HAS AMERICA become a nation of spoiled crybabies, with more and more people whining their lives away?
An author who thinks so has a term for the phenomenon - "culture of victimization" - in which people react with petulance rather than perseverance when faced with personal setbacks.Happiness is no longer something to work for, but something people believe they're entitled to, according to Charles J. Sykes, who outlined his beliefs in a speech Friday at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club.
"If you lose your job, you sue your boss for mental distress. If you get drunk and run your car into a tree you sue the bar that sold you the liquor," Sykes said. "Americans expect life to be pain-free."
In his book "A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Character," Sykes has more fancy terms for whining and self-pity, including "depersonalization of blame" and the "medicalization of sin."
"A disease is something that happens to you, not something you're responsible for," Sykes said. "Now if you sleep around, gamble away your money, drink yourself into the gutter or ignore your family, you are no longer irresponsible, but merely in need of treatment."
Society promotes a culture of victimization by providing rewards for being a victim, Sykes said, telling the story of a man who did a flip in a bar and hurt his back.
"He turned around and sued the bartender, on the theory that the bartender should have stopped him from doing the back flip in the first place," Sykes said. The man received $5,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
"Americans seem to feel today that no injury should go uncompensated, even if it was their own fault," Sykes said, who believes the man should have been em-bar-rassed.
Sykes said the antidote to all of this would entail returning to a shared moral language, where actions and character are the defining characteristics of a person, rather than their inclusion in an oppressed group.
"At some level of our being we know that we can't blame all our problems on Mommy and Daddy," he said. "The world doesn't exist for the sole purpose of making us happy."