Campbell’s system is perhaps in some ways similar to a matrix developed by Jayson Georges, which divides cultures into shame-honor, guilt-innocence, and fear-power types.
Campbell’s ‘honor culture’ is an outer-directed, other-directed framework, in which the individual is significantly concerned with how his society views him. Self-worth and self-concept are largely determined by his civilization’s evaluation of him:
In honor cultures men want to appear formidable. A reputation for bravery, for being willing and capable of handling conflicts through violence, is important. In a society like the pre-Civil War American South, for example, a gentleman who allowed himself or his family members to be injured or insulted might be thought a coward, someone with no honor, and lose his social standing. To avoid this, men sometimes fought duels. In honor cultures men are sensitive even to minor slights, but they handle such offenses themselves, possibly with violence.
By contrast, Campbell’s ‘dignity culture’ is inner-directed. The individual considers his self-evaluation to be more important than society’s opinion of him.
The dignity culture tends to be less violent than the honor culture.
In an honor culture, if an individual feels himself to be dishonored, one logical response is to kill those who’ve dishonored him, and thereby regain his honor.
The dignity culture offers the individual a different option: he can devalue the opinions of others and thereby not allow those opinions to greatly impact his self-worth and self-concept.
In dignity cultures, though, people have worth regardless of their reputations. Because an insult doesn’t take away your worth, your dignity, you can ignore others’ insults. For serious injuries you can go to the police or use the courts. In dignity cultures, then, people aren’t as sensitive to slights — they’re encouraged to have thick skins — and they’re not as likely to handle offenses themselves, certainly not violently — they’re encouraged to appeal to the proper authorities.
The individual shaped by a dignity culture was encouraged to see himself not as the passive victim of arbitrary social standards and personal snubs. Rather, he could see himself as rising above capricious societal judgments and rising above insults directed toward him.
It was this dignity culture that bore some of the sweetest fruits of Western Civilization - the abolition of slavery, suffrage for women, the Enlightenment concept of human rights as emerging from a rational natural law, etc. Free humans, acting as rational moral agents, made appeal to authority; but authority was not limited to civil governments or religious institutions. Authority was embedded in various social institutions, and in reason itself.
But admiration for reason declined with the advent of Romanticism. The very personal slights which people ignored in a dignity culture were made the focus of attention in a victimhood culture.
But the new culture of victimhood combines sensitivity to slight with appeal to authority. Those who embrace it see themselves as fighting oppression, and even minor offenses can be worthy of attention and action. Slights, insults, and sometimes even arguments or evidence might further victimize an oppressed group, and authorities must deal with them. You could call this social justice culture since those who embrace it are pursuing a vision of social justice. But we call it victimhood culture because being recognized as a victim of oppression now confers a kind of moral status, in much the same way that being recognized for bravery did in honor cultures.
The status of victim is now eagerly sought, inasmuch as it can paradoxically be the road to power. The individual needs to be offended, so that he can use that offense as his weapon. This weapon will reduce the status of others, and therefore relatively increase his status.
When no snubs or insults could be found, they could be made, either by sheer fabrication, or by reinterpreting previously acceptable discourse as now unacceptable.
The culture of victimhood finally results in the institutionalization of violence, in which the individual takes revenge against mere opinion: but the revenge taken is real physical harm, unlike the insubstantial offense which is the reaction to some perceived snub.
Thus men are fined, beaten, jailed, or worse - true physical harm - for allegedly holding ‘nonprogressive’ views or for entertaining potentially offensive ideas.