On victim-oppressor conflict cycles: towards a leadership for peace


Reflection on the word crusade really tells the whole story here. On the one hand a crusade, for example a crusade for racial justice, denotes something noble and admirable, but on the other hand a crusade can denote a blind and unacceptable charge for conquest and domination. Sometimes the second type of crusade can develop as an excess of the first type. Sometimes we hear of victims of injustice or revolutionaries that successfully overturn oppression (I think here of the British during the blitz/ battle of Britain)  making claims like “the war brought out the best in us” which tend to mean, as far as I can understand, that war and fighting brings people together and connects them with their national spirit. The danger of course is if after victory the intoxication and spiritual togetherness of the struggle becomes chauvinistic—if picking fights becomes the only way to sustain the momentum of unity and popular will.

From a social justice perspective this sort of chauvinism can express itself through ethnic or ideological co-option of privilege, in opposition to meritocracy. That is to say that where overcoming victim-hood can indeed sometimes require positively discriminating, once overcome there is of course the danger of sustaining a positive discrimination no longer entitled to the adjective i.e. sustaining just plain, simple and ugly discrimination. In other words when the fight against victim-hood allows positive discrimination to run beyond its original aims and past its desired victory, it gives birth to what we might call the victim-aggressor, or the victim oppressor.

And so history plays out cycles where one and the same kin-group can go through chapters of victim-hood followed by chapters of dominance, followed again by chapters of victim-hood and so on. For as long as ideologies persist that indoctrinate belief in a privilege chosen only for the culturally or ideologically superior/pure (rather than on meritocratic grounds) such conflict cycles— leveraging attitudes of ‘positive discrimination’ beyond legitimate remit— will ultimately drive destruction. Leadership and hope is found in forgiveness, collaboration, and self-reliance—not in chauvinism, score settling, or fear and domination of an ‘eternal enemy’. Feigning leadership to court power is not leadership—Western society in particular must judge carefully when allocating privilege if peace, prosperity, and correction of past wrongs is to find a sustainable and balanced equilibrium. In sum, we need leaders who can think about beginning history, not concluding it!