Victimisation has become an anti-democratic social force that doesn’t even hide the intolerance it animates. Fomented by universities and media, it has political correctness as an ally.
«In the current environment of increasing polarization, this allows us to anticipate that intolerant tendencies are accentuated in the future, deteriorating rational dialogue and the viability of democracy»
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche in Götzen-Dämmerung, being some of the most fascinating and frightening philosophers of modernity. Although popular culture has transformed it into little more than a mindless cliché, Nietzsche’s phrase hides one of the fundamental pieces of wisdom of the history of philosophical thought.
The idea is simple but deep, in that human beings require adversity, conflict and even a certain degree of tragedy in order to feed our vitality and to stand before the world. The possibility of civilized life, that of psychic strength and not in the chaos of emotions that dictate the form of interacting with other, lies mostly on Nietzsche’s wisdom.
Because, unlike “fragile” systems (as a porcelain cup) that break with low levels of stress and therefore have to be treated with particular care; and contrary to “robust” systems (as a plastic cup) that resist shocks without breaking, but that are not benefitted by them, our psychology is an “antifragile” system.
The term was coined by the mathematician and thinker Nassim Taleb and it describes the central character of complex systems that require certain levels of stress to strengthen .1
The immune system for example, if never exposed to pathogens, doesn’t develop the resistance needed to fight off those that leave the organism that it protects, defenceless. In the same way a psychic system should be exposed to stress in order to gradually strengthen and be able to face psychological shocks that will inevitably be produced in “the school of war of life”, to use another of Nietzsche’s expressions.
The new culture of victimisation and protectionism that starts with parents and overprotective schools, and is reinforced with media that is morally hysterical and universities that are more worried for young people to not be exposed to any uncomfortable experience, than for them to develop the ability to deal with them attack the master beam of antifragility that Nietzsche identified as a prerequisite for a viable life.
And the consequences of this tendency have been devastating. The book of the social psychologist star Jonathan Haidt and the intellectual Greg Lukianoff, The coddling of the American mind, shows that the culture of safetyism in the United States is “leading an entire generation into failure”.2
This safetyism is fed, according to the authors, by one of the three great weakening falsehoods of our time: the idea that “what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”, a falsehood that inverts Nietzsche’s teaching and increments psychic vulnerability.
The second weakening falsehood is the notion, exacerbated by media, that one should always trust your emotions. According to the authors, this cogitative distortion leads to the so-called “emotional reasoning” that consists in making our emotions guide our interpretation of reality in circumstances when it would be better to consider emotions at a distance and evaluate to what point what they lead us to think is correct, true or just.
A third weakening falsehood, according to Haidt and Lukianoff, persistently spread in universities, is that the world is divided into good and bad, the good being those who think alike and the bad being those who adhere to other ways of seeing the world.
«One of the “weakening” falsehood, according to Haidt and Lukianoff, persistently spread in universities, is that the world is divided into good and bad, the good being those who think alike and the bad being those who adhere to other ways of seeing the world».
The ideology of the dominating leftist Americans in universities, with their obsession of a radical version of the identity politics according to which society is divided into diverse and unreconcilable, between which heterosexual banks would be the oppressing groups per excellence, has contributed like none other to the fomenting of hatred and stimulating a disposition to violence of people considered subjectively victimized only for the reason of belonging to a group.
This promotion of victimization has been reflected in the best possible way in the so-called “political correctness”, an intellectual impostor that looks to censure all opinions and expressions that supposedly vulnerable groups consider offensive, even in the conclusions of scientific studies that don’t adjust to the ideology of humanities and social sciences faculties. This radical and dividing left, that the Columbia professor Mark Lilla signalled as that responsible for the failure of the Democratic Party —due to its failure to offer a common project for all Americans— -1 is also principally responsible for undertaking an agenda of destruction of the values and ideals that allowed for moral, scientific and economic progress in the West. In the words of the Harvard professor and neuro-scientist Steven Pinker, “all intellectuals that call themselves progressive hate progress”.4 Pinker has dedicated an entire book called Enlightenment now to defending the ideals of the Enlightenment, that, so he says, are under systematic attack fundamentally for the irrational ideologies of the left that have captured university campuses. In The blank slate, Pinker realized the same problem explaining that today there dominates “the mentality of a cult” that cannot “coexist with an understanding of the truth” and that “undermines the concepts of truth, logic and evidence”.5
This would have led as an inevitable reaction, to “a culture of politically incorrect commotions that delight in the anti-intellectual and fanatic, emboldened by the knowledge that the intellectual has lost pretence of credibility in the eyes of the public”.6
The ascent of the ideologies that foment identity hatred and that justify means of totalitarian repression to freedom of expression, combined with the psychic fragility cultivated by schools, parents, universities and media, proposes un heard of threats for the possibility of a democratic life. Given that both phenomena drown the possibility of a rational dialogue between different points of view -stopping in this way the only possible mechanism for resolving conflicts of a liberal democratic-, the predilection for authoritarian answers that mute the opponent is converted into an alternative with a real demand from the population.
As Haidt and Lukianoff explain, the psychological incapacity to deal with conflict leads to search for protection from an authority that imposes itself by force to mute the other. In the current environment of increasing polarization, this allows us to anticipate that intolerant tendencies are accentuated in the future, deteriorating rational dialogue and the viability of democracy, as this requires citizens capable of resolving their own issues in a permanent exercise of tolerance between opposing points of view. Evidently, this is incompatible with the cult of psychic weakness, epistemological relativism and the discourse of politically correct tribal hatred that has gradually come to dominate public discussion in the West.
- See: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile, Random House, New York, 2012.
- Jonathan Haidt & Greg Lukianoff, The Coddling of the American Mind, Penguin, 2018.
- Lilla,M., 2017. The Once and Future Liberal, Harper Collins, New York.
- Pinker, S., 2018. Enlightenment Now, Penguin, New York, p.39.
- Pinker, S., 2002. The Blank Slate, Penguin, London.
- Pinker, S., 2002. The Blank Slate, Penguin, London.