What It Is
You might have read the headline and wondered “what in the world is grievance capitalism?” To my knowledge, the term has never been coined, but I think it’s the perfect descriptor of an increasingly dangerous phenomenon in our society.
Grievance Capitalism –
1) Using the perception of being offended/affronted/ “aggrieved” as currency to gain wealth, power, societal standing, sympathy, a position/job/spot in school, or any other thing of value.
2) The “aggrieved” using their grievance to harm others, to justify a bad attitude towards others, to take what others have, or to argue that someone else do these things.
Put simply, grievance capitalism is when the “aggrieved” or those who presume to represent them, use their grievance to exercise unrighteous dominion. Or, grievance capitalism is when being offended earns you a profit.
When do we see this in our society? I’m sure by now you’ve thought of several examples. Unfortunately, most of them are mired in politics, and will likely (ironically) offend people if I were to list them specifically. Instead, I will list general themes that I have seen, and I know you’ll see shadows of these themes in your school, workplace, community, and maybe even among the people who attend church with you.
How It Works
Those who practice grievance capitalism do so through the following steps:
Control the conversation. They may argue that the “privileged” need to first “recognize their privilege”, and anyone who does not agree with the aggrieved on this point is told to sit down and shut up. This is the first mechanism of using the perceived grievance as currency – they use their grievance to “buy” the societal authority to control the conversation and silence anyone who does not have enough grievance to purchase the right to speak on the matter. They now control what may and may not be discussed in the conversation.
Control the participants. Those who are not offended may purchase the right to speak from those who were—in other words, if they agree with the aggrieved, they don’t have to be offended themselves to talk about the offense. Anyone who speaks on the matter without grievance currency is told that they are committing additional crimes against the aggrieved – they are now in grievance debt. And because of the stigma associated with being called things like “bigot”, it is unlikely that they will ever get out of such debt. They are in debtors’ prison. Meanwhile, the conversation goes on around them about what they should give up to right the wrongs they have committed.
Maintain the end goal. The end goal is a shift in power—that the “bad guys” should lose, or the “good guys” should win. Sometimes this happens in such a subtle way that it is barely noticed by others in society—people who look like “bigots” are assumed to be the bad guys, and like watching a movie where you hope the bad guys lose, society cheers for the aggrieved and condemns the “bad guy” in every way possible, regardless of whether those parties deserve it or not. Sometimes the end goal is discussed more overtly, and the ones controlling the conversation and participants flat-out say they want certain parties to lose the “societal power” they have. There can be no discussion that the “bad guys” don’t have power to begin with. There can be no involvement of those who don’t have enough grievance currency to participate. This is a sure way to shut people out and prevent any kind of compromise or meaningful discussion, much less love.
For Revenge or Convenience
The “aggrieved” don’t necessarily believe they are entitled to the wealth, status, or social “privileges” of the ones they believe grieved them. They simply want to see the “bad guys” lose what they have. This is revenge. The same method of using the grievance as currency is also used to gain something of value. People might lie on an application and say that they are in some special category that makes them “aggrieved,” in order to garner sympathy and obtain a position of power. Some might simply look like others who are known to be “aggrieved,” might have never been offended themselves, and might use their appearance as grievance currency. People who don’t easily fit into an “aggrieved” category might claim that they agree with the “aggrieved”, and by so doing earn grievance currency that can be used to speak and act without being condemned as “bigots.”
Just like when a kid bullies another kid to appear “tough” so that he won’t be bullied, himself. You can see this demonstrated clearly in conversations where people begin by listing their “qualifications” that include identifying with “oppressed” groups. You can also see it when two debating parties try to “out-victim” each other. “Well, I’m XYZ, and I went through THIS, so don’t tell me about your experience!” Being a victim has become such a powerful identity that it has almost become a sub-culture in our society.
A Counterfeit that Hurts Our Spirits
We see grievance capitalism being taught to youth in schools as “social justice.” We see students arguing for “safe-spaces” and “trigger warnings” and arguing against “micro-aggression” because they have learned that one can gain power by silencing things that offend them. Politicians are arguing for their constituents to exercise grievance capitalism when they vote, but they call it “fairness.” There are religious leaders who argue for grievance capitalism to “minister to the poor.” It is as far from socially just and Godly as one can be.
When we lived with our Heavenly Father in the Premortal Realm before we came to this Earth, we knew that we would experience trials that would be necessary for us to learn and grow, and eventually return to Him. In Neil L. Anderson’s General Conference Talk, “Never Leave Him,” he speaks of the trials we face, including feeling offended. “Our children are treated unfairly. We are ignored or underappreciated. It could be a hundred things, each very real to us at the time.” I feel that’s important. Many times, the aggrieved genuinely believe they are victims. It doesn’t matter if the grievance is real or not. What we do with it separates grievance capitalism from true justice.
“In our weakened moments, the adversary seeks to steal our spiritual promises,” Elder Anderson warned. “If we are not watchful, our injured, childlike spirit will retreat into the cold, dark crust of our former bloated ego, leaving behind the warm, healing light of the Savior.” This is just one of many talks from modern day prophets that warns of the dangers of being offended. And I say that like it’s something we can control because it is something we can control! This entire life is about learning to master our appetites, desires, and passions – in other words, putting off the natural man – to return to our Father in Heaven. We can choose not to be offended.
Fighting Against Grievance Capitalism
Meritocracy far better aligns with Heavenly Father’s plan than a societal system where people are judged on how much of a victim they are. A meritocracy is solely based upon performance and intent. We judge a person’s ability to do his job and whether we will listen to what he says based upon the quality of his work and words. We judge a person’s heart based on the intent of his actions. The Plan of Salvation centers around the concept of coming to Earth to learn and grow—try and fail. This necessitates a Heavenly Father who judges us based upon the intents of our heart and the quality of our work. We may not be perfect, but He will know us by our fruits, which includes our thoughts and our attempted deeds. Certainly, you can see how grievance capitalism is directly at odds with those aspects of the Gospel.
Grievance capitalism is, at its core, the pride of man and Satan’s counterfeit to true justice. In attempting to right wrongs, it allows humans to replace God in the role of judge. It assumes the intentions and restricts the involvement of entire groups of people in important societal conversations. Worst of all, it encourages people to identify as victims. As the “aggrieved” focus on their grievance, they will ignore their own spiritual and temporal progression. They will remain self-absorbed, and they will not grow in their love for their fellow man. They will believe lies from Satan that their failures and shortcomings are not their fault. It is perceived that there is nothing they can do to better themselves.
In my opinion, there is no lie eviler than that which convinces a person that he cannot continue to progress. That is the entire reason why we are here on this Earth. As you walk the path Heavenly Father discussed with you in the Pre-mortal Realm, beware of pitfalls such as grievance capitalism. Don’t covet someone else’s things or experiences. Choose not to be offended. Instead, love others. Our lives are blessed when we focus on becoming like the Savior.