Deconstructing Systemic Victimization

Deconstructing Systemic
“Deconstructing the Victim-Perpetrator
Paradigm: A Heuristic” [1]
Prof. Theophus “Thee”Smith
Emory University
Initiative on Religion, Conflict & Peacebuilding
4 July 2007 - Colloquium on Violence & Religion – COV&R Amsterdam
A heuristic is a replicable method or
approach for directing one's attention in
learning, discovery, or problem-solving.
It is originally derived from the Greek
"heurisko" (εὑρίσκω), which means "I find".
(A form of the same verb is found in
Archimedes' famous exclamation "eureka!" –
"I have found [it]!")
“The only resolution of this dilemma is found in
experiencing . . . [myself] as victim behind my
victimizing . . . recognizing ourselves as
victimizing victims in our day-to-day living . . .
whence we punish the other . . .”
“Emphatically to get past the person who is
victimizing one to the victim within is the essence
of the Christ life, into which Gandhi [too] had
much insight.”
Sebastian Moore, “’Why Did God Kill Jesus?’”
1. Introduction: A Reconciliation Framework 1
2. Comedy as Insight
3. Regression both Social and Spiritual
4. Open Secret: The Forbidding Alternative to
5. A New Paradigm: Victim-Exchange
omitted here: sections 3 & 4
A. Subtheme and Abstract of this Essay
B. Conference Theme and Background
C. Notes on Defining Tolerance
D. Practicums & Applications
E. A Scholar-Practitioner Profile
Dialectic: Lordship & Bondage
“The lord therefore paradoxically depends for
his lordship on the bondsman’s selfconsciousness…
The truth of independent self-consciousness is
therefore to be found rather in the bondsman’s
self-consciousness than in the lord’s.
Each is therefore the inverse of what it
immediately and superficially is given as
Quoting J.N. Findlay’s commentary on Hegel’s sections 192-193 of the
Intolerable to human freedom and existential dignity are the arbitrary field dynamics in which each
party simply discovers it is acting-out one of the
roles without reasoning or the will to do so.
That is the Great Intolerable of the human condition in society; of the conditions of existence as
constituted by un-freedom, necessity and compulsion—by the bondage to force from which our entire development as a species aims to free us.
Comic Insight
A joke is an epigram on the
death of a feeling.
--Friedrich Nietzsche, Mixed Opinions and Maxims
(1879; no. 22)
Parable of the Two, Too Good Samaritans
●'Why Do They Eat Us?'
●Wounded Healer Man
Why Do They Eat/hate Us?
“His name's Bradshaw.
“He says he understands I
came from a single-parent
den with inadequate role
“He senses that my dysfunctional behavior is
shame-based and codependent and he urges me
to let my inner cub heal . . .
“I say we eat him.”
Wounded Healer Man
handouts &/or slide?
cf. Nietzsche—death of a positivism
of liberal idealism
expose of liberal ideals as hollow,
self-serving, patronizing and
condescending; a secular superiority
or even 'righteousness'
post-liberal condition as self-critical
of ideological excesses
Crime & Punishment
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a
wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger
unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot
rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the
lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent
knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden
will of you all.
René Girard on 'taking sides'
from Job: The Victim of His People
By taking sides, we inevitably ignore the
true center of gravity of the process—the
scapegoat mechanism, still religiously
transfigured . . .
The whole religious dimension of these
events remains hidden by too exclusive
an emphasis on the political aspects, real
as they are.
How do we deconstruct the real enemy of us all: the
victim-perpetrator paradigm? Choosing the side of
either victim or perpetrator displays ignorance of the
paradigm itself, specifically its deep structure according
to which, by hypothesis here, perpetrators are former
On this view ‘the enemy’ is not our perpetrator. The real
enemy, rather, is the ‘victim-hold’ that the experience of
victimization still exercises upon our perpetrators.
Instead of one set of victims therefore we have 2
categories of victim to ‘take the side of,’ or advocate for,
in any given conflict: the presenting victim on the one
hand, and the former victim now-turned-perpetrator in
that specific conflict.
‘Doing unto others what was done unto us’ is the
defining feature of the victim-perpetrator paradigm.
The paradigm consists in the cyclical process by which
we-as-perpetrators compulsively act out our own
unresolved victimization onto our stereotypes as
classes of available victims.
Targeting such victims constitutes our desperate but
misguided and even magical attempt to render our
victimization as though it had never occurred in the
Our species attempts this chronically by re-creating
ourselves in the present as the empowered victimizer
rather than the disempowered victim in our past.
To understand this pernicious paradigm is to gain
immediately the possibility for intuiting its remedy.
Existentially however (under the conditions of
existence) the obvious remedy is so forbidding that
simply to ‘think it’ becomes cognitively inaccessible.
In this state of affairs all the insights and resources for
deconstructing the victim-perpetrator paradigm are
available to us in the contemporary period, and yet we
persist in regressive forms of law and justice that
maintain that paradigm.
On this view deconstructing the victim-perpetrator
paradigm consists in providing former victims with
alternatives to the mimetic strategy by means of which
we-as-perpetrators seek to counteract our victimization
In place of role reversal it is preferable that
victims have recourse to a more effective
means to recover from the disempowerment
and trauma of victimization.
To be truly effective such an alternative would
need to empower us with as much affective
force as—but without the counter-victimizing
force of—role reversal.
The challenge is this: how to achieve the power
without the ‘vice’ of imitative role reversal; how
to re-empower victims, that is, without incurring
their viciousness of ‘doing unto others what
was done unto us.’
Sherrilyn Ifill:
A'lynching TRC'would...
be deliberately directed away from lynching
perpetrators, and focused instead on individuals and local
institutions that promoted, condoned or tolerated
● provide a means for ordinary people who actively or
passively condoned lynching and those whose
communities were terrorized by lynching to explore
opportunities for healing and reparation . . .
● [ make] “truth-telling” about the complicity of state and
local officials in lynching . . . an important step toward
repairing communities torn apart by lynching.
Cf. “significant evidence suggest[s] that many whites – particularly white children – have been
seriously harmed by witnessing or participating in lynching spectacles.”
Offenders themselves intrinsically
understand that their crimes or misdeeds
were passively and even actively supported
and abetted by institutions and systems in the
larger society.
They rightly intuit that they are being
targeted with a surplus of blame when the
community singles them out exclusively for
acts that in fact characterize antisocial
practices prevailing elsewhere in society.
A more thoroughgoing and effective measure
would require reparations not only to victims but
also, ironically, to those offenders about whom it
could be reasonably demonstrated that they were
systemically socialized to hate and fear.
In any case the key concept of fairness signals a
shift in focus from simply perpetrators to the
community sponsors and the enabling networks
for this kind of violence; that is, the rest of us.
The preconditions for massive human rights violations are, by hypothesis, systemic rather than attributable to the aberrant behavior of a few criminal
If so, then we who perpetrate more subtle and systemic crimes, or who secretly enable the
perpetrators, have been unawarely scapegoating
them for their more overt violations.
●This perspective does not provide a rationale for
exonerating them, of course. Rather it mandates
rehabilitating them alongside ourselves, and no
longer in isolation from ourselves.
In this emerging paradigm shift new
principles and practices of tolerance arise
out of acknowledging ourselves in vulnerability with our neighbors as victimperpetrators.
With increasing transparency we seethrough the fields of conflict how our
newly acknowledged vulnerability
authorizes compensatory policies and
practices that convert enemies to allies.
Indeed our own admitted complicity in violence
and abuse generates a reciprocity with our
neighbors; no longer condescending and superior
attitudes but genuine interdependence based on
the authenticity of our human interrelatedness.
Thus a comic (hilarious) versus tragic
(hellacious) prospect becomes available to us in
solidarity with those with whom we acknowledge
a shared liability for the violence that impacts us
all—a 'true' reciprocity.
Next steps . . .
'truth commissions as
heuristic' to . . .
“no-fault reconciliation” (C. Eric
Lincoln, Coming through the Fire, 1996)
bipartisan reparations, and
● joint venture restitutions
“Therefore an emancipatory practice of
subjectivity must posit as its goal not the
immediate realization of ‘the (given) self,’ but
the emergence of a ‘self-in-solidarity.’
One measure of the effectiveness of such a
practice would be the extent to which it assisted
and enabled people to act in co-operation with
each other in achieving the communal goals of
Erica Sherover-Marcuse, Emancipation and Consciousness (NY &
Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1986), p. 142.

similar documents