Competitive Umbrage: A Guide

As a treat for you in a new year, let me put forward a humble suggestion for a fresh neologism to add to the pile. Relax, it isn’t anything vile like the substitution of ‘yum’ with ‘nom’ or similar outrages, it is meant as a way to help you through arguments, flame-wars, political debates and religious conflict. Won’t that be useful? The term, as you’ve probably guessed, is Competitive Umbrage (CU).


CU refers to the practice of manufacturing victimhood. This is done most commonly by groups who wish to gain social cachet or importance by giving the impression that they are hard done by and receive unfair treatment and/or criticism from society at large. For example: religion A wants to give the impression that it is getting a rough deal, particularly in relation with the treatment of religion B. Proponents of A will therefore look for any instances of unfavourable treatment to themselves and positive stories about that pesky B religion as ‘evidence’ for their griping.


So, a Christian finds out their local council is letting the local Hindus organise a celebration for the Diwali festival, in fact they might even make a contribution towards such a festivity. CU thus kicks in: ‘why are they allowed to celebrate when we are not?’, says the shit-stirring Christian, ‘why is the council spending MILLIONS on Diwali lights and NOTHING on Christmas lights?’ etc. You get the picture. None of the questions posed have to have a factual basis, CU can operate quite independently of facts. The trick is to make the accusations time and time again, a constant drip of propaganda snippets to give the more gullible the impression that your particular group is under attack. Over time, it is a very effective technique.


CU is therefore a powerful tool in creating divisions between people and communities, fostering distrust and souring relations between people who hold different views. Atheists are offended when Cee-Lo reinterprets a song by John Lennon, Euro-skeptics roar that attempts by the German government to shore up the Euro is the harbinger of a Nazi fourth Reich, Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed are interpreted by a number of troublemakers as ‘evidence’ that the West hates Islam. I could go on, but I think you see what I mean.


This creation of victimhood is a great way to exploit people, to get them to focus on external enemies and maintain loyalty within members of the group. It is easy then to manufacture a narrative that paints your particular tribe as plucky underdogs struggling against injustice; if your football team have a player sent off, it’s a conspiracy by referees and FIFA, if you get fined for speeding, its because the government hates motorists, if Science Fiction and Fantasy novels never make it onto the Booker longlist… (actually, that last one may be true!).


'OMG, they're all against me!'

One of the worse things that happens when Competitive Umbrage takes hold is that perspective is lost. Yes, many people in this world suffer unfair and discriminatory treatment: the poor, many ethnic minorities, people under dictatorships, women in many societies around the world. So be careful when making comparisons of your own circumstances with groups that have a genuine case. We at Floppybootstomp chalets may moan about a lot of things, particularly our government, economic system, the lousy thieving bankers, etc, but are aware that we’re not facing the Apartheid regime or Syrian tanks. Our problems, thankfully, remain far more mundane and unremarkable.


So that’s Competitive Umbrage, another entry for your thesaurus. Part of me hopes that the term takes off, a saner part that it disappears altogether so that people who compare their own petty problems and insecurities to the horrors of Nazi Germany will someday grow a cerebral cortex and a sense of shame.


Happy New Year.



About floppybootstomp

Lecturer, teacher, writer and traveller all perfectly good nouns aren't they? Do they have anything to do with me? Ask the taxman.

Posted on January 13, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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