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The Power of Victimhood

By Samuel Richter '20, Staff Writer

· Samuel Richter

A victim is not a powerless individual. Though victims occupy the weaker position in power relations, they possess two forces of influence that can be utilized to redefine victimhood: the motivating force and the negating force. By exploring the impact of both these forces, we can better understand how victims and their victimizers interact as opponents in power struggles.

The first of these forces, the motivating force, inspires action. It takes the form of resistance, instilling in the victim a sense of self-empowerment and a drive to fight resignation. This force can also appear through empathy, recruiting nonvictim allies through a shared desire to protect victims. The strength of this force lies in its ability to promote actions that can develop into empowerment. In a sense, victimhood’s motivating force is the more conspicuous of the two forces. It can be easily recognized in almost all social justice movements. These movements rely on the victims’ recognition of their own victimhood in addition to their desire for change. The motivating force is what drives this recognition and desire, making it possible to incorporate nonvictims into a movement wrought on by the victims’ drive to promote change.

The surviving victims of the Parkland shooting are utilizing this motivating force to advocate for gun control by utilizing their victimhood as a means to inspire action. The effects of this have been astounding thus far. The resulting self-empowerment has transformed tragedy into a desire for change and the passion that is required to see such changes enacted. This desire coupled with the motivating force has led to a national feeling of empathy that can lead to substantial measures of gun control. Even President Trump, a former champion of the Second Amendment, is apparently entertaining the idea of banning assault rifles.

Victimizers, well-versed in the physics of society, understand that this motivating force can only be neutralized when met with an equal and opposite force. Victimizers, in response to the motivating force, attempt to deny victims of their victimhood. Old segregationists utilized this technique to claim that discrimination benefitted black Americans. The same technique can be found in responses to the Parkland activists. The victimizers have been relaying the message that activists are the victims of a lone madman and not of a failure to enact comprehensive gun control laws. In this way, the denial of victimhood serves to combat the motivating force through two separate tactics. First, it invalidates the self-empowerment of victims, potentially leading to a victim’s self-denial of their own victimhood. Second, it reaffirms non-victims’ indifference towards the plight of victims. So, if the motivating force develops movements for victims, the denial of victimhood destroys these movements.

The negating force cannot succeed until the motivating force establishes a general culture of empathy. The negating force exploits this empathy so as to invert power relations, forcing the powerful to become powerless. Rather than inspiring action, it seeks to prevent it. It does not promote empowerment; it claims power. It shouts in the ear of the victimizer, “You victimize these people! Stop it!” Through complete identification with victimhood, the negating force destroys the victim.

If successful, the negating force tends to produce permanent change. Impassioned segregationists have given successful speeches in the past, but when most people empathize with the victims of racism, the segregationist finds himself without power. The #MeToo movement and the inclusivity movement on college campuses both seek to invert the power structure. Once this inversion occurs, the victimizer becomes too powerless to victimize.

Though the #MeToo movement has succeeded in removing many sexual predators from positions of power, Al Franken’s non-apologetic resignation speech demonstrates why the negative force of victimhood often fails. In this speech, Franken complains about being denied the due process to which he is entitled. When the power structure is inverted, the former victimizer may now assert his own victimhood. The non-victims, up until this point the allies of the original victim, may find it more difficult to determine where their sympathy lies. It becomes difficult to distinguish between the true victim and the true victimizer. This gray area often leads to outrageous conclusions: the movement that liberates women transforms into one that persecutes men; the individuals once shunned by exclusive campuses become the oppressors of free speech champions. With integration comes dog-whistle crime and reverse racism.

In examining the forces of victimhood, it becomes clear that the power struggle between victims and victimizers revolves around control over the narrative of victimhood. On the level of the mobilizing force, victimhood is asserted and denied. Once it becomes impossible to deny this victimhood, the negating force is then utilized to invert the power structure. Then the struggle to control the identity of victimhood can ensue.

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