Wokeness and Victimhood

If there’s a topic the woke like talking about most, it’s themselves.  This is not unusual for people obsessed with their own well-being, status, and influence over others. Which pretty much sums up the mindset of most of the woke.  A culture based on such values easily tips over into narcissistic exhibitionism -- the obsessive desire to parade one’s self before others: nothing could be more important than satisfying the craving for attention, approval, and adulation.

This activity has now been elevated into entertainment masquerading as documentary.

I don’t wish to denigrate the suffering of those who experience mental health problems.  But parading themselves around on TV ‘continuing the global conversation’ about mental ill-health borders on the grotesque.  They’re all willing participants, of course, and as adults can give consent to their use as fodder for a project that is in effect normalizing trauma by turning it into a lifelong obsession.  Because that is the message: if you suffer disabling trauma (or merely believe you do) at some point in your life, this is a threat to your mental health and emotional well-being for life, and to ease the resulting distress you need the help and care of ‘experts.’  For as long as you live.  This is a false humanism.

Ever since Sigmund Freud -- who systematized the idea that life necessarily involves psychological conflict and trauma -- theorists, academics, therapists, novelists, and many more have pushed the idea that to live is necessarily to be tormented from within.  True believers -- the emotionally fragile or otherwise psychologically vulnerable -- spend their entire existence seeking out the cause of their torment and then searching for the ideal therapy.  Life-coaches, life-style gurus, chat-show hosts, and other promoters of ‘well-being’ have now turned this into a constant searching for the ‘real me’ or the ‘me you can’t see.’  The performative display of this quest for authenticity consists of celebrating fragility instead of overcoming it.  This is existentialism woke-style.

Among the woke it is seen as a virtue to open up about one’s mental health issues, or merely one’s emotional fragility.  Receiving therapy brings status.  The psychotherapy field is mushrooming with options.  With hundreds of approaches to psychotherapy and counseling, even the most expert practitioner cannot possibly be proficient in more than a few.  But how to tell the genuine from hyped-up quack-remedies?

With identity politics now firmly established in the public consciousness, every effort is being made by the wokerati to convince everyone else that there must be something mentally wrong with them.  Much-desired ‘victim’ status can then be theirs simply by opening up about their mental trauma (real or imagined) in public.  Woke psychopathology becomes bad soap opera.

There is a deeper point to be made about all this, which has not yet received the attention it deserves.  And this is that the purveyors of this snake oil have managed to make claims of mental distress and disorder (whether genuine or imagined) not only fashionable but almost compulsory if one is to attain any credibility in a certain social circle -- the woke.  The woke are apparently obsessed with their own inability to live with(in) themselves.  Their therapy, it would appear, consists of advertising their emotional sensitivity as if in a game show where the most convincing performance wins the prize of ever more attention, approval, and adulation.  The most privileged appear on TV tell-all shows during which they recount their emotional ordeals whilst insisting they are ‘survivors’ of something dreadful which clearly didn’t kill them but which they cannot let go of.  Their emotional travails have come to define them and have become an essential part of who they are.  

The cognitive dissonance involved must in itself be disabling, and perhaps this is why the participants are so lacking in self-awareness.  Their self-disclosures are ever more revealing, but their authenticity can be judged only on their performance.  Their entire history of mental trauma and distress must be retold at every opportunity to convince others of the truthfulness of their account.  They can’t let it go.  They can’t move on.  They’ve turned themselves into living exhibits of psychological dysfunction.  They’re trapped by their own artifice of compulsive competitive victimhood. 

In the 18th century, it became fashionable to visit Bethlem Royal Hospital in London on sunny Sunday afternoons to gawp at the inmates’ bizarre behavior (hence ‘Bedlam’), for the price of one penny.

Today’s version makes for very profitable careers for those who seek to exploit the obsessive curiosity of their audiences, drawing in ever more converts.  

But to succumb to a moral hazard such as this is to adopt a new identity founded on the social recognition of mental ill-health being a lifetime affliction, locking the sufferer in a psychological prison from which there is no escape; the torment and turmoil susceptible only to temporary relief through recourse to psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, life-coaches, lifestyle gurus, quacks and other kinds of ego-masseurs such as chat-show hosts.

There are at least two fundamental problems with all this.

First, whatever therapy those afflicted in this way claim to be receiving and thus recommending for others clearly doesn’t work, except to prolong the condition.  Which only adds to the list of quack ‘solutions’ that simply fleece people of their money.  This devalues therapies that might actually have some chance of being beneficial to those with genuine mental health problems.  Worse still, it is easy not only to convince vulnerable people that they have a mental health problem but also to reinforce their unhealthy habits, which Sigmund Freud (in one of his more helpful moments) categorized as ‘repetition compulsion.’

Thus is a cycle established whereby the experience of mental trauma, along with the resulting distress, expresses itself as an obsession and comes to dominate the person’s life such that they are unable to break free without competent professional help, and sometimes even this fails.  But all this is as nothing to the second fundamental problem arising from the turning of woke psychopathology into bad soap opera. 

And that is that so many people want a walk-on part that the set is becoming rather overcrowded, with the most adept indulging in rhetorical amplification to gain extra attention and kudos:

If this carries on what we might term ‘normal’ people -- that is, reasonably well-adjusted, psychologically competent, emotionally well-balanced individuals capable of sufficient insight to detect what is actually going on here -- will be in a minority and the asylum will consist of almost the entirety of the society in which we live.

And when that stage is reached, the vulnerable and impressionable, the gullible and otherwise hapless individuals sucked into this latest fad will be too many in number for the competent psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors to accommodate and the way will be open for cynical political manipulators to take charge with their promise of a utopia that will solve all of humanity’s problems.

Are we there yet?

I leave you to judge.

Wen Wryte is the pseudonym of a retired teacher of philosophy who leads a contemplative life.

Image: Pixabay

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