I'm afraid you're wrong, boogeyman to the victim identity cult | HBR Talk 71


In Alison Tieman’s threat narrative series, she described a means of personal attack wherein the aggressor, rather than directly assaulting her target, strives to manipulate others’ perceptions in a way that villainizes the target. As Alison described, the aggressor achieves this by increasing perception of the target’s agency and intent to do bad, but decreasing perception of the target’s vulnerability, while presenting the opposite, decreased agency and intent to do bad, but increased vulnerability, in herself. For a better understanding of threat narratives and how they affect interpersonal and group conflicts, I recommend watching Alison’s entire threat narrative series, which will be linked in the lowbar of this video and the bottom of the transcript page. For purposes of this discussion, however, you only need know that a threat narrative relies on that basic formula, and can be used by virtually anyone to manipulate bystander opinion against virtually anyone else. 

This is the primary tool of the victim identity cult. As explained in past episodes of HBR Talk, victim identity cult is a descriptor for the entire spectrum of politics that is centered around a group victim identity rather than a set of ideals. This identity is often used as their primary argument in political debate, wherein evidence of historical oppression is used both as a means of justification for the group’s demands, and a shield against any criticism. As is the moral of the story of the boy who cried wolf, overuse of the usual victim identity threat narratives - accusations of racism, sexism, and homophobia, for example, has hardened people against their effects. These methods are no longer stopping independent discussion from taking place. In some cases, they’re even getting turned back on those who use them. 

As that has become less and less effective, the victim identity cult has opened up a new tactic.  In it, the target’s agency and the aggressor’s vulnerability are so inflated that the aggressor can expect to be taken seriously portraying herself as a victim of the target’s own thoughts, or even her anticipation of what he might think. This is achieved by framing ideas in melodramatic terms and applying those terms indiscriminately. Ideas are no longer concepts to be evaluated for flaws or validity. They are absolutes with immediate impact on anyone who is exposed to them, an impact that is determined not by the idea’s merits, but by the listener’s reaction to it. They are good or evil, gospel or blasphemy, rightthink or wrongthink, and any discussion around topics related to them must be filtered through that outlook. If an expressed thought contains even a grain of pushback against a rightthink idea or even opens a question not accounted for by rightthink, it is tainted with wrongthink, and is therefore wrongthink itself. That wrongthink then associates it with whatever the aggressor decides is the exact opposite of her position, or the worst prejudices she can imagine, regardless of whether they have anything to do with the original idea, or not. The aggressor’s objections to and fear of the target’s alleged prejudices, along with a supposed “right to feel safe,” are now the body of her argument, exempting her, in her mind, from discussing the idea at all. 

She needs no evidence, just the ability to claim she “feels unsafe.” 

She can’t even deal with you right now because you’re so wrong, it’s scary. She is short-circuiting, in fact, because of you and your terrifying articulation of Things Originating From Outside her Safe, Established Narrative. She can’t answer what you said because it’s beyond consideration. She can’t even tell you why. In fact she can’t even… can’t even finish her sentences, so horrified is she, by the threat of whatever might be on your mind, so she just can’t even! Why, she is probably even literally shaking right now.

In this way, independent thought itself has become the boogeyman of the victim identity cult. You cannot question the details of the victim narrative, suggest alternative ideas, ask that excluded demographics be brought into the discussion, or take a humorous approach to a topic over which the victim cult claims ownership. Even questioning the validity of the accusation is seen as a threat. In fact, you cannot be the arbiter of your own position. Your information, your intentions, your context… none of these matter. Your aggressor’s lived experience is that of feeling unsafe. Therefore, you must be dangerous! 

Once an individual has been effectively labeled a Wrongthink Boogeyman, the unpersoning process has begun. Remember, this is taking place in the context of a presumed right to feel safe. It doesn’t matter if nothing that is being said about you is true, or could be rationally construed as evidence that you actually make anyone unsafe. Truth and logic are not what matters here. Your aggressor’s reaction can now replace them, colloquially described as her truth, and her truth is that you’re a bad person if she doesn’t like how she feels about what you said.

This, in turn, is used as justification for silencing tactics, from social media suspensions and event bans to outright violence, massive protests against public speakers, financial blacklisting of wrongthink media, major, widespread, establishment media campaigns targeting high school kids for wearing the wrong hats, and even criminal conviction for the making of a politically incorrect joke.

You cannot explore unpopular intellectual territory without facing serious backlash as a result of others’ alleged fears… including fears relying on territory you did not actually tread.
Your rights and freedoms are now being asked to take a back seat to victim identity cultists’ comfort levels.

Where is this taking us?

How do we find solutions to difficult problems if, when prevailing ideas become outdated or turn out to have been wrong in the first place, they cannot be challenged without fear of being labeled “dangerous,” attacked, and punished by the victim identity cult? What is left to differentiate between science, and superstition, mechanics, and magic? How do we fix what is broken if examination of its flaws is verboten? If we ban logic, what do we have left?