In a recent interview with Ben Shapiro, political columnist Heather Mac Donald skewered some college kids’ pursuit of ever-more-granularized identity group badges:

… all the various gender identities that are being rapidly crafted by desperate students who are finding it’s getting harder and harder to be transgressive and get your own personal bureaucracy to cater to your delusions about being oppressed.

The phrase “personal bureaucracy” stood out, and it strikes to the core of the matter: Today’s grievance warriors seek, above all else, external validation and championing of their narcissistic and picayune plaints. It’s a guaranteed result of the deification of inequality: when “some animals are more equal than others,” battle for supremacy in the grievance hierarchy inevitably follows.

This has led to the degradation and co-opting of formerly worthy movements and advocacy organizations, organizations that fought against actual discriminations and subordinating of rights (blacks and other minorities, women, gays, religious minorities, etc). Now, rather than fight for equal rights and non-discriminatory treatment, they fight, or are leveraged in fights for, preferential treatment. Indeed, preferential treatment is the new “equal,” as shown by the re-definition of racism and the demarcation of feminism into various waves.

A lesson from business school, regarding use of time in the work place or a professional organization, comes to mind. Work can be broken down into four categories:

1 – work that you do that advances your goals.
2 – work that you do that advances someone else’s goals (your co-workers, your boss, your boss’s boss, the CEO, etc).
3 – work that others do that advances your goals.
4 – work that others do that advance others’ goals.

#1 is our first instinct, that which is under our greatest control, and of most controllable benefit. Unfortunately, it’s limited by time, the scarcest resource.

#2 can be beneficial, as well, but that benefit depends on outsiders, their goodwill (or lack thereof), organizational politics, etc. It’s the least efficient use of your time. It’s often necessary, especially when newer and more subordinate, but the goal should be to mesh #1 into #2 as much as possible.

#4 is outside your control, and generally of secondary or tertiary interest to you as a success-seeker.

#3 is where the magic happens. It is the end-around the limitations of time, since the number of people you can have working your agenda isn’t bounded.

And, it is in #3 that we find the roots of Mac Donald’s “personal bureaucracies.” Grievance structures exist. Indeed, they abound, both formally and informally. A well-disseminated social media post can spark a movement that draws thousands or millions to come out and protest. There’s enormous power, and finding ways to wield it to one’s benefit is a classic #3 behavior.

There’s an economics term, “rent-seeking,” that’s defined as “engaging in or involving the manipulation of public policy or economic conditions as a strategy for increasing profits.” It’s highly germane to the modern culture of motivated oppressed-ness, the grievance hierarchy, and the competition for most-aggrieved status. And, all the “market pressures” motivate jockeying for top-dog position in grievance ranking, by whatever mechanisms are available.

There’s a giant heap of narcissism in all this. Ivy League students, who by any rational measure have already won the life-lottery, finding new and creative ways to bend the grievance engines to feed their fragile egoes is worthy of mockery, were it all not so corrosive to society. Battling for attention with countless peers, they, as Mac Donald indicates, are not content with merely belonging to or joining grievance groups. They seek to bend that which exists in the public space to their personal aggrandizement, to set themselves apart from the masses, even as they claim subjugation by the elite “oppressors.”

It cannot be coincidence that all this has metastasized in the wake of long-running efforts to denigrate and marginalize self-reliance, independence, “masculinity,” the trades as a career choice, and the like. The participation culture, the demonization of competition (except by the proxy that is professional sports), the urge to delay adulthood (and the institutionalized support for delay), the general absolving of personal responsibility, and the deflection of fault, are all to blame. Look at all this with open eyes, and it becomes clear why the murderous and failed ideology of socialism is finding renewed popularity among the young.

This won’t end, not until we firmly re-establish the premise of equality. As long as the “oppressor vs oppressed” cultural model remains in vogue, as long as the premise that your identity markers automatically place you above or below people with different identity markers, the rent-seeking behavior we witness all over our culture will continue. There is no good outcome to be had down our current path. There are no incentives towards harmony, and endless incentives towards discord and perpetual grievance. Grievance politics is how our formerly free society will meet its demise.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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