Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Feeling Like a Victim, Acting Like a Perpetrator

We have learned about the cycles of abuse within families, about the way a child who is beaten and abused can grow up believing there are only two choices, victim and perpetrator, and can become an adult who feels like a victim while acting like a perpetrator.

But, somehow, as activists, we have failed to see the immense implications of that knowledge for the work of social change.

Over and over I see movements of liberation get stuck at the same place, the moment when we "other" the agents of our oppression, without trying to understand why they are as they are and how we can prevent more people being that way in the future. If we even begin to ask those questions, we are rapidly drawn to the places where we ourselves have been most deeply wounded.

In the exact place where it is most difficult to understand how anyone could do as our enemies have done, and still be human, in the exact moment when they cease to be our kin in our imaginations, is the place of greatest potential illumination.

From the forward to Power Under: Trauma and Nonviolent Social Change

This is important for understanding how men, white people, Westerners, rich people are at once victims and perpetrators. Capitalism, patriarchy, war, racism, it all relies on one common value, which is the precise antithesis of equality: domination. This motif, "dominate or be dominated", runs throughout our lives and our history - we learn it at a very young age. But some groups, simply by virtue of their privileged social position or status, fall on the dominating side, while others fall on the dominated side. Most fall somewhere in between, as the quote above says, feeling "like a victim while acting like a perpetrator".

How can this understanding help our movements? What kinds of choices can we make in our personal, our political, and our social lives to overcome the whole structure, instead of simply trying to change our position within it?

Related Reads:

1 comment:

TomCat said...

On an individual level, once a victim completes the cycle and becomes a perpetrator attitudes toward that person shift from disintristed sympathy to vengful intolerance. Perhaps we need to be more interested in victims and less vengeful toward perpetrators. Western culture is steeped in lex talionis, an eye for an eye, punitive justice. Restorative justice is a better choice, because it breaks the cycle. The same applies on a societal/cultural level.