The Last Defender of Frozen Peaches

A common right-wing talking point is that leftists and liberals like to claim perpetual victimhood. As a young adult, I have rejected this claim a lot - nobody likes being abused, oppressed or discriminated against. These things are not remotely fun.

Now that I am a slightly older young adult, I find myself coming back to this claim and thinking about it harder. I still don't believe that anyone truly enjoys victimhood - being abused, oppressed and discriminated against is still not fun - but if you're good at manipulating narratives, claiming the status of a victim while retaining most or all of your privileges will get you far.

I also believe that this manifests in different ways.

Among circles where privilege theory is used as a foundation for thinking about politics and social justice, we're (supposed to) pay attention to the intersections of these privileges; we're also (supposed to be) aware of our own privileges and how we might use these to talk over other more oppressed people. In practice, it doesn't work that way at all - look at who gets space to write about social justice issues in the Guardian or New Statesman, say, and compare them with who's considered privileged. That is all. But I think this is how the canard that leftists and liberals like to be perpetual victims gains a foothold; see this excellent essay by Andrea Smith.

On the right - well, this is a big generalisation since leftist and liberal elements actually do the same thing - victimhood takes quite a different form.

The general format is this:

Firstly, deliberately stir up controversy or otherwise argue in bad faith. This is great for getting clicks and interaction. After this, sit back and wait, because the internet is a horrible place. Finally, write a lengthy op-ed about how free speech is dead and how you're being horribly victimised by...people being mean on twitter. I've written about this before, but in the context of conspiracy theorists rather than establishment right-wingers holding forth.

The attentive reader might point out that I've been deliberately ignoring a point here: social media is a vitriolic and horrible space known for harassing people to shut them up. In the real world, speech has chilling effects. We are all subject to them.

How do you differentiate between criticism which will not harm people and attacks meant to silence them? A clear and useful line is whether a person's argument is being attacked or the person themselves. I would like to see more people stay on the non-shitty side of this line, and I would like to see more people evaluate comments according to whether they're attacking a person or an argument, as opposed to evaluating comments by the political affiliation of the commenter. (When we like the commenters, it's reasoned criticism; when we don't, it's harassment.)

The point I'm trying to make is that when free speech includes criticism and insults, and you post controversial work where anyone can read it and comment on it in some form, you don't get to call yourself a victim unless people are releasing your personal details or sending you rape and death threats - things clearly designed to silence a person.

Freedom of speech does not imply freedom from criticism. In fact, if anything, freedom of speech implies the freedom to criticise others. I personally think we should have a big critical free-for-all.

The point I'm trying to make is that if you make your living by writing things that are going to be controversial and make you a lot of ad revenue, you're not being victimised by a stranger in the comment section calling you a dickhead. Nor are you the last defender of free speech. You've jumped on the stupid bandwagon where people get paid to try and offend each other, knowing full well that the internet is very easily offended - if it weren't, people like Katie Hopkins or Milo Yiannopoulos would languish in obscurity. If you stir up outrage, you should expect outrage.