Ingeborg van Teeseling

About Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland fifteen years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website, and runs, telling people's life stories.

Playing the victim is playing us for fools

Approx Reading Time-12The aspirational goal of the Victim is a modern day social phenomenon, but it is nothing more than a bag over our heads.


People are strange creatures. Most sane parents bring up their children to be self-sufficient, independent human beings, ready, willing and able to take on the world and live fulfilling lives. We are taught to take responsibility for ourselves and try and coexist as happily as we can with others. But that is not what seems to get us kudos at the moment; on the contrary, the best way to get acclaim appears to be victimhood, not empowerment and standing on your own feet. As far as I can see, there is a strange culture of victimhood sweeping the world, and it bothers me. Everybody is a victim now. Listen to Donald Trump taking up the cause of middle-class white people. Apparently, they are the victims of all non-white people, rich and poor. They are scary hordes, coming to take over the country, and the best way to counter that is to build a big wall to keep out the new ones and send the old ones “home,” even if they have been in the country for generations.

Of course, non-white people are victims too. They can be well-educated, (even President of the United States,) but because they fit the category, they are still downtrodden, to use a nice old-fashioned word. Muslims are victims, all of them, Saudi princes included, and everybody who feels they are at the receiving end, fictional or otherwise, of “Muslim terrorism.” Christians are victims, and so are atheists, and Buddhists, and other religious groups. Then there are the people who are victims of illness, or bad luck, or criminality, or a neighbour with a barking dog. And let’s not forget the men who blame feminism for their loss of standing and generations claiming they are worse off than other generations. Students at universities are also fatalities, whatever their ATAR, and people who did not get into university. Women are victims, whether they are at the top of the tree or not, and children, because they are, well, children. Refugees are naturally martyrs, but so are the people who made them flee, because they are only upholding their rightful place in the world and are very misunderstood. Soldiers are victims and so are the people they bomb or shoot. Migrants are helpless sufferers, and so are the “native born,” because nobody gives them special status or extra money. Aboriginal people are underdogs too, of course, as are non-Aboriginal people trying to help and failing. Tony Abbott is a victim, and Peta Credlin, and Tony Windsor and Barnaby Joyce. It is a veritable merry-go-round: whoever we are, whatever we do, all of us claim the status of the victim.

There are pros and cons to being a victim. The good thing is that you don’t actually have to achieve anything to become one. In fact, it is a prerequisite that you are helpless and powerless, or at least appear that way. We like our victims passive and in need of our action, because then we can do something and feel better about ourselves. Aid organisations advertise with dying babies, invoking our parental instincts and Superman dreams. Television shows clean up the houses of hoarders and renovate or rebuild the places of cancer sufferers, and there are frequent campaigns to send sick babies to American hospitals for treatment. All this help has two conditions, though: it needs to make us feel righteous and less guilty, and the victims in question need to be grateful and loose their victimhood afterwards. Those are the rules. If you are a refugee, we will assist you. But if you mob a food van, as happened on the Greek-Macedonian border recently, you are contributing to “disorganised chaos,” and that is unacceptable. How dare you clash with police, burn down your horrible muddy camp or protest? Have you forgotten that your role is to be passive, innocent and grateful?

Victimhood also has a short shelf life. When the war in Syria started, the world felt pity and a great need to help the victims. Now it is still going on and there seems no end to it, we are tired and angry that our actions have not removed the suffering from our television screens. We have started to blame the victims for the fact that they are still victims. We have given money, signed a petition; now go away. We want a quick fix. A little compassion, a bit of cleaning up – a well-deserved beer at the end of it. Surely we’ve done our bit, right? Stop asking us for more. In fact, now it is our turn to be the victim. Of the fact that it seems never to be enough; that we can’t feel morally superior for our helping you out; that you are not saints, but normal human beings, who demand things, not beg for them. We feel wronged now and deserve our time in the sun. Don’t we all have PTSD from just watching the news every day and being confronted with the dead and wounded? See, we are victims too.

Another problem with victimhood is that it takes away a person’s agency and replaces it with dependency. To feel at home in the world, we all need a few things: the belief that when we leave our homes in the morning, we will return to them in the evening. That if we behave reasonably, we will be safe. Then the conviction that the world revolves around reason and that shit doesn’t just happen. Lastly, we need to know that we belong somewhere, that we’ve got a place, literally and figuratively, to call our own. When something horrible happens, the first thing we aim for is control. Somehow, we have to take back the reigns, because otherwise everything feels like quicksand and human beings are simply not built for that. Once you become a victim, you relinquish your sovereignty and with that, the power that comes from knowing that you are in charge of your life.

That is a slippery slope, because although being helped might feel good, it doesn’t give you back what you need most. So basically, the rule should be: don’t get sad, get even.

Also, because all this victimhood only makes things worse.

Apart from personal and group victimhood, we have now started to indulge in world victimhood. We are telling ourselves that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, that it has never been this bad and that WWIII is around the corner. First of all, this is simply not true. The Uppsala Conflict Data Program is the world’s leading resource on armed conflicts, which they have monitored since the 1970s. In their latest report they wrote that the level of violence in 2014 is “much lower than the previous peak in 1994,” and that “in earlier post-WWII periods there were many years with large wars and genocides which resulted in much higher death tolls.” Their conclusion toward the trend is that “overall levels are declining” and that “the world is much less violent than during the Cold War and the World Wars,” which they see as a “positive development.” Despite the figures, we are constantly crying wolf. The problem with this, is that we run the risk of talking ourselves into something that we will not be able to stop. Saying that it has never been so bad is a self-fulfilling prophesy. That is dangerous. So let’s stop this need to be victims and start taking control again. It will make us feel better and diffuse the ridiculous panic that is threatening to overcome us.

Really, worse things have happened.

We’re fine.


Share via