[Commenting note: I would very much appreciate it if commenters refrained from implying that this is a thing which solely happens in the social justice movement. It is really not.]
I often refer to a certain kind of behavior as “Ayn Rand villainy”, and people ask what I mean. Unfortunately, Ms. Rand has not written a concise explanation that precisely lines up with what I got out of her work, as far as I know, so I have to write one myself.
Rand characterized the emotion as “the hatred of the good for being the good”. Unfortunately, the problem with this description is that it sounds like a Care Bear villain, but to be honest Ayn Rand villainy is kind of a Care Bear villain mindset, so here we are.
An extensional definition of “the good”: Strength is good. Kindness is good. Not being in pain is good. Beauty is good. Pleasure is good. Fun is good. Talking to someone fascinating is good. Ice cream is good. The feeling when you’ve been working hard on a problem and the answer finally clicks is good. Holding hands with someone you love is good.
My radical position here is that good things are good and bad things are bad. It is not actually any more complicated than that.
(Note that some things which are typically considered “pain” or “suffering” may, in fact, be good things. For instance, grief is extremely painful, but if you offered most people whose spouse just died a Be Happy About Spouse’s Death button they would look at you and go “what the fuck? Of course not! I want to be sad that my spouse is dead, they were my fucking spouse.” The death of spouses is in most circumstances a bad thing, but the emotion of grief in response to spousal death is not.)
Now, sometimes people say that good things are bad because they want to feel Deeply Wise, and because of the natural human tendency, if they are being hit on the head with a baseball bat every week, to conclude being hit on the head with a baseball bat is a good thing. This is less pernicious, I think, than Ayn Rand villainy; you still have your basic value structure intact, even with some layers of rationalization on top.
One common manifestation of Ayn Rand villainy, in my experience, is the idea of deserving bad things. I’m not talking, here, about facing up to the natural consequences of your actions: if you do something wrong, people might dislike you, or you might lose something valuable to you, or you might even go to prison. However, there’s a difference between “I accept that, because I have harmed you, you may dislike me” and “you have to dislike me! I did something wrong! If you don’t dislike me, I am not being adequately punished!” Punishment of those who did something wrong is not an end in itself; it is a means to accomplish some other goal, like deterring those who might do bad things in the future, or allowing others to choose whom they want to interact with, or keeping you from situations where you might do harm again. Punishment is always a cost. Sometimes it is a cost worth paying. But it is always a cost, and in a perfect world we would do without it.
Some people conclude that they need to be punished not because they’ve done anything wrong but because of who they are as people. This is an even worse form of Ayn Rand villainy, because you can’t really stop being yourself. If you support punishment for specific bad things, then there’s at least the theoretical possibility you will stop doing things that are wrong and stop having topsy-turvy morality; if you support punishment for your existence, then your morality will always be flipped the wrong way around.
Another common manifestation is ascribing moral worth to suffering. Suffering does not magically transform someone into a good person. People who are experiencing bad things have the complete normal human range of personalities, from total sweetheart to complete asshole. But many times, people think that experiencing bad things in and of itself turns you into a good person, and experiencing good things in and of itself turns you into a bad person.
Let me say a couple of things I don’t mean. I’m not criticizing compassion: it is perfectly natural, when you see someone suffering, to want to help. I am not arguing against the idea that people often indirectly participate in systems which cause people pain or that people who haven’t experienced a certain bad thing can be astonishingly clueless and insensitive to people who have. But the problem in the latter situation is not the good things! It is the cluelessness, the insensitivity, or the participation in the harmful system.
There are a couple ways this can play out. First, people can deliberately make themselves suffer in order to make themselves better people: this is the failure mode of bad Stoicism and of bad Catholicism, the urge to self-flagellate, to deny yourself simple pleasures, to deliberately put up with people you loathe, to hurt yourself until you’re pure.
Second, people can feel guilty for not suffering. For instance, I’ve known a lot of people who spend a lot of time in online mental illness communities and then feel guilty about recovering. A lot of internalized biphobia takes this form too, particularly for people in heterosexual relationships: “how dare I say I’m an Oppressed Queer when I have this much privilege?” And a lot of white guilt, cis guilt, and other forms of unproductive privileged-person guilt take this form too. This is, of course, entirely backwards. There is nothing wrong with being more functional, getting married to the person you love, or interacting with cops without having to be afraid they’ll shoot you– the problem is that these really basic things aren’t extended to everyone. Feeling guilty for having something that everyone should have is fucked up.
Not everyone with the Ayn Rand villain mindset targets themselves. One way it can play out is “I don’t like it when you’re happy or strong.” More often than one would naively suppose, it’s explicit, but it’s quite often implicit as well: for instance, a lot of people will claim they want what’s best for you, but they’ll get mad at you for liking things because you’re liking the wrong things in the wrong way, or every time you set a goal that’s important to you they’ll make fun of you for having the temerity to try. If someone does not like it when you enjoy yourself, or when you improve as a person, they are not your friend. They are hurting you. Friends want good things for their friends, and not bad things. It is in the definition.
Particularly if you’ve internalized it yourself, you can wind up in this really twisted dynamic where people wind up using your own virtue and their own suffering against you. It works something like this: “I am weak and in pain. That means I am morally good. You are strong and not in pain. That means you are morally bad, and because you’re bad I have the right to hurt you as much as I like. But you’re never going to be able to suffer as much as I do, your pain isn’t ever really going to count.” It doesn’t just play on your internalized Ayn Rand villainy– it plays on your compassion, your kindness, your love, and it can be incredibly difficult to leave those situations without leaving those virtues behind.
If someone is hurting you in those ways (and it is not a one-time fluke or swiftly corrected when pointed out), get out and run as fast as you can. I am so serious about this. You deserve to be in relationships with people who want good things for you and not bad things. This is not actually that burdensome a requirement. It is the bare minimum. They might have some really tragic backstory about why they keep doing it, they might be legitimately making a mistake, but it really doesn’t matter. They might be good people, but they are not good friends for you. If you are friends with people who want you to be in pain, it will eat you up from the inside out.