David Brooks, NYT Op/Ed
The Lebanese-born writer Amin Maalouf made an interesting point about identity: Other people often pick ours for us. The anti-Semite elevates the Jewish consciousness in the Jew. The Sunni radical elevates Shiite consciousness in the Shiite.
“People often see themselves in terms of whichever one of their allegiances is most under attack,” Maalouf writes.
The people who exclude us try to reduce our myriad identities down to one simplistic one. Amartya Sen calls this process “miniaturization.” You may be an athletic Baptist Democratic surgeon with three kids and a love for Ohio State, but to the bigot you’re just one thing: your faith or skin color or whatever it is he doesn’t like.
The odd thing is, people are often complicit in their own miniaturization.
We live in an atomized, individualistic society in which most people have competing identities. Life is more straightforward when you’re locked into one totalistic group, even if it’s imposed upon you. When you’re disrespected for being a Jew, a Christian, a liberal or a conservative, the natural instinct is to double down on that identity. People in what feels like a hostile environment often reduce their many affiliations down to just one simple one, which they weaponize and defend to the hilt.
Today, the world feels like a hostile environment to. … well … everyone. I had assumed that as society got more equal we would all share a measure of equal dignity. But it turns out that without an obvious social hierarchy we all get to feel equally powerless.
It’s human nature that we feel our sleights more strongly than we feel our advantages, so we all tend to feel downtrodden these days. White males and Zionists feel victimized on campus. Christians feel oppressed by the courts. Women feel victimized in tech. The working class feels victimized everywhere. Even Taylor Swift apparently feels victimized by celebrity.
Group victimization has become the global religion — from Berkeley to the alt-right to Iran — and everybody gets to assert his or her victimization is worst and it’s the other people who are the elites.