“I suffer therefore I am”, the “offensology experts” according to Pascal Bruckner

“I suffer therefore I am”, the “offensology experts” according to Pascal Bruckner
“I suffer therefore I am”, the “offensology experts” according to Pascal Bruckner

At the heart of our era of allergy to constraints, heightened sensitivities, repugnance to obligations and martyrs of all kinds, “experts in offensology” seem to have the wind in their sails.

“It is sweet to believe oneself unhappy, when one is only empty and bored,” wrote Alfred de Musset in The confession of a child of the century.

“We live,” says the French novelist and philosopher Pascal Bruckner in his most recent book, I suffer therefore I am. Portrait of the victim as a hero, the tragedy of sated cultures, incapable of facing adversity. » A subject he had previously touched on with The white man’s sob (1983) and The temptation of innocence (1995, Prix Médicis essay).

The impulse to write this book appeared to him, he explains, after the government of François Hollande had expressed in 2015 the desire to give the Legion of Honor posthumously to the 130 victims of the Bataclan attacks. An honorary decoration which rewards the “merits” of individuals who have rendered “eminent services” to the French nation. Is the unfortunate now more heroic than the brave?

In his eyes, it was a symptom of our delicate and comfortable times. If today we display our wounds so much in public, he believes, “it is to obtain a symbolic as well as a material benefit”. See Prince Harry’s memoir, that “torrent of chic tears.”

“I am describing France as it is today,” considers Pascal Bruckner, contacted at his home in Paris. I think that, of all European countries, France is one of the countries most sensitive to this mentality of complaint. We are a country of complainers, where we moan a lot, and where moaning passes for political speech. »

For him, the trend is serious and goes far beyond the borders of France, and he even believes that “suffering sells more than sex”. Looking for reasons for the phenomenon, the essayist points in particular to the “judicialization of daily life”, an education system without requirements, cajoled young generations, raised in cotton wool, in fear and susceptibility. Blaming general “pasteurization”. Would we have become collectively cozy?

“In Western countries, I think this is the case, because the living conditions are much better. As soon as a people moves towards comfort and security, they experience unexpected illnesses and attacks to which they do not know how to respond with great anxiety. » This is the counterpart, he recognizes, of significant progress in medicine and in consideration for human beings.

Real and fake victims

We claim to have been a beaten or unhappy child, a woman who suffered violence, a people or a minority group unfairly treated. “People today want to save their lives by describing them as the object of a terrible misfortune,” judges the 75-year-old writer. There is a heroism of the victim which is very sought after these days, whether among women or men. There are entire careers built on this. »

“I’m trying to see how we can get out of this disease of victimization, which has the paradoxical effect not of relieving injured or upset people, but of sinking them into their misery,” he explains.

“I don’t lack empathy. But I believe that the real problem in our societies, which is also a political and symbolic problem, is to distinguish real victims from false ones. From the moment everyone wants to access this state [de victime]there are necessarily impostors,” he still believes.

The popular phenomenon of class defectors thus provides, according to Pascal Bruckner, some fine examples of “dolorism”, to speak in the manner of the French sociologist Gérald Bronner. Like the writer Annie Ernaux, telling anyone who will listen that she writes to “avenge her race and her sex” and who, according to Pascal Bruckner, almost succeeded in transforming her Nobel Prize into a personal curse.

“Annie Ernaux who, despite the enormous privileges from which she benefits, and who is today a multimillionaire, continues to consider herself a proletarian. Which she never was, moreover, since she came from a lower middle class family. It’s a posture, adds Pascal Bruckner. A posture which allows her to take on a distressed face, even though she should be rejoicing at having received this magnificent reward. »

Victim competitions

If in the XXe century, Jewish suffering had become the standard of reference, at a time of “victim competition”, believes the essayist, for many today the Jew has become the rival to be defeated, usurping a place that should go to blacks , Palestinians, Muslims, women, etc. “It is no longer from oblivion that we must rescue Auschwitz, but from its kidnapping by the thugs of memory,” he writes.

The case of an academic, comparing in 2019 the “testimonial challenge” of the actress Adèle Haenel, Source of a “cultural revolution” in France that he calls for, to the testimony of Primo Levi, a survivor of the camps concentration, seems particularly revealing of our times.

To this end, Pascal Bruckner is of the opinion that the attack of October 7 in Israel was accompanied by “ coming out » the most massive Judeophobic in recent years, particularly on the far left.

“We are in a shift that is somewhat reminiscent of what happened before the Second World War. Suddenly, hatred of Jews is said unvarnished, there is no longer any filter, censorship has fallen,” he notes, worried.

Likewise, the idea that Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism particularly outrages him. “All of a sudden, any criticism of Islam would be assimilated to racism, while Islam, he notes, remains today the religion which provokes the most attacks, crimes, including and first against Muslims. »

I am trying to see how we can escape from this disease of victimization, which has the paradoxical effect not of relieving injured or offended people, but of sinking them into their misery.

The essayist also points out that the duty of memory today prevails over the duty of history. According to him, our vision is hemiplegic. History is reduced to massacres, wars and killings, ignoring beauty, successes and discoveries.

And “victim competition”, also thinks Pascal Bruckner, seems to make us lose track of things. “Genocides are flourishing”, the word is increasingly overused and is becoming meaningless. According to some, Auschwitz and Gaza are synonyms.

“If the word multiplies indiscriminately, it risks losing relevance, and no one will take [la situation] seriously when a real genocide takes place. Between a simple crime and a genocide, there is a whole range of distinctions, which are undoubtedly unbearable for the victims, but which exist and must be studied very carefully. »

Even among many, he judges, the status of victim seems to have become hereditary. However, “the principle of democracy is that the fault, like the injury, stops with the one who committed or suffered it”.

He adds, feeling forced to point out the obvious: “No child is born guilty or victim because of his ancestors. »

I suffer therefore I am. Portrait of the victim as a hero

Pascal Bruckner,

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