Viewpoints

Everyone, stop bragging so much

By Joe Mathews

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a town hall at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park in September. Joe Mathews says high-tech executives are often guilty of being ‘victoriotic.’
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a town hall at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park in September. Joe Mathews says high-tech executives are often guilty of being ‘victoriotic.’ Bloomberg

It’s the word of the summer: “Victoriotic.”

You won’t find it in the Oxford English Dictionary, at least not yet. It began its life as an epithet, hurled at me by my 7-year-old son: “Don’t be victoriotic!”

I was guilty as charged. I had finally broken a long losing streak against him in the board game Sequence. So I celebrated like a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, wagging my finger, dancing and sticking out my tongue. I had taken the state of being victorious too far. I was so immature, even a second-grader noticed.

In my own defense, I’m not the only one being victoriotic these days. The news media are thoroughly dominated by Patient Zero of the victoriotic epidemic – Donald Trump. He’s constantly rubbing his primary victories, his wealth, his hot wife, in everyone’s faces.

Of course, he’s both a politician and absurdly rich, two major risk factors for victoriotic behavior. It’s now standard political strategy to blow up any victory, no matter how small, into D-Day proportions in the name of “winning” the ever-shrinking news cycle.

And while it may be hard to believe, there once was a time when the wealthy downplayed their good fortune. Now much of America runs on the speeches, books and philanthropy of billionaires, who tell the world how great the rest of us can be if we would only heed their advice on whatever topic they imagine themselves to be experts in: education, environmentalism, politics.

California, with more than its share of rich people and politicians, is the victoriotic global capital. And nobody does it like the Bay Area, with its new money tech giants. Our social media platforms basically exist for victoriotic pronouncements about professional accomplishments, vacations, volunteerism and winsome children and pets.

California’s public sector is also experiencing a victoriotic bubble. We are bragging about our job growth and the size of our economy (even though, accounting for cost of living and public benefits, we have America’s highest poverty rate). Our public universities are always described as the world’s best (even as they charge more and provide less). We congratulate ourselves on our open-mindedness about immigrants because we offer driver’s licenses for the undocumented and health benefits for undocumented children (even as millions live in the shadows).

This summer has brought great anxiety and anger, as the less fortunate lash back at the more fortunate. Is the reason for the populist backlash the inequality itself? Or is it the endless victoriotic laps being run by society’s winners?

Victoriotic behavior has many motivations. People seek validation, attention, vindication and even love. Medical research suggests that human beings exaggerate our victories because of our brain chemistry; it make us feel good, at least for a while.

And in a big state, people need to scream about even the slightest wins just to get noticed. There is so much competition that you have to be winning at all times. If you’re not victoriotic, you’re not trying. You may even be made to feel like you’re losing.

One school of thought is that this epidemic, like so many other social maladies, is the product of parenting. Every major moment of our children’s lives can be documented with a smartphone and shared with the whole world.

My son is very sensitive to this. Maybe you shouldn’t do a column about my word, he tells me. It would be victoriotic to brag about your son coining the term.

Yes, it would. And I just did it anyway.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. He can be contacted at joe@zocalopublicsquare.org.

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