclaims their suffering. The prizes are huge, so people are quite motivated to build their victim credentials. They carefully nurse grievances and innovate new forms of victimhood to keep up with the competition.
The harm done by this game is widely overlooked. It harms us at the societal level by wasting energy on the pursuit of weakness instead of strength. And it harms you at an individual level by training you to believe you are miserable in the midst of a great life.
So why do people play?
One reason is to get ahead. If you want an elite education and a high-status job, you have to play Victim Olympics to get them.
Another reason is that it's become a habit. You don’t even realize you’re playing because it’s just how you’ve learned to relate to others.
A striking example is the meeting of free-speech professors I recently attended. Most of the time was spent talking about how boys are now suffering more than girls. The participants may have thought they were very alternative, but it was just more Victim Olympics.
The main reason you play the game is to protect yourself from attack. The world has been divided into victims and oppressors, so if you don’t have a good victim claim, you’re automatically an oppressor. People are encouraged to hate “oppressors,” so you become a target of hate. Like a kid on a playground, you defer to the bully to avoid getting bullied.
What if you just ignore the game and focus on getting things done?
When you get things done, you risk getting ahead of people who are busy being victims. Getting ahead makes you the cause of other people getting behind. Now, they win and you lose. To redeem yourself, you must express “empathy” for the suffering of others, and fund prizes for new events in the Victim Olympics. If you don’t do this enough, you are condemned and hated.
We all face the terrible choice between playing the game and being a social pariah. It’s so frustrating that you might prefer to grow potatoes in your backyard and avoid the public forum.
I’m growing potatoes. I don’t like the victim game because it was pushed on me at a young age. Fortunately, I learned to see it as a game and not reality.
When I was young, my mother said, “The Jews won’t like you.” I went to a public school where kids were bused in from a better neighborhood because their new development didn’t have a school yet. My mother felt put down by people who had more education or money, and she pushed this mindset on me.
I didn’t really buy it because I could see that I got better treatment at school than at home. On the other hand, I’d never learned to make friends because my mother’s social anxiety shaped my world.
People often manage social anxiety by sticking with their “own kind.” But I never felt comfortable with other Italians because my mother said bad things about them. So I didn’t bond with anyone.
I stuck to my books to avoid thinking about the whole mess. Ironically, the more I stuck to my books, the more I ended up in mostly Jewish classes. I would not even have noticed except that on Jewish holidays, I’d be one of the few kids at school.
When I got to college, I was stunned to hear Jews referred to as a minority group. The idea had never occurred to me!
But I studied history and learned that my more affluent classmates often had extreme hardship in their family history. Yet, they made something of their lives with constant hard work, so I focused on doing that.
With more study of history, I found out how poor my Italian ancestors had been. When my grandfather left Sicily in 1910, dirt floors and pit toilets were the norm, and meat was a luxury that people rarely ate. I realized that I had a princely standard of living, even if it was slightly behind someone else.
How did this fabulous improvement happen? My research uncovered the reality of the Italian Mafia. I had never heard about it growing up, so I’d presumed it was an invention of Hollywood. But I learned that the Mafia indeed bullies everyone into forking over a chunk of their earnings. People don’t try to build things because the Mafia takes anything you manage to accumulate.
The Italian Mafia victimizes its own people. They get away with it by presenting themselves as the good guys who are protecting you from “the real bad guys”—which they define as all outsiders. When I learned about the Mafia, I was grateful to live in a country where parasitic mafia behavior didn't squeeze the vitality out of everyone.
I hate to think what would happen to me if I were growing up today.
I would find it harder to resist my mother’s unhealthy mindset because my teachers would be reinforcing it. Instead of presenting an alternative, my school would actively encourage me to see myself as a victim, even as it taught me to defer to the superior victim claims. I’d be learning to play the victim game instead of getting things done.
But I like to think I might have questioned this poisonous thought habit. I hope some of today’s children are questioning it. I hope they are secretly resisting the pull and focusing on getting things done.