Letter To The Editor: Victims But No Victimizers

Los Alamos

During the last few months, we have seen many protests over the death of suspects at the hands of police. The protesters claim the rights of the suspects were violated. Some claim the suspects were murdered by the police.

We have heard calls to the defense of the police, that they too are often victims, placed in situations of peril as they seek to carry out their mission of defending the peace, a mission bestowed upon them by we the people.

We have also heard that many police departments enforce the laws unequally, that minorities are unfairly targeted, arrested, convicted, and jailed. We have heard calls to quickly find and prosecute those who vandalized during the protests, that the rights of the property owners who were victimized by those rioting must also be protected, and that justice must be served.

We have heard that racial inequality prevails in many places even today. And we have heard talk of the questionable past actions of the victims, actions that many suggest point to their responsibility for the actions of the police who were only doing their job. Everyone seems ready to claim their victimhood, but has anyone confessed to being the victimizer?

Gil Bailie would say (and did say 20 years ago) that we’ve arrived at a crisis identical to the one faced by human society at its inception, confronting again the same violent chaos that claimed many early and subsequent civilizations. Unfortunately, we are there without the belief systems in place that, erroneous as they were, had previously saved us.

In what would seem to be a paradox, the fact that we are quick to claim our victimhood and that of those to whom we have social ties is the reason we are having problems controlling societal violence. Because we have begun to see the victim as a person and not as an evil being causing our plague, we now question the morality of the “justified” violence we historically used to contain society’s “unjustified” violence; we question the actions of our police.

Worldwide we look on in horror as the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and the Ukraine seem to slide into perpetual violence. The same violent turmoil affecting us in the US appears to be prevailing everywhere. What is the problem? Shortly after the first Gulf War, Gil Bailee addressed this question when he wrote:

They [those who support the institutional versions of sacred violence] will be reluctant to realize that we are now living in a world in which flagrant displays of righteous violence will increasingly fail to achieve ritual effects – even when they achieve their penal or military purposes –and that as a result, the society once made more peaceful be these policies will now be made more violent by them. As a result, each time we resort again to violence, the cogs and gears of the sacrificial system – which can operate effectively only when shrouded in myth and mystification – are more glaringly exposed to view. (Gil Bailie, ‘Violence Unveiled, p. 91)

Bailie cites the discoveries of the French anthropologist Rene Girard as the perspective through which we must look at our violence. Unfortunately, his answer can easily upset atheists and those of faith alike since it approaches religion, including Christianity, through a very humbling lens. While I don’t agree with everything Girard has written, I do think he’s on the right, albeit challenging, track.


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