Do Victims demonize their Perpetrators?

We don’t see people we dislike for who they truly are. We tend to not humanize them. What we do is we demonize them. This is especially true in how victims view their perpetrators: they either cower in fear or wrinkle in disgust when trying to make sense of what the villainous party does.

There is a trend when we “demonize” others, popping up in common cases of victim-villains: simplistic sensemaking. Take Nazi Germany for example. During the 1920s and 1930s, Germans were living under vastly unfair and exploitative conditions (due to punishing WWI peace treaty’s terms). This unjust misery would be capitalized by Hitler, who would point out to the public how “just” (read: convenient) it is to blame the Jews. “Yeah! Yeah! It’s all their fault we’re suffering!” But how exactly did Hitler the politician painted out the image of Jews in his followers’ minds? The general gist: cheerful German vs “jeerful” Jews. Basically, sensemaking of other people boiled down into simplistic terms.

There was a tradition of thinking that the ideal German fighter is “cheerful.” In the face of adversity, a real German would fight on with good humour, aka with a positive attitude, aka with a smile. There’s something very humanizing about someone who’s smiling: they must just mean well. In fact, this is so much of a trope that it was even used by German propaganda in WWI:


The painting’s name is “Tiling the soil in enemy’s land.” Notice the smiley faces. That’s right: WWI Germany saw their advancing armies as a force of good. German aggressiveness had translated to productiveness in the conquered lands, all justified by one thing: the German soldiers were smiling. Smiling means good! Germans are just spreading their goodness around! This is demonization’s other side of the simplistic sensemaking coin: idolization.

Although it’s unknown if Hitler had known about contrast coloring, he did know about contrasting his enemies to his allies. That is, pitting Jews against (Aryan) Germans as “jeerful” vs cheerful. Laughing vs smiling. Maniacal ridicules vs civilized positiveness. In 1925 he promised to “wipe off the laughter” of jeering Jews who had been exploiting the German people. Hitler’s campaign not only portrayed the German people as the victims of Jewish perpetrators, it also painted the Jews to had been doing so while laughing down on the Germans.

Left: Hitler portrayed “smiling.” Right: Jews portrayed as “laughing” in a Nazi parade.

But there’s more! Nazis weren’t the last “victimized” group to demonize their perceived perpetrators (and they won’t be the last). For a more recent case consider the Red Pill community.


An article on Stoicism in 2015 became surprisingly popular. Upon looking further, you can see that a major part of the traffic had came from reddit, specifically a sub-reddit forum named “Red Pill.” In a nutshell, Red Pillers’ belief system is like this: that social “advances” are eroding Western civilization, and it’s diminishing the position of white males in many ways (career advancement, dating life, divorce laws, etc). Modern white males are thus losing out to women and other non-white males. (The majority of Red Pillers are 18-35yo white men, to the surprise of absolutely no one.) However, some Red Pillers think the disadvantage applies also to non-white males. User experience may vary. But still, mostly male-oriented.

But why Stoicism? In an effort to re-establish the dominance of white males the sub-reddit argues for their perceived change-game factor: rational emotionality. Females are believed to be irrational and hysterical, while only (white) males would be capable of achieving rational control over their feelings. As a result, Red Pillers adopt Stoicism: the philosophy of emotional control. The fact that the philosohpy was conveniently named and described by ancient Greeks (now conveniently considered white by modern standards) is a bonus! Again, simplistic sensemaking.

There’s a trend here in the way Nazis and Red Pillers navigate their “stories,” casting themselves as the victims. Jeering laughter vs civilized smiles. Irrational hysteria vs rational emotions. They both dial up the emotionalities that they “see” in their targeted groups. Jews laugh maniacally as they exploit Germans; females behave irrationally as they hinder mens’ lives. They don’t see their enemies as civilized and complex like themselves. Instead, the enemies are just simply, emotionally barbaric.

(Bonus: both groups’ leader figures wasn’t/isn’t exactly civilized or rational…)



Kessel, M. (Oct 9, 18). Performing Germanness: Laughter and Violence in Nazi Germany. UC Berkeley Gerda Henkel lecutre. For video see

Zuckerberg, D. (Nov 14, 18). “How deep the rabbit hole goes”: The alt-right infatuation with stoic philosophy. Townsend center talk.

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