John Wesley was one of the greatest of Englishmen. His indefatigable travel to bring the gospel to the poorest inspires awe. Over fifty-four years, travelling mostly on horseback, he covered about five thousand miles a year. That is some two hundred and ninety thousand miles, equal to circumnavigating the globe about twelve times.
Much of his travel was revisiting towns and villages where he had already preached the gospel. A pattern emerged: Wesley would present the gospel, people would come to Christ and lives would be changed. Drunks would become sober, the indolent would apply themselves, husbands and wives would become faithful, chaotic lives would find a stable purpose. Changed morality led to changed lifestyles.
As their economic condition inevitably improved, people would move from the poorest areas and establish themselves in more secure environments. At a time of great social upheaval, their places would be taken by country people moving into the towns. Wesley rejoiced that converts’ lives were changed so dramatically, and proceeded with the task of taking the gospel to the new urban poor.
Today’s secular world has the opposite dynamic. It is to the express advantage of some individual advocacy organisations devoted to the rights of a particular victim group to inflate and perpetuate the victim status.
There are disturbing aspects to the commonplace culture of victimhood. Firstly, in the plethora of claims for special treatment for differing victim groups it is difficult to work out who tops the Victim League at any particular time.
There is much to be gained or lost socially, politically and economically depending on one’s position on the Victim League. As a victim caste, women have fallen behind Muslims, hence the silence concerning female genital mutilation which, until recently, has been quietly accepted by progressives.
There is nothing new under the sun. When the 14th Amendment to the US constitution was adopted in 1868, black men were given the vote when women of all races were disenfranchised. The former slave Frederick Douglass said at the time: ‘This is the Negro’s hour.’ He continued: ‘When women because they are women are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp-posts . . . then they will have the urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.’
Women had been dragged out of their homes as booty of war, and within their homes subjected to domestic slavery simply because they were women for far longer than the brief few centuries of American slavery, horrific as that was. But Douglass was not concerned with either historical fact or equal rights, he was concerned with the rights of what he saw as his people. His real argument was ‘Our suffering beats your suffering, so our rights beat your rights’. As Orwell taught us, ‘All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others’.
Sectional interest always argues ‘I’m more unequal than you and have suffered more than you, therefore I have more rights than you’. Suffering, however, is relative and has a significant element of ego. We all feel our own pain and the pain of those close to us much more acutely than we feel the pain of others.
That sense of personal suffering is played upon by activists to increase their influence and gain higher positioning in the Victim League. To work out priorities or who ‘deserves’ favoured treatment we rely not on the substance of the suffering but on the vociferousness of the complainant. Outrage, real or manufactured, is the deciding factor. Anger triumphs over fact.
There is another, and more troubling, aspect of victim culture. When individuals are told by activists that they are part of a class of victims, should expect to be victims, and that they need to be constantly looking over their shoulders in case they become victims, then they will read into every slight, real or imagined, a personal attack. The sense of victimhood is inevitably increased.
That this may not accord with the facts is immaterial. Despite constant media insistence and activists engendering an atmosphere of fear, the fact is that virtually zero homosexuals are victims of hate crime. According to a UCLA study released in April 2011, an estimated 3.5 per cent of Americans self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, which equates to approximately 9million adults. The FBI reports that there were 1376 victims of hate crime, including verbal abuse, due to sexual identity in 2012. This translates to 0.00015 per cent of all LGBT people being hate crime victims.
It is, however, important for activists of whatever cause to maintain pressure on behalf of their victim group. In 2016 more than a million Londoners voted for Sadiq Khan in the mayoral election, giving him the largest direct mandate enjoyed by any individual in British history. This in the capital of a nation in which, according to Lady Warsi, it has become ‘socially acceptable’ to despise Muslims.
The ‘constituency’ of activists are the victimised. One of the activists’ problems is: How do we make it appear that we are working for our constituents and making progress, without making so much progress that your constituency gets the impression that activists are no longer required?
When victimhood is seen as your source of identity and empowerment, recovery is seen as the enemy. Blame is apportioned to the oppressors, solutions are found in the activist bodies which assure them they are victims, and so the victim remains a perpetual victim. What is promoted as a corrective to injustice becomes a source and reinforcer of injustice.
One solution is that by concentrating on peripheral issues such as speech codes, gaining small victories gives the impression that progress is being made by an able, caring and dynamic leadership. This leads to declaring wolf-whistling a hate crime. When a vicious racially motivated assault and a brickie whistling at a woman can be considered the same type of ‘crime’, society has slipped its moorings.